Saturday, May 16, 2009

Spooks of the Curve

horseshoe curve
Horseshoe Curve by Grif Teller from PennsyRR

Hey, everyone knows that the Blair County tracks that make up the famous Horseshoe Curve is one of the best-known spots in Pennsylvania.

Cosidered one of the marvels of 19th century engineering, the Horseshoe Curve was designed by Edgar Thompson and built by the Pennsylvania Railroad. Later, it was used by the Penn Central and Conrail.

It's now owned by Norfolk Southern Railway, and used by Amtrak's renown flyer, the Pennsylvanian. It's located in the Kittanning Gap at the summit of the Allegheny Mountains, 5 miles west of Altoona.

The Curve has been in nearly continuous use since 1854. It was heavily guarded by Union forces during the Civil War, and it was still considered so strategic to the nation's RR system that the Nazis tried to sabotage it in Operation Pastorius during World War II.

The Curve is a National Historic Landmark, and Altoona's minor league baseball team, the Curve, is named after it.

It was built by the brawn of Irish laborers from Counties Cork, Mayo and Antrim who lived in camps along the way. They worked with picks and shovels to cut away the front of a mountain and chisel out a ledge on which they could lay the tracks.

And one of the Eire workcrew is the basis for the Curve's spook story.

A lovely colleen and her laborer beau were hoping to get their start in the Promised Land by the earnings, slim as they may have been, brought in by digging out the railbed for the Horseshoe Curve. She waited faithfully for him every night after work - and still does.

On the Altoona side of the tunnel, it's said that sometimes at midnight you can spy the beautiful young Irish girl's ghost, dressed in white and standing sadly by a stone wall. She's awaiting her man, but he'll never return. He lost his life in a barroom brawl after a hard day's toil building the Curve.

Look for a nearby stand of spruce, and if she's out, that's where she'll be.

But the most famous tale is a few miles below the Curve, at Sugar Run's Bennington Curve.

On February 18, 1947, the Pennsylvania RR's Red Arrow train jumped the tracks on a steep downhill run around Bennington Curve. Eleven of fourteen cars derailed; several tumbled down an 100' embankment. 24 people died in that wreck and another 131 were injured.

It's said that if you park by the Gallitzen tunnel at night (about a mile from the wreck), flash your headlights three times and then shut off the engine, you'll hear voices talking and laughing, coming nearer to you, and then you'll see the shadows of the dead approach. Apparently they've bonded since their sudden deaths.

The Red Arrow crashed into another train in 1951, too. That wreck killed eight and hurt 63, and was said to be caused by an engineer that was blind in one eye and missed a signal, but none of those souls has decided to hang around.

The Curve and its' ghostly crowd is written up in Haunted Pennsylvania by Patty Wilson & Mark Nesbitt.

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