Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Screaming Tunnel

Screaming Tunnel image by Cathy Simpson, on file at the 
Niagara Falls Public Library

Slowly I turned...inch by inch...ooops sorry, not that Niagara Falls story. This one is much more gruesome, befitting a Halloween week. All it needs is a bit of sulphur...

The Screaming Tunnel is a small limestone channel running underneath what once was known as the Grand Trunk Railway line (now part of the Canadian National Railways), located outside of Niagara Falls, Ontario, just off Warner Road. The rough-cut tunnel, constructed in the early 1900s, is 16' high and 125' feet long.

Often thought of as a railway tunnel, in reality it serves as a culvert to divert water blocked by the raised RR tracks away from the fields. The water would follow the stone passage under the rail bed, and when dry, the channel was used by farmers to move goods and animals safely under the active railroad line.

The story goes that the tunnel is haunted by the ghost of a young girl. She escaped from her burning farm house (or barn), located at the south end of the tunnel, with her hair and dress on fire, and died within ithe tunnel walls after losing a race to douse herself in its water. (Look for a a small hill and a path that leads to where the girl’s home was; the structures are gone.)

Several offshoots of the legend exist locally. It's oral lore, and versions do mutate over the generations.

The most passed-along Plan B tale has the girl being set on fire by her unbalanced father, enraged after he lost custody of his children during a bitter divorce (a version, btw, supported by The Paranormal Seekers when they investigated). In this setting, he set the house ablaze and then ran down his fleeing daughter, catching her at the tunnel, where he splashed gas on her and incinerated the girl.

Another version claims that a young girl was raped inside the tunnel and her body burnt to destroy any evidence of the despicable deed. The most outre is a story of a girl who was kidnapped by a butcher and was held captive in his house near the tunnel. She escaped into the tunnel, where the butcher chased her down (wearing a pig's mask!) At any rate, he caught up to the girl and set her on fire.

But it always ends the same way, with a haunted tunnel. If you go into the middle of the passage and light a wooden match, it will be extinguished immediately by a puff of wind and then followed by the haunting screams of the victim. It is a good, spooky site. It's always cold (a condition shared by both spooked-out and normal tunnels), too desolate to see either end from the middle at night, and reportedly the site of give-away orbs flitting to and fro.

The tunnel was eerie enough to be used during the filming of David Cronenberg's 1983 film adaptation of Stephen King's The Dead Zone, a high compliment indeed.

As with most local legends, there isn't anything to collaborate the tale, like a juicy newspaper article. It has been said that the girl and her family are buried in the nearby Warner Cemetery, but without a name, it's hard to hang a hat on that tidbit. And we do have our mandatory nay-sayer.

Spoilsport Stephanie Lechniak of Haunted Hamilton has an alternate tale. At one time, there was a small cluster of homes on the other side of the tunnel, off the main road. One was occupied by a woman who was said to be a bit off mentally.

Whenever she would argue with her husband, she would walk to the middle of the tunnel and scream at the top of her lungs to vent (and maybe to get the last word in). Her cleansing act was what Stephanie believes to be the true origins of "The Screaming Tunnel."

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