I can’t help it when looking through all of the newspapers on GenealogyBank.com I find so many articles that fit into the season. This one appeared in the Trenton Evening Times out of Trenton, NJ in May of 1898. Thanks to the determination of Jesse Pates and some local hobos the mystery around the Bald Eagle ghost can be put to rest.
A RED LIGHT GHOST
IT HAUNTED THE BEECH CREEK ROAD
FOR TEN YEARS
Cool and Nervy Trick of the Hoboes
That Was Discovered and Ended by an
Unsuperstitious Railroad Man and Three
It is not often that a nineteenth century ghost can live for years on its reputation as did the Bald Eagle ghost of the Beech Creek railroad. Almost everybody in this section has heard of the Bald Eagle ghost. It was none of your sheeted night prowlers inhabiting a tumble down country house. The Bald Eagle ghost was an up to date spirit. It was simply a red light.
Ordinarily there is nothing extraordinary about a red light, but when the red light appears on a railroad that is different matter. Had the Bald Eagle ghost been content to exercise its functions in the fastness of the mountains, in all probability it would have continued to enjoy its incorporeal existence indefinitely. But the Bald Eagle spirit was unreasonable. It insisted on making a spectacle of itself just where it was most out of place and unwelcome.
Some years ago, old railroad men say, the Bald Eagle ghost was born. The midnight express was bowling along through a gap in the mountains when suddenly dead ahead, a red light flared out on the track. The engineer, scenting danger, reversed the engine and stopped the train, but a search failed to show why the train had been flagged. The train steamed off finally. A month or so later the express was again flagged by the light, but, as before, no cause could be assigned for the proceeding. After this the signal was seen at irregular intervals, always in the lonely gap. Trainmen at length began to entertain a superstitious fear for the red light, and in time it became generally known as “the ghost.” Old hands at the break wheel believed it to be the spirit of a track watchman who had been killed at the spot where it generally appeared.
Skeptical superintendents lay in wait for the ghost. Extra watchmen were employed to patrol the district, but to no avail. It was no fool ghost. It knew its business. However, it reckoned without Jesse Pates.
Pates had long meditated an attack on the Bald Eagle ghost, and one night after his train had been delayed an hour by the light his resolution reached the point of action. Going down to the village store, he broached his scheme to the gang.
“Any of you fellows like to go ghost huntin some night.”
Everybody looked interested, and at last one young fellow demanded:
“Well, where’s your ghost?”
“What’s the matter with the Bald Eagle ghost?” he asked. Some of the crowd shivered, but pates went on: “There’s a shining mark for a good ghost hunter. I don’t believe in this fool talk of dead watchmen comin back. That Bald Eagle ghost is a pure fake, and I’m goin after him. I need about three good men. We’ll go to the Narrows to lay for Mr. Ghost. We’d better each have a gun, too, in case of accidents. Any of you fellows go along?”
There was silence for a time, but at last three young fellows volunteered to accompany him. It was arranged to start on the following evening, and at the appointed time the ghost hunters met. At the Narrows Pates distributed his men along the accustomed scene of the ghost’s perambulations and awaited results. Crouched in a clump of bushes, he himself lay for hours undisturbed except by the sound of passing freight trains. Shortly before the time for the midnight express he heard a whispered conversation off to his left.
“Have you go the lantern, Pete?” someone asked.
“Yep,” a second voice replied, “I’ve got her lit but I’ll keep her hid till I see the headlight.”
“It’s a dead easy thing,” the first voice went on. “Blow the light out and throw it in the clump of bushes before you jump on.”
Pates saw through the whole scheme in a second. Circling around, he signaled to his companions to close in, and in a short time they had the men with the lantern surrounded.
“Throw up your hands and show your light.” The ghost hunter ordered.
In an instant out came the light and up went three pairs of hands. The hunters found themselves gaming at a trio of dirty, grinning tramps.
“So you’re the ghost that has been walking here all these years?” Pates asking in disgust.
“We never said we was no ghost,” one answered.
“Well, what in blazes have you been flaggin trains her for ten years, then?” Pates continued angrily.
“I guess, since we’re caught, we might as well give the snap away,” one of the tramps said, with a grin. “You see, we come over the hill from the Pennsy, and, not carin to walk more’n is necessary, we got on the graft of flaggin the trains and baggagin to the end of the division. It was a great snap, but we spoilt it now. Every hobo on the road knew about this easy mark. We kep’a lamp there in the bushes especial for the occasion.”
“Well, I’m jiggered.” Pates remarked, “if that ain’t the coolest piece of nerve I ever heard. No look here. Drop that lamp and git, and if I ever hear of this here ghost walking ag’in there’ll be a hobo walkin in his future home before his time. Git and spread the news that the Bald Eagle ghost is dead. Git, I say, for we’re goin to shoot after we count 50!”
But before Pates finished the tramps had disappeared, and the Bald Eagle ghost hasn’t walked since.
–Altoona (Pa.) Letter in New York Sun.