Once upon a dark and stormy night in early October, as lightning flashed and thunder grumbled (really—it’s no cliché), several Redbird ¹ staffers arrived at my doorstep for what is now—seventeen years later—one of the highlights of my teaching/advising career: a ghost hunting adventure!
The kids (mostly juniors and seniors) had asked if I would be willing to accompany them on their quest into the greater Mohican area to investigate local ghost legends and “haunts” for our autumn issue. I agreed to our foray into darkness for several reasons: one, it sounded like a good way to achieve “togetherness” (which every good adviser hopes for); two, I didn’t want my staff getting in trouble (trespassing) to get a story; three, because it had been a long time since my own adventure in ghostbusting; and four, because we had an upcoming extended weekend for the Loudonville Free Street Fair.
And so, I organized our field trip: I planned when and where to meet, packed up the emergency medical forms and cell phone, and waited to see who would show up. Who would have thought that fifteen teenagers would want to spend one of their NON-school fair nights traipsing through the woods in the rain and thunder with me, their teacher? I was impressed.
After we split up and piled into a couple cars, our tiny caravan left town, maneuvering the roads less traveled to head into the woods. I honestly can’t tell you where we drove to, because it was dark, it was a long, long way from the village and paved roads, and it was a property that someone in our group had talked to someone else about because he knew the owner who said he wouldn’t care if we took a look at this haunted house. Or something like that. (You know how teenagers ask permission.)
We parked, collected, and started walking, and when our parade of flashlights, whispers, and giggles had reached the destination, we were staring at the site of nothing less than The Blair Witch Project’s abandoned house. But someone had already been there—someone who knew we were coming. A small cross made of twigs was leaning against a tree, and the beaten-up hitching reins of a horse were on the ground surrounding a headless, naked Barbie doll. Sure, it sounds creepy now, but I wondered, as did the kids, if we had been set up.
Definitely not frightened, but not disappointed, either, we turned our attentions back to the old house and its graffiti’d barn, shuffling between them en masse while shining our flashlights to and fro hoping to catch a glimpse of something scary. Nothing happened.
“Where to next?” someone shouted, and teenaged voices criss-crossed over top of each other in the damp, eerie air, still palpable with ghost hunting curiosity and excitement. The kids were in agreement that more important areas were waiting to be investigated, and as we hustled back to our cars, someone mentioned a natural spring near where a murdered girl’s body had been found several years ago.
We decided to check it out, but when we arrived, no one would get out of the cars. The creepy ramshackle cabin and its surrounding craggy, barren trees not only looked sinister, the vibe they put off felt that way, too. This involved an actual killing and not some freaky legend that area teens pass around, so we left just as quickly as we had arrived.
We spent the next few minutes back on the road, heading to our main target—the BIG ONE, as far as local hauntings go—Cry Baby Bridge. Every town has one, and the stories are all mostly the same: supposedly, a small baby was sacrificed on the railroad tracks a long time ago by a local, weird cult, and at the stroke of midnight, if you drive your car under that bridge and turn off the engine, then go figure, it won’t start.
Now, by this point of the evening, I’d almost had enough. Yes, nothing had happened so far, but the whole feeling of that place gave me the creeps, especially after our last couple of teasers. We were out in the middle of this particular nowhere, and it was oh-so-very-quiet. We were also smack dab in the middle of the road, hoping not to get caught by any local law enforcement.
I encouraged everyone to go on ahead up on the bridge, while I stood by my car and waited. I could see every one of them clearly, and I knew—hoped—there would be no shenanigans at this late hour (approx. 10:50 p.m.). As we had already suspected, the supernatural world must have decided that our group was just too darn eager to be approached—skeptics are more fun to mess with, I’d guess—and again, nothing happened. No train noises, no babies crying, and no one being pushed from behind by a ghostly figure.
It was time to go home—in this particular instance, no news story about a haunted evening out with students was a good news story, I figured, and we could just chalk this one up to fun. Our group divided back into vehicles, and as the other one started to leave, I realized, believe it or not, that there, parked on the side of the road just feet from Cry Baby Bridge, my car wouldn’t start.
Instantly, panic struck at my heart. What was happening?
“Maybe you’re not using the right key,” Dan said from the back seat.
Beside me, Jason agreed. “Yeah, maybe you just locked up the steering column,” he said.
And in my head, I thought, Okay, true, but what if . . .
Our other vehicle pulled alongside me, and Elaine leaned out of the driver’s side window.
“You guys coming or what?” she asked, laughing at us.
“Uhhhh,” I started, already knowing how this would sound. “I can’t get my car started!”
The other car erupted into loud laughter, as Elaine said, “Ha ha ha. Real funny. Let’s go already.” And she drove away.
So there we were, in the dark, late at night, on the side of the road at a known scary and legendary place where cars aren’t supposed to start, half of my group had left, and there are three teenagers waiting on me, wondering what the hell is wrong with me and/or my driving abilities. (They seemed more frustrated and tired than scared out of their wits, as I was.)
I decided to try Jason’s suggestion one more time. I took a deep breath, moved the steering wheel ever so slightly, turned the key in the ignition, and realized that the overwhelmingly lung-crushing feeling that came from just a few moments of horror had gotten me to this—the climax of the evening.
And then the car started.
We laughed together, the group made fun of me the whole way back into town, and yet, I still sensed their collective relief that we had not encountered the ghost of Cry Baby Bridge. I admitted I had probably locked up the steering wheel when I first got in the car, but who really knows? For all of us, it seemed like the most plausible answer—maybe even the only answer.
The story ends there. My newspaper staff’s moral to the evening? Save your time and your sanity and just go to the fair. There’s probably more of a story there, because the Mohican area ghosts aren’t ready for large group tours yet.
My advice? If you are feeling middle age creeping your way, and you know you aren’t quite ready for it, try this: Take a group of teenagers out in the woods some creepy, stormy October night to look for ghosts and you might just find that you haven’t gone ‘over the hill’ yet at all.
¹ The Redbird, the high school newspaper of Loudonville High School, Loudonville, Ohio. I was the adviser for 12 years.
Local Haunts Note: The real Cry Baby Bridge, at least for this area, can be found just off of state route 39, traveling east into Lucas from Mansfield (Richland County). Storytellers say that a woman named Mary Jane killed her infant son by throwing him from the bridge onto the tracks underneath, and if you visit the night of the murder—Halloween night—you can hear the cries of the baby. (Supposedly, this woman was also known as Bloody Mary, and the same Mary Jane who was considered a witch and buried under a tree marked with blood in a cemetery in Lucas; also known as Mary Jane’s grave.)
P. S. If any of you out there also remember this fun night, let me know!