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What'S So Scary About A Quarry


On Dec. 30, 1903, the Eau Claire Daily Telegram in Wisconsin reported on an unusual development at Bonfils Station, Mo., which had been the scene of a

URSULA BIELSKI

On Dec. 30, 1903, the Eau Claire Daily Telegram in Wisconsin reported on an unusual development at Bonfils Station, Mo., which had been the scene of a murder the summer before. A man named McCann had been found dead in the bushes of the local quarry, after seemingly struggling with his assailant on the banks of the quarry lake. ìStories of a ghost Ö are being circulated in that neighborhood,î wrote the Telegram. ìThe place is now shunned by those who live nearby.î

Lewis Tucker, the man who had discovered the body the year before, first told of the ghostly sightings. According to his reports, the spirit was first glimpsed by a group of farm hands who had approached the eastern side of the local quarry, not far from the site where McCann's nude body had been found. Upon their approach, a chilling sound cut the night air, the cry as of an animal in distress. Turning toward the shrubs that lined the quarry they saw, above the very alder bushes that had been trampled down by the dead man and his attacker, ìa spectral light whirling about, wildly gesticulating as it fought in what seemed like a death struggle with a phantom murderer.î

The farmhands' story spread through the quarry town, and the Telegram reported that local school children who typically walked home by the quarry road were, since the eerie sighting, taking a different route, though it took them a mile out of their way. Local farmers began to realize that, since the murder, cattle had refused to graze near the murder site. ìNo one,î reported the Telegram, ìnow ventures near the quarry after nightfall.î

Around the United States ó and around the world ó quarries and mines have emerged as some of the most reliably haunted sites, according to the locals who live with the area tales ó sometimes for generations ó and the increasing numbers of ghost hunters who explore them each year. The treacherous conditions of mining, the numerous explosions and accidental falls, and the close, truly haunting quarters of underground mines all have contributed to the ghostly history of many quarries. Some still operate, and some are now abandoned. Ghost stories are as much a part of mining history as are technical advances or employee unrest.

Ghost hunters have been exploring New York's Split Rock Quarry for generations. In 1918, at least 50 quarry workers perished in an explosion at Split Rock. Since then, a wide variety of paranormal phenomena have been reported at the site including so-called ìghost lightsî (unexplained balls of semi-opaque white light), mysterious flashes of color, and even demonic activity. It's said that an exorcism was performed on the property to rid it of its unseen inhabitants.

A local ghost-hunting team, The Ghost Finders Association of Central New York, investigated the quarry one summer night in recent years, with some interesting results. Feelings of heaviness, numbness and intense cold affected the whole team. Camera batteries went dead in the quarry, and strange photos were snapped throughout their stay. One investigator said he felt as if someone had pulled a wristband he was wearing out and let it snap back. The sound was heard by his team members nearby. A fellow investigator happened to be taking a photo of him at the time, and the shot revealed a flash of blurry light over the team members' wrist, where he had felt the snap.

THE HUDSON-CHESTER QUARRY was once one of the largest of several granite quarries in the area of Beckett, Mass., extracting dimension stone and shipping it by rail to Chester and Hudson, N.Y., for use as gravestones and monuments. Vague reports of a large scale accident still circulate through Beckett, as do tales of the paranormal at the now-shuttered quarry. The stories should not surprise, as the quarry site was untouched after its closure in the 1960s. Rusting cranes, derricks, trucks and buildings are still standing. But the place doesn't just look haunted, according to local ghost hunters, who have long told tales of being followed by unseen hikers, touched on the arm or shoulder by invisible hands, or being overcome by feelings of trespass that literally make them run from the site.

Reners Quarry in Reelsville, Ind., was the site of a tragic explosion which killed 40 workers. Local legend claims that the explosion still reverberates through the townsometimes, as if the event is replaying itself. Screaming, too, is reportedly still heard by some, along with the sounds of moaning in the shaft.

Kelley's Island, Ohio, is the site of one of the most chilling quarry legends in the nation. In the 1840s a limestone quarry underneath Lake Erie operated from the Island. One day, a foreman made a mistake in his blast orders and the quarry tunnel collapsed, reportedly killing scores of workers, most of whom were never found. Stories are told of the ghosts of the quarrymen, still said to haunt the limestone tunnels under the lake. In fact, a number of boat disasters have been credited to the spirits, who are thought to pull ships under in their efforts to climb aboard. In the mysterious 1936 sinking of the Sand Merchant, five of the 25 survivors described a feeling of being pulled under the water by invisible hands.

The numerous gravel pits in north central Illinois have become home to many ghost stories over the years, most notably those of the pits next to Gifford Road near Elgin. In the 1960s and ë70s, Gifford was a favorite spot for drag racing by local teenagers, more than one of whom, it is said, accidentally plunged off the road and into the pits. The ghosts of the racers reportedly haunt nearby Bluff City Cemetery, where strange temperature drops and mysterious figures have been reported, along with phantom cars out on the road itself.

In Chattanooga, Tenn., reports of a mysterious green light circulate near the Quarry Golf Course. One story tells of a group of friends, talking on a quarry cliff around midnight, who spotted the light about a half mile away. The light came closer and closer, growing larger as it came, until it was right behind the group and larger than a person. One man was so terrified he nearly fell off the cliff. The group retreated and never returned, but the stories remain.

Such stories are reminiscent of one of the more atmospheric quarries abroad ó the Chateau LaGorce underneath Paris, France. Former quarry workers still whisper about a mysterious green mist that haunted their days. If one saw it, they claim, it meant impending death for one of the workers. The Chateau LaGorce was recently investigated by the television ghost-hunting team Ghost Hunters International, that found no hard evidence of hauntings during their time there. However, they were most certainly haunted by the same claustrophobia that underground quarry workers battled every day.

THE BRITISH ISLES are famous for their ghost stories ó and rife with mines and quarries. Their pit ghosts are, suitably, some of the most intriguing and numerous in the world. There's the ghost of the Old Miner in Magpie Mine at Bakewell in Derbyshire, an old man with a candle who was first seen by a surveying team in the 1940s. There's the ghost of a Cavalier swordsman reportedly seen surrounded by a green glow at the pits in Bedworth, Warwickshire.

Also, there's the phantom of a former mine owner who haunts Benthall Edge, an ancient limestone pit in Benthall, Shropshire. According to local stories, a man carrying the wages for his mining crew was robbed and buried alive here on his way to work. His cries for rescue still are heard by those traveling on the mine road. And there's the ghost of the drunken miner, seen in Maltby, Yorkshire, near the local quarry. Two women told of passing through the quarry area one night and coming upon a half-dressed man drinking from a bottle of hard cider, who warned them to be careful, and then vanished into a nearby shaft. They later discovered that a miner had recently died from a drunken fall into the pit.

One of the most unnerving English mine legends is that of Pretoria Pit in Lancashire. Platt Lane was the road the miners took to work. During their treks each day, the workers reported encounters with a phantom horse that would gallop across their path, vanishing into thin air. Strangely, an explosion took the lives of more than 300 of the Pretoria miners; since the accident it's been said that hundreds of pairs of eyes can be seen watching from the bushes that line Platt Lane.

The British have found ghosts away from their homeland as well, and English stories of South Africa are some of the most haunting including the tales of the quarry at Cape Town. English settlers here have long told tales of the Mine Quarry, where many have felt a sinister presence. Disembodied, violent voices also are heard, and sickening smells permeate the area, often causing physical illness in visitors.

ONE OF THE most interesting aspects of quarry hauntings is the belief of many ghost hunters that quarry products ó especially limestone ó may aid in the manifestation of the paranormal. The best example of this belief can be found in the limestone mined just south of Chicago, in the Illinois quarries of Lemont and Joliet. Some of the most famously haunted structures in the Chicago area were built of the buttery yellow stone including some of the only buildings to survive the Great Fire of 1871: the Chicago Water Tower and Pumping Station on North Michigan Ave.

Since the fire, passers-by have reported seeing the ghost of the ìHanging Manî in one of the tower windows. Some researchers believe that this is the spirit of the so-called ìLone Pumpmanî ó the only pump worker who stayed behind during the fire after all the other workers had fled. When the flames surrounded him and he knew that he would surely perish, the pumpman climbed to the top of the tower staircase and hanged himself.

Another of the city's famous limestone structures is Holy Name Cathedral, seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago. Chicago North Side Gang boss Dion O'Banion once operated his flower shop, Schofield's, directly across the street from Holy Name. In fact, the shop was the scene of O'Banion's violent death in 1924. On the morning of Nov. 10, rival mobster Frankie Yale entered the shop with South Side Gang gunmen John Scalise and Albert Anselmi, workers for Johnny Torrio and Al Capone. Posing as customers in search of funeral flowers, the three found O'Banion in the shop's back room. O'Banion offered his hand to greet Yale, but O'Banion received, instead, the famous ìChicago Handshake.î While Yale held O'Banion's hand in a viselike grip, Scalise and Anselmi shot him, firing two bullets into O'Banion's chest, another pair into his face, and two into his throat.

O'Banion's brutal murder enraged his loyal followers, most notably the devoted Earl ìHymieî Weiss. After O'Banion's death, Weiss took control of the North Side Gang. His first order of business was to avenge his leader's murder. After two years of fearless attempts to bring down Capone's operations, on Oct. 11, 1926, Hymie and four of his men were on their way to the old Schofield flower shop on State Street, still the gang's headquarters. As Weiss and his entourage crossed the street to the shop, rival gunmen shot at the group from a nearby rooming house window. Weiss and his bodyguard were killed.

Bullets from the ambush lodged in the cornerstone of Holy Name Cathedral across the street and, even today, it is said that the holes cannot be patched. Reportedly, numerous attempts have been made by the Archdiocese to remove the sensational reminders of Weiss's death, but to no avail. Apparently, each time repairs are attempted, the mortar refuses to harden. Even now, passers-by can see the old slug holes in the limestone, embarrassing blemishes on this sacred place.

Aside from some supernatural quality of the limestone itself, there may be another factor at play in the haunting of Chicago's many limestone structures. In the mid-1830s, during the building of the Illinois & Michigan Canal, it is estimated that hundreds of Irish-American canal workers died along the canal building route, victims of exhaustion, thirst, violence and accidents.

Some were buried in the churchyard of St. James Church at Sag Bridge, along the route where they died, which today is still believed to be haunted by their ghosts. Others, without a penny to their name or a family member to care, were cremated. It is said by longtime locals that their ashes were scattered over the nearby limestone quarries.

One of the few things in human history older than quarrying rock is tales of ghosts. Is it really any surprise that the two should so often overlap?

Ursula Bielski holds a bachalor's degree in history and a master's degree in American cultural and intellectual history. She is the author of five books and numerous scholarly articles. She has been featured on the A&E Network, The History Channel, The Learning Channel, The Travel Channel and PBS. She can be reached at .