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A Real Life Poltergeist or Urban Legend?
By Misty Thomas
When I first heard about the tunnel that goes underneath Jefferson Park and Richmond, Virginia's Church Hill neighborhood, I could not stop thinking about it. Every day since I was told about the tunnel, I would get online and do research, read books, and try to find any other information on it that I could. I read a book by Walter S. Griggs, Jr. that should have taken me a month, in about a week. In the beginning of the book, he speaks of how he could not stop thinking about the tunnel when he had first of it, too, and how it consumed him in his everyday life. I was beginning to think the same for myself and I still am.
For those unaware of the Church Hill Tunnel disaster, I’ll explain briefly. The tunnel was built in the early 1870’s by the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad Company. The plan for the tunnel was for it to connect the trains from the docks of the James River to 17th street. The average Richmonder however, did not know that the tunnel was being built under already unstable ground. When the construction began, the crew found many fossils, bones, and teeth of marine monsters dating back to pre-historic times. Despite landslides and collapses, the company continued building. Lives were lost almost every day during construction, but the worst of these disasters was in 1925 when the tunnel completely collapsed on a locomotive and a few flat cars, killing at least four people, perhaps more. The tunnel was sealed shut for safety reasons.
When I heard that this tunnel was under about 4,000 feet of my neighborhood, Church Hill, I could not stop thinking about this was some crazy, real life version of a Poltergeist film! It is incredibly interesting to me that this neighborhood was built pretty much on top of a burial ground, so to speak. As I began to become more and more intrigued by my neighborhood, I decided to do more research about the urban legends, if any that have come from this tunnel and it’s collapsing.
I read of residents near and around the tunnel hearing the slight whistle of a locomotive underneath the ground and light screams that could possibly be the souls of the people that were trapped and killed inside of the tunnel. Apparently, there is a lot of supernatural activity that happens around the tunnel entrance and exit in October. Some witnesses have even seen a man trying to get in or out of the tunnel, perhaps to try and save the locomotive. It is sad and incredibly frightening to think that there are souls captured underneath my neighborhood.
In my life, I have been to some very haunted cities and I have now added Richmond very close behind New Orleans as far as being terrifying goes. But the greatest urban legend that I have learned from doing research on the Church Hill Tunnel is about the Richmond Vampire. That, however, is a whole other story I'll be sure to tell you soon.