Sometimes perilous and almost always remote, rural bridges have long been a staple of local ghostlore. They are places where ghosts of long-forgotten accidents still roam and phantom voices cry out from the water below. At the Legends and Lore of Illinois, we have visited allegedly haunted bridges all over the State of Illinois, but which one will prove to be the most haunted?
10. Old Train Bridge
Schuyler County, IL
This isolated wooden bridge over the railroad tracks in rural Schuyler County is rumored to be the home of a phantom train. Locals claim that if you stand on the bridge at night, the bridge will begin to shake and you will hear a train whistle, but no train will ever arrive. Another story, common to many rural railroad bridges, is that a bus filled with children plummeted off the bridge, killing all aboard. Now the ghosts of the children can be seen darting in and out of the nearby woods. Two men in particular heard the sound of children crying while they were exploring the area.
9. 400th Avenue Bridge
New Holland, IL
The 400th Avenue bridge crosses Sugar Creek just north of Pool Hill Cemetery. According to local lore, the area is a supernatural hotspot and was the scene of lynching in the distant past. Visitors occasionally hear whispering, talking, rattling chains, and screams as if the lynchings were being repeated over and over again. Even the nearby fields are not immune from this macabre auditory replay. Also, if you lay your hand on the tree where the hangings occurred, it is said that you will witness the events. Today, not much remains of the cemetery that overlooks the bridge, and the tree has been cut down.
8. Witch’s Bridge
For many years, a small stone cabin with a long, brick chimney stood along the road near a bridge not too far from Anderson Cemetery. It was rumored to be guarded by a zombie dog, and to be the home of a family of murdering thieves. According to local paranormal investigator Larry Wilson, “Supposedly a man, his wife and their children lived in the cabin. Legend is the man killed his family then hung himself on the bridge nearby. It was rumored that if you went into the back room of the cabin no matter how cold it was it would become very warm.” Others have said that a girl (or witch) was hung from the steel bridge past the cabin. Spook lights are sometimes seen floating around the creek under the bridge. The cabin has since been relocated to Rochester, Illinois near a city park.
7. Love Ford Bridge
The area around Love Ford Bridge is home to several notorious places, not the least of which is Happy Holler, a bar and sound stage popular with bikers, truckers, and hunters. Just across the road, at the top of a hill derogatorily named after the African Americans thought to be buried there, sits Higgins (Coburn) Cemetery. Strange lights and sounds have been encountered near the cemetery, and it is rumored to be the site of animal sacrifice and Devil worship. Love Ford Bridge is believed to be haunted by the ghost of an inebriated young man who jumped into the Embarras River and drowned. One eyewitness who spoke to authors Chad Lewis and Terry Fisk claimed that he heard the sound of splashing and laughing coming from the river near the bridge. Thinking that was strange because of the cold weather, he went to investigate and saw “several ghostly figures floating in the water.”
The headless horseman of Lakey’s Creek is quite possibly one of the oldest ghost stories in Illinois. Long before a concrete bridge spanned the shallow creek 1.5 miles east of McLeansboro, a frontiersman named Lakey attempted to erect his log cabin near a ford along the wagon trail to Mt. Vernon. One morning, a lone traveler stumbled upon Lakey’s body. Lakey’s head had been severed by his own axe, which was left at the scene. According to legend, his murderer was never found. For decades after the murder, travelers reported being chased by a headless horseman that rode out of the woods along Lakey’s Creek. “Always the rider, on a large black horse, joined travelers approaching the stream from the east, and always on the downstream side,” John Allen wrote. “Each time and just before reaching the center of the creek, the mistlike figure would turn downstream and disappear.” The headless horseman has been seen much less frequently in recent years.
Coles County, IL
Designed by Claude L. James and built in 1914, Airtight Bridge spans the narrow Embarras River in rural Coles County and was long known as a drinking spot and a hangout for rough characters. That all changed on the pleasant Sunday morning of October 19, 1980. According to newspaper reports, two men from rural Urbana spotted the body of a nude woman about 50 feet from the bridge as they drove past. The body was missing its head, hands, and feet. After an extensive murder investigation, no killer was ever located and the identity of the victim remained a mystery for years. Ever since then, an aura of mystery has surrounded the bridge. Locals say it earned the name “Airtight” because of the unnatural stillness encountered while crossing it, or because early automobiles would stall on the steep hill leading to the bridge if there was more air than gas in their fuel tank.
The “Crybaby Bridge” is a common folklore motif in the Midwest, and although the bridges may be different, their stories are very similar. One concerns a young mother who drowned her unwanted child in the river under the bridge, and the infant’s cries can still be heard. Another common story is that a bus or van full of children drove off the bridge, killing everyone inside. Now, if you put your car in neutral while on the bridge, invisible hands will push you safely to the other side. Both of these legends are associated with a steel, graffiti-covered bridge in rural Warren County. One tale particular to this location involves a speeding car full of impetuous youths who struck and killed a fisherman as he cast a line into the creek. Additionally, several people have claimed to hear a baby crying near this bridge.
There’s nothing unusual about the concrete bridge over Plum Creek along Old Post Road. In the woods to the northeast, however, sits a rickety steel bridge, currently collapsed into the water. It is tagged with graffiti. For years, local teens imagined that this was the scene of a gruesome axe murder. Some said the Axeman (or Ax-Man) killed a group of kids he caught trespassing on his property. Others tied the tale to the abandoned house nearby, claiming that the man had chopped up his family and then murdered two police officers who came to investigate. When backup arrived, they chased the man to the old steel bridge, where they shot him dead. Today, there are still remains of a house scattered in the woods.
Cherry Valley, IL
A cornucopia of urban legends have attached themselves to this hair-raisingly-named rural avenue, its neighboring bridges, and the cemetery of the same name. Along the road, visitors have reported seeing phantom vehicles and a dog with glowing red eyes. According to legend, the railroad bridge was the scene of a deadly school bus accident, as well as more than one hanging. These hangings have also been attributed to an older wooden bridge along nearby Sweeny Road. In one gruesome story, a van full of children coming back from a birthday party spun out of control and plummeted off the side of the bridge. The driver, who was wearing a clown suit, can still sometimes be seen clawing his way back onto the road. The cemetery at the end of the road is said to be visited by a wide variety of phenomenon—from orbs, to a phantom dog, to a vanishing barn, to the disembodied laughter of children and electrical malfunctions. Blood’s Point was named after Arthur Blood, the first white settler of Flora Township. Some locals maintain that he brought a curse with him that remains to this day.
On or around Lebanon Road are seven railroad bridges, some no longer in use. All of them are heavily coated in graffiti—a testament to their popularity for nighttime excursions. Local visitors have crafted a hellish tale around these seven bridges, which they dubbed the “Seven Gates to Hell.” The legend is that if someone were to drive through all seven bridges and enter the last one exactly at midnight, he or she would be transported to Hell. In some versions, the person entering the final tunnel must be a skeptic. In other versions, no tunnel can be driven through twice in order for the magic to work. Like Cuba Road in Barrington, an abandoned property near Lebanon Road has given rise to rumors of a “death house.” A closed road or driveway is alleged to lead to an old house in which a family was murdered. Moreover, a group of Satanists are said to sacrifice animals and children at the location.
Check out these places and more in Michael Kleen’s Haunting Illinois: A Tourist’s Guide to the Weird and Wild Places of the Prairie State! Haunting Illinois contains 200 mystery sites and 85 individual illustrations. In this book, Michael not only examines the sites, but also the hobbyists and professionals who have devoted their lives to exploring the strange and unusual in our great state. Divided among eight distinct regions and listed by county, each location features a description, directions, and sources drawn from a diverse variety of books and articles. Haunting Illinois challenges you to get off the couch and start exploring our wonderful State of Illinois. Go here to order!
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