I am an author and paranormal enthusiast who has published numerous books and articles on the subject of true unexplained phenomena.
The Death Tunnel
North Bend State Park, located in Cairo, West Virginia, boasts miles upon miles of abandoned tunnels and railways. The thirty-six bridges and ten underground passages that can be found there are part of the five-thousand-mile American Discovery Trail that stretches across the United States. The Silver Run Tunnel, also known as Tunnel 19, or The Death Tunnel, is included in that span.
Among the multitude of passageways that dot the region, this one stands alone in terms of unexplained happenings and spooky lore. It has long been rumored that several mysterious disappearances, and at least one suspected murder, occurred in the vicinity of the accursed tunnel.
In the early 1900s, the skeletal remains of a woman were discovered in a house that was situated a mere stone's throw away from Tunnel 19. Although no official cause of death could be determined, it was suggested that her cruel end had not come naturally.
Her demise was not the only one believed to have taken place near the tracks that ran through the tunnel. In most cases, the deaths were the result of the victims having had a bit too much to drink and passing out on the railway. Impaired to such an extent that they were oblivious to the presence of the oncoming train, these unfortunate souls often died alone and forgotten on the rails.
Ghost sightings have reportedly taken place in the area since the early 1900s. Over the years, engineers claimed that they would often see people on the tracks near Tunnel 19 prompting them to blast the whistle to warn them to get out of the way. Rather than jumping to the side as one would expect, these figures would inexplicably be swallowed up by a fog that appeared from out of nowhere and disappeared just as quickly. This scenario played out time and again, leaving more than one locomotive operator to question their sanity.
Once the railways were no longer being used for their intended purpose, Silver Run Road and its tunnel were incorporated into the state park. Developed in 1951, North Bend had long been a popular destination for hikers and campers alike. With seemingly endless trails at their disposal, people came from miles around to enjoy the scenic area. Hidden among those well-worn paths was the one leading to Tunnel 19.
A Ghostly Presence
Rumors of paranormal activity taking place at the site are legendary. Those who have ventured into the tunnel after dark claim that a mournful wailing can be heard coming from deep inside its concrete walls. White orbs of light have also been witnessed floating near the entrance to the passageway.
A phantom train whistle that cuts through the still night air, warning those up ahead that the locomotive will soon be upon them, has been reported on numerous occasions. Since the tracks haven't been operational for decades and no trains run through the park, no one can account for the eerie phenomena.
The most prevalent sighting by far is that of a raven-haired woman, dressed completely in white, who is said to dwell within the tunnel. Although no one knows for sure, this presence is believed to be the spirit of the woman whose skeletal remains were found in the ramshackle house that once existed on the property. Those familiar with her tragic story maintain that she cannot rest until events of the past are put right. Her sorrowful tale is as follows.
In the 1940s, a young woman who was soon-to-wed was following the railroad tracks that ran through Tunnel 19 into the city of Parkersburg, some twenty miles away. Once there, she was to meet up with her husband-to-be. For reasons known only to her and whoever, or whatever, she encountered along the way, she never made it.
Although it was speculated early on that she had accidentally stepped into the path of an oncoming train, many locals believed that it was more likely that she had fallen victim to foul play. Since her remains were supposedly found inside of the shanty rather than outside by the tracks, this seemed a more logical conclusion.
Whatever her fate, the doomed woman never reached her destination. To this day, her mournful spirit is said to walk the tracks, passing through the tunnel night after night on her way to a lover's rendezvous that can never be.
Seeing Is Believing
In 2017, my family and I paid a visit to Tunnel 19. We made sure to go during the daylight hours since, officially, no one is permitted to be in the area once darkness falls. After getting turned around several times, we finally found our way to the tunnel. The road leading to the area was cordoned off and a sign was posted warning drivers that no vehicles were allowed past that point. Determined to move forward, we parked the car and set out on foot towards the trail that would take us to the Death Tunnel.
The entire scenario was a bit spooky, mostly due to the fact that we were literally wandering around in the middle of nowhere. We seemed to be the only ones around for miles as we trudged through the thick overgrowth of weeds that obscured what we assumed to be the path.
After walking for some time, we eventually came upon a weathered sign that confirmed that we had reached our stop. Gazing inside the tunnel, we noted that it was as dark as pitch. Fortunately, we had brought along flashlights to guide our way.
Upon entering the passageway, we were greeted by the sound of water dripping from someplace overhead. As we shone our lights on the walls, we noticed a warning painted in red lettering. It read simply: "Dead Inside."
My husband had brought along a camera that could take photos even in the worst of conditions, including poor lighting. He snapped several pictures that day in case something was present that couldn't be seen by the naked eye.
The only thing that we experienced inside the tunnel that was off-putting was a sudden drop in temperature that occurred when we were about a third of the way through. It had been exceedingly warm up until that point when, for no apparent reason, a gust of bone-chilling air hit us with such force that it momentarily took our breath away.
The icy blast lasted only a split second before dissipating. As we moved on, the warmth we had experienced prior to the strange episode returned and stayed with us as we continued towards the exit. The bright sunlight that met us as we stepped out of the dark tunnel was welcomed by all.
Although interesting, the visit had been relatively anti-climactic. We had known going in that the odds of seeing a ghostly apparition or hearing the cries of a spirit on an endless quest to find her lost love were slim, but we had hoped for some sort of encounter, nonetheless. Later, when my husband scanned through the photos he had taken that day, we realized that we may have been closer to something otherworldly that we thought.
In several of the pictures, light orbs were clearly visible as they floated around the interior of the tunnel. In frame after frame, they could be seen hovering near our heads.
My husband had taken hundreds of shots with that camera in the past under all sorts of less-than-ideal circumstances. Even so, he said that this was the first time he had seen anything resembling what appeared in the stills taken inside Tunnel 19.
After examining them over and over again, we rationalized that the lack of natural light inside the underground passage, coupled with the beams from the flashlights had probably created the orbs. While that was certainly possible, there was another explanation that was not nearly as benign.
There was the possibility, however remote, that we had been accompanied on our journey by those who had traveled the tunnel in the past and, whether by accident or as the result of criminal malfeasance, had not made it out the other side.
Haunted or not, Tunnel 19 has certainly earned its place in the annals of local lore. Its grim history, allegedly marred by deaths both natural and unnatural, has left certain energies behind that those who have witnessed them firsthand find difficult to deny.
Tunnel 19 stands today as a testament to the fact that many events of the past cannot be erased with the passage of time. Some, like the ones that occurred on the rails that wind through North Bend State Park, are destined to repeat themselves until the tunnel, and the dark memories it retains, are no more. Until then, it seems that those whose lives were cut short at the locale will remain bound to it in perpetuity.
- Jack Hendershot-Regional Historian