The Incident at Buckle Bridge

Like many people, Annie Bell always enjoyed a good ghost story. Even as a child, she would always listen intently whenever her parents or other adults would recite their favorite old tales of specters, ghosts and goblins, especially during the times people would gather close to Halloween. Annie Bell never admitted to believing in any of the stories she had heard, although she did seem to find a great deal of entertainment in them. As she grew older, her love of folklore and stories of various hauntings would wax and wane, but Annie Bell was always the one in her family who remembered the most about local ghost stories most people had forgotten.

One of Annie Bell’s favorite stories to tell others, especially those younger than her was a story surrounding a small bridge located, as she would describe, “a stone’s throw away” from the front door of her house. Buckle Bridge, as it was known due to the fact that it would buckle slightly if too much weight was on it at once, was no more than a makeshift bridge made of wooden planks thrown together, albeit strong enough to withstand the crossing of a horse and carriage. Those in the community who had the forethought to replace a board whenever they saw one that needed mending tended to its upkeep. Most everyone who had lumber or other materials to spare were happy to lend a hand in helping make sure the bridge stayed in working order.

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As the story goes, during the slavery era Buckle Bridge was used as a connection point for the Underground Railroad, which served as a network of secret routes used by black slaves in the nineteenth century to escape to free states in the north as well as Canada. Many slaves would wait underneath the bridge for a horse and carriage to come to a stop on the bridge around midnight. The driver of the carriage would tap on the floor of the bridge three times with his walking stick to let those hiding underneath know that it was safe to come out and board the carriage to be taken to their next stop in their travels to freedom. Normally, this would happen during the full moon so the slaves could at least have the best light possible in order to board the carriage.

The use of Buckle Bridge as a connection point lasted for quite a while. Whenever the slaves would leave to gather under the bridge, they would sing spirituals as code to others that the carriage would be passing by that night and to get their things together if they wanted to escape. When they would gather after dark, those slaves who were trying to head north would sit as quietly as possible, hiding underneath the bridge in order to not draw any unwanted attention to themselves. As a connection point for the Underground Railroad, Buckle Bridge was quite successful due to its distance from any major slave owners and the fact that it was so inconspicuous. It’s estimated that around five hundred slaves used it during its use as a connection point.

It was about two years into its use by the Underground Railroad that certain slave owners discovered Buckle Bridge was being used as a connection point. When they found out about it, some of them gathered together to decide what to do to keep their slaves from being freed. After discussing the situation, they decided they would send a spy to the bridge to see what transpired and what methods they used to escape. They sent one man out to the Buckle Bridge area to watch what happened after dark on the next full moon. As he sat hiding in the dark a short distance from the bridge watching behind a tree, he saw a covered carriage drive by being pulled by two horses. When the carriage began crossing the bridge, the driver had the horses come to a complete stop half way across. As the driver got off the carriage, the lookout came from behind the tree to get a better look at what was happening. He saw the driver take his walking cane and tap the floor of the bridge three times. Shortly thereafter, the slaves emerged from under the bridge and climbed into the carriage and hid under blankets in the back. The driver turned the carriage around and returned the way it came. The spy reported back to the slave owners everything he saw.

As the slave owners talked among themselves, it was decided that on the next full moon they would pose as the carriage driver and recapture their slaves when they came out to board the carriage and bring them back to their houses. When the next full moon appeared, the men drove a carriage much like the one the spy saw earlier to the bridge. They arrived about an hour earlier in order to not catch the original carriage driver by surprise. All the men hid in the back of the carriage, save the one driving. When they stopped the carriage on the bridge, the driver hopped off and tapped the floor of the bridge three times to notify the unsuspecting slaves underneath that their ride had arrived. Sure enough, after tapping on the bridge, the slaves began to emerge from underneath the bridge. After all seven of the slaves who were hiding that night were standing by the carriage ready to board, the men in the back jumped out and attempted to capture the slaves. A violent fight ensued between the slaves and the slave owners as they fought on the bridge. During the fight, five slaves were killed, although two escaped into the woods. The slave owners searched, but the two escaped slaves were never found. The slave owners took the bodies of the dead slaves back with them and hung them from trees near their plantations to dissuade any other slaves from trying to escape. Soon after the incident on Buckle Bridge, the Underground Railroad discontinued using the bridge as a connection point due to the slave owners discovering how it was being used.

Not long after this incident, folks in the community started reporting eerie happenings on the bridge when they would cross at night during a full moon. Reports of strange tappings, rustling in the nearby bushes and sometimes even a story of seeing shadows moving around on the bridge would work their way into the conversations of those who lived near and used Buckle Bridge frequently. Over the years, Buckle Bridge would become one of those sites around the area believed to be haunted by the slaves who died in their fight for freedom from their slave masters, struggling to be free even after death.

While she would never admit to actually believing in the stories, Annie Bell was always fond of this particular ghost story. She enjoyed telling the story to those she knew, especially on Halloween, and to those younger than herself who would need to cross Buckle Bridge that same day. She’d always get a mischievous grin on her face as she relished the apprehension in the face of those who listened to her story. She looked at their fear as a form of admonition that she had done well in relaying a ghost story to others.

As Halloween approached one year, Annie Bell’s brothers decided it would be fun to play a prank on her. TJ and Benny decided between themselves that since Annie Bell would always cross the bridge in the evenings during her walk from Guthrie’s, her suitor at the time, they would attempt to reenact the Buckle Bridge haunting, just for Annie Bell’s pleasure. Naturally, Guthrie would accompany her and, being the practical joker he was, was in on TJ and Benny’s plan.

As the evening sunlight began to fade one Saturday afternoon, Annie Bell and Guthrie decided it was time for her to return home, so they began their half-mile walk from Guthrie’s to Annie Bell’s home. Guthrie knew TJ and Bennie would be lying in wait under the bridge, so he knew things were about to get interesting.

Guthrie made sure they walked slightly slower this particular day in order for it to be a bit darker as they arrived at the bridge. As they walked, Guthrie made a point to turn the topic of conversation to the upcoming Halloween weekend, and what could possibly be going on in the area to celebrate. When they arrived at the bridge, Annie Bell was in the midst of reciting the list of things that would be going on at the church during the gathering they were planning, when a strange rustling noise next to the bank of the creek by the bridge caught her attention. She stopped in mid-sentence and looked in the direction of the noise. “What’s wrong, Annie Bell?” Guthrie asked. Not sure exactly as to how to answer, Annie Bell shook off the uneasy feeling the noise caused and looked at Guthrie and said, “Oh nothing, must have been an animal in the bushes. I could have sworn I heard a rustling over there.” Just as soon as she said that, she heard a distant moaning coming from the same direction. Startled, she looked at Guthrie and asked, “Did you hear that?” Guthrie, knowing it was TJ hiding behind a bush but not wanting to let the cat out of the bag, replied, “No, I ain’t heard nothing. Whatever you heard, it was probably just that animal you said rustled the bushes.” Seeing that his explanation made sense, Annie Bell accepted it as a plausible explanation.

As they started to make their way across the bridge, Annie Bell heard the distinct sound of three taps coming from the floor of the bridge beneath her feet. Startled, Annie Bell jumped a step or two back, and shouted to Guthrie, “Oh my God, Guthrie, did you hear that?” Looking puzzled, Guthrie looked at Annie Bell and replied to her, “Heard what, another animal?” Guthrie did his best not to expose the fact that it was actually Benny hiding under the bridge and banging at the bottom of the bridge with a broomstick. By this point, Annie Bell wasn’t exactly sure what she heard before was an animal at all. As she stood there, Annie Bell was starting to remember all the stories of the bridge being haunted, the tapping sounds and the other noises and sights that coincided with a ghostly sighting from the bridge stories. Was she actually experiencing one of the paranormal events herself that she had heard about all these years? Annie Bell was becoming more frightened by the second. “My God, Guthrie, I think it’s the slave ghosts! Let’s get out of here, pronto!”

As she grabbed Guthrie’s arm to hurry him across the bridge and run to the safety of her house, she saw a dark shadow out of the corner of her eye by the bushes in the darkness. “Lord Jesus, it’s one of the slave ghosts!” Annie Bell shouted, turning on a dime and starting to run toward her house. Just as she started to take her first step, however, her left shoe became caught between the boards of the bridge. In her heightened state of fear, Annie Bell believed one of the ghosts had grabbed her ankle. Shrieking in fear, Annie Bell twisted around, losing her balance and falling head first over the side of the bridge and into the creek. TJ, who had now come from behind the bushes wearing a sheet over his head, saw her fall into the creek. As he rushed to her aid, TJ forgot he was still wearing the sheet he used to dress as a ghost in case he was seen. Still in a heightened state of fear, all Annie Bell could see after coming up for air in the creek was a white specter running towards her. Screaming and trying to run, Annie Bell almost passed out from fear. By this time, Guthrie and Benny had joined TJ in trying to get her out of the creek, and tried to calm her down. TJ took off the sheet in order to not frighten her any further.

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Benny and TJ apologized between fits of laughter, but their humor was lost on Annie Bell during that moment. All she could feel was foolishness for being terrified as much as she was, and the pain in her ankle from where she had twisted it. Guthrie, Benny and TJ helped her hobble back to her house, soaked from head to toe from falling into the creek. The entire time, Annie Bell scolded all three of them for trying to scare her, and attempted to make them feel as much guilt as she possibly could for causing her to twist her ankle.

Thomas, Annie Bell’s father, looked at her as she entered the door and was surprised to see her soaking wet. Thomas looked at the boys quizzically and asked, “What in God’s name is going on? Annie Bell, what in tarnation are you doing soaked to the bone?” Annie Bell huffed. “I’ll tell you exactly why!” she said, hobbling to the kitchen table chair to take off her shoe and examine her ankle. “These fool boys tried to scare me to death on Buckle Bridge, making me think the slave ghosts were coming after us and caused me to twist my foot and fall into the darned creek!” Thomas looked at her ankle. “Does it hurt much?” he asked. Annie Bell tried to move it around as much as she could. “No, not too terribly bad, I don’t suppose,” she said, “but I don’t think I’ll be standing on it for any length of time for a few days.”

Thomas asked for the details of what happened. After the boys and Annie Bell recited the story from the beginning, Thomas did the best he could to stifle his laughter at imagining Annie Bell’s face as everything was happening. He sent Annie Bell to her mother to get changed and have a look at her ankle. Thomas did his best to admonish the boys not to play practical jokes on their sister all the while keeping a straight face, but the boys could plainly see he was amused with the story as well. He gave them extra chores for the rest of the week as punishment, but it wasn’t as severe of a punishment as Annie Bell had hoped. He sent Guthrie back home, and instructed him to not get involved in any of TJ or Benny’s antics again. As Guthrie was leaving, he checked in on Annie Bell on last time to make sure she was okay, and headed home.

As Guthrie began his walk back home, he felt terrible for Annie Bell having fallen over the side of the bridge, but at the same time, couldn’t help but laugh at the humor in the incident. He didn’t think much of it as it started, but as he was crossing Buckle Bridge alone to get home, the wind picked up, blowing the bushes around the creek. It was an unusually chilly breeze for that time of year, so Guthrie hurried his pace home. Almost as soon as he was across the bridge, he could have sworn he heard three taps behind him on the bridge. Knowing TJ and Benny were at home, he wondered who could be playing around under the bridge. He walked down the embankment and looked underneath, but to his surprise, no one was there. The breeze once again started to blow, and was even colder than before. Guthrie decided that it would be best for him to pick up his pace rather quickly and get home before he found out if the stories he heard all these years about the ghosts of Buckle Bridge were actually true. Running into man-made ghosts were one thing, but he had no desire to come face to face with a real one.

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