by Terrance Mc Arthur
This week we are reviewing a non-fiction book that seemed perfect for Halloween-Haunted Rails by Matthew L. Swayne, and we have a very interesting interview with Matthew. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of Haunted Rails. We also have a link to order it from Amazon.
Haunted Rails: Tales of Ghost Trains, Phantom Conductors, and other Railroad Spirits
by Matthew L. Swayne
Review by Terrance McArthur
A lonesome whistle sounds in the night, a train on its way to somewhere…or is it the ghost of a train, one that refuses to go?
In Haunted Rails: Tales of Ghost Trains, Phantom Conductors, and other Railroad Spirits, Matthew L. Swayne offers three-score tales of hauntings at train museums, stations, tunnels, bridges, and accident sites. The bibliography lists twice as many sources. This slim-ish volume is exhaustively researched, bringing together story as well as tales of hauntings from across the United States (even Hawaii gets a paranormal mention) and Canada. It includes reports from Sweden, Scotland, Wales, and the underground subway tunnels (also known as the Underground or the Tube) of London, England.
Along the way, you’ll encounter the ghost train of Abraham Lincoln, sometimes seen with skeletal guards beside the coffin. Museums in Altoona, Pennsylvania, and Savannah, Georgia, have their ghostly residents. A former train station in Ogden, Utah, sees a lot of business on the paranormal level. There are tales of decapitated railway employees still “a-working on the railroad.” A prototype train in Sweden, the Silver Bullet, still makes its stops, sliding in and out of the mists decades after it was removed from service. Screams come from the pilings of a bridge near Avon, Indiana, where a construction worker fell into the cement…and was never removed. Then there was the train of Confederate wounded in Virginia that disappeared…but there are no records that it ever existed.
There are a few pictures of mentioned locations, but none of any of the spectres (Ghosts seem to be as unwilling to be photographed as members of the Mafia). One photograph is of the aftermath of an 1887 rail accident in Illinois, the cars broken and charred from the trestle fire that caused the tragedy and consumed the train and its passengers.
Some people believe in ghosts, but there are doubters and skeptics. Swayne gives the naysayers their say, and offers scientific rationales for some of the accounts, but some of them are unexplainable. Are they ghost lore, folktales, urban legends, and stories that sound good and ghoulish late at night, or are they evidence of something beyond this life, remnants of the past that won’t go away?
What you think might decide whether you read this book or not, but, even if you don’t believe, it’s a fun journey along the Haunted Rails.
Interview with Matthew Swayne:
KRL: How long have you been writing?
Matthew: Professionally, at least, I’ve been writing for probably about 30 years. I started as a journalist at a hometown newspaper and have continued my career writing, in one form or another. I published my first book about eight years ago.
KRL: Why inspired you to write Haunted Rails?
Matthew: A few reasons. First, I was born in Tyrone, Pa., which is inundated with railroad history and folklore. I also remember a lot of railroad ghost stories from Tyrone and Altoona, which is nearby. My grandfather and his father both worked as engineers during their careers.
KRL: How many years of research went into this book?
Matthew: Just an estimate, about two years.
KRL: Approximately how much of the book depends on articles, how much on interviews and how much on personal experience?
Matthew: Almost all of this is focused on written, media accounts and interviews with ghost hunters, who may have had experiences in those locales.
KRL: What makes Ogden, Utah such a ghost magnet?
Matthew: That’s a good question. Usually, any place with a lot of history – and a bunch of smart people who record those experiences are needed. Another thing that tends to increase the number of ghost stories is the connection to what I term “consciousness-raising experiences. “For instance, tragedies and conflict tend to boost the number of haunted sites. In the case of haunted rails, accidents, crashes, and violence inspire ghost stories. And Ogden, according to the folks I interviewed, has plenty of that drama.
KRL: What location could a person travel to and most expect to have a paranormal experience?
Matthew: What I found out while writing this book is that every place is a place to have a paranormal experience. These railroad ghost tales were everywhere. I would make a pitch for my backyard – Altoona, Pa – has its share of the supernatural.
KRL: What train wreck site and its hauntings are the most fascinating?
Matthew: The railroad “ghost” lore is so poignant – they are always tales of such great loss, sacrifice and tragedy. One that stands out is the ghost story of the Irish workers at Malvern, Pa. Not a wreck site, but for years, there were tales of ghosts dancing in this certain site near the railroad. The railroad company even collected the stories. Legend had it that a bunch of Irish workers were killed and the haunting was related to those deaths. Most people just thought it was a legend. However, based on these tales, two amateur archaeologists, with some help from university archaeologists, did find evidence of a mass grave — and possibly a mass murder there.
KRL: What brought you into paranormal research?
Matthew: Believe it or not, I never went on a ghost hunt, or consider myself a paranormal researcher. However, I was born on Halloween and worked as a journalist, which, I think, promoted my interest in ghost stories, “ghost” lore and the supernatural.
KRL: What else have you written?
Matthew: I’ve written Ghosts of American Universities, Haunted Rock and Roll>, More Haunted Rock and Roll, Ghosts of Country Music, and Haunted World War II.
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Matthew: I always think the being born on Halloween thing is the most, yet, least surprising thing about me.
KRL: Website? Twitter? Facebook?
To enter to win a copy of Haunted Rails, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “rails” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen October 26, 2019. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address (so if you win we can get the book sent right out to you), and if via comment please include your email address. You can read our privacy statement here if you like.
Check out other Halloween and paranormal related articles in all the issues of KRL this month. Also check our our new mystery podcast! The last 2 episodes are both perfect for Halloween listening!
You can use this link to purchase the book on Amazon. If you have ad blocker on you may not see the link:
Disclosure: This post contains links to an affiliate program, for which we receive a few cents if you make purchases. KRL also receives free copies of most of the books that it reviews, that are provided in exchange for an honest review of the book.