THE GHOST OF A TRAMP.Frank Leslie's-April 2, 1881
IT WAS on my way from New York to Pittsburgh, by way of the
Pennsylvania Railroad, and was lounging in my chair, lazily watching
the beautiful blue Juniata as the train sped along the river-bank.
It was a Summer evening, and the sun was sinking slowly behind
the Western hills, as it it were loath to leave the scene of so
much beauty. Floods of glorious golden light came pouring down
upon the landscape, and the river, as if unwilling to be outdone
in effulgence, gathered the burning rays in its broad bosom, and
flashed them back to the sun in a blaze of splendor.
As the train rolled on, its iron path gradually led it to the
mountain-side, and at last it burst into that charming valley
known as the Lewistown Narrows. It was a scene of surprising loveliness
and awful grandeur. The river blazed and sparkled, and glowed
and dimpled, by turns, in response to each parting kiss from the
sun but even the caresses of that luminary were not sufficient
to stay its course, for it hastened on its appointed journey,
now rustling furiously at the gray old rocks that had held their
defiant heads above the surface for centuries; now embracing amorously
some jutting cape, which, bolder than the rest, had extended itself
into the stream; now roaring, gurgling, foaming, as it tumbled
over tile inexorable rocks; now smiling, sparkling, whispering,
as it kisses the verdure on the banks. But, faithful to the end,
it penetrates all barriers, and finally merges into a beautiful
stream, which stretches away to the east as far as the eye can
The mountain rises loftily above the river, and bears suspended
on its side the railroad and the, rushing train. Here it presents
to the eye the appearance of a broad, forest clad plain, stretching
obliquely from the earth to the skies; there it is a mass of granite,
piled upon a larger mass, whose frowning aspect is unrelieved
by a single tree. There, on the sister mountain, which rises almost
perpendicularly on the opposite side of the river, midway up its
steep ascent, a huge rock bangs threateningly over its base, and
from its commanding portion one could easily imagine that it had
originally been wrenched from its bed by some powerful convulsion
of Nature and hurled down tire steep incline; but, having had
time in its mad rush to see the surpassing loveliness of the valley,
it had stopped suddenly half-way down, and remained there ever
since. So I imagined, as I caught a glimpse of the charming scene
through the car window. The train was moving toward the west in
the face of the sun, now nearly set, but I could see the wondrous
beauty of the sky from my chair. Steadily the great eye of day
withdrew, and finally, after a longing, lingering look, it disappeared.
A perceptible change now came over the landscape. The dazzling
brilliancy of the sun gave place to a mellow light, which rested
lovingly upon the water and the mountain sides. The shadows deepened
as the wondrous panorama went on, and the foliage assumed a darker
Overhead the sky was softly tinted with the red and green which
streamed out from the west, and the few clouds which gracefully
draped the resting-place of the lord of day were pierced through
and through, and yet bolted together by many fiery streaks of
All who gazed upon this splendor felt its wondrous power over
the human heart.
Scarcely a word was spoken. All were absorbed in contemplation
of the ineffable grandeur of the dying sun.
Suddenly the spell was broken. A short, sharp whistle from
the engine pierced the ear, and each passenger, thus quickly recalled
to mundane affairs, grasped his chair and braced himself for a
a peculiar rubbing noise and a slight jarring sensation which
assured the frightened travelers that the famed Mr. Westinghouse
had, through the instrumentality of his air-brakes, clutched the
car-wheels with a death-like grip, and was endeavoring to stop
the train. A moment of dreadful expectancy ensued, and then, as
the train was quickly stopped, the trembling passengers perceived
that they were safe.
Of course, every one wanted to know the cause of the sudden
stoppage. Happily for the anxious travelers, the conductor now
appeared, and as he hastened through the car on his way to the
rear platform, be was beset by eager questioners.
A short reply was vouchsafed. The engine had struck a man.
Three short blasts of the whistle followed, and the train slowly
backed down the track. Only a few rods were traversed before the
signal to stop was given. I looked out the window, and saw lying
amongst the bushes a black object, which was readily recognized
as a human form.
The train continued to move until the baggage-car came opposite
to the body, when it stopped. Together with several passengers
I stepped out of the car and approached the ghastly figure.
The trainmen had already gathered about it, and one manthe
conductorwas turning the head around so as to expose the
"Is he dead?" asked one of the passengers, in a low
"Dead!" said a man who was kneeling by the side of
the bodydead! Well, I should may so! I don't believe he
drew a breath after the engine struck him. Don't you see his head
is all smashed in? If there is a bone in his body that ain't broke,
then it ain't the fault of the engine."
I turned to look at the engine as it stood hissing and foaming
near the spot where it had just dashed the life out of a human
being, and I shuddered involuntarily as I saw the fireman, pour
a bucket of water over the pilot, and carelessly wash away the
blood and brains and hair with which the front of the locomotive
At this moment the safety-valve lifted, and a cloud of steam leaped
into the air with a deafening noise, effectually precluding all
further attempts at conversation. Casting one look at the horrible
mass of quivering flesh which the trainmen were lifting into the
baggage-car, I returned to my seat in the Pullman, sick with horror,
and with nerves unstrung.
To be sure, it was only a man killed. Nearly everyday of my
life I had noticed a two or three-line paragraph in my newspaper,
announcing to the busy world that, another man had been, ran over
and killed on the railroad; but I rarely gave it a moment's thought.
It was only another deathand surely deaths were not so
uncommon as to call for a particular remark. But now I saw one
face to face, and not as in a glass, darkly, and I felt as if
a new world of thought had been suddenly disclosed to me.
Civilized men cannot bear to see the human body treated with
indignity. They likewise cannot bear to see human life ruthlessly
sacrificed. It has taken thousands of years to elevate men to
this height; but now that they have reached it, they see that
they owe their present high state of civilization to the respect
with which human beings are now treated.
Love and admiration for mankind elevate men above the savages.
The ancient Greeks thought so highly of men that they ascribed
human bodies to their gods, and sought to represent the divine
persons by means of statues.
Christianity would have failed had it not been that Christ
was a God in a human body. His presence in the flesh dignified
it, and has caused the human race to look upon their fellow-men
with increased respect, knowing that the human body is indeed
a "temple where a god may dwell."
The above thoughts passed through my mind as the train proceeded
on the journey which had been so fatally interrupted. It was soon
running at full speed, only to stop again at a small station at
which the conductor had determined to leave the body.
This caused a delay of a few minutes, but the time lost was
quickly regained after the train started, for in a very short
time we were rolling over the rails at the rate of forty-five
miles an hour.
In the meantime darkness had fallen upon the earth, and vailed
the beauties of the landscape from my eyes. The lamps were now
lighted, and they shed a soft, mellow light upon the interior
of the car.
It was certainly a charming conveyancethis Pullman parlor
I but I felt uncomfortable. Wherever I looked I saw in imagination
the pale, still face of that poor wretch, who had been hurled
so suddenly out of the world. Had he a wife somewhere, eagerly
watching for his return, and anxiously asking, like the mother
of Sisera, "Why is he so long in coming?" Had he children
and a happy home, or was he an outcast, a pariah, a tramp, only
a pauper whom nobody owns"?
My questions found no answer however, and I soon discovered
that, try what I would, thoughts of the fatal event would flash
through my mind, and, like Banquo's ghost, would not down. Wearied
at last of my thoughts, I arose and left the luxurious parlor-car,
and wended my way through the long train to the smoking-car. Here,
thought I, I can at least enjoy a cigar and, perhaps, the fumes
of the fragrant weed will wait away the visions I had conjured
up of a home bereaved. So thinking, I looked about me for a seat,
and, having found one. I sat down by the side of a nice-looking
man, who was just finishing a cigar. As I drew out my case and
selected a cigar, he courteously offered me his own to light mine
by. I accepted it gratefully, and, being unwilling to be outdone
in politeness, I offered him my cigar-case with an invitation
to help himself. He did so, and in a moment we were both puffing
away at our respective weeds. I now looked at my companion more
closely, and discovered that he was a man who could bear examination.
There was something In his manner that aroused my curiosity, for
I thought I could detect in him the air of a man who was accustomed
to danger. Be was apparently not more than forty years old, broad-shouldered,
keen-eyed, and dressed like a well-to-do mechanic.
Satisfied as to his character, I began a conversation by addressing
him as follows:
"That was a very sad accident, wasn't it?"
"Yes, indeed; it was an awful thing. But it was not an
"No," said I, "it is not uncommon. Somebody
is ran over and killed nearly every day."
"It is hard on the engineer," said he, "particularly
if the victim be the father of a family."
"Yes," replied I, as a sudden light dawned upon me,
it must be hard on him. But are yon not a railroad man yourself?"
"Yes," said he with a quick look at me. "I am
a locomotive engineer myself. What made you suspect that?"
"Why," said I, in some embarrassment. "I fancied
it from your manner, for one thing; besides, you have the appearance
of a man who is accustomed to danger."
"I understand." he remarked, slowly. "You can
nearly always tell what a man is from his face."
"Do you run on this road?" I inquired.
"No, not on this road; but I am employed by the same company.
I run on a branch road of the New Jersey division. I am going
to Altoona now as a delegate to the convention of engineers. The
Brotherhood, you know," said he.
"Ah, yes! You represent your friends on a New Jersey road.
I presume you know from experience just how an engineer feels
when he runs over a man?" questioned I.
"Yes," replied he, reluctantly, I thought. "I
know what it is. I would rather lose a month's pay than run over
even a man's arm. You see, you can't forget it, no matter how
hard you may try. Once I struck a man near Milltown and killed
him. For a long time after that I never could pass that place
without shuddering, for I imagined that I could see the white,
ghastly face rise up out of the ground and turn its stony eyes
full upon me. But, then, that was an exceptional case. Perhaps
you read of it in the newspapers?" continued he, interrogatively.
"No," said I, removing the cigar from my mouth, do
not think so. At least, I do not remember it!"
"If, you had read of it you would certainly remember it.
It was very strange thing indeed. My engine struck a tramp and
killed him, you know. Well, a half-hour afterward the train was
saved from destruction by that tramp's ghost."
"By a ghost!" ejaculated I, in surprise. "Why,
you don't look like a men who believes in ghosts."
"I don't say that I do," replied he, with a twinkle
in his eye. "However, I shall always stick to it that my
train was saved from destruction that night by the ghost of a
"Do you mind to in me the story?" asked I, prompted
by all the curiosity of my nature.
"I don't mind telling you the story, but I don't often tell
"Come, now, let me hear It. I just feel like listening
to a good story, particularly if it has a ghost in it."
"I am afraid the ghost will disappoint you; still I will
tell it to you. It occurred two years ago, on the Belleview Railroad.
I ran an express-train from Lamberton to Belleview, and back again
the same day, being a round trip of a little more than a hundred
miles. My train left Lamberton, where I live, at one o'clock in
the afternoon, and reached Belleview about a quarter to three.
On the return trip I left the latter place at 7:30 p.m., and reached
home at nine o'clock. It was a very nice run, you see. Well, sir,
one day last Fall a year ago, I left home feeling very uneasy
about my wife. You must understand, sir, that we were expecting
a baby about that time, and Lucy kept saying over and over again
that she was sure to die and leave the little one all alone in
the world. Of course, that thing worried me considerably, for
I was very fond of Lucy, but I tried to cheer her up by telling
her that, since she had gone through with it before, she stood
a good chance of having an easy time of it now. But no, she wouldn't
be convinced. She felt sure that a shadow was hanging over usthose
are her words, sir, not mineand it was about to fall and
cover us all with the darkness of grief.
"Well, I went away that day feeling very uneasy; and it
was no wonder I felt blue, considering the weather. Why, sir,
it had been raining steadily for three days, and the air was as
damp and chilly as it could be. The leaves were nearly all gone
from the trees, and everything had assumed that cold, cheerless
aspect which is peculiar to November. Well, sir, I climbed aboard
the old ladythat's my engine, you know, sir, although I
sometimes call her 'Susie'496, sir, that's her number. Well,
sir, I got on her, and pulled out of the house, feeling pretty
gloomy. Then, besides, the train from Philadelphia was late, and
I had to wait fifteen minutes, which made me feel mad. However,
we got off at last, and inside of half an hour 'Susie' foamed
over. Do you know what that is?"
Upon my replying in the negative, he endeavored to explain
how the water in the boiler would sometimes boil so violently
as to fill the space intended for steam with foam, which would
work down into the cylinders and interfere with the stroke of
"As soon as I found that out, I foamed over, too. It's
no joke to run a foaming engine when you are already behind time,
I tell you. But, you see, sir, I got the old lady all right directly,
and in a short time she was skimming along the metals at the rate
of two miles in three minutes, which was faster than the schedule
time. My train only stopped four times on the way up, so I succeeded
in gaining a little, but the devil himself seemed to have a hand
in managing our train that day, for when we got within five miles
of Belleview I saw a red flag ahead. I put on the brakes and stopped
suddenly, for, owing to the storm, I had not seen the flag until
I was almost up to it. The flagman told me that a freight train
was off the track right ahead, and that I was to wait until the
rails were cleared. And, sir, we had to wait there for an hour
before we could get past. Finally, we went on and reached the
"The rest of that afternoon I spent in misery. I was worried
about my wife, for one thing, and for some reason or other I couldn't
get warm. I was chilled through and through by that damp, raw
November air, and, sir, if there ever was a man all in the downs
with the bluest kind of blue devils, it was myself.
"Well, time went on, and at 7:30 p.m. sharp I pulled the
throttle of Engine 496, and, picking up her train, sir, she swept
out of the station like a lady leaving the ballroom.
"It was still raining, and I could not see very far. I
don't know when I felt as nervous as I did that night. Yes see,
sir, several things combined to make me so. Besides being in the
blues myself, there was the fear that my wife might even then
be dying, and also I was a little worried about the condition
of the track.
The road ran right along the river bank, and I couldn't see
that, owing to the heavy rains, the river had risen at least ten
feet above low-water mark. On the other side of the track was
a long line of hills which stretched nearly all the way from Belleview
to Lamberton and I was very much afraid that the storm would cause
"Then, again, there were at various points along the line
little streams which emptied into the river. Over these streams
the road was carried on culverts, which were large enough in the
dry season, but when the heavy storms caused the creeks to swell
to five or six times their proper size, the Culverts were too
small to allow the flood to pass through, and the result was that
the water collected behind the railroad and formed quite a pond,
which was prevented from joining the river only by the railway
"Still, I had to make time. I kept a sharp lookout for dangers
ahead, but I could not see far. The storm blinded the light flung
out in advance by the headlight, and the rain-drops clouded the
glass in front of the cab, so it was very little use for me to
keep straining my eyes. However, I did the best I could and left
the rest to God..
"Everything went smoothly for an hour, only I steadily
lost time, for it wasn't human nature to rush on through the darkness
"I had now reached Landsdale, where a my train stopped.
At this point we passed the up-train. It was somewhat behind time,
and I asked the engineer about the state of the track.
"'It's all right,' said he, I only I advise you to run
slow over the culvert below Milltown.'
"I didn't have time to ask more questions, for the bell
rang to start. I let on steam and pulled out rather lively, for
there was a fine piece of track just below the station, and I
knew that it was safe. It was about twenty miles from Landsdale
to Lamberton, and twelve miles to the culvert before spoken of,
and so I determined to risk the rate of a mile in two minutes.
The engine was just then in fine trim, having a high-water level
and making steam rapidly, and she made five miles in a trifle
less than ten minutes.
"So far, nothing had happened. We were now only fifteen
miles from Lamberton, and for the next two miles the track was
laid on a solid rock foundation, at least two hundred yards from
the river. Believing that accident was improbable on this tangent,
I gave the throttle another jerk, and the engine jumped forward
like a racer.
"For about ten minutes I sat there like a statue, with
both hands on the lever. The engine quivered like a leaf as she
danced over the joints of the rails, and hurled herself through
the darkness as if she, too, were anxious to get home.
"Presently I saw, the lights of Milltown appear in the distance.
As this was a small village, my train was not scheduled to stop,
and so I did not slacken up, but contented myself with ringing
the bell. "'It chanced that the road was slightly down-grade,
at this pointhence the speed of tile train was increased
"On we dashed up to the station, and were just passing
by, when I beheld a sight that fairly froze my heart's blood.
It lasted only a second, but even that brief space of time served
to photograph it on my mind forever.
Directly in front of the engine, distant only a few feet from
where I sat, a human face grinned at me. And such a face! There
was something indescribably horrible about it, and, in spite of
myself, I screamed right out. You can't imagine, sir, what a fearful
sight it was. You see, it just seemed to flash right out at me
and then disappeared. It was fully ten feet above the ground,
and directly in line with my face. The eyes were wide open, and
they glared at me terribly. The mouth, too, was open, and the
teeth were exposed; but, worst of all sir, right on the forehead
was a gaping wound, and the blood was apparently flowing from
"All this I saw in a single second; it might possibly
have been even less. However, I was paralyzed with horror by it,
and it was half a minute before I recovered my senses. I quickly
closed the throttle-valve and applied the brakes. After I had
done this the thought flashed through my mind that I might have
been mistaken; that, owing to the troubles pressing on my mind
I might have imagined that which I thought was real. Then, again,
I thought it might have been a ghost; for you must understand
that, while I had never previous to this time believed in unearthly
visitors, I was scared enough then to believe in anything.
"But the train came to a dead stop,
"'What's up,' asked Tom Ryan, my fireman. 'What did you
"'Don't ask me, said I. 'Heaven alone knows what that thing
"I did not wait for any more questions to be put, but
jumped down from the engine and walked quickly to the pilot. I
had a torch with me, and by its light I examined the front of
the engine. Strange to relate, I saw no signs to indicate that
the engine had struck a man.
"At this juncture the conductor came up to learn the cause
of the stoppage.
"For a moment I knew not what to say. I was satisfied
in my own mind that the engine had not struck a man, because the
face I saw was that of a corpse, blanched and rigid. Besides,
I could not conceive how the engine could have tossed a man in
that strange position without the body falling back on the pilot.
But there was no evidence of having struck a man on the front
of the engine, and so I did not know what to say.
"'What is the matter?" asked the conductor; did you
run over somebody ?'
"'I don't know,' said I; 'I saw something like a dead
man's face right ahead, and so I stopped.'
"'A dead man's face!" said he, in surprise.
"'Yes,' said I, 'a dead man's lace. I'll swear to it in
any court of justice.'
"'You must have hit a man and tossed him into the air
just in front of the headlight, and you saw the light flash on
his face,' suggested tire conductor, after a pause.
"'Where is the body?' asked I.
"'We must look for it,' said he, and he sent out all the
trainmen, except the rear brakeman, to search the track. Several
men who were at the depot assisted them in the search, but they
seemed to put little confidence in my story.
"Well, sir, for ten minutes they wandered up and down
in all that rain looking for the body. I climbed into the cab
and staid there, feeling satisfied that there was no body. Yes,
sir, I honestly believed I had seen a ghost. I thought that it
had appeared to me to warn me of my wife's death, so, of course,
there was no use for me to hunt for a body.
"At last the conductor got impatient.
"'You must have been dreaming, Jack Thorn1ey,' said he;
'there is no body here.'
"'No, I wasn't dreaming,' said I; 'I'll swear I saw a face
"'Call in the hind brakeman,' said he; 'we can't "stay
here all night.'
"Well, sir, I whistled four times, and in few minutes
the brakeman returned. The bell rang to go ahead, and I let on
steam. 'Susie' made about three revolutions of her drivers, and
then I stopped her.
"'Did you hear that noise?' I asked I of the fireman.
"'No. What noise?' questioned he.
"I made no reply. I heard the shout of a man directly
ahead, and something warned me to stop.
"I leaned out of the window and listened.
"I heard a shrill cry very distinctly. Involuntarily I shuddered,
and drew in my head.
"'There,' said Tom'I heard that.'
"Again the cry was repeated. This time I thought I could
distinguish the word:
"'What on earth is the matter with you, Jack Thornley?'
asked the conductor, who had again come to the engine.
"'Listen!' said I." Don't you hear?'
"At that moment the cry once more rang out:
'Stop, stopfor God's sake, stop!'
"We three man turned and looked sit each other.
Suddenly Tom whispered:
"'Here comes some one running up the track.'
"In a moment more a figure emerged from the darkness,
and waved its arms violently.
"'Stop, stop!' he Shouted.
"'The train is not moving!' shouted I, in return.
"'The culvert! the culvert!' gasped he, as he staggered
up to the engine. 'It has caved in, and the track is washed away!'
"' The track washed away! Ah!' thought I, 'I understand
it now. My wife is dead, and her spirit appeared in front of the
engine to warn me of approaching danger.'
"To be sure, the ghost had a man's face; but you see,
sir, I was so scared by our narrow escape that I scarcely knew
what I thought.
"Well, Sir, I won't tire you out by making the story too
long. The rest can be told in a few words. It seemed that the
water had accumulated behind the embankment until it was powerful
enough to make a crevasse. As soon as this was done, the entire
embankment rapidly disintegrated, and was swept away into the
river. A man living near by saw the disaster, and knowing that
a train was due, he ran up the track to stop it.
"However, as he had no lantern, his attempt would have
been in vain; but fortunately, thanks to that ghost, I had already
stopped the train, and the fifteen minutes we spent in looking
for the body gave him time to reach us. That is all."
"But the ghost," said I"the ghost, Mr.
Thornley. How do you account for that?"
"Well," said he, with a peculiar smile, "this
is the truth of the matter. Of course, since the track was washed
away, the train could not go on. The conductor telegraphed the
news to Lamberton, and he was ordered to remain at Milltown overnight.
So I backed slowly up to the station, and the engine came to a
stop right by a large reflecting-lamp at the lower end of the
"Just as I stopped the train, a cry of horror arose from
the men on the platform. I looked at them and saw that they were
staring at the front of the engine. My eyes naturally turned in
the same direction, and, sir, I saw by the blaze of the depot-lamp,
a corpse tightly wedged in between the smoke-stack and the headlight
of the enginea corpse, sir, and the face was turned toward
me. I understood it all then. There had been no ghost at all.
What I saw was the face of that dead man which was suddenly illuminated
by the depot-lamp as the train rushed by."
"But how did the corpse get there!" asked I, in amazement.
"I can't say for certain," replied he, since I did
not see the occurrence. An examination of the body revealed the
fact that he had been dead for some timepossibly half an
hour. His clothes indicated that he was a tramp, and I presume
the accident happened this way: The night was so dark that it
was impossible for me to see any distance ahead; so I am inclined
to think that the tramp was walking along the track when the engine
struck him. As the train was moving quite fast, the poor tallow
was knocked high in the air, and it chanced that the body fell
in between the smoke-stack and the headlight, where it remained
for half an hour tightly wedged in. The face was turned toward
me, and as the train passed the Milltown station, the large lamp
there flashed for a single second upon the face, and I just caught
a glimpse of it. Well, Sir, when I reached home next day, I found
my family increased by the arrival of a very young boy; and, sir,
he was born about the time when I first caught sight of the ghost
of a tramp."
"And how about your wifewas she dead?"
"Oh, no, sir, she wasn't dead. She is alive and well to-day."
"That is one of the strangest stories I ever heard,"
remarked I, as I threw away the stump of my cigar.
"It is true, sir, every word of it," said he, quietly.
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