By David Glenn Cox
There is a hint of a chill in the air as the leaves of the trees bleed out their spectrum colors, fall is culminating and succumbing. The Hallows Eve approaches, as the land of mythical and magical, fearsome and fanciful. I was shown something special, something of which I can only share a part of.
Hollywood couldn’t make up such a story as this. A ways off in the woods, not too far from here, lost in an urban wilderness there in an obscurity, a curiosity, an item left behind and almost forgotten. A historical relic, like a civil war belt buckle, only this belt buckle covers many acres. Traversing the grounds we would find the odd bits and pieces of a buried past, sleeping covered by a moss, and pine straw blanket, old red bricks mixed in with cob rough pieces of mortar and concrete.
But first, you must first drive up the hill about a half a mile on an old brick road. A road laced with red brick pavers which should more rightly be painted yellow for they lead up to a ridge of fantasy, mayhem and magic. When you reach the end of this brick service road, there is an aging rusted steel guard rail separating yesterday from today, signifying the beginning and the end of our realm. The forest canopy was lush when I first saw it, turning a bright sunny afternoon to the light of shaded overcast. It was dark, with just a hint of moisture in the air, some how just enough, to let you know that this story is going to involve water.
Climbing up to the top of the ridge you can see we are surrounded by water on three sides, bordered by a steep terrain. To me at least, this says, that whatever the purpose of this facility, confinement was at least a peripheral issue. Stepping beyond the rusting monument and into the deep foliage, in a near ten steps she stands before you in all her raging glory. She is a crumbling concrete bridge, fancy, with all the trimmings. She’s at least a hundred feet long spanning in an arc pattern with concrete sconces build onto alternating arched bridge pilings.
This isn’t just your everyday walking across the creek bridge, she is beautiful and ornate. And with just a tiny leap of fantasy she becomes, a bridge in medieval France, or the bridge to Frankenstein’s Castle. That’s the kind of bridge she is all right, a right fancy bridge that someone built up on a ridge, out in the boon docks to do something, to someone. To do what and to whom, are merely your first opportunities for conjecture.
At first, I thought this secret bridge might have been built by the W.P.A. there are numerous examples of W.P.A. & C.C.C. construction works still around in the area and I assumed that this might just be one more of them. When I came back to visit for a second time, I examined underneath the bridge and around the other structures. Underneath the bridge on either side are large rooms built in and on the far side of the bridge. On the far side, the room has an old iron fuel tank of some kind; I’d guess the tank held maybe five to six hundred gallons. The tank is very old, as its seams are riveted, but to hold what and for why, I can’t say really, this is a cafeteria ghost story, so you may take from it whatever you like.
So there’s this elaborate bridge built to connect a remote ridge top to the community. A room with an old riveted fuel tank, and since commercial arc welding didn’t come along until the 1920’s, maybe, we can date the bridge by the tank. Just guessing, I’d say the turn of the century to prior to WW1, but what if, let’s say, the bridge could be fifty years earlier? That would put the bridge’s age somewhere in the 1850’s or sixties. According to secret bridge folk lore, this place was originally a camp built during the civil war, possibly for the insane and shell shocked of battle, or perhaps, it was just wounded men recuperating.
As we continue investigating these relics, we find among them the teen hangouts, complete with Flintstone benches and logs dragged into a community square for communal beer, bowls, bonfires and teenage benedictions. We already knew they were here, we weren’t surprised by them. If anything, we are the interlopers, adults going back in time, going through their perfectly wonderful teen theme park in the woods and remembering our own. But what is it? And what was in the room above the tank, because in the room where I found the tank, I also found a collapsed floor from above. What was its purpose, a big iron fuel tank under a big ornate bridge out in the woods?
On the ground beneath the secret bridge are the remains of a concrete footpath, complete with a concrete and stone footbridge to cross the body of water flowing under the secret bridge. The flow of water is so small you can almost leap across. The mystery deepens, why build this elaborate and ornate bridge for such a small body of water? At some point in time in the past, people were working under this bridge or else they wouldn’t have needed the concrete foot paths. The secret bridge is an amazing and thought provoking spectacle even now, what must it have looked like back then, in all its newness and splendor?
Could this have really been a civil war camp for the insane? The lore says, that after the war wounded had all passed away, it became a children’s home. A children’s home with a Hollywood past, according to the legend, this children’s home one night had a terrible fire. Many children were supposedly burned and died running in terror in these woods fleeing the fire. They say, their souls still haunt this place, and well, you can’t prove it by me, but I’m not just ready to spend the night up there yet. We continue scouring the woods for relics, we find many small building foundations with two or three rows of brick still paying attention, while the rest lie scattered and lost in the weeds and moss of the undergrowth.
We also found a concrete sidewalk going to and from invisible destinations, just a mysterious sidewalks out in the woods, pretty cool huh? This sidewalk led us to where we could see there was once a road which had been cut from out of the terrain, now overgrown, the road led us directly to a steep chasm with a creek at the bottom. Soon we discovered, down the hill a bit, pilings for another bridge. This one, of a much lighter construction than the secret bridge, perhaps a footbridge which was now lost to the past. Where do you suppose it would takes us? With lost history right under our feet, in a strange cacophony of calamity or who knows, maybe it’s just nothing at all, except an old bridge out in the woods. But I wouldn’t want to think about this secret bridge like that, she is way far too cool a relic to waste on the mundane in last week of October.
Walking through these ruins, it was clear there was something up here alright. Too many foundations, cisterns and septic tanks, which all have that distinct look of being government overbuilt. On the far side of the ridge, almost inaccessible from our direction, are the ruins of an old cabin. It was a large and elaborate cabin with a concrete foundation and a large stone fireplace which I have named Frodo’s ruin. In these thick dark woods, on this forgotten relic of a complex, it just can’t be mundane; it just can’t be, so it is Frodo’s ruin.
Standing at one end of Frodo’s ruins, a complete chimney, fire brick on the inside and round stones outside. You can see the fire stains on the bricks from heavy usage and you can also see the effects of fire where the roof joist had once connected. So now, we have evidence of a fire, in a substantial building, could this have been a kitchen or a mess hall? Could there have been a fire which spread to a dormitory? The elements are all there, it’s a mad libs story, like a Barbie Doll, dress it up any way you like.
We do have proof that during the 1930’s the facility was called a sanitarium, and oh, isn’t that a wonderful word to find in the waning days of October? During those, way back days there were many types of sanitariums out there, sanitariums to dry out, sanitariums for TB or VD or crazy Uncle Charlie sanitariums, as well. Times were different and people didn’t wash their dirty laundry in public.
But there is more to this story, what good is a ghost story that isn’t without more, we went to Google Earth and looked up the location of the secret bridge. At the top of the ridge, there was displayed on the screen a very old and very large old home. It’s hard to say exactly, what style of a home it was from a Google Earth photo. Hard to make value judgments on such things, but I would say at best, this house was, your least favorite Grandma’s house, the one who called you Herbert when your name is Dave. The Grandma that had butter mints congealed into a pile like civil war cannon balls in her candy dish on the coffee table, The one all your relatives told you to be nice to kind of house.
At worst, the house has a mean and hard look about it, dormitory dreary. A kid dropped off in state car at two in the morning and given a bed in a dark room look about it. Only, a funny thing happened, when we went back to look for this old house. We had assumed that we had simply missed the path to the house before. But when we returned, no amount of looking could locate it; there was nothing, no sign of a house. We returned to Google Earth and there, once again, was the old house. We speculated between us, the possibilities that the house had been removed in say the last four or five years. If so, you couldn’t tell it by me.
So there it is, a do it yourself ghost story, good at camp fires every where and like Tinker Toys, you can build the story differently every time.
So there was this old Civil War hospital for the insane, one night during a full January moon, the inmates all went crazy and rioted. They burned down the house and the footbridge after they had murdered the staff, but they was crazy see, and they didn’t know the foot bridge was the only way off the ridge. The escaped lunatics wandered aimlessly in the woods, all night, until they froze to death. One of the inmates was found right over there, his body frozen to a tree. When they broke his body loose from the bark, one of the old man’s hands was missing, all they found just an empty bloody coat sleeve. Then in a serious and calming tone of voice, you ask your victim, preferably a small child, “and do you know where they found the old man’s hand?”
Then as your victim looks up at you with innocent and trusting eyes, you shout, “Right Here!” as you grab the victim menacingly.
The secret bridge is a playground for the mind, for those tiny little bits of us left over from childhood. Creepy dark woods, strange buildings both real and imagined, a strange, strange ornate bridge built way out in the woods for some different purpose other than just crossing the crick. Where is this secret bridge? I can’t tell you or it won’t be secret, but I am sure there are many more bridges out there, wherever the imagination is allowed to play. On the week of Halloween, we all need our own secret bridge where we allow our imagination and inner child run wild and fall is complete.