As soon as I was old enough to have free rein in the library, I have gravitated to ghost stories. I used to give myself nightmares reading “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” and later the short-lived “Tales from the Crypt” graphic novels. But always the stories that drew me in hard, the ones that still linger in my dreams to this very day were the ones involving ghostly vehicles. Ghost ships, ghost trains, ghost cars. And despite what I have come to understand about ghosts, such things still give me the heebie-jeebies. There are number of reported sightings of such things over the years. The Mary Celeste, the Porsche 550 Spyder James Dean died in, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, Manfred von Richthofen’s signature red tri-plane, and my personal favorite, Black Sam’s ship, the Whydah. There are hundreds more of course, haunted carriages in Europe, haunted semi-trucks, and even a haunted space shuttle.
Part of the reason I think they’re cool is they defy explanation. I know, it sounds kooky in an article about ghosts, but ghosts are the remnants of what was once alive. Unless you’re going to tell me a story of some kind of wicked AI, most of these things weren’t. The closest I could come is that the people that owned them, loved them, or simply just inhabited them in a way that was unique or different, their spirits became synonymous with the vehicle in question. The other thing is that they always always seem to signify some kind of prophetic (frequently catastrophic) change.
The facts: After Lincoln’s assassination in 1865, his funeral train containing his body and the body of his son (who had died some years earlier) left Washington some 6 days after his death on a slow, criss-crossing journey across the eastern part of the country to arrive in his final resting place (Springfield, IL) almost two weeks later. It ranged from Philadelphia to New York City to Columbus and many points in between. In each town the train passed through, crowds would gather around the tracks to watch the progress of the United States’ 16th president reach his final destination.
On several stretches of this journey, many individuals have reported seeing a spectral old timey coal-burner train with an obsidian-draped funerary car chugging silently through a foggy night with naught but a long, lonely train whistle to portend it’s passing….
Yeah, I’m primarily a fiction writer so that got a bit dramatic, but here is the rub: If I had not seen this phenomenon with my own two eyes, I would not believe it or a moment. And it was pretty much EXACTLY how I described it above… freaked me out to no end. I stood my ground when my fellows ran, however, and watched as the train passed. Only when it was maybe fifteen feet away could I hear the faint strains of gaskets and valves extruding their pressures, and the deep chest-thumping chugging of it’s huge engine. It would have been exhilarating save for one simple thing: This sense of pure loneliness that followed in the train’s wake. I’ve never in my life felt so alone and I pray to our Robot Overlords that I never will again.