DUBOIS CO., Ind. (EVANSVILLE COURIER AND PRESS) -- The train barreled through Jasper, straight toward a school bus that waited helplessly on the tracks.
Terrified schoolchildren watched as the train grew bigger and bigger in the bus windows. Finally, it swallowed everything.
The impact was catastrophic. Everyone on board was killed – except for the driver.
Some say the driver was suicidal and had parked the bus there on purpose. Others claim he was distraught, and later returned to the spot of his tragic mistake to press a gun to his temple.
On a dark night on Devil’s Road, you can still see his headless visage stumbling down the tracks.
Well – according to legend, anyway.
Any Google search of haunted places in Indiana is likely to hit upon Devil’s Road – a spot in Dubois County supposed still haunted by the victims of the horrible train-school bus collision described above.
Thrill seekers possessed by the spirit of Halloween are supposed to stop their car on the tracks and drop it into neutral. Eventually, disembodied whispers of children will fill the night and the car will lurch forward.
They’re pushing you out of the way, the legend goes. Helping you avoid their own unlucky fate. If you sprinkle baby powder across your car, you can see their handprints.
But is any of it true?
You can dismiss or embrace the ghost angle depending on your beliefs in the supernatural. But what about that gruesome train wreck?
An event like that can scar a community for decades – leave trails of ruined families in its wake. Each time the wreck’s anniversary popped up, local reporters would fall all over themselves to write remembrances.
Problem is, there doesn’t seem to be any record of such a collision ever occurring.
Believe it or not, the haunting websites are vague on details. Most of them pin the accident as happening sometime in the 1960s.
Neither the National Transportation Safety Board nor the Federal Railroad Administration reports any such accident. Granted, reports are spotty before 1975 – when the rules for documenting collisions got stricter – but no hint of a massive, deadly collision in Southern Indiana pops up anywhere.
There’s no mention of it in the Evansville Courier archives. Newspapers.com – a site that archives publications from around the country – didn’t show any sign of it in the Dubois County Herald, either.
'They just started screaming'
Sadly, there are countless examples of similar disasters.
On Oct. 23, 1974, seven students were killed and 73 injured in Georgia when a work train stocked with heavy railroad ties tumbled backward and rammed a school bus that had been crossing the tracks.
“Everybody started tumbling over the seats,” an 11-year-old passenger told United Press International at the time. “They just started screaming. And then it hit.”
The driver, Billy Kellett, suffered a concussion and fell into grief-laced shock. Rosalynn Carter, wife of then-Georgia governor Jimmy, visited Kellett in the hospital. She expressed her condolences. All he could do was mumble and turn away.
Twenty kids died in a terrible bus-train crash in Greeley, Colorado, in 1961. Three students were killed in a 1972 collision in Pennsylvania. And there are many more.
One of the most infamous cases happened in 1995. Then, seven students died and 21 people were hurt when a passenger train bound for Chicago rammed into the back of a school bus and severed it from its frame.
The accident in Fox Grove, Illinois, still weighs heavily on the town more than 20 years later.
The legend of Devil’s Road sounds awfully similar to a famous ghost story in San Antonio, Texas.
Just like in Jasper, you’re supposed to park your car on the Ghost Tracks on the south end of town and wait for tiny disembodied hands – victims of a shadowy train crash long ago – to push you to safety. That story even drew the attention of the bros from “Ghost Adventures.”
But such a collision doesn’t seem to have happened there, either. Last year, the San Antonio Express-News talked to a local historian who couldn’t find any record of it.
Somehow, she said, the story got mixed up with an actual crash that occurred in Salt Lake City in 1938, when a freight train plowed into a school bus, killing 23.
Does the truth matter?
Of course, all this nitpicking may not matter.
Halloween is about having fun and getting scared. People who want to drive around remote train crossings and wait for a ghostly heave over the tracks can still do so – as long as they keep an eye out for approaching locomotives. Even when looking for ghosts, safety is key.
Friends and I did just that about 10 years ago. We put the car in neutral and waited. The night was still. The black fingers of bare trees stabbed at the even-blacker sky. The radio was off, and silence filled the car like smoke.
We waited. Then it came – a slow rocking.
Maybe it happened. Maybe our minds created it all. Either way, we stepped on the gas and got out of there.
Contact columnist Jon Webb at email@example.com.