AVON — Maybe you hear the moans of a construction worker trapped forever inside the arches of Avon's Haunted Bridge after he slipped and fell into wet concrete.
Or, perhaps, it's the ghostly cries of a woman mourning the sick baby who tumbled from her arms down into the water of White Lick Creek.
The stories are nearly as old as the 115-year-old Gothic bridge that towers over County Road 625 East just south of U.S. 36. The bridge and its folklore are intertwined with the lives of people who live in this part of Hendricks County.
Harriett Muston heard them all from her husband, Charlie, whose ancestors settled in the area during the 1830s. She said Charlie's aunt, Ruth Barker, fed the workers as they constructed the bridge.
"There's a big white house and that's where they lived, and I can remember (my mother-in-law) saying that her parents would be so mad because the kids would all get out and play on the railroad tracks," Muston said. "And the mother, of course, didn't like it."
The bridge with its uniquely haunting appearance has been a magnet for residents, particularly teenagers, for generations.
"The road was all gravel and there weren't all the nearby housing additions then, so it was far spookier than it is now," said Joseph Nield, who grew up in Plainfield during the 1980s and '90s. "Those arches along the bridge almost seemed like eyes."
Construction on the bridge took place in 1906-07 for the Big Four Railroad, the more common name for the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis Railway.
The Indianapolis News on June 27, 1907, reported the 305-foot-long bridge "has three arches of seventy-five feet each, and on top of these are twenty-four arches of seven feet and four inches. ... The approximate cost is $70,000."
Trains crossing through Hendricks County today carry freight and industrial materials along lines owned by CSX, but they originally took passengers to and from Union Station in Indianapolis.
The bridge was double-tracked in 1908, the same year the Friday Caller, a newspaper in Plainfield, published a story on some of the earliest reports of spirits in the area.
A copy of the paper's Nov. 13, 1908, edition can be found on microfilm at the Plainfield Public Library. The paper reported that day:
Two or three men have been killed in accidents at the Big Four bridge over Big Creek and now the bridge is alleged to be haunted.
Reputable men say that sounds of a great weight falling into the water underneath is sometimes heard, but the water remains perfectly calm with no sign of having been disturbed.
J.W. Bunk Atherton, one of our most well known citizens, passed the bridge just after dark on election night and he declares he saw some "spirits" hovering around the east end of the structure.
Like all good folklore, there are multiple stories to explain the strange happenings.
Susan Truax, an historian for the Avon-Washington Township Public Library, said one involves a worker who fell into wet concrete and remained there when the foreman did not want to stop. Some say a saw was left in the drying concrete, and it can be heard some nights.
Another version of perhaps the same story involves a worker who was sawing a wooden beam that was too long. He was on a wooden framework above the center support. The worker lost his balance and fell directly into the freshly poured concrete.
The other workers could not save him and signs of his fate include the end of his saw still protruding from the center support and the screaming that can be heard whenever a train passes over the bridge.
A third story involves a woman hurrying over the bridge on the railroad track with her sick baby. She caught her foot on the track and dropped the baby, who died. Truax said another version of the story says the mother fell to her death in the creek as well.
There is a scientific explanation for why people might think they hear the sounds of screaming.
The late DePauw University professor James Cooper described in his book "Artistry and Ingenuity in Artificial Stone: Indiana’s Concrete Bridges" how a train "passing overhead sends reverberations careening eerily through the structure's caverns."
"So, the fact that they had those empty rooms probably added a lot to it," Truax said. "And then, after a while, it just increased."
Regardless of whether the bridge actually is haunted or not, it holds an important place in Hendricks County history.
"There's a lot of people who identify with the railroad and I think it's become an important icon," Truax said. "It's sort of like the Circle for Indianapolis. How many people really think about what the Circle is, but if they took our Circle away, we would be very angry."
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