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Hoosac tunnel

04/01/04 12:00AM By Joe Citro
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(Host) Many places in New England inspire legends and ghost stories. Recently commentator Joe Citro visited one spot that is said to be haunted, and he says it's easy to see why.

(Citro) On March 29, 2004, my friend Steve Bissette and I headed south from Pownal, Vermont to check out Massachusetts's "Big Dig." Not Boston's dig, but an earlier one that's almost forgotten.

I'm talking about the Hoosac Tunnel, a five mile hole bored through the earth to permit east-west railroad passage.

It was definitely the biggest hole we'd ever seen, a huge mouth in the mountainside. We couldn't picture how it was engineered. They started digging at both ends at once, creating a 5-mile horizontal hole straight through mountains almost 2000 feet tall. How did they make ends meet?

Somehow they managed, creating America's longest tunnel.

The whole project took 24 years and cost over $21-million dollars. Many new technologies were tried including the first commercial application of Nitroglycerine.

Predictably, problems continued - far too many for this brief commentary.

But here's the thing: almost 200 lives were lost to explosions, collapsing walls, fires, and asphyxiation. So many people died that the tunnel was dubbed "The Bloody Pit." Today, it's considered one of the most haunted places in New England.

In 1865 explosives expert Ringo Kelley touched off a blast that killed his two companions. Soon after, he disappeared without a trace. Exactly one year later his body turned up in the tunnel, exactly where the men had died. He'd been strangled. No clues, not even footprints, were ever found.

In 1868 a construction worker heard a male voice crying out in agony. After that, he refused to reenter the tunnel. Investigators found no one, but the agonized wails have continued for over a century. Sometimes voices cry out, warning of forthcoming disasters.

During snowstorms, locals report ghostly miners carrying picks and shovels. They don't answer calls or leave footprints in the snow.

Inside, lights appear and vanish. Many railroad workers have encountered a headless, lantern-carrying shade in the tunnel's lightless depths.

In 1874 Harlan Mulvaney fled from the tunnel and vanished. A century later, Bernard Hastaba set out to walk through the tunnel. He never emerged and couldn't be found inside.

Maybe he wandered into a secret room that's supposedly hidden near the center. It's bricked up, they say, and conceals unspeakable horrors.

Steve and I didn't stick around to meet the ghosts. We were scared off tunnel itself, which was cold and dangerous. Inside, water poured down like saliva and toothlike chunks of ice and bricks crashed lethally to the floor.

This is Joe Citro, saying, "Maybe next time."

Novelist Joe Citro is a native Vermonter. He lives in Burlington.

2004 Copyright Joseph A. Citro
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