Clay Kilgore, carrying only a dimly lit lantern for protection, didn’t cower while walking the streets of Washington at dusk Saturday telling “ghastly tales” and haunted stories.
Kilgore, director of Washington County Historical Society, was one of several tour guides to lead numerous people on the Bradford House-sponsored “Ghosts of Washington” haunted tour as winds whipped through the chilly city streets.
“It’s kind of a weird event for the Bradford House because it’s so 18th-century based,” Kilgore said. “This (haunted tour) is about the entire history of the town.”
Kilgore led the first group of about two-dozen people to City Hall before taking them to an alley off West Maiden Street that was the site of a longtime military armory. He spoke of the “intense emotions” at some of these landmark locations, including the old armory that some believe holds the spirit of a local soldier killed in the Korean War.
But his most memorable haunted story is of a horrifying train derailment in 1888 that occurred about 200 yards west of the former Washington B&O Railroad Station. The “Cannonball Express” locomotive was coming into town too fast and derailed, throwing both the engineer and fireman from the cab. It landed on both of them, killing the engineer instantly and mortally wounding the fireman as he cried out for help beneath the twisted rubble, Kilgore said.
The townspeople turned the all-boys Trinity Hall military academy into a temporary hospital for the wounded. But Kilgore said they felt there was something “sinister” about the spot where the train crashed.
“The people didn’t like what they were feeling at that spot,” Kilgore said.
They performed a séance in an attempt to release the spirits, he said, much to the chagrin of local clergy.
One follower, Tim Moore of Washington, brought his own ghost story to the tour. Moore said his family-owned business, All Ways Moving & Storage on West Maiden Street near where the locomotive tragedy occurred, has an old building from the mid-19th century that has elevators with rope pulleys. He recalled an incident about a decade ago when one of the ropes accidentally wrapped around his neck and started pulling him up before he says “something” loosened it and dropped him to the ground.
“I would’ve gone straight up to the second level,” Moore said. “It’s something I’ve never experienced before.”
Moore, a member of Washington County Historical Society, never took the haunted tour and was fascinated by the interesting tales that happened in the city over the past 200 years.
Kilgore said the Bradford House usually puts on tours through the historic dwelling, so this event gives the group an opportunity to expand its reach in the city. In its fourth year, Kilgore thinks the historical society has found a new fall tradition by teaming up with the local Bassettown Paranormal Society.
“We wanted to find a different way to tell history,” Kilgore said. “Being a historian, we can admit it can be boring at times. We wanted to find a way to make it more interesting.”