Sunday, March 25, 2018

The Haunted Cowee Tunnel and the Fugitive Ghost

My usual routine is to research a topic and write a blog about it. That blog then gets shared on Facebook, Twitter, and maybe one of the other social media platforms I play around on. However, there are times when just the opposite happens---I'll be inspired to write a blog post AFTER posting the information on Facebook.  And, that's the idea behind today's blog, lol. 
It all started with a video from one of my favorite YouTube explorers, The Carpetbagger. In one of his travels, he tells the story of the haunted Cowee train tunnel near Dillsboro, North Carolina. I've embedded the video below for you to watch, but the basic gist of the tale is both sad and horrific. 

On December 30, 1882, work was being done to dig a tunnel for the Great Smokey Mountain Railway, just outside Dillsboro, North Carolina. The digging was the work of an African-American chain gang, many of the group having been sent to prison over incidents of petty theft. To access the tunnel, the group had to take a boat across the Tuckasegee River from their camp on the other side.  On that fateful day, 19 men would never see the other side of the river alive again.  

The boat began to fill with water, and the men panicked. The more they panicked, the worse conditions got, and the boat quickly capsized. For 19 of the men, chained together, this was a death sentence. Tangled together, they sank to the bottom of the icy river.

Not all lives aboard the boat were lost, however. Anderson Drake was a black overseer who wasn't attached to the chain gang. Not only was he able to swim to safety, but he also managed to jump back into the river and save the life of a white guard named Fleet Foster.

Now, one would think that Foster would be grateful to have been pulled from the clutches of icy death, but it would seem that he felt offended that his life was in the hands of a black man, and a criminal at that. So, later that evening when his wallet went 'missing,' and the prisoners searched, it was found among the possessions of Drake. Drake, who should have been hailed as a hero, was severely beaten and had his sentence extended.

A few days later, the bodies of the 19 men who perished were removed from the river and buried in a mass grave near the site. Work continued on the tunnel, but the story does not end here. Many believe that to this day, the Cowee train tunnel is haunted. Even in dry weather, the tunnel is prone to vast amounts of moisture dripping from its ceiling and sides. Visitors attribute this to being the tears of the 19 deceased men. Also attributed to the men are the frequently heard voices and screams, crying out from the area around the tunnel.

Some even say the tunnel is cursed, possibly by Anderson Drake in response to his harsh treatment. Over the years, the tunnel has seen cave-ins, derailments, and other horrific accidents. But the weirdest ghost story associated with the tunnel wouldn't surface until decades after the incident.

When the movie, The Fugitive (1993) was being filmed, CGI technology was not what it is today. So,
to achieve the best possible shot for the iconic prison bus vs. train scene, a REAL bus and train wreck was staged on scene near Dillsboro, NC...only about a mile or so away from the haunted Cowee train tunnel!  After filming wrapped up, the remnants of the wreck were simply left on the side of the road, much to the delight of film buffs, urban explorers, and YouTubers. You can still visit the area and get up close and personal with the abandoned movie props....but that's not the most interesting part of this whole scene.

Allegedly, when that shot was being filmed, someone (or someTHING!) managed to show up on camera that shouldn't have been there. If you look closely at the part when Harrison Ford is looking up from inside the train crash, you can see what appears to be a face of a man, wearing a hat, peering down into the camera. This anomaly was confirmed by a member of production in an 'extras' interview, which can be viewed on YouTube.  He says that no one could identify the man  at the time and that his image was digitally removed from the DVD copy of the movie. You can still see it on VHS copies and throughout YouTube, with much speculation as to whether or not the image was a ghost.  Some say that he was probably a fireman on set that accidentally got caught on film.  Others believe he is a ghost associated with the Cowee Tunnel, located just a mile or so away from where the filming took place. Take a look at the footage from the link provided and let me know what YOU think!

Extra Links and Reading:
YouTube footage--DVD Interview and Ghost Scene from The Fugitive
Smoky Mountain News Article by Garrett K. Woodward
Atlas Obscura: The Fugitive Train Wreck
Dave Tabler article from Appalachian History
The Carpetbagger YouTube Channel

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