Just about every state in America has a ghost story or two that has been passed down through the years. But Virginia seems to have more than its share of unusual sightings, as well as quite a number of folktales and legends. Many of the stories go back as far as the 1600s, like the legend of the lost maiden of the Great Dismal Swamp. From ghosts and spirits, to witches and vampires, the Commonwealth of Virginia has its share of stories to tell.
There is one story that has persisted for over 140 years, dating back to the early 1800s or a little later. If the truth is told, thousands of people have seen the apparition, a ghostly light on a rail bed in King William County, Virginia. There is a rural railroad crossing along state Route 632 near West Point called the Cohoke crossing. The crossing is said to hold a mysterious past that time has somehow transcended into the present.
The ghost light has been seen by literally hundreds and hundreds of people over the past 100 years or more, and many of the sightings have been documented. But there are still skeptics out there, until they come to see for themselves. This is often when they go home, shaken to their core, but believers. Jim Wolford, a retired sheriff, says “I’ve seen vehicles there from every state in the United States. There were so many people there, they burned the store down (by the tracks) and a house.”
Angela Quick grew up near the Cohoke Crossing, and she says she has seen the light many times. She claims that one time the light came so close it was “within spitting distance.” She remembers the light as being “odd-shaped,” and completely different from a typical train light. “Being typical teen-agers, we were freaking out and screaming and we just wanted to get out of there,” she recalled, laughing.
The real story of the Cohoke ghost-light
One story explaining the light dates back to the early 1800s. It story involves a brakeman who somehow lost his head during a train accident. It is his lantern light people see coming down the tracks as he looks for his head. Another story says it is a lost train full of Confederate soldiers that disappeared into the night during the Civil War, never to be seen again. Believers in this story say the light is the locomotive’s light.
But here is the real story, and it dates back to after the Battle of Cold Harbour in 1864. A trainload of wounded Confederate soldiers was sent to West Point, down toward the Eastern Shore of the state. When the train reached West Point, the soldiers were to be allowed to recuperate from their wounds before being reassigned. The train left Cold Harbour, but strangely, never reached West Point.
On checking out the disappearance of the train, officials discovered that on nearing West Point, the train had to switch tracks while moving. The trainman manning the switch that night had apparently fallen asleep at the switch. He was awakened by the noise of the oncoming train, and he said he tried to wave it down with his red brake lantern, known to mean “stop.” It was a desperate attempt that failed. The train thundered on to an inglorious end, carrying all those wounded soldiers to their deaths.
Not only was everyone on board the train killed in the horrible crash, but the trainman alongside the tracks. He met a most gruesome end, because he was decapitated. One wonders what he must have been thinking at the end, or did he have time to think anything at all? He lost his head over a stupid mistake, taking a train load of soldiers with him. Those who know say the trainman walks the tracks at night, either looking for his lost head, or maybe trying to protect other trains from coming to a devastating end.