CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Investigators say a 29-year-old Charlotte man who was struck and killed by a train on a trestle in Iredell County, N.C., early today was among a group of ghost hunters who had to run for their lives when they realized a locomotive was barreling down on them.
The group had gathered on the bridge over Third Creek on the 119th anniversary of a fatal train wreck that sparked one of the Carolinas’ best-known ghost stories. Witnesses told investigators that the group hoped to see a “ghost train” — part of the legend of the Bostian Bridge train wreck on Aug. 27, 1891, that killed about 30 people.
Early today, about 12 amateur ghost hunters were on the trestle when a Norfolk Southern train suddenly rounded a bend in the tracks, authorities said.
“They probably didn’t hear the train coming until the last minute,” said Iredell County Sheriff’s Capt. Darren Campbell.
Christopher Kaiser was killed when he was struck and thrown to the bottom of the 100-foot ravine beneath the trestle.
Campbell said there are no rail crossings nearby, so the engineer had no need to sound his horn as he approached the trestle. Investigators say when the group realized the eastbound train was coming, they began running for the east side of the trestle. All but Kaiser made it.
Witnesses told deputies that Kaiser pushed another woman aside at the last second, saving her life. That woman, whose name has not been released, was airlifted to Carolinas Medical Center, but her condition was not released.
A spokesman for Norfolk Southern said the train had three engines and no freight cars, and that the engineer tried unsuccessfully to stop in time.
One witness told WCNC-TV that the group was waiting for the ghost train.
“They say on the anniversary (of the 1891 accident) that it replays in front of you,” the witness said. “You hear the accident or you hear the train wrecking.”
A 1991 story in The Charlotte Observer about the 100th anniversary of the wreck said about 150 people turned out at the scene, and that hawkers sold T-shirts and other items.
One of those at that 100th anniversary was Tony Reevy, author of the book “Ghost Train, American Railroad Ghost Legends.”
Reevy said the train legend is among North Carolina’s best-known ghost stories.
“People have always loved tales of the supernatural,” Reevy said. “We all face death in our lives. I think there is at heart a wish to think that things go on after death.”
The original accident involved a passenger train traveling from Salisbury to Asheville. Although there is some disagreement over the time of the wreck, most accounts say it happened about 2 a.m. For some reason, the train went off the bridge, dropping into the creek.
The legend of the ghost train developed when a group of people walking near the Bostian Bridge on the first anniversary of the wreck claimed to have met a man, dressed in a railroad uniform, who asked them for the time. According to the legend, the man resembled Hugh K. Linkster, a baggage master who was killed in the wreck. Legend claims that the man vanished before the group’s eyes.
Operation Lifesaver, a national organization dedicated to ending deaths and injuries on rail property, said a freight train might need up to a mile to stop.
Campbell said authorities had been told that ghost hunters gathered at the 1891 crash site occasionally but hadn’t received complaints.
“This really hadn’t been an issue,” he said. “But obviously, they were trespassing on railroad property.”