Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Story telling: ghost trains of Baraga County?

The local state park reached out to the museum recently with a request for a speaker for their Friday evening program series. Our original intention was to say No, that none of us were really up to it, but somehow, when I stopped by the park to tell them that in person, it turned into a Yes. I really need to learn how to say No more with conviction.

In any case, I looked over the topics other people were scheduled to cover and decided that the history of railroads in Baraga County would be a good one. There is another historian speaking this summer, but she's from the sawmill museum in Alberta so odds are her topic is going to be Henry Ford and logging. Logging is normally my topic, but railroads will do, especially when I can so easily slide over the line from straight forward history to speculating about paranormal phenomena, ghost trains, and mysterious noises in the night. The CN railroad tracks run right behind the park, although there's rarely any traffic on them (they dead end about a mile farther north in the Baraga Industrial Park), so it makes perfect sense to talk about railroading. As for ghost stories, isn't that what every kid wants to hear when camping?

There have been some spectacular derailments -- a number of trains had problems with the long grade down to L'Anse. For a railroad, the grade is steep, it's continuous for about 7 miles, and it ends with a sharp curve just before the Falls River. There have been multiple derailments on or close to that curve. In one case, the derailed train smashed into the L'Anse depot. In another incident, there were multiple fatalities. There's a lot of potential drama without having to indulge in any embellishments.

On the other hand, speculating about ghostly train whistles at midnight does sound a tad more interesting than simply telling people that it used to be possible to take a passenger train all the way to the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula. Having done straight forward history for so long, it is really tempting to go wandering down the supernatural path for a change. Michigan Tech students managed (or have almost managed) to eliminate the ghost stories explaining the Paulding Light; maybe it's time for a dead fireman to start haunting L'Anse. I've got over a month to put the talk together -- it'll be interesting to see just how much embroidery I do when the time comes.

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