Ghost Trains and Fog

Redmont Park, even to this day, is one of the older and still most beautiful neighborhoods of Birmingham, Alabama. I hold many vivid and odd memories of growing up on Lenox Road – the road of my childhood and young adulthood, which is nestled on a high and rolling hill (or mountain, depending upon whom one speaks with.) The neighborhood is an old, historical one that sprung up in the early 20th century – many homes were erected by the Steel Barons. Thankfully, (and only a very few of my native city will understand my stance of thankfulness…) we who dwelt there were NOT a part of Mountain Brook – something I take great pride in relishing.

I recall my street – in ALL seasons – but the month of October holds a special place in the innermost chamber of my heart. The Autumn Leaves, year by year, in October, always held a certain, last brilliance, which always hung on as the end was fast approaching – which entails a certain untouched beauty.

In the early 1970’s, as a young one not yet nearing my teen years, I used to throw open the curtains in my bedroom and peer out the to the western side of the house at sunset, particularly in the Fall when the setting sun came at an earlier hour. The view from my upstairs bedroom entailed the orange sun being swallowed by the trees and overgrowth of the vacant lot right ‘next door’ to our property – just beyond the vacant lot was the Virginia Simpson home, which overlooked the City (and which may or may not be visible – depending on the time of year. The magnificent trees and overgrowth from the vacant lot may or may not shroud it – in the summers, that home and city view are impossible to discern). The vacant lot right next to my childhood home had once held a community tennis court, with a beautiful stone pathway and steps leading to it. Even now, the fence still encapsulates the court. Through the overgrowth and trees, the old street lamps were always visible beginning at sunset, once the globes switched on.

AS the evening progressed into nighttime, these old street lamps would glow almost eerily – with a nearly orange color to them. As the temperatures of October nights dropped (and on into the other, colder months), fog would form. These formations always, at least in my young mind, never started until October. Often, the fog would swirl around these orange globes: clouds of fog would dance about. As the night hours grew later and later, I would begin to imagine that this dancing fog contained ghosts. Along side the visual of the swirling ghosts, another nightly ritual always occurred to help facilitate my fantasy: the night time trains trekking in and out of the City of Birmingham, accompanied by their lonesome, shrill whistles and horns, along with the rhythmic sounds of the wheels on the tracks. These sounds were far off and muffled, but each and every night, they would climb the hill and into my bedroom via my opened window. I always affiliated the fog that was ghosts with the nightly train sounds….possibly due to the fact that my father had once made mention of THE Ghost Train.  At this juncture in my life, I do not recall the full story, other than the story of a train wreck that cost the lives of every soul on board; the train later would come back at precisely 9:10 pm every single night, on the same track of the wretched mishap. The story scared many, but I found it fascinating.

The Ghost Train led me to fully believe that the fog did indeed hold ghosts – although my ghosts were of a different group – certainly not the souls on the train. I imagined they were actually the people who had built what was then “my neighborhood’. So many of them were the Builders of Birmingham – all before the Crash of 1929. My own abode was  finished in the earlier half of that year….before things came crumbling down. Through close family members, particularly my grandparents, I had become well aware at a very young age of that year and the horrific episode. Those of us with parents and grandparents were privy to a first hand account of those wretched years, and the collective as well as personal, individual Depression. Within my own thought process, these ghosts that I had conjured in my own imagination were the visible Energies of the builders of Birmingham and my neighborhood – maybe engaging in a seasonal, nightly return to what may very well have embodied the best years of their lives. They were not there to stalk, assault, or cause fright….they were maybe returning to a moment in time where they were on solid ground. And, while many eventually  managed to recoup monetarily, the concept of solid ground eluded them for the rest of their lives……….and as a child, I had a sense of hope in the return of such a concept; in my naiveté, I believed any of us could recapture such an illusive feeling – even if it is not until the After Life.

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