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.

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. Alongside 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 ghostly with the nightly train sounds…. possibly due to the fact that my father had once made mention of THE Ghost Train.  The story was illusive: an old passenger train was coming in to Birmingham from Nashville, late at night. The train’s engineer had fallen asleep, and failed to stop properly upon arrival at the station in downtown. While the train was not completely full to capacity, it did hold several families, as well as a handful of single wayfarers. The crash was horrific – steel and bodies collided into the station, rendering every single passenger dead.  The accident happened in the month of October, in 1929 – just before the Crash that rendered the country, and the world, into a Depression of great depths. Some say the train crash was a portend of The Crash on Wall Street. Regardless, the train and its passengers were doomed to circle the tracks and repeat its entry into Birmingham over and over again each October. Some say the train and its occupants repeat the route every year, hoping for a chance to complete their journey once and for all, and to go about whatever business they had in the Iron Ore City.

The Ghost Train led me to fully believe that the fog did indeed hold ghosts. Some may be the ghosts of people on the train; I imagined others were actually the people who had built “my neighborhood’: people who were  the Builders of Birmingham – all before the Crash of 1929. My own 4 story brick home was finished in the earlier half of that year…. before things came crumbling down. An epiphany did come to me as these ‘ghosts’ took root in my imagination: not all ghosts were bad, thus not all scary or frightening. Many were simply about for reasons well beyond frightening the living. I suspect they knew their earthly bodies were no more, but they were still not quite ready to leave this realm. Maybe they needed some resolution. Or, maybe they are consigned to help the living retain a sense of history – to see to it that the living remain, or become, aware of our history. No moral lessons are necessarily the gist – just a knowledge.

 As I’ve moved well into my adult years, I still have ghosts of people in my own past. Family and friends that have gone on before me – not necessarily in the same horrific manner as the passengers of The Ghost Train of 1929. Still, loosing them caused an initial shock of cold steel tearing into my own flesh – and that suspended moment of surrealism that hangs there for only a moment, but feels like forever. The earthly conversations we held with our dearly departed are not more, but I do still look for them in the fog – even in the Savannah, GA fog – after the rains come in. I love the fog, especially in the late evenings or early mornings, because I am convinced the ghosts of friends and family are in the mist. At least from time to time, anyway.

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