What is oftentimes called Georgia's own Titanic story took place in Henry County, Georgia on June 23, 1900. Near the present-day city of McDonough, there is a small creek called Camp Creek. As in 1900, today there is a railroad track that runs across the creek. However, if you were to visit the site today, the creek flows quietly underneath the railroad crossing. On that fateful day in 1900, the creek was swollen due to three weeks of heavy nonstop rainfall. The railroads were important modes of transportation in 1900, as this was before the mass production of automobiles. The heavy rainfall would spell disaster for Old Number 7, the locomotive that would pull the train northbound from Macon on to the bridge over Camp Creek that fateful day.
I first learned of this event after taking the Haunted History Tour of McDonough tonight led by Caprice Walker and Dan Brooks of Bell, Book and Candle in downtown McDonough, Georgia. Living in the area, the tour was even more enjoyable for me due to my curiosity about the many old buildings and homes in the downtown area. On the tour, Dan and Caprice tell guests of the many historic buildings in downtown McDonough and the ghost stories that have made these buildings so mysterious. On the tour, the two take guests to the square downtown. While it is a very peaceful, serene looking park, there are a number of things that have happened in and on the square that make it the site of some eerie happenings. Perhaps the most intriguing of these is what is called the Camp Creek Train Wreck.
As Old Number 7 sat on the tracks at the McDonough depot waiting for the heavy rainfall and bad weather to pass, it was attached to a combination car, day coach, and Pullman sleeper. There were 48 passengers and crew aboard. The engineer, J.T. Sullivan, was given the orders to wait at McDonough for eastbound Number 27 from Columbus coming in from Luella. Number 27 never came, but the Red Ball Freight carrying two people did come through and was waived on. It later crossed the Camp Creek bridge, becoming the last train to do so before the fateful accident.
Around 9:45 p.m. that night, Sullivan received orders to continue northbound. The passengers were a bit nervous about making the trek in the awful weather, and when told of this by one of his crewman, the engineer is said to have remarked, "We'll either be having breakfast in Atlanta or Hell." As the train neared the bridge, the brick supports underneath the bridge had washed out from under the tracks. By the time the train got to the bridge, it was too late. They applied the brakes on the train, but it did not work. The engine leaped through the air as the tracks fell away underneath, and although it almost made it to the other side, the other cars crashed in to the chasm below. According to Brooks and Walker in their guide to historic and haunted downtown McDonough, "As soon as the train crashed, it was engulfed in flames. The train cars began to fill with water from the swollen creek. Survivors attempted to climb the wreckage, but were swept away in the raging torrent. The scene was one of horror."
Of the 48 people on board the train, only nine survived that night. Those people were taken to the Globe Hotel or the Dunn House downtown on the square to receive any needed medical treatment and to board for the time being. The Globe Hotel is now the home of Scarlett's Retreat in McDonough and is the two story home facing Jonesboro Street. Those bodies that were recovered from the wreckage were taken back to McDonough. They were laid out on the square for identification. Local undertakers, B.B. Carmichael and A.F. Bunn and Company handled much of the work on the bodies.
Brooks and Walker have a theory as to why the square in downtown McDonough is so haunted. They feel that it has a lot to do with the Camp Creek Train Wreck of 1900. In their guide they comment, "Maybe that is why so many places around the square are considered haunted-by the ghosts of the dead who were laid out in the public square. Or maybe it is the ghost of those poor victims where were never recovered from the wreck, seeking their homes and are lingering here not knowing they never made it on their trip." Below is a partial list of the passengers and crew that were part of that wreck:
Passengers (list incomplete): W.W. Ipark, W.F. Maddox, George W. Flournoy, W.J. Pate, and Jesse Pate all of Atlanta; Clinton Hightower of Stockbridge; J.L. Florida of Nashville, Tennessee; and W.H. Jensen of Sugar, Utah.
Crew: J.T. Sullivan, W.A. Barclay, W.H. Green, W.W. Bennett, all of Atlanta; H.R. Cressman of Asheville, North Carolina.
Unidentified: There were 11 people, both African American and caucasian. Brooks and Walker also report that there were some bodies believed to be underneath the splintered railcars that were lying in the creekbed that were never recovered and identified.
Perhaps these lost souls do continue to roam the downtown square in McDonough. I know that there were a lot of buildings that we visited on the tour that were haunted. This was a tragedy of major proportions. This weekend, I plan to find the site of the wreck and visit. They did rebuild the tracks over Camp Creek, and to this day there are trains that still cross the creek on the new tracks that are there. There are still parts of the old support beams that are in the ground underneath the tracks and near the creek bank. There are also remnants of the old brick supports that are still there. I plan to visit and take pictures. Perhaps I will get to post them soon. I highly recommend a trip to McDonough to take Walker and Brook's tour. You can call and make arrangements at 770-957-1880. They visit a haunted theatre, as well as restaurants that used to be funeral parlors and are very haunted. One is The Seasons Bistro, considered to be the most haunted building in McDonough. They also visit the old Masonic Lodge, and the Hazlehurst House, a haunted antebellum mansion. It is quite a tour.