Saturday, August 30, 2008

Camp Creek Train Wreck of 1900 Might Be Responsible for Haunted McDonough Square

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.


Lady Em said...

I have family that have been on that tour, and they say it was really good. That is how I heard about the train wreck, and I know just what creek you are talking about.

Tess Kincaid said...

Researching haunted places is very intriguing to me, especially since I live in a house we believe is haunted by at least one ghost that we know of.

I'm over here from Lady Em's place. Interesting post.

The Professor said...

Willow, would you email me about your experiences and your haunted home? You can click on my email link at my profile. It is I would be very interested in hearing what you have encountered.

madge1967 said...

Thank you Jeff for posting the
"Camp Creek Train Wreck of 1900."
I have been in this area since 2001and ever since I moved here I have had some kind of paranormal activity in my home and in my neighborhood. I have been trying to explain what has been the sorce of the activity and I think you have found it for me. This has helped me find out what and who might be haunting my area.
Thanks again,
Annette from Henry County

gbiguy said...

If anyone here is experiencing any sort of paranormal activity, lives near the accident site, and would like to have a paranormal investigation take place, please contact the Central Georgia Paranormal Society at

Our Mission:
We are a group of paranormal investigators dedicated to providing confidential assistance to any and all people, free of charge, who feel they are experiencing paranormal phenomena in either their homes or businesses. This will be done with the greatest respect to each individual and/ or family and their feelings in each case.

It is our greatest desire to help anyone who calls on us. We will do our best to provide logical explanations to whatever is occurring in each instance so as to allay any fears of the clients. Whenever explanations cannot be found, and the case is deemed paranormal (outside normal experience), we will provided comfort and be available via phone or e-mail as needed for further assistance.

Our Philosphy:
We are a volunteer, non-profit, society dedicated to the scientific investigation of the paranormal at the request of businesses or individual clients. We will seek to find logical explanations to any reported occurrences in a business or home environment. After eliminating all logical explanations, it may be classified as paranormal (out of the normal range of experiences), or haunted, as deemed by CGPS founders.

We will conduct ourselves in a professional manner at all times during investigations and client dealings and never misrepresent CGPS members or philosophy either privately or publicly.


Anonymous said...

I used to hang out at that trestle bridge when I was a teenager...had no idea it was haunted, although I always had an uneasy feeling there. Email me at if you want directions to it.

Anonymous said...

When I was little, my mother sang a song about "OLD No. 7" that was involved in a train wreck. Do you happen to know the words?

The Professor said...

No, I don't know the lyrics, but I would love to find out. How long ago was this?

Rhonda said...

I have a cousin who lost his life in the Camp Creek Train Wreck. June 23, 2010 is the 110 year anniversary of the wreck and they are having a special ghost tour that night in McDonough. The bookstore in McDonough, The bell, candle and book, also has a new book out all about the wreck.

Another Voice said...

The train engineer, James T. Sullivan, is my great grandfather. My grandmother, Cecilia Rose (Kenny) Sullivan, is his daughter. The family at that time lived in Newnan, GA., where my great grand mother’s family were from. Mary E. (Corcoran) Sullivan, who died in 1887, is the daughter of Thomas J. and Harriett (Smith) Corcoran. After the death of JTS his wife remarried and had three children by his second husband. JTS and his first wife Mary E. Corcoran had five children, of which two lived to adulthood. JTS is buried in Atlanta’s old Oakland cemetery, which is about a mile east of the capital building. I don’t know for sure, but I believe Mary is buried in Newnan City Cemetery.
Rod Fudge
Acworth, GA

TheHardyBoy said...

ive been searching for a good story about mcdonough to do some research on cause ive always wanted to be and archeologist, then i stumbled across this story and i was captivated that this had all happened so near to me, im going to the creek to look at the site soon and see if i can find anything "mischievous" and then going to the library to do some research on this story and the seasons bistro which is right next door to my church, ive mustve walked by it a thousand times and got this wierd scared feeling, now this is propably why, very excited to do research on this instead of waste my time on video games, thanks for the story

The Professor said...

The Hardy Boy:
Good luck to you in your research. Don't forget to take a look at my book on the subject. The McDonough Library should have a copy. If not, check out the Brown House downtown.

Caprice said...

There are still pieces of the supports for the bridge and I guess pieces of the bridge that was involved in the 1900 train crash in and around the creek running under the current bridge. If you do not want to get dirty, or if you cannot find any relics, we have some pieces at the book store.

Dana said...

please help me!!hi about two years ago my husband and i went to camp creek,we had never heard of it but someone from his work wanted to go.we took a camera and a voice recorder,we were just there pretty much to get out of the house and was really were not expecting anything.We were there about an hour and shortly after the voice recorder stopped working,so i stuck it in my drawer and never thought about it again..until last week when i was cleaning and found it.I turned it on and it was working and i pushed play and it was the recording from camp creek. And i was shocked when we heard something in back ground that was not us and we never heard it when we were there. there was no one but us.I need help trying to figure out what it is saying

gbiguy said...

Dana, can you send me a copy of what you recorded? I would love to listen to it. My direct e-mail is: Thanks.


Human said...

My musical theater class at Dutchtown HS is writing a musical about this Wreck.

The Professor said...

That sounds great, Human. Let me know if I can help at all. I am the author of the book on the train crash. Feel free to contact me if you need any assistance. I think your musical will be great. Also, let us know when it is going to be performed. I would love to come!

Lanie said...

I have never heard of this train wreck in Georgia before. But I will tell you when I was watching the show called haunted towns, in which a paranormal team was investigating it, some of the grave markers were shown near the site. The name w h green resonated with me. That was when I looked up this actual wreck and found out he was actually a member of the crew. It kind of makes me wonder if he was the one that said "we'll either be eating breakfast in Atlanta or in hell." I am not sure why the name resonated with me like that it just gave me a Feeling. When I was looking up his name it is also weird because someone else, in February of 1900 had his name and he died in Princeton New Jersey...Any thoughts?

The Professor said...

The episode of Haunted Towns to which you refer was the episode on which I appeared. I am the author of the book In Atlanta or in Hell: The Camp Creek Train Crash of 1900. I am in the first part of the clip in the green shirt at the train crash site.

As far as WH Green, he would not have been the one to utter that line, as it came out of a discussion between the engineer and the depot master about whether to proceed or not. I have never run across anything that credited him with the remark.

That is interesting that there was a W.H. Green in Princeton, New Jersey who died in February 1900. However, keep in mind that the names could be different. I don't know what W.H. stands for in his first name, so the W.H. Green in New Jersey could have quite a different name from our guy.

Another Voice said...

Where was the engineer James T. Sullivan buried?