The “What was It?”

Is this old railroad bed haunted?

Note: My co-pilot for the day’s name has been changed to Justine to protect her identity. At the time we visited the land was not posted, but the last time I visited the area, the land was posted with a warning that trail cameras were set up to photograph trespassers. For this reason, I will not give the exact location, but the picture is of the location from a 2010 visit.

August 15, 2009.

It was a day that still echoes in my mind. Not because I saw something, but because the person I was with saw something – something that frightened her enough that it ended her joining me on trips to explore haunted locations.

I had met Justine while in college and we remained friends after we graduated. In 2009 she was living in Ohio, but every two or three months we’d get together somewhere in Western Pennsylvania, have lunch, then set out to explore the western part of the state.

Many of our adventures involved hiking at state parks, going to the outlets to shop, wandering a cemetery in search of a notable burial, or just sitting around and talking. Every now and then, Justine would accompany me on an exploration of a haunted location, even though she had no interest in folklore and ghost stories and did not understand my fascination with them. Nothing ever happened when we visited haunted locations – we would go, explore, and then laugh about the experience.

Cue August 15.

We had met up in Franklin late that morning and after eating lunch, I told her I had received an email from a man named Rob, who was a member of an online group I was involved with at the time. In his email, Rob mentioned an old, abandoned railroad bed that was supposedly haunted by the ghost of a man who fell from a moving train, was run over and killed. Some had claimed to have spotted the headless figure walking the abandoned railroad bed, while others claimed that the dead man haunted the area as a ball of light.

Like countless times before, Justine rolled her eyes and shook her head at the idea of me wanting to explore a haunted location, but she agreed to go along to visit the site. We left Franklin and drove into the mountains, following the directions I had been sent.

After getting lost a couple times, we ended up finding the abandoned stretch of railroad track, which crossed the dirt road we were traveling on. On one side, the railroad bed was blocked by a gate, while the other side had a trail that disappeared into the woods. I parked in front of the gate and studied my surroundings. If I had not known what I was looking at, I would never believed it was once a railroad track. The track had not been used in a long time and it had mostly disappeared as grass, briars, and brush reclaimed the land. It did not appear that this line had been used by a regular engine and my guess was at one time it had been used by a dinky engine to haul lumber.

The expression on Justine’s face told me she was not impressed and to be honest, I was not overly impressed either. But seeing we had driven to the middle of nowhere to explore a haunted location, I decided I would get out and have a look around.

“Are you coming?” I asked as I got out of the vehicle.

“I think I’ll pass.”

“Ok,” I said as I closed my door and walked around to the passenger’s side. “I’m going to walk a short distance back the path to see if there’s anything worth seeing.”

Justine shook her head and rolled her eyes. “Don’t get lost.”

I crossed the road and checked for any “No trespassing” signs. With none in sight, I entered the woods. I followed the trail back a short distance – about a hundred yards – to a spot where the railroad bed had collapsed when the culvert under it gave way.

I was debating crossing the ditch and continuing a little further when I heard Justine yelling. From where I was at, I could see only a portion of my vehicle, but I could see Justine was out of the vehicle and was walking around it. Concerned about what was going on, and afraid that another vehicle had arrived and there was a problem, I abandoned my thoughts of exploring and quickly headed back to where I had parked.

“You think you’re funny?” Justine yelled at me as I stepped out of the woods. “You’re a jerk!” She got back in the vehicle and slammed the door shut. I stood in the middle of the road, confused about what was going on.

I hesitantly got in the vehicle. After convincing her I did not know what she was mad about, Justine asked “You didn’t throw anything at the vehicle?”

I assured her I had not played any pranks on her. Justine informed me that soon after I had stepped into the woods it sounded like something hit the side of the vehicle. She thought it was me playing a joke on her, so she ignored it at first. Then the sound of something else hitting the vehicle followed by a third, heavier thump against the vehicle’s side. Then it sounded like someone had tossed a handful of pebbles on top of my vehicle.

At this point, Justine was convinced I was playing a cruel prank because she didn’t walk back the haunted stretch of track with me. As she was sitting there, Justine saw something move in the mirror and whatever she saw darted behind the vehicle. She was convinced it was me she had seen.

At this point, Justine got out of the vehicle to confront me. She got out and walked to the back of the vehicle yelling at me. She stepped behind the vehicle to discover that I was not there. Despite me stepping out of the woods a couple moments later, Justine still believed I was responsible for the noises she had heard.

She was upset and said she just wanted to leave. I explained that I wanted to make sure there was nothing wrong with the vehicle, so I got out and walked slowly around the vehicle. I checked for dents and the ground for any signs of objects that might have hit the vehicle. I checked the roof for any signs of pebbles, but there was nothing there and there were no branches in the immediate area to explain the sounds Justine heard. I could not find anything out of the ordinary.

I was in the process of walking around the rear of the vehicle when I heard Justine yell “What the [bleep] is that?” As I came around the vehicle to the driver’s side door, I could see her trembling and staring straight ahead. I glanced in the direction she was staring and did not see anything out of the ordinary.

“We need to go. Now!” Justine is in full panic mode and yells at me to get into the vehicle. I get into the vehicle and started to drive forward. She tells me that I am not going that way – we were turning around and going back the way we arrived.

By the time we arrived back in Franklin, I had managed to get the story from Justine about what she had seen. As I was walking around, checking the vehicle, a small, brown “human-like thing” had stepped out of the weeds from the left-side of the road. It turned to stare at her before it leapt across the road and disappeared into the woods.

In an attempt to figure out what Justine saw, I suggested it was a grouse she had seen, but she insisted it definitely was not a grouse – she knew what a grouse looked like and this was not a grouse. She insisted the thing she saw was “human-like” in appearance and reaffirmed the thing she saw leapt across the road and did not fly.

After leaving Justine off at her vehicle in Franklin, I debated what to do and my curiosity got the best of me – I returned to the spot to look around. Parking where I had previously, I walked down the dirt road roughly fifty yards to where it sharply turned to the right and disappeared into the forest, but found nothing out of the ordinary. If there had been any evidence left behind, it was gone by the time I arrived back at the location.

The most logical explanation I could come up with was that it was a grouse Justine saw and what she thought was a jump was the grouse taking flight. But this does not explain how she could have really confused it for looking like a small human.

Justine had spotted something going behind the vehicle as she was looking in the mirror, so it is possible this was also a case of mistaken identity. Thinking logically, the thing she saw could have also been explained by another animal or bird. However, I could not figure out how she could have mistaken another animal for being me – there is definitely a notable size difference, unless it had possibly been a deer she had spied crossing the road.

However, if I rule out the brown creature on the road and the thing going behind the vehicle as cases of mistaken identity, I’m still left with no explanation for the sound of something hitting the vehicle. I had not parked under any branches and had not found anything on the roof that would have caused the strange noises. I was left without a reasonable explanation for what could have been the source of the noises Justine heard.

When I arrived home, I emailed Rob about the experience. His reply was he had never heard of a little brown thing being spotted there nor was he aware of anybody reporting the sound of tapping on their vehicle.

I stopped a couple more times at the haunted location when I was in the area and never had anything odd happen to me. The last time I was in the area was in 2014 and the land was posted with “No Trespassing” and “You’re being recorded” signs, so I did not bother stopping.

Justine and I would continue to explore western Pennsylvania until she left for the west coast three years later, but she refused to go to anymore haunted locations with me. We still talk, but quickly change the subject when I bring up the events of that day.

I wonder to this day what it was Justine heard and saw and why only she experienced it. I have no definite answers to what happened to her that afternoon.

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