Epitaphs of the Grave - Hoosac Tunnel

BY COLLIN KEEFE

Remember friends as you pass by
That all mankind was born to die
So let your cares on Christ be cast
That you may dwell with him at last
John Carrol
1839-1905

Far to the west is a place known simply by man as the Berkshires. A geographic highland bordered on its western side by the Taconic Mountains, while the marble valleys and the Hossac and Housatonic River cradle it from below and entered into by way of the Hudson Highlands and Metacomet Ridge to the east. The Berkshires are known for their rugged beauty where mist draws from mountain peaks and seeps downward through their dark elder forests. These forests are thick with muffled sounds as you walk their leafy undergrowth where one misstep or caught ankle could spell the end. Nathanial Hawthorn once dubbed or some say cursed this land as Tanglewood. In the old run down mill town known as North Adams lays a tunnel unlike any you have heard of; Hoosac Tunnel. Old men and women tell stories around the protective warmth of fire places and wood burning of the sounds and sights etched into their minds as undefinable but very real fears.

According to the stories passed down from these old timers and the bits of old newspapers that remain in the decomposing archives of old libraries, the Hoosac tunnel’s creation was not one of industrial triumph as they of the time thought it would be. No. It is a story with support beams of bone, lit with the oil of tears, and its tracks forged from the blood of those unfortunate enough to have worked on what became and is still known as “The Bloody Pit”.

The ambitious work to carve a train tunnel through Mount Greylock began in 1851 and wasn’t finished for twenty four years in which during this time hundreds of miners using shovels and black powder chipped away at the solid stone. By the time this tunnel was finished two hundred men had lost their lives from explosions, fires, cave Ins, and even drowning. Two death though was rumored to have been anything but an accident.

Three explosive experts in 1865 used nitroglycerin in an effort to more easily clear away the rock. Midday March 20th 1865 Ned Brinkman, Ringo Kelley, and Billy Nash planted the explosive charges and ran for their lives. The two who entered never made it as Kelley had “accidentally” set off the nitro prematurely, causing the tunnel to collapse and bury his companions beneath a mountain of earth.

Kelley was found two weeks later strangled to death at the very spot his colleagues had died.

A year or so later a Mr. Dunn, a respected and well known cavalry officer in the Union army wrote to his sister in Connecticut, dated the 8th of September 1868, “The men constantly complain of hearing a man's voice cry out in agony and refuse to enter the great shaft after nightfall. I have reassured them time and time again that the strange sound is nothing more than the wild winds sweeping down off the mountainside. Our work has slowed to the point where I have been asked to help him conduct an investigation into the matter.”

The journal continues …

"Last night … I entered the great tunnel at exactly 9:00 P.M. We traveled about two miles into the shaft and then stopped to listen. As we stood there in the cold silence, we both heard what truly sounded like a man groaning out in pain. As you know, I have heard this same sound many times during the war. Yet, when we turned up the wicks on our lamps, there were no other human beings in the shaft except my companion and myself. I'll admit I haven't been this frightened since Shiloh. We agreed that it wasn't the wind we heard. Perhaps Nash or Brinkman I wonder?"

Many a story and legend have been told of this mountain and its dark tunnel, some of strange creatures living within, others of ghostly miners, some of vengeful spirits of the deceased. Today it is unwise to venture in as the tunnel is now in operation but stories still waft eerily like mist down from Tanglewood of spelunkers and paranormal investigators finding more than they bargained in that cursed under dark. It should be noted that Greylock was once named Hoosac or “Forbidden Mountain” by the Mohawk.