I live in a small suburb that used to be a bustling port in the 1800s. The Erie Canal runs straight through town (and right next to my neighborhood), and what’s now lined with Irish pubs and ice cream shops apparently used to be a pretty major transportation hub. “The Crown Jewel of the Erie Canal,” they called it. (By “they”, I mean Wikipedia.) When the railroads were built around the turn of the century, it only got busier. Those same train tracks run parallel to the street my house is on now. It’s across the canal, so not directly next to the houses, but close enough to notice. In fact, when a train comes through, it gets pretty loud. There’s a slight hill behind the house, so the neighbors always explained that the noise echoed off the hill and the houses, which was what made it so loud that it sometimes sounds like the train is about to come barreling down our backyard. I always believed them…until yesterday.
Lately, I’ve been noticing more and more noises, but I didn’t think anything of it. Train horns in the middle of the night aren’t rare, and I’ve mostly learned to sleep through them. I even heard a derailment once at 5 am (it was a train full of soybeans, not something fun, like Legos and beer). That woke me up. But a few days ago, I woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of two train horns at once. Which never happens, ever. It’s always a single horn, for a single train. Sure, there’s multiple tracks near my house, but they’re mostly switches for bad trains and service equipment. I’ve been living here for 13 years and never heard two trains passing. But hey, maybe I kept sleeping through them.
I did a little research today online, in light of recent events. Old historical records for small little towns like this are hard to find online. Most of the records are maintained by a sleepy local museum with one volunteer historian, or stashed on microfilm in the public library. I didn’t even really know what to search for, so I just started googling “fairport ny train history” and went from there. I didn’t expect to find anything. I certainly didn’t expect to discover that the train tracks used to be on the other side of the canal, running right where my street currently runs. It was moved in 1914, re-routed, due to damage to the old track. This gave me something more specific to go on, so I kept searching. And I wish I hadn’t.
On August 7th, 1914, a train heading from Rochester to Syracuse derailed in Fairport due to a faulty rail on a bridge over the canal. There were no survivors.
The official story was that the tracks and bridge were too damaged to quickly repair, so they rerouted the tracks to the other side of the canal because it was faster and cheaper. That’s where they exist to this day. The official story doesn’t say anything about how the land was sold to a developer, who built a bunch of houses there in the 30s. It definitely doesn’t say anything about how the development was abandoned within a few years, due to rumors of terrified residents seeing a ghostly, Victorian era style train hurtling through their dining rooms and kitchens, and then resold to another developer, who built the houses that stand there today in the 70s (and some later in the 90s).
All of those silly ghost stories are just rumors and hearsay, but I tend to believe them. It’s the only explanation I have for what happened yesterday night, when I woke up again in the middle of the night, to three train horns this time. I knew there was no way that could be right, because there’s only two active tracks. Weird. As I rolled over to try to go back to sleep, I turned to find a pale white figure with a handlebar mustache and a pair of train conductor-style overalls standing near my bed. As I froze in fear, he leaned over the bed, reached up as if he was sounding the horn, and whispered,
“Choo choo, motherfucker.”
Nah, I’m just fuckin’ with you.