I had ridden over Morphus Creek Bridge hundreds of times before I came to know that it was haunted. I don’t know when I heard the story or who told it to me. I imagine it was on a bus ride to or from school but I can’t be sure. The first story involves a family of three from the 1940’s. They were traveling on the unfamiliar country road late one rainy night when their automobile crashed into the bridge railing. They were thrown from the car into the murky waters below where the little girl drowned. Legend had it that if you went to the bridge on All Hallow’s Eve at midnight a ghostly apparition would appear – the poor little girl lost for all time and looking for her parents. Over the years I heard other renditions. Sometimes the whole family was killed in the tragic accident; sometimes the father survived but the mother and daughter died. So on Halloween the vision might be one of the parents looking in vain for the doomed child or the child searching for her parents. Whoever recounted the tale was always certain that this tragedy actually occurred although they never knew exactly when it happened or who the family was. But for certain the bridge was haunted – of that there could be no doubt.
I was as intrigued by the ghost story as any other kid would be. So of course I gobbled up the tale and allowed it to take on a life of its own in my mind. It didn’t seem to matter that there were several versions – I allowed for the confusion and forgetting that could happen over time. The thing I was absolutely convinced of was that something terrible happened on that bridge at some point in time and the spirit of some poor soul was doomed to wander that place forever. Most importantly it was possible to run into this ghoulish spectacle for real if you were willing to risk it – meaning you had to be on that bridge at midnight. Some folks allowed that the lost spirit wandered every night at the stroke of twelve – others said it could only be seen on midnight at Halloween. So if you absolutely wanted to see this for yourself Halloween was probably the best bet.
I longed to see something unearthly and scary as hell. And then I didn’t. I traveled over that bridge regularly with my parents and in the daylight I kept my eyes open – just in case. But in the dark of night I was alert and slightly worried. I could all but see a small girl in a soaking wet dress dripping muddy water from her face and limbs, her hair matted with sludge and debris, her mouth gaped open dribbling swamp water, her huge eyes hollowed and blackened from decay and ceaselessly staring into darkness and endless doom. I yearned to see her. And I didn’t. On the way home from church one night I was yammering on about this tragedy to my little brother and Daddy stopped the car right on the bridge. I was thrilled. He turned off the car motor and the headlights. It was summer and night sounds filled the air – crickets, frogs, wind through the leaves, occasional rustling – all of which grew louder and more eerie as the seconds ticked by. I had begun by looking intently at our surroundings but began to sink down into my seat, my hands close to my face ready to cover my eyes to horror at any moment. The thought occurred to me that the ghoulish girl might appear at my passenger window and I moved to the center of the bench seat and leaned toward the front seat and the safety of my parents. Just when the tension became too much to bear Mama said, “Wallace! You are scaring the children.” Of course, that was exactly what my daddy intended to do. He knew the thrill of fear from his own childhood and delighted in milking ours. It was delicious fun. And he had accomplished his mission: we were properly terrified.
The Morphus Creek Bridge haunting was a frequent topic on bus rides to and from school; at Halloween parties; and were especially fun at slumber parties and sleepovers when my girlfriends wanted to terrorize one another. The legend also came up most every summer when I worked barning tobacco. There was always at least one person who knew all about it and someone who was completely ignorant of the whole story. So it was up to the rest of us to nod in agreement and shudder in terror at the appropriate time to convince the novice of the story’s authenticity. I remember one such summer when all the help was being moved to another barn and field. We all climbed aboard a flat wooden trailer being pulled by tractor, which meant we were zipping along country roads but at tractor speed. This particular trip had us crossing Morphus Creek Bridge and the slowly passing scenery lent itself perfectly to the tale of horror. A teenage boy named Bobby was the orator and a girl named Grace who lived a few counties away was the newby. I can remember sitting on the end of that trailer bouncing on the wood slats and swinging my legs off the sides listening to the story – once again ready to do my part with nodding and shuddering. It was daylight, of course, and we could all scan the surrounding woods carefully and peer over the sides of the bridge into the dark water below. Even in the sunshine I could feel myself shiver at the thought of drowning in the gloomy water or encountering the incorporeal being searching in vain for lost family. Of course, we all laughed bravely while we were on the bridge but I felt heavy and my eyes watched the bridge until we rounded a curve in the road that put it out of sight. I forgot all about the bridge until our day was done and we once again climbed aboard the trailer for the ride back in the twilight. Certainly we were tired from the day’s work but we were more somber this time as the trailer lumbered across the bridge and the site of that terrible accident of days gone by. I don’t recall a single person laughing or making a joke. I think we all felt a little too exposed. It would only take one grisly hand to snatch us off that open trailer and no one wanted to be the one to stir up harmful spirits should they be of a mind to do so. You never knew when some wicked something was looking for company or a tasty morsel.
By the time I was sixteen I was less interested in the local legend although I kinda, sorta continued to weigh the possibility that it might be true. And so whenever driving in my car alone I never once considered stopping on that bridge to see if it might be so. Driving through that misty bottom on a dark night was enough to revive the mystery in my mind and encourage me to cross quickly and be on my way.
Soon after high school graduation I heard that some enterprising youth had planted marijuana down by the creek’s edge. (Who says potheads lack ambition?) And to my knowledge whoever it was never got busted. Perhaps the spirits that inhabited that sanctuary respected their youthful bravery or their entrepreneurial endeavors. Or maybe they were just glad for the company. That’s all I know about that piece of the story.
Since my childhood days several houses have been built on Morphus Bridge Road just a few yards from the actual supposedly haunted bridge. I have always wanted to stop and ask the folks who live there if they’ve ever seen an apparition floating down their road at night. But, of course, I haven’t been brave enough to do that either. I suspect that if that bridge was haunted it was once upon a time and long ago. The Department of Transportation has destroyed the original wooden bridge and replaced it with a paved road and hideous concrete barriers to guard the water’s edge on either side of the highway. I am not a fan of such structures. I think they lack character. Molded concrete certainly doesn’t lend itself to mystery or create an air of enchantment. Any self-respecting ghost would have given up or moved on. I’m just hoping whatever wandering spirit may have been there has found peace wherever they are.