The trails in the park have much significance and are historically tied to the founding, struggles, and preservation of our nation. Why, one of the Virginia signers of the U.S. Constitution and first appointed Chief Justices of the Supreme Court owned land here and traveled these trodden paths. From the tobacco plantation era to the present day park, these trails held value and importance to the people who dwelt here in days gone by.
So you might well guess that these woods hold some haunting tales. One such trail is not a trail at all, but a track; a railroad track. The ghost train at Cohoke Crossing near West Point, just up the York River at its headwaters, holds with it a disturbing past. Even today this past somehow seems to have transcended time mysteriously into a haunting present. So much so that the sighting of a ghostly light on the tracks at night is not so uncommon.
Over the past 140 years or so literally thousands of tidewater residents swear they have witnessed the light that seemingly appears and disappears before their eyes. Even with this strong evidence of the apparition, there are still skeptics. To understand the legend of the light, we must first trace its origins.
After the battle of Cold Harbor during the Civil War in 1864 a train in Richmond was loaded with wounded Confederate soldiers and dispatched to West Point where they could recuperate or be sent further south for recovery and regrouping. The train left Richmond amid a soft chorus of moans and groans, but never reached its destination. It seems that when the train neared West Point that night it had to switch tracks while moving. Unfortunately, the trainsman responsible for manning the lever that allowed the train to continue on a safe route had fallen asleep. When he awoke in a great start from the oncoming steam engine, he tried frantically to wave it off with his red brake lantern to no avail. The train and its precious cargo were at the point of no return and could not stop. Man and machine suddenly succumbed to a quick and unfortunate end.
The terrible crash killed everyone aboard it including the trainsman on the tracks who was decapitated. Because of his actions of falling asleep it cost so many innocent souls their lives that night. What must of he been thinking at the end? He literally lost his head! After this unspeakable accident years ago, they say the trainsman still roams the tracks at night waving a red lantern. What is his ghost trying to overcome? Is it protecting other trains from a similar fate or is he simply looking for his lost head? If the latter be the case, I wouldn’t want to be the one in possession of the lost head when he finally comes to reclaim it!