10 Apr The Widow’s Walkway
“The Widow’s Walkway”Written by Kyle Harrison Edited by Craig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available
⏰ ESTIMATED READING TIME — 11 minutes
Urban legends are the bread and butter of the American culture. No matter where you go in this beautiful country, you will find whispers of these dark tales that often circulate around a campfire, and perhaps none as prevalent as the stories concerning crybaby bridges.
A crybaby bridge, according to the internet, is a haunted structure where spirits linger and torment anyone who dares to trespass.
Some of them have names synonymous with terror or that invoke thoughts of dread.
The Rogue’s Hollow.
Sleepy Hollow Road.
They all share elements of similarity as well. Footprints being heard in the still of the night. Sounds of wailing from an unseen infant.
The factual and scientific communities claim that the legends stem from scandals of yore, when mothers who couldn’t handle their children would drown them by tossing them from the precipices. Coming to them by the cover of night, these women would have no one to stop them from finishing their vile acts. Then as quickly as they came, they would disappear into the shadows, not bothering to stop even for the shrill cries of their unfortunate young as their lungs filled with water.
Of course, some say this is not real history at all; the sheer number of them in different states makes it impossible, they say. Even folklore historians claim it doesn’t make sense for so many of the tales to be similar or nearly identical.
As an entertainment reporter, these are the types of stories I live for, the unknown and the fantastical. Something that will grab my readers’ attention.
So I came to Saker’s Keep, Washington, a place that according to the research I have done, is home to the country’s oldest crybaby bridge, just barely outdating the Schuykill River Permanent Bridge in Philadelphia.
It is called the Widow’s Walkway.
Near the outskirts of town, about two miles from the nearest farmhouse, is where you can find it crossing a stream that is no more than maybe a few meters long. The structure itself is like any other covered bridge, with long timber trusses there allowing for one car to cross the ancient road at a time. Most of the traffic for Saker’s Keep actually tends to go around the location entirely as it is now treated more as a historical marker than anything else. In fact, upon arriving I soon discovered that the county laws prevented vehicles from traveling on it at all anymore.
“She’s been around for nearly 200 years, can hardly keep herself together after all that time,” the sheriff told me as I came into town and found some more interesting facts about the location.
Like any good ghost story, the Widow’s Walkway has a history behind it.
Built in 1832 by carpenter Job Cahill, his twin sons and other workers, the bridge was originally designed to assist with trade between the town and the nearby tribal Indians, who allowed the colonists to stay as long as certain parts of the land were never tilled.
“The Quinault warned of little devils that lived in the forest who were never to be disturbed. The river was considered sacred to them, and supposedly the dwarves would mark places of significance by carving on rocks, many of which are near to where the bridge was built. Because of this, the Quinault claimed the covered would be forever cursed, as Cahill and his workers used some of these stones for the foundation,” local historian Albert Schultz informed me.
But it wasn’t that sort of history I was searching for.
Instead, my interest was in the tale of Joanna Vasquez, born 1845 and died on the bridge near the turn of the century.
Folklore experts often question whether or not Joanna even existed because her tale is simply so outlandish it sounds more like a warning from a children’s book.
The daughter of a prestigious landowner, Joanna seemed fated for bad luck the moment a traveling merchant cast his gaze on her. The two were star-crossed lovers, forbidden from seeing one another due to class distinctions. Not to mention the racial issue. All the stories claimed that her lover was from one of the tribes, and the scandal of her becoming pregnant rocked the entire county.
Her father demanded she dispose of the baby or she would lose any inheritance that she might receive along with any social standing.
That part didn’t sound much different than the way the rich treat the poor today, I thought. So I kept reading.
Joanna defied her father, of course, and chose to have the baby, believing the man she loved to be a worthy father. But then, unlike a fairy tale happy ending, the husband was murdered and Joanna disfigured by her own father, burned and cast out of town like some sort of animal.
The town hunted her the same way, believing she was cursed by God himself. Joanna, in response, became the monster they despised.
She couldn’t keep her own child due to the lack of help, and after he died, Joanna began to go throughout the town at night and steal infants from homes, tossing them into the river as revenge for what they had done to her.
Last but not least, she killed herself, her own fingernails so misshapen and gnarled by time that she was able to use them to slice her own throat. A tragic end to a poor woman’s life. And, of course, the folklore didn’t stop there. Any instance of a child gone missing or even a miscarriage in these parts was often attached to Joanna’s wrath.
It fascinated me how similar and yet different her story was to others I had encountered across the United States. Had they borrowed from one another, or was this their birthplace as well? My investigation insisted I needed to dig deeper.
Next came the eyewitness accounts. Those who said they had an encounter with the apparition out on the bridge or near it. Of course, local ordinance forbade anyone from crossing the bridge due to how unsafe it was. But that didn’t stop some.
My first interview was with Thomas Jane, a man that claimed the ghost murdered his fiancée only six months prior. Upon meeting him, my first guess was that he was using the urban legend to cover up a crime. But something about his story was so terrifyingly real.
I’ve included a partial transcript here for others to reach their own conclusions about his account.
Thomas Jane interview:
“This encounter occurred mid-January, you say?”
“That’s right. January 13, I will never forget that date. It was a Monday, and I was supposed to have lunch with Grace near the river. Instead, it turned into a nightmare. That spiteful hag drowned her right before my eyes! I was helpless!”
“So this was in the middle of the day, and no witnesses were around?”
“How could there be? The bridge is remote. Hardly anyone goes there anymore. It was a special occasion for Grace and me. Where our new lives were supposed to begin. I had proposed to her on that bridge!”
“So you had been there before?”
“On several occasions, without any incident. We had no reason to believe this would be any different. The air was warm, and the ground was springing with life…”
“And then the ghost put an end to that… Explain what happened, Mister Jane.”
“I can’t even properly put it into words now…it had this compelling power over her. She had to listen to it. Like the legend of the siren, I guess. The widow urged her to jump from that unsteady precipice, and she forced me to watch. She said it made her stronger when others experienced her suffering.”
“And then she jumped?”
“I tried to stop her. But my body was frozen. That witch’s eyes were balls of fire! Demanding that I obey as I watched Grace crash on the rocks below. Her neck snapped and her body broken. I was a hollow shell…and all that bitch did was cackle in my face.”
His words had the tell-tale signs of a true ghost story, and his demeanor made me believe that he was sure of what had occurred. But it felt prudent to get other accounts from older sources, to see if Joanna’s apparent supernatural behavior was always so antagonistic.
A 66-year-old woman, Blanche Rohand, agreed to speak with me about the Widow’s Walkway at the local cafe. A public place, she said, so that spirits and omens wouldn’t be prying.
I have spoken on occasions in the past to those who fancy they are familiar with the supernatural, but perhaps none as devoted as Blanche. She felt certain that not only was Joanna responsible for all the bad karma there in Saker’s Keep but that soon the ghost would be returning for more blood.
“It’s nearly the anniversary of her child’s death, you see. It was such a hot and horrible September when she started to show in her belly, the almanacs can testify to that. But one thing the history books don’t say is how the whelp died. That can only be heard by word of mouth,” Blanche told me.
I was so enthralled by her story that my coffee went cold. She continued when she saw my interest was piqued.
“Malnutrition is what the books say, am I right?”
I gave a brief nod.
“Hogwash. It was Joanna herself that did the deed. She knew her child was going to starve to death, and she did the only thing she thought she could. She slit its throat in the night with a rusty knife to make it bleed out slow and then when overwhelmed by its repetitive gurgling cries amid the night air, she tossed it into the river.”
I felt like I couldn’t hear a pin drop as she continued the dreadful story.
“The saddest part is that some in the town actually took pity on her. She knew it too, but they were so scared of her father they didn’t dare defy him. So she went after their children first. Breaking their necks or smashing their skulls. So many died that night…so many…”
“What happens on the anniversary?” I asked, going back to the main topic of discussion. I didn’t dare tell the old woman that what she was telling me actually gave me a chill. It would only feed her hunger for attention.
“I can’t say for sure as I never been out toward the walkway myself, but people claim they met the ghost and that it changed them forever. A boy last year said that he would never again look at a woman. Others say that the ghost takes a part of your soul. Are you gonna go out there and find out?” Blanche asked.
“I hope I can. I came here to seek truth…or the closest narrative of it,” I told her.
She reached into her purse and took out what looked like an antique silver dagger. One of the baristas warned her that no weapons were allowed inside, but all Blanche had to do was shoot the girl a dirty look to shut her up.
Then she slid the knife toward me.
“This may not hurt the witch, but it will slow her down,” she cackled.
I don’t know why I took it. Maybe as a souvenir of this entire event? Or maybe because I actually believed what she said?
The more stories I heard in Saker’s Keep, the more I wondered. Like so many other crybaby bridges, the Widow’s Walkway seemed steeped in dark magic and danger.
I was eager, though, to see what would happen to me upon stepping on it.
I planned my trip carefully. Gathering recording devices, audio and video. Food, drink, and yes, even a gun. I also kept the dagger with me, just in case I was attacked at close range. One of the sheriff’s deputies did claim that young hooligans would frequent the area to squat. And, of course, no cell phone or other means of help would be available in that remote forest.
The night I went was exactly the one that Blanche warned me about, the anniversary of Joanna’s son’s death. It was a Friday and a stormy one at that. I didn’t suspect that I would see much of anything in the weather, but I did not let it deter me.
I was going to finish this story, one way or another, I resolved.
Making it to the area was the easy part. I stood at the edge of the river and stared at the lake for the longest time, taking in the sight of the bridge and the way my senses interacted with the surrounding.
There definitely felt like there was an air of negative energy about the place.
I had made it there half-past three. The moon was full, and a sense of dread fell upon me. It was now or never.
Slowly I approached the long empty bridge, peering through the shambles of timbers toward the other side. Besides the moisture rising from the river, I saw nothing of interest.
Could it be all of this hocus pocus was simply a bunch of hoopla?
I moved forward, taking my first tentative step onto the rickety bridge.
Once I was certain that I was alone, I began to set up the audio equipment and cameras I had brought with me. I wanted to be sure to capture this moment, if indeed it was real.
As I was finishing the task, I felt a stiff cold breeze hit the back of my neck. It was then I noticed how silent the night was. I couldn’t see any animals close to the bridge; it was as though they gave it a wide berth. And not even the wind blew.
Time itself seemed frozen as I stood on that bridge and thought about Joanna. I took a few more steps close to the edge, where portions of the tunnel had been eaten away by termites. It was likely right here where she threw her baby upon the rocks, I thought grimly as I looked down at the dark waters below.
Waters that probably had more blood in them than my whole body.
I wondered what it might have been like when she, too, cast herself onto the rocks.
Then, it happened.
The river seemed to slow, and my breath felt stuck in my throat. I could feel something else there on the bridge with me. Something ominous and evil.
A far more ancient spirit than the one I was anticipating.
I slowly turned to face the apparition, unsure of what I would see. At this point, it was only a silhouette, a woman standing on the other side of the tunnel, waiting for me. All I could see were her eyes. Piercing orbs of blood and revenge.
This was not Joanna; I was sure of that. This was something far older, far more sinister.
“What are you?” I asked boldly as I moved toward my equipment. Not to my surprise, it was malfunctioning. Broken by the gaze of this fearsome witch.
A whisper fluttered through the rafters to entrap my entire body, a warning from beyond the grave.
“Joanna Vasquez met me on a night much like this. As did all the others. They all come for the same reason. A desire to be free. A hope for revenge.”
“The others?” I asked back, my words choking now.
“Crybaby Bridges…I visit them all. I am all. I am there and here, a consequence of mortal beings trespassing into things they can’t comprehend,” it told me.
As it got closer now, the spirit showed fewer and fewer signs of being human. Instead, I saw long spider-like legs splitting from under its thighs and strange bat-shaped wings slowly piercing its back. Its face and mouth a mixture of plant-like crevasses and shark teeth, a thousand eyes fiercely burning in the night as it grew over me and the tunnel.
“Your kind oversteps their bounds in so many ways. Tragedy tastes the sweetest, however,” it boomed.
My legs shook, my knees buckled. I found myself scrambling backward. This monster was beyond comprehension. A constantly shifting face of a million evils. This was what I had hoped to find. But now, in the face of it, I could only see how doomed I was. How we all are.
“You’re going to kill me?” I stuttered, barely even recognizing my own voice.
The ancient endless being cackled.
“No. You will be my herald. You will tell my story to the world. And let my legacy grow. So that others may come. So that others may be my feast.”
I couldn’t do anything except gasp for air as the creature wrapped itself around me.
I saw victims flash before my eyes.
I saw my own future written in blood if I disobeyed.
I begged for forgiveness from this unknown god.
And then, just as abruptly, the tunnel was empty again.
I stood up, my eyes darting back and forth.
I could see no damage to the bridge.
Had I conjured the whole thing up?
I was certain my colleagues would imagine so.
How fruitless and foolish my efforts had been. Hopeless and maddening. It was just a reminder of the insignificance of man.
I had come here for answers to the Unknown. Instead, I was presented with the reality of our own existence. This was nothing more than a slap in my face. I felt broken.
I gathered my equipment and took it off the bridge.
And then, in my rage, I returned and began to tear it apart, using my bare hands. Rafter by rafter, I tore it to shreds.
Rage filled my lungs. Hate was in my heart.
I hated all the evil that man had done to release this wickedness from whatever hell it had escaped. So many would suffer because of me, because of my curiosity and because tragedies like the Widow’s Walkway would continue to spread across the world.
It seemed only fitting my act of defiance be to join the legend.
The bridge began to collapse and teeter against its own weight. I felt the beams shift beneath my feet.
Then the roof caved in on me.
I woke in Saker’s Keep, bloodied and barely hanging on. But I felt I had achieved some victory over this. The tunnel was gone, after all.
I told the townsfolk thanks for the stories and made my way out, the bitter ending of this sorrowful tale making me wiser and more fearful of the secrets our world holds.
And then as I passed the river, I saw the bridge, still standing strong. As though my brush with death had been meaningless. And I understood at last.
The trap would be there long after I was gone. And in all the other bridges too. A lure for tragic stories just like mine.
It had been pointless to fight it. It is pointless.
I’m leaving my equipment here now, and this time embracing the legend the only way I know how.
Stepping off the edge into the darkness, I, too, will find the truth I should have seen all along.
🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available