Make sure you pay close attention to your surroundings when you venture out into the NoDa streets on a nice fall evening, especially if you feel sudden coldness for no particular reason. It is usually a sign that you are not alone.
There are dozens of ghosts who haunt the streets among us (well, in this case, streets and railroad tracks).
The stretch of tracks supporting the Aberdeen, Carolina and Western Railway between 37th Street and the Herrin Avenue trestle in particular is one of the most haunted areas in NoDa. Notice how North Davidson Street dips between 37th and Anderson? The same is true for Spencer Avenue between 36th and Herrin. That’s because the entire area used to be covered by a large pond.
The pond served the mills and the Station #7 fire trucks until it was drained in the 1950s after several drownings. But those are not the only deaths (or ghosts) in the area.
Jim was a railroad worker in the early days of the neighborhood. People remember him for always whistling a tune and for the huge set of keys he kept around his belt at all times. The keys were for his railroad work, and you could hear him coming from blocks away.
One night, he and his buddy were finishing up work quite late. They had plans to get a little strawberry wine and wind down for the evening over a card game. They were only a few steps away from the tracks when Jim stopped short.
It was too quiet.
He slowly reached down and sure enough, his keys were gone. His buddy said it was too late and dark to find the keys, but Jim said he had to have them for work first thing in the morning. He convinced his friend to grab a couple of lanterns and meet him back on the tracks to find the keys in the dark.
Soon, as fate would have it, they heard a train in the distance. Jim was growing worried now about finding the keys before the train arrived, and his buddy kept one eye on the train and one eye on the tracks.
Now the train was just about on top of them and his friend pleaded with Jim to step aside. Reluctantly, Jim finally did. But the spotlight above the engine shone ahead, and there, glistening on the tracks, were Jim’s keys.
Jim frantically ran up the tracks to grab the keys before the train passed. What happened next has been lost to the ages. Some say Jim tripped on the tracks in his haste. Some say the keys were stuck. Still others say he just was not fast enough. Regardless, Jim was on the tracks when the train passed, and it killed him instantly.
After his death, his many friends started going out at night to remember Jim and tell stories of why they loved him so much. Later on, young boys would dare their friends to go out at night to search for Jim. As Jesse Atkins recounted in “Ghost Stories of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County,” “When I was a kid, people said that you could hear music out there, and it was supposed to be that man that was killed.”
You will know if Jim is there from one of two things. Most people will see his lantern slowly bobbing back and forth on the tracks, still in search of his keys. But if you hear a slight tinkling sound in the still of the night, then do not assume that it is someone’s chimes in the background. After all, the air was still, right? No, that is Jim jingling his keys to a happy tune. And if you hear that, then you should go out and buy a lottery ticket because it is your lucky day. It means Jim has found his keys and is taking off for some strawberry wine.
But Jim is not the only ghost on these tracks.
Venture down a few steps along the tracks to the Herrin Avenue trestle. Rita Beck said of the trestle in a March 25, 1984 Charlotte Observer article, “When we were kids, the closer you got to it, the faster you’d go.”
It has long been closed for vehicular traffic, primarily due to the inordinate amount of accidents that occurred there, like one from the 1950s that was explained in the same book on area ghosts.
A teenager was riding down Herrin Avenue in the back of his father’s pickup truck. He and his father were traveling from the North Charlotte Park area toward North Davidson Street. Someone grabbed the boy’s attention, so he stood up to look back and shout something back from where they came. He did not realize how close they were to the trestle and, since he was facing the opposite direction, he did not realize how low the tracks are at that point. Tragically, the young man was decapitated in the back of his father’s truck. Soon afterward, stories started circulating from people who still saw the boy walking aimlessly on the track.
Rita’s daughter Lisa, 14 at the time, also added her thoughts in the same Observer article. But she did not just mention the decapitated boy. Her story added that he was now said to be riding a motorcycle.
While it could be the same boy, there were other accidents at that trestle, and one did involve a teenage boy who lost control of his motorcycle while showing off to some friends and crashed into the trestle. But that is another ghost story for another time.
At this time of year, Back in the Day is usually preparing for our annual Ghosts & Legends free walking tours of the neighborhood, but sadly we cannot host one this year due to the pandemic (F U COVID-19!). If you know of a ghost story you would like to share, or have a recommendation for anyone we should interview (ghost story or not) about life in the neighborhood, please contact us at email@example.com.