Richmond is the capital city of Virginia with roots that reach back to Colonial times. As a result, the city has many strange and obscure tales. One of them is the tale of Richmond’s Hollywood Vampire.
[Collected from the Internet.]
“A cave-in buried several men and the locomotive steam engine #231, on October 2, 1925. Legend tells that a bloody creature with jagged teeth and mottled skin emerged from the wreckage and raced towards the James River. Pursued by a group of men, the creature hid in Hollywood Cemetery, in the mausoleum of W.W. Pool. To this day, the men and engine remain entombed in the now sealed tunnel. The ‘Richmond Vampire’ reportedly haunts the tombs of the cemetery and can be seen creeping on the streets of Richmond.”
This urban legend involves the Hollywood Cemetery. The origins mentioned in the lore are partially true, as is the date of the disaster. The Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad was responsible for the upkeep on the Church Hill district tunnel. The C&O Tunnel ran for approximately 4,000 feet beneath Church Hill.
Construction on the tunnel started in 1872. In 1873, a section of ground above the tunnel just dropped. The implosion took several empty houses with it. Workers below heard timbers creak and groan and fled at the first signs of a cave-in. The company built a viaduct in 1901 to alleviate the strain on the south area, but even the viaduct had to be closed by 1915. Church Hill was still riddled with cave-ins and instability. Construction involved countless accidents, many with fatalities.
Church Hill was already rumored to be cursed. It was the site of St. John’s Church, the infamous location of Patrick Henry’s speech, “Give me liberty or give me death.” Chimborazo Hospital, one of the largest Confederate hospitals in the nation, was also in this area.
It was a cold and rainy October morning when catastrophe visited. Engineer Tom Mason increased the train’s speed to clear the tunnel as quickly as possible. It had been known to collapse and he didn’t want to be in the tunnel any longer than necessary.
Darkness was the first sign of disaster. When bricks fell from the ceiling, they severed the wires and shut down interior lighting. The cave-in pinned Mason in the locomotive and instantly killed four other men. Mason’s crew included Benjamin Mosby, fireman, A.S. Adams, flagman, and three other unnamed laborers. Conflicting accounts state Mosby and Adams crawled under the cars to escape, while others say only Mosby escaped. The collapse trapped the locomotive and ten flat cars. Rescue efforts only made surrounding ground collapse even more. Rescuers could never excavate the site.
The official death toll was four, but many people suspected the number was far higher. It received little mention, but several groups of new workers were in the tunnel when it collapsed. The C&O Company had decided to perform another enlargement. Several historic accounts say over 70 men were trapped within the tunnel, but only 7 escaped. When it became apparent no one could get near the train, the whole thing was sealed shut.
Benjamin Mosby, the aforementioned fireman, is suspected as being the “vampire.” He loaded coal into the firebox on the train. When the accident occurred, the boiler ruptured with him nearby. He was badly scalded and broke a number of teeth. Several rescue workers said his skin was hanging off his body when they found him. He was taken to Grace Hospital, but died the next day.
No reason is known for W.W. Pool, or his tomb, having any relation to the legend, as he was a relatively unknown bookkeeper.
The tunnel has periodically collapsed through the years, and the worst collapse destroyed an entire church. The city built a park where the church once stood. Efforts to reopen the tunnel were again considered in 2006. The Virginia Historical Society wanted to excavate the tunnel. Sadly, a camera sent through a hole revealed the open space was filled with water and debris. Nothing can be done until the tunnel can be reinforced to support the structures still standing above.