This is the fifth and final blog in my Halloween series as featured on my project site www.serpentsofbienville.com . In this blog I explain the story behind the illustration I drew entitled “Cry Baby Bridge”. You can learn more about the story, the project, and how you can own one of these prints at www.serpentsofbienville.com . I hope you enjoy!
“Legend has it that on driving over Cry Baby Bridge on a late night may be the last decision you ever make. As your car drives over the road, slowly approaching the other side, the lights cut off. Darkness envelops the car, and all that can be heard is the crying of a baby in the distance…”
“Myth could be as sustaining as reality – sometimes even more so.”
― Alexander McCall Smith, The Lost Art of Gratitude
Deep in the dark recesses of a balmy night, gloom covers your eyes, like warm hands playing a game of “guess who”, making you fearful of turning around. In the distance lies a plantation home, dilapidated, rundown, and abandoned. The closer you come, the more obvious it is that no living creature could reside there. Firefly’s move about, as if haints were holding candles, flying around and taunting you. One firefly seems stuck though, frozen in time, right in front of the window of the tomb-like plantation house. Slowly a face rises behind the light, her face, stricken with fear. A deafening scream follows. You close your eyes tight, attempting to hold out the horrific sound, but once they reopen you realize that you are in your car, never having left it, engine still running, stopped on Kali Oka bridge.
Legend has it that the woman in the window was the wife of a plantation owner who was known for his abuse, and his sadistic, dark hearted ways. He tortured his slaves, and his house, into submission. One slave stood above the others, hulking in size, dwarfing all those around him. The Mistress of the house, sneaking into the slave quarters, found his embracing arms, and an affair began.
This affair could only last so long before the eyes of her husband were to see what was happening. Late one evening, upon suspicion that his wife had been sneaking into the slaves roost, his heart racing, he decided to confide in his local dog pack at the local watering hole. After the night of heavy drinking and trading stories with his drove at the drinking hole, a plan was concocted. The group raced to the plantation with hatred burning their hearts of coal black. Escorted by the inferno raging inside of him, one that would just as much burn the space to the ground, and take all of the slaves lives with, he had decided their fate. With the aid of his brood, he flung the door open. What he saw was his wife, with whom he had abused and beaten, being comforted in the embrace of two gigantic dark arms. He yelled to his drove to grab the slave, and take his wife away. It took 13 men to rip her from his arms, an embrace neither would ever feel again. Both were taken out of the house, the slave drug to a large, disfigured oak. The mistress drug in the other direction, her clothes ripping, skin coming with it, as she fought to see her love for one last time. As she was taken away, screaming curses at her husband, her captor, the last sight she saw of her love was one that took her breathe away. She gasped in horror, witnessing her love chained to the tree, blooded, swollen, as if he had been the Nazarene beaten with a cat of nine tales. He made eye contact with her, his brow swollen over, eyes just barely able to see her soft, pale face, blood filling his sockets, slowly blurring his sight of her. As red filled his vision, he could see her face contort in fear, screaming. She saw what he couldn’t: his fate. A large hatchet raised up from behind the tree, and was sunk deep into the slaves arms, at the wrists, severing his hands. With his strength and size, the gnarled muscle dented the hatchet, and they continued, over and over. Finally, wiping his blood from their eyes, they saw his hands, lying lifeless on the ground. The devil proprietor screamed, sounding as if demons possessed his throat, howling in unison, “You will ne’er… touch… anything… again…” He spit in the slaves swollen eye sockets, turning now, directly facing his wife. Holding the hatchet tight, he pointed at her with it, “And You!” he growled, “You Must Be Held Accountable for your sins!”
The slave’s body was left there, rotting into the oak. With one last lament to the heavens, his head fell. As the balmy, warm fog rolled in, onto the river, carrying the man’s last breath with it. A pool of blood began to collect on the ground, traveling through the sandy dirt, and pouring into the rushing waters behind him. His love knew she suffered the unspeakable fate of a lifetime with a monster, a demon. Her hell was here now. As the days passed, the slave’s body had been left to decompose, partly held up by chains to the oak. His body stood as an example of what happened to those who defied their owner.
When she initially moved into the plantation home, her one solace from her husband was sitting in the kitchen, looking out the window. The view was of a beautiful old tree, as the river flowed next to it. She watched from her home everyday, and continued to watch after that fateful evening. Her once serene view, now the sight of her love, slowly being eaten by time. Her eyes, now vacant, stared hopelessly, as she became nothing. Truly empty, until…
Through sickness and pain, she realized that she was not alone, and a piece of her love grew inside her. She carried the child to term, hiding it from her captor the entire time. She treasured something that was a piece of her love, but she knew that it couldn’t last, for there was no love in damnation. One night she knew, as her water broke, the time had come. She snuck down to the river, where the blood of her love had flowed down to, and birthed their child. Alone in the moonlight she finally felt as if she wasn’t alone, and for that brief instant, she was free. As she floated in the water, all three of their blood mixed, intertwined as one dark mass, she knew it was the end, there would be no more suffering for her or her brood. This hell didn’t deserve the angelic child, or herself, any longer. She clutched the child close to her breast, kissed it’s still bloody head, and descended. The large rock she had tied to her leg had finally rolled off the small isle of sand it was set upon, and fell, hard and deep into the river. As she sank, and life left her, she knew it was over, she had escaped her hell, she was on her way to her inamorato arms once again. She felt her lover’s warm embrace as water filled her burning lungs. She was finally safe. They were finally free.
If you were to attempt to count the number of “Cry Baby Bridges” across the US, the number would exceed into the hundreds. I can remember 3 or 4 just off hand, from living in the rural south. The one you just read was based off the “Cry Baby Bridge” location in Saraland, Alabama, right off of Kali Oka Road (which has some stories of it’s own, including a ghost car prophesying impending doom).
In researching these true stories in our area, I came across that of Cry Baby Hollow in Decatur, Alabama. The old bridge on Kayo Road, off Highway 31, is an dilapidated, lonely and apparently a little used bridge. Stories abound about this site, many of the standard “mother losing her child” accident scenario, which there is no real historical tie to. Most stories I did find tied it to a serial killer named Frank Hammond.
According to stories, Mr. Hammond’s activities started in 1925 outside of Hartselle, Alabama, with the discovery of three dead bodies. As the bodies were found over the years, the stories continued to grow about a looming presence, a killer abiding in that dark hollow. Stories state that in 1943, Mr. Hammond strolled into a hardware store, his clothes stained with blood, and purchased rope and a hacksaw, nothing too suspicious. For some reason, town Police followed his back to his shack, an old barn, in the woods. What was discovered can only be described as the stories slasher films are made of. From a very “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” like scene, found was human skins nailed to the walls, among other homemade taxidermy items.
Once Hammond was taken away, the tore the house apart, searching for more evidence of his horrific crimes. Under one of the floor boards, they found the poorly decomposing body of his long dead wife, Loretta May. Hammond was a quiet man, until it came to his recalling of the events that led them up to that point. Time and time again, he went into great detail about every victim, how he lured them to their death, and how he took each ones life. Stories remain about the torture he inflicted on her poor wife, keeping her prisoner in the old shed, tied up and starved. In 1950, after spending years in a prison in Georgia, he supposedly took his own life. Reportedly his suicide note read, “For the family’s I’ve hurt, this is for you. Now you can’t see me die in the chair. The evil is ready to go home, and get you all. It’s never over, it has just begun.” With a suicide note like that, I began to be a little doubtful of much truth lying in this theatrical story. Proposed as truth, the deeper I looked into it, no facts lined up, but that didn’t stop the story from spreading like wildfire. Just like a good horror franchise, ala “Friday the 13th,” Mr. Hammond always came back, even if facts were few and fair between their stalkers’ existence. To this day, though, local town’s people attribute the screaming sounds to be that of a young boy, his soul for ever trapped by Mr. Hammond, deep in The Cry Baby Hollow. Maybe in the end, we want to believe these created monsters, because the real ones are much worse.
“Myths which are believed in tend to become true.”
Stories of fright fill the dark nights spent at these local sites. A bridge, a hollow, what ever area has been given this damned persona, becomes the source of nightmares told to make local hair stand on end, but the truth is always much more horrific. Here’s a quick rundown of some true stories these “Cry Baby Bridge” myths may have come from.
July 19, 1886 – Four-year-old Richard Tufts of Long Beach, New Brunswick, carried a neighbor’s baby to a bridge over Tuft’s Brook and tossed him over the edge. When asked why, he said, “I don’t know.”
November 1, 1890 – Sadie McMullen threw Ella May Connors and Delia Brown (ages 11 and 6, respectively) 70 feet from the New York Central trestle bridge over Murderer’s Creek in Akron, New York, before unsuccessfully trying to drown herself. Ella died instantly; Delia survived but was permanently injured.
January 30, 1914 – In “one of the most sensational crimes” from the history of Spartanburg, SC, Clyde Clement threw his infant daughter Virginia off a bridge into a millpond on Lawsons Fork Creek. He threatened to leave his girlfriend, Laura Pendleton, if the baby wasn’t “done away with” and would only marry her after the child was gone.
February 28, 1914 – Mrs. Ralph Dinsmore, 23, of North Attleboro, Massachusetts, jumped from the Metcalf Street Bridge clutching her 4-month-old baby and was struck by a train around 12:30 PM. She left a suicide note stating that “no one will understand” her reasons.
May 1, 1937 – Myrtle Ward tossed her 3-year-old daughter Louise off the Colorado Street bridge in Pasadena, California. The infant’s 100-foot fall was broken by a tree; the mother jumped afterward and died instantly.
May 23, 1972 – Keith Hamilton, 17, was seen tossing the infant of a 19-year-old girl and her 16-year-old male companion into the Ohio River at 2:00 AM from the 17th Street West Bridge in Huntington, West Virginia. It turned out to be a hoax; the baby was a doll. All three were charged with juvenile delinquency.
February 16, 2010 – Following a domestic dispute, Shamsid-Din Abdur-Raheem threw his three-month-old daughter off the Garden State Parkway’s Driscoll Bridge near Sayreville, New Jersey.”
“The great enemy of truth is very often not the lie–deliberate, contrived and dishonest–but the myth–persistent, persuasive and unrealistic. Too often we hold fast to the cliches of our forebears. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.
[Commencement Address at Yale University, June 11 1962]”
― John F. Kennedy
Even with horrific true stories existing, the lore and mythology behind “Cry Baby Bridge” seems to be something altogether different. A majority of these stories are usually traced back the early to mid 20th century, America’s moralist hey day. In this era, a baby born out of wedlock was considered a immoral act, one that could never end well. Single mothers were not as common as they are now, and many people believed that such would bring disgrace to their house. These myths begin to show a cultural reaction to the moral majority, with the cries being those of an oppressed woman, being told her sexuality was evil, ultimately leading to death. Some believe that the baby could represent this turmoil the young woman was facing, and that getting rid of it was the only recourse. The horror of this story becomes the reflection it could be of our reality at that given time, and that it is continued to be believed today.