Family Inning: The Clinton Train Tunnel


May 27, 2015 — The occasional plunk of water dropping from the ceiling of the dark tunnel startled me every time into looking over my shoulder. The weak light of my flashlight app gave monstrous form to the shapes inside instead of dispelling them. The squeaks of the bats in the crevices above proclaimed in bat-code the upside-down horrors they had witnessed. So when my daughter screamed, “She doesn’t have a head!” I very well might have jumped. I’ll admit to nothing legally binding, though.

We had already walked the full 1,100-foot-length of the old train tunnel and had almost completed the return trip. That’s always when the worst stuff happens in the movies. When you’re almost safe.

But my kid wasn’t referring to any apparition. She was talking about her doll, one of those improbably popular Monster High joints. The doll was supposed to be the daughter of the Headless Horseman, so her head was intended to come off—just not in the muddy interior of a 100-year-old abandoned train tunnel. Even after explaining to her how Wednesday Addams liked her dolls and how cool she was, my daughter still didn’t budge. So off I went back into that black throat to find a little peach-colored piece of plastic.

We were in Clinton, Massachusetts, down the road from the Wachusett Dam. I’d heard that the train tunnel was easy to access, so I had brought my whole family: wife, five-year-old, and infant. It’s not the team you’re supposed to take into an abandoned, spooky place, but it’s my team.


An old stone trestle protruding blockily from the forest above Boylston Street/Route 62 marked the entry point. A thin trail that wended uphill beside it dropped us off at the west entrance of the tunnel, a few dozen feet from the road and about the same distance above it. The tunnel just sat there yawning in the forest, conveyor of nothing but rainwater and graffiti.

The tunnel was built in 1903 for the Central Massachusetts Railroad. It was meant to replace a section of line that had gone underwater with the creation of the Wachusett Reservoir. By the 1950s, the tunnel was abandoned and the tracks ripped up. The disembodied legs of the trestle continue across the Nashua River on the far side of the street.


We parked right below the trestle on the road’s thin shoulder. After taking some photos at the entrance, my five-year-old and I decided we wanted to walk the tunnel, while my wife took the baby back to the the shelter of the car. Too many mosquitoes is what she said. Creepy tunnel full of ax-murdering ghosts is what I heard.

The maw of the tunnel was lipsticked in graffiti, but surprisingly PG graffiti. Maybe even G. I’m not sure how the ratings board judges proclamations of love for Satan. At one point my daughter spotted a depiction of Bill Cipher, that yellow, all powerful, triangle-shaped character from the Disney Channel’s Gravity Falls. See? A totally family-friendly jaunt.



The floor of the tunnel was surprisingly smooth, but—even though we could see light at the other side of the tunnel—it felt like it was taking us a long time to get to the end. I’d turn around and the western opening loomed large and bright behind us, as if we hadn’t taken very many steps. Soon, despite the light at both ends, I had to turn on my flashlight app, illuminating the dark floor to avoid puddles or any mutated vagrants lying in wait in the dark.

About half way through, the even concrete walls and ceiling changed to rough rock, making the tunnel seem more like a cave. It’s said that in winter the walls are shimmery with ice. Now, they were just drippy. The water gathered at the base of the walls in muddy pools, hiding who knows what kind of pathogen-drenched detritus.


Finally, after long enough to get a few cautious texts from my wife (that for some reason shut off my flashlight app and thrust us into blank void), we made it to the other side, which was a soggy morass that I didn’t dare tread through. Outside we could see more of the forest and a road trestle running perpendicular to the tunnel. It was green and bright and felt cheery, but that was probably in contrast to the dank shadowland that we’d walked through to get there.



The trek back was easier as we’d sucked the unknown out of it, so we stopped at some point to play around and take some pictures of her toy. It was probably during this time that we dropped the doll head. I eventually found it, and we dodged the mosquitoes and the garter snakes outside to clamber back down to the car. The tunnel was only the first adventure on our itinerary that day, but I already knew we weren’t going to top it.

Here are the GPS coordinates if you ever want to do the same: 42.405239, -71.683823. I suggest leaving any dolls with removable heads at home.





6 comments:

  1. Oh yeah I've been there it's really spooky! I never made it to the end I got too scared.

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  2. Okay, now more than forty years later, I can finally reveal that I was the source of the old Clinton resevoir railroad tunnel ghost train folklore!
    This is a true story!
    I was born and raised in Clinton, Massachusetts, and I lived on Chestnut Street, less than a mile from this old railroad tunnel near the Clinton Dam. My friends and I used to hang out in the tunnel, and for years we brought our friends and girlfriends into the tunnel, either to "make out" with the girls or to party and drink with the guys.
    In fact, when I was a kid, the train trestle was still there and spanned high above the river that was below the Clinton Dam. Many of us used to swim in that river and the more adventurous of us used to climb the trellis and jump off of the lower cross sections into the river. Some of the braver kids jumped from higher up, and at least one of my childhood acquaintances was actually killed jumping off the train trellis before a local scrap metal dealer/welder won the bid to remove the trestle. Rumor had it that he agreed to remove it for free if he would be allowed to keep and sell all of the scrap steel from the trestle. We actually went down to watch him dismantle the trestle which took several weeks or months. These guys climbed the trestle like monkeys with climbing gear and torches, and strategically cut away sections allowing them to fall into the river, and then after it was all brought down, they cut it up into smaller pieces and hauled it away.
    You can see the crude video taken in 1975 when the trestle was cut down here: Train Trestle Demolition Clinton Massachusetts near Wachusett Dam 1975 - YouTube
    It was an incredible undertaking, and one which could not be duplicated today with all of the job site safety regulations, and pollution control regulations.
    Anyways, back to the tunnel haunting. In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, I was about 13 to 16 years old, and I had an old 1947 Willys CJ2A military Jeep. The front differential was all worn out, and if the Jeep was driven in four wheel drive, that front differential would howl like an old freight train. If I raised the speed above about 10 miles per hour, the differential howl would change to a screech that sounded just like a train whistle. It happened at a precise speed and by modulating the throttle, I could make that “train whistle” come on and off by simple increasing and decreasing the speed of the Jeep.
    So, once we discovered the old train tunnel, we got this great idea to haunt it and to scare the other kids away to keep it as our own private clubhouse. We would drive that old Jeep deep into the tunnel and out the other side. We would then turn it around and drive back in just far enough that we could hide undetected at dusk or early evening, and we would just sit and wait for some unsuspecting kids to venture into the tunnel, just like we had done when we first discovered it. We also disconnected the wires to one of the headlights so that only one light would illuminate when I turned on the headlights.
    When we saw the kids enter the tunnel laughing and yelling, we would stay very quiet in order to allow them to walk deep enough into the tunnel to make their escape more difficult. When we felt that they were deep enough in the tunnel, I would start the Jeep engine and just allow it to idle in the darkness. The kids would all start yelling to each other to “Be quiet” and to “Listen” as they debated whether the soft rumble was coming from inside the tunnel or not. The tunnel allowed for some weird echo effects so sounds could be really deceiving as you experienced when you were in there.

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    Replies
    1. As the kids stood still listening, I would start driving towards them, and as we acquired more speed, the differential would start to howl like freight train. The kids would start screaming as they turned around and ran for the entrance that they had come in from. Just as they started running, I would turn on that single headlight and raise the speed enough to sound that screeching train whistle. I would then accelerate and decelerate just enough to turn the whistle on and off like we were blowing the train whistle at them, which created the effect that this "single lighted train engine was barrelling towards them".
      Anyone who had been in the tunnel knew that the trains had not run in that tunnel for years, and that the tracks were torn up in places, but they were absolutely convinced that a freight train was bearing down on them as we raced towards the kids running away from us. Once they safely cleared the tunnel entrance, we would shut the whole thing down and slowly back up to reset for the next “haunting”.
      These kids almost had a heart attack, as we chased them out of the tunnel again and again, and most were too scared to venture back in to investigate. We did get caught a few times by the braver kids who came back in to find out what really was chasing them, but most of those kids simply joined us in the hauntings.
      This was so much fun that we continued to do this off and on for years, until we finally got chased out by the police. My Dad was a Judge at the local courthouse so I never got in too much trouble, but we sure scared a whole generation on kids on these tunnel hauntings, and we acquired a great collection of flashlights from the kids who dropped them in their panic as they fled that ghost train out of that haunted train tunnel.
      Email me at chasgould@mac.com if you need more details about these ghost train hauntings
      Charles

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  3. I love BOTH of these stories!! The one from OTIS and the one in the comment from Charles Gould. Make me chuckle. Thanks!

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  4. Iv been there with 2 of my friends. We went there tripping on coricidin. It was during the begging of spring. So there was icicles bigger than us that were falling from the ceiling of the tunnel. We had to dodge them and almost got struck by these massive icicles. Do not go there during spring if there was a bad winter previously. It is very dangerous!! And i am not exaggerating.

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  5. I'm finding quite a few places on your site that aren't even listed on Atlas Obscura. This is good stuff. /bookmarked

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