By Jim Miles
On October 28, 1934 the Atlanta Journal Magazine published a story about E.L. (Polly) Milan, a man who started his railroading career in 1877. Born on May 25, 1861, one month after the first battle of the Civil War, he was seventy-three years old and had worked on the railroad for fifty-seven years, rising to the position of engineer. Three years after going to work on the railroad, at the age of nineteen, he saw the Allatoona Pass Ghost.
“I’ve been in several bad wrecks,” he testified, “but running into that spook was worse than all my wrecks.”
As a young man, Milan worked the breaks, a hazardous job that required men to turn brakes between cars as trains thundered down the mountains. “Air brakes were unknown and the track was crooked and treacherous through the lonesome and foreboding mountains,” Milan related, “but nothing happened to give me a fright until the night I met the ghost.
“We were coming south with a little freight train and had topped a grade to dip into Allatoona, when it was discovered that the train had broken into two,” the old engineer continued. “It was shortly beforemidnight, and I was ordered to go back and flag a train that was following us. With my pistol in my right hand and my red and white lanterns in the left, I hit the ground and ran back up the hill. I stopped in the middle of a cut that was about 60 feet deep and some 400 feet long.
“There was a soldier’s grave at the north end of this dark and scary looking cavern and I had heard of strange things having been heard and seen there. So I stopped in the middle of this cut because I did not want to pass this grave. There I stood in the dark, my pistol in my hand. The train had coupled up and gone on, leaving me alone out there in the mountains where anything could happen in those days.
“Well, a few minutes after the exhaust of my train had faded into the night, I was horrified to see something that looked like a man with a sheet thrown over him, come out of the dark, near the north end of the cut, and slowly approach me. Scared almost to death, and not knowing what to do, I just stood there and watched the ‘thing’ come toward me. When it got within sixty feet of where I stood, it slumped wearily down to the ties.
“It just sat there, as though tired out, while I pondered what to do. Finally I spoke to it, but it said nothing. I spoke again, but only the sound of my voice echoed in the dismal cut. I didn’t know what to do! The lanterns were jingling in my hand and my teeth were rattling like dried peas in a pod.
“Then something seemed to shove me toward the thing. When I reached it, I touched it with the back of my pistol hand. I’ll never forget the sensation as long as I live! It was cold and still and in less time than it takes to tell it, I was tearing wildly down that track. I ran over a mile and a half before the train that I was to flag overtook me!”
In conclusion, Milan said, “I don’t know what it was. Lots of railroad men claim to have seen ‘boogers’ in that cut.”
The first encounters with train ghosts at Allatoona had occurred a decade earlier, according to theSavannah Morning News of December 9, 1872, just seven years after war’s end. For months “railroaders, conductors, engineers and brakemen” noticed “that their number would be reinforced by AN EXTRA TRAIN HAND” as the locomotive entered the area around Allatoona. The being “appears suddenly on top of the freight cars, takes a seat, and remains there for many miles, then the unknown brakeman disappears.” Conductors who approached the figure for his ticket were shocked to see him “vanish like the mist.”
Recently a train engineer spied “THE GHOSTLY BRAKEMAN” sitting atop his third car. Determined to solve the mystery, he climbed over the cars “with both eyes fixed” onto the apparition, but as he neared the vision “gradually FADED FROM VIEW” the report stated. The determined engineer continued to the caboose and searched every possible hiding place. He found no one, but as he started forward he found the spirit occupying his original position, which the engineer found “incomprehensibly strange and unaccountable.”
For a second time, at his approach the ghost “DISSOLVED ITSELF INTO NOTHING.” Reaching the locomotive, the trainman looked again to the rear and found his rude guest in his accustomed perch, which he occupied for a number of miles until “his ghostship disappeared.”
“His appearance on the top of trains has become a matter of indifference among the railroad men,” the article concluded, “and all effort to find out who he is has ceased.”
Allatoona also has a traditional ghost light story. A mysterious, illuminated orb is seen bobbing along the tracks at night, reputedly the spirit of a soldier buried in the gap, which carries a lantern in search of long vanished comrades, and balls of light flit around the grave. A variation has the phantom soldier’s ghost dog running alongside passing engines before stopping at his master’s grave.
Jim Miles is the author of two Weird Georgia books, seven books about Georgia ghosts and eight books about the Civil War. To see all of his books go to the Jim Miles Author Page on Amazon. Order autographed books or contact Jim directly at firstname.lastname@example.org