In St. Louis, MO there is an old trail that locals have nicknamed Zombie Road, a trail said to be haunted by the ghosts of dead children, old railroad workers, or even an escaped psychiatric patient, and yours truly decided to try and brave it one night.
At one point in my life, I was a very skeptical zombie whom, despite being a member of the living dead himself, felt that almost every ghost hunter he ever saw was either full of malarkey (yeah, I still use that word) or far too easily spooked. My irrational disdain toward so called ghost hunters was an already over the top thing when I saw a documentary called The Haunted Boy that was about the possession case behind The Exorcist, well, less documentary and more hour and a half Ghost Hunters special. It was a truly ridiculous film that was full of the typical irritations one finds when watching paranormal themed documentaries or television shows, pictures and video that in no way showed what was claimed (a heat signature on one’s face supposedly showing the presence of evil, pretty sure faces are normally warm), recorded sounds that were translated to be far more fanciful than the reality (a quick hiccup of a sound in The Haunted Boy supposedly being “right above you” instead of what it really was, a random sound), and lots of jumping around while people screamed. It got on my nerves to the point my friends and family finally got sick of me complaining about it and told me to either go out and try to do what ghost hunters did or shut my mouth. Myself not being one to turn down a challenge, I took the former option, went out to buy some gear (the night vision camera earning me my fair share of weird looks from the people at Best Buy), and started looking for places to go. Though I started out as an arrogant, rather obnoxious person who would have been deserving of a good swing at my jaw, my attitude slowly, but surely started to change. Beyond finding a large group of people that did what they did because they truly believed in the existence of the paranormal, I also found things that challenged my perception of the world. I was lucky enough to meet some awesome paranormal researchers that were willing to not only debate and challenge me, but showed that the overzealous guys and gals on television were nothing like the real people that were out there doing this on their own dime, knowing of the ridicule they would face, but never letting it get to them. Thanks to these people, and one particular episode that I still can’t fully explain, I opened myself up a bit more. Over time I got to check out some amazing places, do some things that not many get the chance to do, and experience events that made me question my perception of reality. To this day, I’m still not sure that I believe in ghosts, but the few experiences I’ve had have left me more open to the possibility. Though not every place I went to left me spooked (pardon the pun), they were all at the very least, interesting. In wanting to recount some of the spots I investigated, and have a place to write down any future investigations, I knew I needed a starting spot, and, as this was one of the first places I visited, and seemed appropriate for The Year of the Undead, I figured why not start at Zombie Road.
Zombie Road is a nearly four mile road located in St Louis, MO. Well, more or less in St. Louis. If you really want to argue semantics, it’s not technically in St. Louis directly, but a part of St. Louis County. Wildwood, or Glencoe, something like that. I’ve lived here for over a decade and I can’t keep track of all the little subdivisions that make up the city, so it’s much easier to just say it’s in St. Louis and leave it at that. I love this city, but there are way too many subdivisions. If you want specifics, check a map and look for the long trail that starts near Manchester Rd. and runs along the Merrimac River. It might be called Lawler Ford Road on some maps, though few seem to retain that name, others name it as Al Foster Trail, but the only name that really matters is Zombie Road.
There’s a lot of legends as to how it got its name, though the only thing I can tell truthfully from any of these stories is that the name has been around since about the 1950’s. Some say the name comes from an escaped mental patient whom the guards had nicknamed “Zombie.” A search of the area didn’t turn up the patient, instead finding only his torn and bloody jacket. Considering I couldn’t find anything on a nearby building that might have been used as an institution once, I’m going to chalk this one up to teenage stories told to scare each other at night, but you never know, I could have very easily missed something. There’s also old legends, stretching back even farther than the escaped mental patient stories, about ghostly groups of railroad workers who rise each night to continue the work that killed them. This might have a ring of truth to it. There was a railroad built through the area at one time, and it’s entirely possible that workers tragically died there during its construction, railroad construction not being one of the safest occupations even today. Whether they chose to rise from their graves to haunt their former jobs I don’t know, but it certainly sounds depressing. I know I’d hate to die and haunt a paint department or auto body shop for the rest of my ghostly days. Lastly, there are the real life tragedies that have occurred there, tragedies like trains hitting the unwary and even a suicide. Though those tend to just add to the mystic of the haunting legends and less to the name itself.
All kinds of spooky things are said to happen on the road at night, everything from ghostly sounds to mysterious lights to shadowy figures that stalk visitors, appearing just out of their periphery and disappearing right before they can be photographed. Not to mention the standard claims of satanic activity from those darned Satanist who really get around with their sacrifices, and the tales of witchcraft and evil magicians. You’d think with all these evil doers gaining so much power from haunted spots, at least one of them would have become ruler of the world by now, but I guess that’s not how things work in a world not governed by comic book logic, or maybe Doctor Strange just keeps making quick visits to Zombie Road. Who knows?
Anyways, I needed a spot to start testing out all my gear, one that was a little bit away from all the noise found at my first two testing spots, the Irish Cemetery in Illinois, and Cahokia Mounds. Figuring the trail for Zombie Road goes pretty far down, it sounded like the type of spot I needed, not to mention my desire to test out a place that was said to host some extremely paranormal stuff, so I braved the ghosts, Satanists, and witches, and started my trek, accompanied by two friends that would help me out with the equipment including the video camera with its spiffy night vision function, a digital camera for photographs that had its own infrared setting, a voice recorder for any spirits that might feel a bit chatty, a temperature reader, and a trifield meter to measure electromagnetic energy. We waited till long after sundown, parked our car near the beginning of Zombie Road (a local elementary school), and began our journey.
At first it was like hiking any trail late at night, being a fully paved bike path made it easy to hike, and the lights from the houses along the nearby hilltop gave enough light that your eyes didn’t have to adjust much. Being so late, the only sounds about were our footsteps and a few startled animal, plus our occasional laughter at doing something so “dangerous.” Yeah, we weren’t the most consummate professionals. It seemed like just a fun hike by a group of friends hoping to catch something paranormal while avoiding any late night security considering the trail was closed at night and none of us felt like facing a rather hefty fine, but the further we went the less fun it seemed, and the more our confidence and bravado disappeared.
It wasn’t that ghosts were popping out of every corner, nor were we hearing any whispers in our ears from the long forgotten dead. In fact, other than one weird photograph, which I’ll touch on in a bit, and the rantings of one friend who was convinced we were being followed by the unseen, nothing had happened at all. It was pretty uneventful, but still, we were all starting to feel afraid, seeing things that weren’t there, a flicker in the woods, a shadow skirting around a tree, and every sound made at least one of us jump, but there wasn’t anything actually there, just our overactive imaginations, and we all knew it, well most of us. That didn’t matter though because when you’re in the dark of the woods, and you start feeling the legends come to life all around you, it’s real enough. As you start going further and further down the trail, everything starts to fade away, the houses disappear, the canopy blocks out the night sky, and you’re left with only your thoughts and the tales that suddenly don’t seem as far-fetched as you once believed.
That’s the real power behind Zombie Road, the power of imagination, it’s a power many supposedly haunted places have. Don’t confuse me, I’m not saying there’s no such thing as a haunting, all I’m saying is that many places are haunted more by the power of suggestion than by any spirits. You hear an old legend about some place being full of ghosts, maybe a friend of a friend of a friend even has a story about what happened when they went to said legendary place, you talk about it, and you get that legend stuck in your head. Then, when you’re actually there, when you’re in total darkness with only your flashlight’s narrow beam for illumination, when the real world you’re used to seems like a faraway thing, your imagination takes over, and the legends start to come to life without help from anything paranormal, your mind filling in for the absentee ghosts. A creaking floorboard becomes ghostly cackling, the windblown leaves of a tree becomes the rustling of spirits, and every shadow is an otherworldly creature just waiting to show you exactly what the other side is like. There doesn’t have to actually be anything there for your mind to imagine there is, enough to make you even believe that something really is going on. Again, I’m not saying that none of the various places around the world are actually haunted, there may very well be some kind of force that exists beyond the grave, a force that has a firm grasp on places of tragedy and death, I’m only saying that I think a large part of these hauntings come not from the paranormal, but from within our own minds.
I didn’t find anything paranormal on Zombie Road despite my best hopes. All I found was a dark road with a lot of legends attached to it, one that sucks you in through your own fears as you wander further down its path. I did however learn a very valuable lesson about paying very close attention to any “evidence” I might find in my search. Remember the aforementioned picture, that picture was nearly my evidence for the night. I had taken a picture with the IR camera and saw a large white light nearly in the center of the camera that wasn’t there when I looked in that direction. There didn’t appear to be anything in front of the camera to cause an IR reflection, and it left me wondering if I had actually found something paranormal. I was so stoked I had possibly found something, that was until I got home. I wanted to clean it up a bit so the picture looked better, and it was in cleaning up the photo that I found what I had really caught, a spider. It was only in clearing the photo up that I noticed the small shape within the light, a spider that must have been right in front of the camera when I took the picture, rebounding the light and causing what appeared to be a paranormal photo. There was no trickery or desire for fame in my excitement for catching that photo, but my own personal desire to find something real almost led me to present evidence when there was none. It was this discovery that led me to be extremely critical in any future “evidence” I believed I had caught.
Zombie Road might not be haunted, but it’s a fun place none the less, a place kids told stories about a hundred years ago, a place kids will still be telling stories about in the future. Its haunted nature isn’t as important as the tales it inspires. I wouldn’t make the same attempt I made and try and go down there at night though. These days there is a steady security presence that is hard at work arresting people who trespass. I just kind of lucked out in not getting caught when I went down there. It’s open from a half hour after sunup until a half hour before sundown, and I don’t think my excuse of believing that meant it was only closed for small half hour increments would have gotten me out of the fine for trespassing. My recommendation, find any darkened trail you are allowed to take at night and make up your own stories, you’ll have just as much fun, and you won’t have to worry about a fine.
The Undead Review