Beanery Online Literary Magazine

May 11, 2011

The Ghostly Hoosac Tunnel

BEANERY ONLINE LITERARY MAGAZINE

THE GHOSTLY HOOSAC TUNNEL

Kathleen Clark

“This ride into the tunnel is far from being a cheerful one. The fitful glare of the lamps upon the walls of the dripping cavern – the frightful noises that echo from the low roof, and the ghoul-like voices of the miners coming out of the gloom ahead, are not what would be called enlivening.” —The Hoosac Tunnel, Scribner’s, December 1870

     The ridges of the Berkshire Mountains, located in the Deerfield Valley, stretch across western Massachusetts. The Hoosac Tunnel located in North Adams and known as “the Bloody Pit,” winds through the mountain base. I was fascinated by the many first-hand accounts of ghostly hauntings that surround the tunnel‘s construction. It provided a difficult and troubled challenge to the men who worked it.     
     Almost every tunnel bored through the mountains during the early 19th century posed problems particular to its location. Starting at the East Portal side, barely ten feet into the proposed Hoosac route, the specially made seventy-ton steam-driven boring machine cut a perfect hole . . . then stopped forever. The workers resorted to hand-drills and gunpowder, but couldn’t exceed sixty feet a month on either end of the tunnel. Boring on the West Portal side, drills hit soft rock, mica schist and water resulting in a soupy mixture referred to as “porridge” and prevented further penetration.    
     Thus a second tunnel was begun immediately to the right of the abandoned tunnel, using the new compressed-air Burleigh Drill invented by Charles Burleigh of Fitchburg, Massachusetts. This four drill contraption that could be pulled along the tracks as the men worked, in tandem with the introduction of Nitroglycerine explosives, finally resulted in the tunnel’s completion in 1875. Although only 4.82 miles long, the Hoosac took an unprecedented (more…)