There’s plain-looking concrete and steel bridge near where I live that’s supposed to be haunted. It replaced a covered bridge that once crossed the Cuyahoga River in what used to be the town of Boston. Since it’s near a little spot full of local urban legends known among the local teenagers as “Hell Town,” even the plainest sights have some horrible fictional history behind them. But this simple bridge shares a common bond with many others across the country: some people call it “Cry Baby Bridge.”
You can almost think of cry baby bridges as modern-day folk tales. They come in a variety of designs and sizes, each with its own twist on the same basic story. Sometimes, the passed-down-by-word-of-mouth history for the bridge gets mixed up with other legends. Several instances involve a busload of children killed in an accident; dusting the back of your car with baby powder will make the little handprints visible when they try to push your car to safety. Sometimes, a car parked on the bridge is supposed to have trouble starting. Aside from these rare deviations from the norm, the basic storyline stays the same.
A distraught mother finds herself on a bridge with her child. She tosses her baby over the railing and into the water below; after that, she often takes her own life at the site. Other versions talk about a husband killing his wife and child or an automobile accident involving an infant at the bridge. The variations of this tale are endless, but the final result is always a dead baby. And the story goes on to say that ever since that murder/accident/suicide, you can hear a baby crying at the bridge at night.
Few people have scoured the archives trying to find any grain of truth behind these spooky bridge stories which have been passed along by word of mouth since as early as the 1950s. They’ve spread like wildfire via the internet occasionally giving approximate dates, sometimes with a name found on nearby road signs or in neighboring cemeteries, and told as true history. The backstory often takes place either in the early 1900s or the 1970s, possibly separating the older legends from more modern versions.
I’d love to research the history of every cry baby bridge there is, but for the sake of time I wanted to dig into the heart of the myth itself. I’m perfectly willing to admit that almost any story of a cry baby bridge you may find in your area is just a legend spread by teenagers who crafted a tale so memorable that it lives on as “a true story.” However, I’m a firm believer that truth is stranger than fiction; that the foundation of nearly every legend has some grain of truth to it. People rarely invent a story entirely from scratch; it’s based on something they’ve heard, seen, or read about.
Couldn’t this be true of the crybaby bridge?
Apparently, it is. Believe it or not, we can find evidence that similar events really have happened. Here’s a brief look at some true stories taken from various newspapers which could be the foundation of this urban legend.
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.
October 9, 1900 – Harry Stewart snuck out of his home at 812 Superior Street in Cleveland, Ohio, slit his two-month-old baby’s throat, and threw the body into a nearby sewer. The baby was found a week later at Lake Erie near Lake View Park’s “Suicide Pier.” He was arrested in New York City.
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.
September 1918 – In Wisconsin, an unidentified baby was strangled and thrown into the Milwaukee River near the east end of the State Street Bridge. A stone had been tied to its neck to weigh the body down.
July 16, 1922 – An unknown woman (possibly from Buffalo, NY) clutching a baby jumped from Goat Island Bridge and went over Niagara Falls to her death.
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.
December 13, 1938 – Mrs. Gordon MacKenzie of Vancouver “accidentally” dropped her three-month-old baby from Burrard Street Bridge while contemplating taking both of their lives by jumping.
September 27, 1950 – The body of a baby girl was found on the Kentucky side of the Ohio River south of U.S. Grant Bridge near Portsmouth.
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.
You might ask, “What’s the point of mentioning these? None of these news stories deal with any cry baby bridges I’ve read about on the internet.” You’re right. But my point is that similar stories have actually happened and been reported in the news over the last 150 years. While infant bridge deaths might sound like pure fiction, some of the real-life tales can be even more bizarre.
There are a few possible ways these and other true crimes tie in with the cry baby bridge legend. In some cases, the stories might be pure original fiction, but at least a few stories could be these real accounts altered and relocated to “spookier” places. Also, we can’t deny the possibility that some of these stories could be true tales, either literal or embellished, dealing with the actual locations. Of course, the difficulty with this is finding concrete historical proof. If any cry baby bridge stories are based on real events, there is documented evidence somewhere out there if you know where to look for it.
To dismiss all cry baby bridges as urban legends and contemporary folklore doesn’t really do them justice. Just because a story might be extremely unusual or even unfathomable doesn’t make it fiction. Perhaps we prefer to think of these events as myths instead of facing the reality that horrible, wicked things can and do happen.
The real monsters aren’t mutated midgets, crocodiles in the sewers, or ghostly goat-men; they’re the darker sides of humanity hiding inside the minds of people. We read about the ones that escape into reality every day in the news or find them lurking with passive-aggressive menace on social networking sites. What makes these tales of cry baby bridges so popular isn’t just the fact that they deal with mysterious supernatural themes; it’s the fact that they remind us of the dangers within humankind. I’m not as scared of the idea of a crying dead baby as I am the psychopath with a rifle lurking in the woods near the bridge itself.