CLEVELAND - The engineer at the controls of the Lackawanna locomotive was bringing the long train into a bend at 80 miles an hour when he saw another locomotive pulling onto the same track. The two trains collided and several dozen people were killed. That was 70 years ago, but those who work in and near the old passenger car swear it is haunted by those who died.
The Lackawanna passenger car is inside the Midwest Railway Preservation Society's old railroad roundhouse, where it is getting a new coat of paint.
"There's no less than 17 spirits that occupy this car," said Charlie Sedgley, a volunteer with the society that works to restore old train cars.
The society has 15 of them, including a 95-year-old steam engineer, a caboose and several other vintage passenger train cars. The role of the society is to bring aged train cars up to a point where the cars can be sold.
The old Lackawanna passenger car was part of the train that was traveling in upstate New York in August 1943. The train was running late. An engineer and others in the Wayland rail yard thought it had already passed through when a locomotive was pulled on the Lackawanna's track.
More than 170 people died or were injured when the two trains collided. Six of the dead were from Cleveland. Those who did not die from the direct impact of the collision lost their lives when the locomotive turned over, spewing steam into the passenger car.
The passenger car eventually found its way to the Midwest Railway Preservation Society, which is located in the old Baltimore and Ohio train roundhouse, which is no longer used for trains routed into and out of Cleveland.
Society trustee Steve Karpos has conducted tours through many of the train cars, including the death car. He said on one tour, a woman asked about the "man dressed in the funny suit" who stood behind Karpos.
"Everyone else was saying there was a ghost in the car," Karpos said. "When they got out, they said they saw the ghost sitting on the roof with his feet hanging over."
The society has had professional ghost hunters visit its facility and has found strange sounds coming from the old car.
"That don't bother me," said Dale Schwark, one of the painters hired to paint the car. "As long as they don't touch me, I'm alright," he added with a nervous laugh.
Although the ghost car draws much attention by those who visit the society's roundhouse, there is much work being done throughout on other cars. Among its holdings is an Amtrak dining car, which Jimmy Carter used as he journeyed from Georgia to Washington, DC, when he was inaugurated as U.S. president following the 1976 election.
The roundhouse is not well-known and the railway society is working to change that. However, its volunteers are quick to talk about the ghost car. They figure if, indeed, there are ghosts from that 1943 train wreck still riding the rails, they are free to stay aboard.
"We figure the ghosts want us to continue to restore old train cars," Sedgley said. "So that's what we do."
The Midwest Railway Preservation Society is located at 2800 West 3rd Street, in the Cleveland Flats. Its website is www.midwestrailway.org .