On a typical autumn evening, Charlie and his girlfriend Megan left the campus of Eastern Illinois University to enjoy a game of miniature golf at Lincoln Springs Resort. They found themselves driving down a rural route somewhere northeast of Charleston. The sun had gone down before the two could find their way back to a main road, and Charlie hadn’t bothered to bring a map. As trees and fields flew past, it was clear they were getting further and further away from their destination.
Tensions were already running high when their headlights fell on two pairs of eyes that shimmered near the mailbox of a white, double-wide trailer. As Charlie’s silver Mitsubishi Outlander drove past, two unleashed dogs jumped at the car and chased it to the edge of the paved road. They disappeared into the dirt and dust kicked up by the Outlander as it ground the chalky gravel under its wheels.
Navigating several sharp curves, Megan and Charlie’s hearts raced as the road pitched downward and the fallow cornfields disappeared behind thick woods and desolate meadows. Charlie slowed down to avoid spinning out, and everything became eerily quiet aside from the sound of tires against the road.
Charlie threw his girlfriend a worried glance as they approached a small, white sign warning of a weight limit of eight tons. Suddenly the trestles of an old, one lane suspension bridge loomed out of the darkness. The branches of two large trees, a sycamore and a bur oak, formed a natural arch over the foreboding entrance. Lurching forward, the Outlander rolled over the broken pavement suspended fifteen and a half feet above the inky waters of the Embarras River. For a moment, the burgundy, steel supports were all the two saw in every direction.
As Charlie and Megan reached the opposite entrance, their headlights revealed an old greeting spray-painted onto the guardrail that cryptically read, “Howdy Grimster.” The sounds of nature returned after the two had crossed the 60-yard distance to the other side.
That night, Charlie and Megan had accidentally stumbled on Airtight Bridge, one of Coles County’s best kept secrets. Located along Airtight Road, it is the only direct route between the village of Ashmore and the unincorporated towns of Bushton and Rardin. Isolated and remote, most people do not come on it by accident. The bridge itself is interesting enough, but it was a gruesome discovery there over 25 years ago on the banks of the Embarras River that ignited the local imagination. Since then, visitors have returned from nightly excursions with many unusual tales to tell.
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