For decades, storytellers have claimed an ax-wielding “Bunny Man” has terrorized northern Virginia, but the truth might be stranger than fiction.
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The year was 1904. A bus carrying inmates from the county asylum swerved along darkened country back roads towards Lorton Prison. One of the buses took a sharp turn and crashed in a particularly remote area, killing all but ten patients. Most were recaptured, except for Douglas J. Grifon, convicted of murdering his family on Easter. Since then, the carcasses of helpless teenagers and bunnies alike have been found hanging from a nearby bridge, slain at the hands of a deranged man wearing a rabbit-eared costume.
This ax-wielding bunnyman has reportedly appeared to startled onlookers as far away as Maryland, Washington, DC, and Culpepper, Virginia, but if he has a home, it’s in rural Fairfax County, Virginia near an old railroad bridge over Colchester Road. The bridge, variously known as Fairfax Station Bridge or Colchester Overpass, has become known as “Bunny Man Bridge” in popular imagination. It’s even labeled as such on Google Maps.
A remote, creepy bridge used during the 1950s and ’60s as a make out spot is like a magnet for urban legends and folklore, and Bunny Man Bridge is no exception. Though variations of common legends have taken root here, Bunny Man Bridge is unique in that at least part of the legend is based on real events.
A historic covered bridge, used as a barracks for Union troops, still stands at the scene of an early Civil War skirmish.
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The Battle of Philippi was fought on June 3, 1861 between Union forces commanded by Brig. Gen. Thomas A. Morris and Confederate forces commanded by Col. George A. Porterfield in Philippi, West Virginia during the American Civil War. The skirmish, which was the first in Virginia, was a Union victory that encouraged Western Virginians to secede and form their own pro-Union state. It resulted in 30 total casualties.
By the time Virginia voters ratified the decision of its secession convention on May 23, 1861, Richmond had already been proclaimed the Confederate capital and militia units were mobilizing. As commander of the Department of the Ohio, Union Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan invaded western Virginia under the pretext of protecting unionists there. Western counties would later vote to secede from Virginia and form the state of West Virginia.
McClellan sent 3,000 volunteer troops into western Virginia under the overall command of Brig. Gen. Thomas A. Morris. Opposing them were approximately 800 poorly trained and equipped militia commanded by Col. George A. Porterfield gathered at the town of Grafton. Porterfield retreated to Philippi as the Union army advanced. Morris divided his force into two columns, which converged on Philippi and the Confederates camped there.
A detachment of American riflemen turn back the last British attack on Buffalo is this little-known War of 1812 skirmish.
The Battle of Scajaquada Creek Bridge (also known as Conjockety Creek) was fought on August 3, 1814 between British forces commanded by Lt. Col. John Tucker and American forces commanded by Major Ludowick Morgan in modern-day Buffalo, New York during the War of 1812. The battle was an American victory, ending British raids over the Niagara River and saving the American soldiers holed up in Fort Erie.
After the bloody Battle of Lundy’s Lane on July 25, 1814 on the western shore of the Niagara River, the American Army withdrew to recently-captured Fort Erie to lick its wounds. The British, under the command of Lieutenant General Gordon Drummond, pursued and laid siege to the fort. The Americans received supplies from Black Rock and Buffalo by boat, so Lt. Gen. Drummond ordered Lt. Col. John “Brigadier Shindy” Tucker to take 600 men, raid the villages, and burn military supplies, as the British had successfully done in December 1813.
To reach those military store houses, Tucker had to cross the Niagara River and Unity Island, then Conjockety Creek. Scouts warned Major Ludowick Morgan of the British approach, and he ordered his men to tear up planks on the Conjockety Creek bridge. His 240 militiamen found cover on the southern shore and waited for the British to appear. The British, armed with smoothbore muskets, were no match for the American riflemen.
The British attempted to repair the bridge under fire, but this proved futile. Tucker then sent a detachment up stream to try to force a crossing at a different point, but they were met by steady and accurate fire from the defenders. After a frustrating hour of fighting, the British withdrew having lost approximately 12 killed and 17 wounded to the Americans’ two killed and eight wounded. Supplies continued flowing to Fort Erie, and the British eventually broke off the siege after heavy losses.
There is nothing peculiar about the concrete bridge along Old Post Road two miles east of Crete, Illinois. If a motorist were to drive past, over the trickling waters of Plum Creek on a pleasant summer day, not much would alert this passerby to the Axeman’s gruesome story.
In the woods a few yards to the northeast, however, sits a rickety steel bridge, collapsed into the water. It is tagged with graffiti. For years, local teens imagined this was the scene of a gruesome ax murder. The remains of a home hidden in the trees and the closure of the road leading to the steel bridge have only fueled the legend.
Although landmarks set the stage for this story, the exact history of the area is difficult to determine. According to John Drury’s photographic history, This is Will County, Illinois (1955), David Harner was the first white settler of Crete Township, and a large contingent of ethnic Germans followed.
Early in Will County history, the thick timberland along Plum Creek was called Beebe’s Grove. It was named after Minoris Beebe, who arrived in 1834 along with David Harner. According to an old county plat map, a man named William Vocke owned the property around Axeman’s Bridge in 1909. I have been unable to determine when this bridge closed.
Seven graffiti-covered railroad bridges appear along this stretch of rural road outside Collinsville, Illinois. Locals have crafted a hellish tale around these bridges, which they dubbed the “Seven Gates to Hell.”
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Late night drives are a time-honored teenage pastime, and many communities throughout Illinois have legendary roads that offer more thrills than most. A confusing stretch of rural road outside Collinsville, Illinois is one of the more interesting. Along these roads are seven railroad bridges, some no longer in use. All of them are heavily coated in graffiti—a testament to their popularity for nighttime excursions.
Local visitors have crafted a hellish tale around these seven bridges, which they dubbed the “Seven Gates to Hell.” According to Chad Lewis and Terry Fisk’s Illinois Road Guide to Haunted Locations (2007), these stories have been circulating in the area for at least 40 years.
The legend is that if someone were to drive through all seven bridges and enter the last one exactly at midnight, he or she would be transported to Hell. In some versions, the person entering the final tunnel must be a skeptic. In other versions, no tunnel can be driven through twice for the magic to work.
The headless horseman of Lakey’s Creek is quite possibly one of the oldest ghost stories in Illinois. Passed down as an oral tradition until John W. Allen put the story on paper in 1963, the mysterious man named Lakey, as well as his untimely end, has been immortalized in the folklore of Southern Illinois. Like Lake Michigan’s “Seaweed Charlie,” this ghost story may be preserving the memory of an unsettling event in local history.
Long before a concrete bridge spanned the shallow creek 1.5 miles east of McLeansboro, a frontiersman named Lakey attempted to erect his log cabin near a ford along the wagon trail to Mt. Vernon. One morning, a lone traveler stumbled upon Lakey’s body. Lakey’s head had been severed by his own ax, which was left at the scene. According to legend, his murderer was never found.
For decades after the murder, travelers reported being chased by a headless horseman who rode out of the woods along Lakey’s Creek. “Always the rider, on a large black horse, joined travelers approaching the stream from the east, and always on the downstream side,” John Allen wrote. “Each time and just before reaching the center of the creek, the mistlike figure would turn downstream and disappear.”
In the October 1973 issue of Goshen Trails, Ralph S. Harrelson published research in which he claimed to have learned the historical personage behind the Lakey legend. In a history of Hamilton County, he discovered a single sentence revealing that a man named Lakey―the same man who gave his name to the creek―had indeed lived near the ford, but more tellingly, that he had been murdered by his son-in-law.
A gruesome murder, eerie silence, and remote location combine to make any visitor’s hair stand on end at this steel bridge in rural Coles County.
Airtight Bridge spans the narrow Embarras River in rural Coles County. It was designed by Claude L. James and built in 1914. In 1981, the bridge was added to the National Register of Historical places on account of “event, Architecture/Engineering.”
Before this “event,” the bridge was known as a drinking spot for local teens as well as students from Eastern Illinois University. Otherwise, the bridge, which even 26 years ago was described as “old” and “creaky,” had a pretty mundane existence.
That all changed on the pleasant Sunday morning of October 19, 1980. According to newspaper reports, two men from rural Urbana spotted what looked like the body of a nude woman about 50 feet from the bridge as they drove past. A local man soon joined them at the scene and the three quickly discovered that the head, hands, and feet were missing from the cadaver. They called the sheriff’s office, and 20 minutes later a full investigation was underway.
Police used scuba divers and dredged the river to find clues, but the body parts, which had been severed “fairly cleanly,” were never found. There were several false leads in the case, including missing person reports, as well as a sack of clothes that was discovered north of Charleston. The cause of death, which probably lay in the head, was never determined.