Monmouth’s Crybaby Bridge

This steel bridge three miles northwest of Monmouth, Illinois is one of many christened a “cry baby bridge” because of its alleged connection to infanticide.

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Many years ago, as lightning flashed and storm clouds swirled overhead, a young unwed mother—driven mad by the pain of abandonment, regret, and the fear of being ostracized—hurled her week-old baby boy over the trestles of this rural bridge into the swirling water below. Ever since, passersby have heard the spine-tingling cries of a baby struggling to breathe. Or so the story goes.

This one-lane, steel bridge spanning Cedar Creek three miles northwest of Monmouth, Illinois in Warren County is one of many christened a “cry baby bridge” because of its alleged connection to an incident like the one just described. Another popular story told is that an elementary school bus plunged off the side of the bridge during a flood. All the children drowned, but should your car break down while crossing the bridge, their ghosts will push it safely to the other side.

Because of these stories, otherwise mundane rural bridges have become the focus of intense local curiosity. Ohio alone has at least 24 nearly identical legends. Few residents of Monmouth have never heard of their cry baby bridge.

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Airtight Bridge Murder Part 3 of 3: Mystery Solved?

Continued from Part 1 and Part 2, “The Mystery Deepens”

In 1992, 12-years after the discovery of the body, there was a real break in the case. On November 20, the Sheriff’s Department held another press conference in Charleston, this time to announce that they had determined the identity of the Airtight victim. Her name was Diana Marie Riordan-Small, a resident of Bradley, Illinois, who disappeared from her home a short time before passersby found her remains over 100 miles away in Coles County.

The revelation was the result of cooperation between Coles County Sheriff’s Detective Art Beier and Detective Steven Coy of the Bradley Police Department. Slowly, a picture of what happened to Diana Small began to emerge.

The reason no one matching the description of the body found at Airtight turned up in the missing persons reports was that no one reported Diana missing. “Her husband… told police he wasn’t all that concerned because Small had left home on occasions before,” the Journal Gazette reported. Diana’s mother and sister had joined a small Christian sect before moving west, where they became disconnected from Diana and her husband.

After nearly a decade, her sister, Virginia, left the church and moved to North Carolina. Virginia decided to get in touch with the rest of her family and learned of her sister’s disappearance, at which point she filed a missing persons report. According to Dave Fopay of the Journal Gazette, “Detective Art Beier saw the report on a national listing, realized Small’s descriptions matched that of the Airtight Bridge victim and contacted Bradley police.” A DNA test confirmed the match.

It turned out investigators early on in the case were right about one thing, the Airtight victim did have a child. Vanessa LaGessa was only two years old when her mother disappeared. She shed light on what happened after her mother’s disappearance, and what her family has gone through dealing with the tragedy. Understandably, her father did not want to discuss the incident. “I believe my dad honestly didn’t know how to tell me that my mother was murdered even as I got older,” she explained to the Times-Courier in 2008.

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Airtight Bridge Murder Part 2 of 3: The Mystery Deepens

Continued from Part 1, “A Gruesome Discovery”

As police cordoned off the bridge and word spread of the discovery, reporters and television crews descended on the remote location. The gruesome nature of the crime caused a sensation, and the story remained in the headlines for three days. It was the second time in three years someone had found a body at a popular hangout along the Embarras River in rural Coles County. In 1977, a local man named Andy Lanman died of a massive drug overdose at a spot south of Charleston known as “The Cellar.” He was missing for 25 days before hunters stumbled on his morphine-saturated body near the river.

Back at Airtight Bridge, police worked into the evening using scuba divers to scour the river for clues. But police never found the missing body parts, which the murderer had cut “fairly cleanly.” The cause of death was also never determined. Coles County Coroner Dick Lynch described the woman as being in her 20s, “rather flat-chested,” “not in the habit of shaving,” about 5 feet 9 inches, weighing around 130 pounds, with dark auburn hair. He deduced that she had not been dead more than a day or so, and that the murderer killed her somewhere other than at the bridge.

Coles County Sheriff Chuck Lister agreed. He believed the perpetrator(s) murdered the woman, dismembered her, and drove to Airtight with her body and “rolled [it] down the bridge embankment.” Police shipped her remains to Springfield for examination by pathologist Dr. Grant Johnson at Memorial Medical Center. He could not uncover anything definite because of the advanced state of decomposition and lack of vital extremities.

In Dr. Johnson’s first examination, he determined the woman had an uncommon “A-positive” blood type. This may have helped the pathologist identify her remains, had any immediate family come forward to report a missing person. She did not have any major scars, birthmarks, or tattoos that might have given a clue to her identity, nor was it easy to find out the time of death. “Observers seem to be fairly certain that the body was not on the riverbank early the preceding evening,” Dr. Johnson wrote in his final report. “The lack of rigidity and the early decomposition changes would certainly suggest that the body had been dead longer than the preceding evening and had been brought from some other location to the bank of the river.”

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Airtight Bridge Murder Part 1 of 3: A Gruesome Discovery

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.

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Hoover Dam on the Colorado River

The Hoover Dam is an engineering marvel, truly one of the great monuments to American ingenuity and strength. Like Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, I couldn’t help being struck by the sheer size of the dam. It was a massive project on an unprecedented scale, like the ancient pyramids. An entire city was built to house the thousands of workers.

The Hoover Dam spans the Black Canyon on the Colorado River, between Nevada and Arizona. U.S. Route 93 used to cross the dam, but a bypass was opened in 2010 to divert traffic away from the structure. The steel and concrete bridge, called the Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, is impressive in itself. The bridge is 1,900 feet long and 900 feet above the Colorado River.

The dam was built between 1931 and 1936 and cost $49 million ($700 million today). It was originally called the Boulder Dam, but Congress changed its name in 1947 in honor of former President Herbert Hoover. It rises 726.4 feet and spans 1,244 feet.

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Lakey’s Creek and the Headless Horseman of Illinois

“I almost wept as the spectra placed
The head back into the sack;
Clop, clop… the headless rider
moved on.” –Neil Tracy “The Legend of Lakey”

LaKey Creek drains the farmland northwest of McLeansboro, Illinois and heads south, eventually joining the north fork of the Saline River in rural Hamilton County. From there, the Saline River grows more robust, until it ultimately empties into the Ohio River on the eastern side of the Shawnee National Forest. The creek would have been a strategic place for any early setter of McLeansboro Township. Unfortunately for Mr. Lakey, who would lend his name to the creek, the picturesque tract of land he picked for a homestead was also his place of death. For it was with his life that he purchased the immortality of having both a creek and a local legend associated with his name.

Not long after the death of Lakey, two travelers reportedly were chased by a fearsome black steed, upon which sat a headless rider. The horseman menaced them until they crossed the creek, at which point the phantom turned downstream and disappeared. 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 Jonesboro’s legend of Dug Hill and Provost Marshal Welch, this story may also 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 along Route 14, folklorists say, a frontiersman named Lakey attempted to erect his log cabin near a ford along the wagon trail to Mt. Vernon. His task was nearly completed when he felled an oak tree to make boards for his roof. The next morning, a lone traveler stumbled upon Lakey’s bloody body. Lakey’s head had been severed by his own ax, which was left embedded in the stump of the oak. According to legend, his murderer was never found.

But the story doesn’t end there.

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The Many Mysteries of Rogues Hollow Road

A headless horse is among the phantoms said to haunt this formerly rough-and-tumble holler near Doylestown, Ohio.

  • Rogues Hollow was a nineteenth century mining community known for its rambunctious residents.
  • According to legend, a low-hanging branch decapitated a horse along the trail, and its spirit returns.
  • The bridge over Silver Creek is one of Ohio’s many “crybaby bridges.”

Rogues Hollow is a geologic depression and former town located south of the village of Doylestown in northeastern Ohio, a few miles southwest of Akron. Though long defunct, the road and bridge of the same name has long been a magnet for legends. Today, Doylestown celebrates its unique heritage with the Rogues’ Hollow Festival, an annual event which takes place the first Friday and Saturday of August.

Though one of many “crybaby bridges” scattered throughout rural Ohio, Rogues Hollow’s notorious history makes it unique. Rogues Hollow was formed after centuries of erosion by the meandering of Silver Creek, and the area was settled in the early 1800s when coal deposits were discovered. In 1958, Russell Frey printed a collection  of area history called Rogue’s Hollow: History and Legends. He described the mining community as rough-and-tumble, full of taverns, violent episodes, and tormented spirits.

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