Hey there, before we dig into today's episode, I wanted to tell you about a brand new podcast we just launched over a grim and mild. Over the years, my team and I have scoured the globe to bring you tales from the past with a hint of darkness, from superstition and folklore to the curious and the bizarre. We've explored a whole new side to world history. But now it's time to bring that journey home. Because while America's history books are filled with people, places and events that sit on lofty pedestals, there's a whole other side of American history that's been forgotten and pushed into the shadows.
Some of these tales are terrifying, while others are delightfully bizarre.
All of them, though, are eye opening, and we've dusted them off and brought them all together for a brand new show that we call American Shadows. And it premiered just a few days ago on August 13th. Each episode is handcrafted by the Grimm and my team and then narrated by the amazing Lauren Voegele bomb from Earhart Radio's Brain Stuff and Saver. And because I know how much you like new stories, I've added a sample of the premiere episode to the end of the show.
So enjoy this new law journey and then stick around through the ad break for your first glimpse of American shadows. And now on with the show. At first glance, it's difficult to make out what they are, small, corroded pieces of metal, roughly the length of modern flatware all lined up on a museum shelf. But if you lean in and look past the rough surfaces of the objects, their purpose becomes clear. They were surgical tools. Discovered in 1989, inside the ruins of a third century Roman building known as the House of the surgeon, there are dozens of them.
Within the collection are a lot of items that are immediately recognizable despite their separation from modern medicine by 18 hundred years, things like scalpels and forceps and small iron needles. It's easy to imagine their use and feel a sense of connection to the past while doing so. Others are more mysterious, such as the various hooks and a spoon shaped object that experts think is a device called the spoon of Dialis, which was used to remove arrowheads from wounded soldiers. And then there are the tools that hint at a more barbaric time, like the large saw blades and drill bits used respectively to amputate limbs and drill holes in the skull, an ancient technique known as trepanation.
These dark, rough metal tools are a stark reminder to us of just how far we've come, technologically speaking, with our brightly lit operating rooms, gleaming surgical steel and a vast assortment of electronic instruments, medicine has come a long way and no one would dispute the value of that progress.
But not all advances are good for us. Every now and then, changes arrive on the scene that look shiny and new. They seem to solve a whole list of problems and become incredibly popular as a result.
But in the process, they build a brand new stage for history to be played out on a stage where the most human characteristic of all, our desire to make and build and invent things, also unlocks our potential for something darker. Tragedy, suffering and death. I'm Aaron Manque and this. Is Laura. When Phillip Layton needed to move coal from a mine on his property outside Liverpool, England, to a distribution point about a half mile away, he used technology to make it easier.
He had a rail line installed and then used it to haul the heavy coal at a much faster rate. And honestly, nothing about that story is surprising except for when it took place 15 Ninety-four. And he wasn't the last all through the 16 and 17 hundred's inventive, people adopted the same technique Lane Wood and track and using it to guide horse drawn carriages. Toward the end of the 18th century, though, some of those people begin to switch over to metal, making the tracks more durable and efficient.
Which is why in the first half of the hundreds, the world seemed ready for another invention, the steam engine. Of course, the steam engine wasn't new either. The ancient engineer hero of Alexandria had created something in the first century that was essentially a steam turbine. But he never seemed to see the potential of hooking it up to other devices as a power source. Later in the 16th and 17th centuries, others would take the technology further. All of it leading to England's first steam locomotive in two and wait for the world had one of those rare peanut butter and chocolate moments when a steam powered locomotive engine was combined with an iron railway and then used to haul a train of cars.
It wasn't very efficient and it had a lot of mechanical problems, but it was the seed of a new idea, an idea that would soon take the world by storm. And America was keeping pace to back in the seventeen hundreds wooden wagon days had begun to sprout up all over the Northeast. And as England began to stitch its vast countryside together with threads of steel and steam, the folks in America were building their own network of rail and people were passionate about it, too.
In fact, when construction on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad began in 1828, they kick things off with an opening ceremony on July 4th. And who did they pick to have the honor of turning over the first shovel full of dirt? 91 year old Charles Carroll, the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence. And you can't blame people for throwing their enthusiasm behind this new technology. It was estimated at the time that switching the transportation of goods from horse drawn carriage to the railroad could reduce shipping costs by as much as 70 percent.
Plus trips that once took a full day could now be completed in about an hour. Cheaper and faster were two qualities that people had a difficult time refusing. But the railroad was a technology that came at a price most businesses that depended on frequent road travelers, like inns and taverns, saw a loss of revenue. Many went under entirely. The old way of living seemed to be pushed into the shadows of the locomotive. In a very real sense. The past was standing still while the future Rushden by.
We see the pain it caused in the early folklore that sprung up around that industry and one of the most popular stories hands down was that of John Henry. Now, I will be perfectly transparent here. The story of John Henry is filled with all the trappings of a legend, complete with unverifiable details. There are dozens of variations of his story and very little historical evidence to back most of it up. But that doesn't make them any less important or valuable.
The basic legend tells us that John Henry was an African-American steel driving man laborer who was tasked with pounding a large drill bits into rock so that explosives could be inserted and used to carve out a tunnel in the story. We meet a strong, proud man who is respected and renowned for his skill and hard work. But we also meet new technology that threatens his value. When a steam powered drilling machine arrives on his job sites, John Henry challenges the soulless contraption to a duel, which of them can drill father over the course of the day against all odds?
John Henry is said to have won the contest, but he pays for it with his life. His heart's giving out from the strain of the work. His story has gone on to wedged itself firmly in popular culture. Dozens of songwriters across all sorts of genres have recorded ballads about him over the years. Historians have dug for more and more details about his life. But all of that aside, the legend of John Henry has shown us something bigger and more troubling.
It shows us the true cost of progress and begs us to consider whether it's really worth it in the end. But that wasn't the only question people were asking. They also wondered if the railroad was a safe new technology. And we can see that drama play out in the story of Casey Jones, the legendary train engineer from the late 1400's, because it's in his story that many people saw the darkness of this new and glorious industry. Jones was born in rural Mississippi in 1864 to a pair of schoolteachers a few years into his childhood.
The family packed up and moved to the town of Cassi, Kentucky. And as he moved into adulthood, people around him started to refer to him by the name of that place rather than his birth name, John as K.C. Jones. He got married, had a family and eventually found work in that growing industry, working his way up to become an engineer with the Illinois Central Railroad. And he quickly built a reputation, too. Jones was known to be a bit reckless and frequently pushed his train to the limits of its speed.
But it was all in the service of the company, he told the people. After all, the trains had to run on time. But that hunger for perfection would eventually catch up with him on April 30th of nineteen hundred, Jones filled in for a sick co-worker and guided a train from Canton, Mississippi, to Memphis, Tennessee. But things were slow by the time he was turning around for the return trip, he was already 90 minutes behind schedule and the only way to make it up was to go faster.
As the train sped toward von Mississipi, they entered a long curve through tall trees that kept much of the track ahead out of view and at close to 75 miles per hour. That meant that he had no way of stopping quickly to avoid danger. So when a freight train was spotted ahead, he sounded the whistle to warn them of the inevitable. Casey's train collided with the other with incredible force, he had managed to reduce his speed by about half, but he still plowed into its rear car and then continued on through the next few as well.
Instead of jumping to safety, though, Jones stayed at the helm, pulling hard on the brake while tugging furiously on the rope that operated the whistle. Eventually, Jones train jumped the tracks and came to a stop on the embankment beside them. When the wreckage was examined, rescuers found Jones dead beneath a cab. He had been struck in the head with debris, and his breaking arm had been torn from his body. But his refusal to leave the front cab had also saved the lives of everyone else on board.
His heroic death earned him his own slew of ballads and legends, but it also helped introduce most of America to an unsettling idea. This technology they had enthusiastically supported was more than just a road into the future. It was an avenue to destruction. Death has been associated with trains for a very long time, while it might not be a natural fit. It's amazing how quickly the two paired up in the popular mindset. And some historians think we have one man to thank for that, Presidents Abraham Lincoln.
More than any other president in history, Lincoln is probably one of the most closely linked to the idea of death in the years leading up to his assassination. He had multiple dreams about his own funeral, and the most famous of those dreams took place just two weeks before John Wilkes Booth killed him. But a lot of people tend to forget about another moment from his life that took place a year or two before his death. Lincoln's son, Robert, was walking on a train platform in New Jersey when a group of men accidentally crowded him off the platform.
At the exact moment that the train had begun to move. He was moments from death when a man pulled him to safety. And that man, in a wild twist of fate was Edwin Booth, brother of John Wilkes Booth. Perhaps even more ironic is the fact that Robert Lincoln would go on to be the only Lincoln child to live into adulthood, all thanks to the actions of a booth. After Lincoln's death, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton commandeered a railroad line from Washington, D.C. to Springfield, Illinois, for the transportation of Lincoln's body.
I think everyone knows this, so it doesn't need much explaining. Springfield was his adopted hometown and that's where he belonged. But most people forget that there was another coffin on the train as well. Lincoln's young son, Willie. William Wallace Lincoln, who was lovingly called Willy by everyone around him and passed away at the age of 12, just three years earlier, his body had been temporarily interred at a crypt in Georgetown, waiting for the day that his father left office and headed home to Illinois.
And while the circumstances were what anyone had expected, Willie's time had finally come. On April 21st of 1865, a funeral train pulled by an engine called the Nashville left the station in Washington, D.C., and then it began a nearly two thousand mile journey across the eastern half of the country. But it made a lot of stops along the way, partly to allow mourners a chance to pay their respects and partly because of the smell. You see, Lincoln hadn't been involved in D.C., so his body wasn't doing so well inside that warm train car.
There were a number of professional undertakers on board and they did their best. But sometimes filling his car with flowers was the only solution. So they had to stop every couple of days to buy new ones. They also stopped for funeral processions through a number of large cities, including Philadelphia, New York City, Cleveland and Chicago, among many others. And with all of that ceremony and mourning the string, tying it all together was the train, that dark metallic beast that seemed to be dragging Lincoln into the underworld ever so slowly, mile by mile.
Within a year, there were already stories and whispers people within communities that had been along the train route began to report unusual experiences on the anniversary of the funeral procession. Some claim to see lights on the track that night, while others said they could hear the whistle of a train despite not being able to see one at all. The most common experience, though, seemed to follow the same pattern, thick fog would descend on the tracks at night and a train would be seen emerging from its telling a number of cars all draped in black fabric.
This train would never make a sound other than the occasional blow of the whistle, but those who witnessed it claimed that they could see lights and feel the wind as it passed by. A few reports can hold a candle to one woman's experience just a few decades ago, according to her, she was driving home one evening in April and was about to cross the local railroad tracks when the crossing gate arm began to lower, lights flashing to indicate an oncoming train.
So she stopped to wait in her car. A moment later, the silence was broken by the sound of a train whistle, and then the shape of an old fashioned engine appeared in the darkness. Behind it was a long row of train cars, each one decorated with black fabric that hung in ribbons beneath the windows. And despite the complete lack of sound from the massive engine, the flags on the train could be seen flapping in the wind as it moved.
Suddenly, the train began to slow down, and before this woman knew it, it had come to a complete stop right there in front of her car and the small train depot at the side of the road. After what felt like an eternity, the whistle sounded again and the ghostly train began to lurch forward, eventually vanishing into the darkness beyond the road. In all, the experience took no more than 20 minutes, but it understandably left the woman feeling shaken.
Glancing out her car window, she noticed that a pair of railroad employees had stepped outside the depot and both of them appeared to be equally shocked. So she opened her car door and walked over to them to have a chat. They confirmed that they, too, had witnessed the mysterious train and they added to the puzzle by telling her that no train had been scheduled to pass by the depot at that moment. But despite all the questions they didn't have answers to, all three of the witnesses could agree on something that they had each caught a glimpse of through the train's windows.
It was a coffin, a coffin draped in an American flag and surrounded by soldiers dressed in union army blue like an honor guard of sorts. But the most unsettling part of that scene happened when one of those soldiers turned and looked out the window toward them. His face, they claimed, wasn't a face at all. It was nothing more than a skull. They were already running late when they pulled into the station, every stop along the way had added more time to their route and the westbound No.9 passenger train was falling farther and farther behind schedule.
But that was bad for more than one reason.
First, the Richmond and Danville Railroad as a company wasn't doing so well by 1890, they had expanded to cover over 3000 miles of track all throughout the American South. Places like Texas, Mississippi, Georgia and North Carolina by the executives had overextended themselves.
And now the R&D railroad was on the edge of collapse. Their lateness was also bad because one of the passengers was none other than the railroad superintendent who was sleeping in his own private car toward the back. It was bad enough to be late, but to do so with the boss right there, well, it looks sloppy. So the engineer William West decided to try and make up for their lost time. They pulled out of the station in Statesville, North Carolina, around two thirty in the morning on August 27th of 1891, and then poured on the speed.
Moments later, the train was cruising at around 40 miles per hour and the engineer began to feel hopeful. About 30 minutes later, though, all of that changed. The train had approached a long span of stonework known as the Boston Bridge, which stretched about 60 feet above a wide ravine and a creek that ran through it.
There were no other trains on the track and there was no bad weather. As far as I can tell, it was just a normal ideal crossing that should have gone smoothly. But that never happened. Instead, the train left the tracks just as it began to cross the bridge instantly, the engine and all of the cars behind it were launched at top speed into the air, over the ravine. And if you've ever seen the movie Back to the Future three, I'm sure you can conjure that image of what it might look like, an agonizing slow motion flight as a thing that was never meant to leave the ground plummeted to its doom.
The train crashed into the creek, which was swollen from the recent rains, they had been moving so fast that the sleeper car filled with passengers landed over 150 feet from the start of the bridge.
And everywhere you looked, there was wreckage and suffering. Some of the survivors who could walk began to stumble their way back toward Statesville to get help, while others began to pick through the debris. But the rising water level was faster than their efforts. And all told, 22 passengers died that night, either from the crash itself or by drowning in the ravine below. Of course, the railroad went looking for someone to blame, the train might have been moving quickly, but it hadn't been going too fast, at least that was their corporate response.
No, they believed someone else had caused the accident because after examining the tracks leading up to the bridge, they claimed that a number of the spikes had been removed, leaving the iron rails loose and unsafe. But finding an explanation would never erase the loss of life or even help them salvage the business, and it would never make the echoes of the tragedy go away, which might explain why four years after the deadly accident, locals would report unusual experiences near that bridge most frequently on the anniversary of the crash.
But the most powerful episode took place in the early morning hours. In late August of 1941, a woman and her husband had been driving along Buffalo Shoals Road, which ran parallel to the old rail line. And as they approached the spot where their paths crossed the tracks, they felt their car shudder. Stepping out, the husband discovered that the rear tire had suddenly gone flat, so he locked the doors, wave goodbye to his wife, and then began the long walk to Statesville for help.
And I wish that I could tell you that she sat in fear while he was gone or that she cheerfully listened to the radio and sang along. But I don't know how she passed her time. What we do know is that a long while later she heard an eerie sound in the distance. It was the whistle of a train looking up and out into the darkness.
She began to see the light of a headlamp cutting through the trees in the direction of the tracks and the bridge. And then, as she sat in her car watching the train emerged, jumped the tracks and plummeted into the ravine below. In a panic, the woman opened her door and stepped outside. She later claimed that she could hear the explosions and the screams from passengers below. She even ran toward the bridge itself and peered into the valley where she could see the glow of burning wood glistening off the swollen creek.
It was only when she heard the sound of an approaching car that she pulled herself away again and headed back. She found her husband there along with a local man who had come back with him to help with their car, but both of them could see that she was disturbed by something and asked what had happened, struggling to catch her breath. She quickly told them about the train, the accident and the people screaming in pain and then asked both of them to follow her to the bridge to see it all for themselves.
When they arrive, though, the woman stopped in her tracks and stared with her mouth wide open, where there had been massive fires and shouts for help just moments before all of that had gone away. The wreckage in the ravine below. I disappeared. Our love affair with technology has given us many gifts over the years, in fact, scholars today measure much of prehistory with terms that reflect the inventiveness of the people in that era the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, the Iron Age.
They all make sense and they all make a point. Humans are really good at creating new things. And a lot of fields, that's been a wonderful thing, every time we go to the doctor and they don't prescribe bloodletting or a trepanation, we get to enjoy a bit of that technological advancement. Our foods are safer, our jobs are easier, and our hobbies are more delightful. Heck, even just being able to Netflix and chill is a product of decades of pushing the needle of invention forward inch by inch.
But as someone who sat in a classroom and watched the space shuttle Challenger disaster live on television, there is an understandable amount of risk that comes with technology. The more complex our creations become, the more they take on new points of failure and opportunities for human error.
Invention might be in our blood, and nothing will ever stop the march of progress. But it often comes at a price.
And nowhere is there a better example of this truth in action than in the early world of the railroad, yes, trains sped up travel and transportation and provided jobs for tens of thousands of people across the country. And yes, those long metal rails stitched together a new nation on many levels, economically, socially and politically. But they came with more risk to. Disasters like the one at the Boston Bridge in North Carolina were more common than people were comfortable with.
At least 75 people died in 1879 when the Tay Bridge in Scotland collapsed, taking a train with it.
And just six years later, a train traveling between Boston and Montreal jumped the tracks as it crossed a bridge over the White River in Vermont. At least thirty seven people lost their lives that night. Clearly, these tragedies weren't the norm, but whenever they happened, they added a new reminder that our hunger for bigger and better can sometimes backfire on us. And those reminders haven't stopped either. In fact, even the Boston Bridge seems unable to escape its painful legacy.
Four years since that tragic night in 1891, people have traveled to the bridge to pay their respects, to imagine the wreckage with their own eyes and maybe to look for something more.
And in recent years, some of those visitors have taken on a bit too much risk in the process. After all, curiosity can be a dangerous thing. In 2010, a dozen or so self-proclaimed ghost hunters trespassed on the land where the bridge still stands. They climbed up onto the tracks and wandered out into the middle of the span across the ravine and then settled in to wait. You see, it was August 27th, the anniversary of the tragedy, and they were hoping for a glimpse of the ghost train.
Around to 45 in the morning, close to the time of the original accident, these explorers glanced down the tracks and saw a light, a light that was quickly moving in their direction. Most of them ran away. But one young man stayed behind. That's when he realized that the train on the tracks was, in fact, a real one and not a ghost.
But that realization came too late before he could move out of the way. He was struck by the oncoming train, most likely died instantly on impact. We can debate forever about whether or not trains from the past can haunt the land of the living, but it's hard to deny the one lesson that history has taught us all along. Wherever they went. Tragedy was never far behind. Over the years, we've explored a lot of unique pieces of folklore and they can be found all around the world, but what I love the most about today's journey is just how American it feels from the drive to innovate and improve to the never ending balance between progress and tradition.
Which is why I want to give you a taste of our brand new show, American Shadows, because all of those themes are front and center. Stick around after this brief sponsor break to hear it for yourself.
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Just go to Stamps.com, click on the microphone at the top of the homepage, and then type in the word law that stamps.com offer code law. It's beautiful, she told her husband it was Christmas time in Paris, 1898, but Marie Amper weren't looking at the glow of Paris city lights and soft snowfall. The couple were inside a dilapidated brick building that purchased as a makeshift laboratory, sitting on well-worn chairs and odd wooden work table littered with an array of flimsy wires, scopes and cheap instruments.
A radiant, almost magical light broke the darkness surrounding them, and Marie found the luminescent glow captivating. Having married just three years earlier when Marie was twenty seven and Pierre was 36. The two didn't have a lot of money yet. Despite the tottering chairs, odd work tables in the isolation chamber made out of wooden grocery crates, the couple couldn't be happier. Science had brought them together and their love of it had become an intimate bond between them. So Marie looked on the beautiful, gleaming object, still nestled deep within one of her pockets, the shimmering glow bright enough to allow Pierre to jot down a single word in their notebook.
They chose a name for it at the Latin word for Ray. They called it radium. Before long, though, this new discovery would enchant more than just the carries. The whole world was about to encounter a scientific miracle, and soon enough interest in it would transform into obsession. But as we're about to find out, not all obsessions are good for us. I'm Lauren Vogel. Welcome to American Chateaux. It all started back in February of 1898.
Marie Ampere had immersed themselves in their lab. Marie began working with a heavy black substance known as Pitchblende, noting that the naturally occurring mineral contained uranium after that uranium had been removed.
Though the material left behind was still highly radioactive when she studied those remains, Marie discovered an unknown, luminous element. The couple worked tirelessly days after completing their notes, the Curies announced their discovery to the French Academy of Sciences on December 26, 1898, and radium quickly became a breakthrough discovery.
Substance destroyed human tissue, but as ghastly as that sounds, scientists around the world would soon put that property to use in the fight against cancer. Radium didn't disappoint either. Its effect on cancerous tumors proved nothing short of astounding.
Newspapers printed articles that speculated on everything from the use of radium as fertilizer to supercharge the growth of crops to using it to make brilliantly glowing candies and shimmering cocktails.
There were seemingly practical uses to companies marketed paint for reflective house numbers. Radium Christmas tree lights were touted as being much safer than candles. Glowing light switches made it easier to find them in a dark room. In certain pharmacies, people bought radium laced pills and bandages. New types of clinics and spots opened up, promising a variety of radium induced health benefits if you could afford them. That is, in 1984, a Manhattan based company produced a patented health water called Liquid Sunshine.
The same company also created and sold a glow in the dark ink. Another company made glow in the dark eyes for children's toys.
Now, creepy, glowing eyes in the middle of the night aside, Radames luminescence was indeed stunningly beautiful, and other products soon followed drinks, elixirs, salt soaps and even suppositories. Many products claimed radium cured everything from acne to warts and just about every ailment in between. For the general public, though, most of these products were a sham. Most didn't contain any radium at all because the stuff was outrageously expensive. In 1915, a gram of radium cost eighty four thousand five hundred dollars.
That's one point nine million dollars in today's economy, making it one of the most expensive elements on Earth and its day. So, as you might expect, only the super rich were able to purchase anything with much radium in it. That didn't stop the wave of products or the people who clamored for them, though radium toothpaste promised to dazzle smiles, intensifying the brightness with every brushing radio or cosmetics, sold creams, roug and powders designed to restore that youthful glow, companies made radium, butter and radium milk.
Even clothing like lingerie and jockstraps boasted radium to boost virility. No wonder officials began to warn citizens to be on the lookout for radium scams. Companies found instant wealth in radio factories cropped up to meet the demand for radium enhanced products, and they didn't just build factories in cities. Factories were built in the suburbs to radium seemed to be everywhere and demand for it skyrocketed. While more and more commercial products continue to emerge, medical science enamored with Radames, groundbreaking use for cancer research to the elements, impact on other diseases, sick patients began to call for treatment with radium.
Doctors even wondered if radium might help them not only treat cancer, but actually cure it. In the early nineteen hundreds, radium was referred to as one of history's greatest finds. In 1983, Marie Curie became the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in physics. In 1911, she was awarded a second Nobel Prize, making her the first scientist to win two of these awards. Radium prompted the U.S. surgeon general at the time to say that the element reminded him of a mythological super being an English physician called Radium the Unknown God.
Some had even said radium had been predicted in the Bible. Within a few short years, radium future grew to be the new, bright and shiny object, bigger and brighter than a full moon on a clear night in the world, mesmerized by its brilliance and allure, couldn't get enough. But as it turned out, Marie's beautiful, glowing miracle had a darker side. This episode of law was written and produced by me, Aaron Manque, with research by Taylor Hagedorn and music by Chad Lawson, law is much more than just the podcast.
There's a book series available in bookstores and online and two seasons of the television show on Amazon Prime video. Check them both out if you want more law in your life. I also make two other podcasts. Aaron makes cabinets of curiosities and unobscured, and I think that you'd enjoy both of them. Each one explores other areas of our dark history, ranging from bite sized episodes to season long dives into a single topic. And you can learn more about both of those shows and everything else going on over in one central place, grim and mild dotcom.
And you can follow the show on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Just search for our podcast, all one word and click that follow button. And when you do say hi, I like it when people say hi. And as always, thanks for listening.