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Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Don't Stand Too Close!

Image courtesy of adamr /
Every community has its local legend, and my small hometown in Middle Georgia is no exception. Cochran has always been a sleepy little farming community, dotted with cotton fields and catfish ponds. When I was growing up, the railroad cut through the swamp behind my house. On summer nights I’d hear its keening wail and imagine it was some mysterious animal.

I wasn’t the only one to mythologize the midnight train. My friends and I made up stories about it— where was it going? where had it been? who rode those rails through the humid night, anonymous behind the glass and steel?—and imagined a life beyond the red clay ditches. Perhaps this was the reason for the legend that sprung up about the railroad tracks. Perhaps our parents and grandparents sensed the lure of the outbound train, headed for exotic new horizons. Perhaps it was they who first started the stories of Huggin’ Molly. Or perhaps her story really is true, and having passed from mouth to mouth down the railroad line, has become legend.

Cochran isn't the only Southern town who knows of her—there's a town in Alabama that has a Huggin' Molly cafe, and though they claim the legend is unique to that area, it's not. Their Molly is more benevolent than Georgia's version. A hug from their Molly is disturbing, but not deadly, as people who claim to have experienced her embrace will tell you. Cold and unpleasant, they say. Chilled them right to the bone, they say.

Our Molly, however...nobody ever made it out of our Molly's arms to tell the tale.

All I know is this: on moonless nights, when the train came through, if you stood close to the tracks you could hear her crying for her lost lover. Her sobbing would mix with the train whistle. And then you’d better hide. You’d better move as far away from those tracks as you could get. Because even though Huggin’ Molly looked like any other woman, she always wore mourning clothes topped with a long black veil—and a sailor hat. And she had arms so long that she would snatch you right up off the side of the road, snatch you into her relentless embrace, snatch you onto the midnight train. And your scream would mingle with the banshee whistle and you’d be taken away down the tracks, never to be seen again.

I never saw Huggin’ Molly. But I cannot hear a train whistle without feeling a shiver race down my spine. Without taking a step backwards. Without imagining those long, long arms.
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Tina Whittle writes the Tai Randolph mysteries for Poisoned Pen Press. The sixth book in this Atlanta-based series—Necessary Ends—is scheduled for an April release. Tina is a proud member of Sisters in Crime and serves as both a chapter officer and national board member. Visit her website to follow her on social media, sign up for her newsletter, or read additional scenes and short stories:



Kait said...

That is downright spooky! What a excellent way to keep kids from playing near the tracks. This tale sounds like it has historical roots. I wonder if it was spread from town to town by the men who worked the rails. Great October post.

Jim Jackson said...

In almost every house I have lived in, I could hear the distant or near voice of out-of-sight trains rolling past. In some places, it was only the long-long-short-long of the train’s whistle as it crossed a distant road. Some places I lived close enough to hear the clickety-clack of wheels crossing non-welded rail. One place was near a grade, and I could hear the deepening of the diesel as it worked harder to make the grade.

I never heard or saw Huggin’ Molly.

~ Jim

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

I didn't hear about Huggin' Molly when we lived in Atlanta. I wonder if her cousin or sister lives in Cincinnati? Our area is criss-crossed by open-grade crossings and at night, I hear the wail of trains in the Mill Creek Valley.

Tina said...

The train no longer runs that track behind my childhood house, so it feels like Huggin' Molly has left for parts elsewhere. I certainly don't feel her presence where I live now, where the train runs through the middle of town. I too wonder how her story spreads, how it came to my ears (I don't remember the first time I heard the tale). It would make an interesting study, that's for sure.

Jim Jackson said...

Margaret -- When I lived in Cincinnati (Clifton area) the trains I heard were from the Mill Creek area.

~ Jim

Grace Topping said...

Every community seems to have their "ghost" stories. The legend in our area was of Wopsy Lady in White. She was supposedly the ghost of a woman on her honeymoon killed on Wopsonock Mountain in Pennsylvania.

I grew up in Altoona, Pennsylvania, along a major train route from NYC to Chicago. At one time we had 98 trains a day going through the center of town. I can still remember lying awake on hot summer nights (without air-conditioning and the windows open) and hearing the sounds of the trains--all night long.

Tina said...

There's something about the sounds of a train at night...I have recently discovered how much I love traveling by train, being one of those people making my way through the small towns at midnight. I'd never travel any other way if I had my druthers.

Warren Bull said...

As a child I used to listen for the sound of far away trains. They were comforting sounds.

Gloria Alden said...

Like Warren, there weren't any trains very close by so I liked hearing the sounds of them. As for spooky stories, I heard a lot of them, and I remember when my brother and two cousins and I put up a tent to spend the night on our grandparents' farm which was close to our houses, I told spooky scary stories I had heard but knew weren't true stories. Like the story of the boy who was sent to the store to buy some liver for his family's supper and either spent the money on candy or lost it so on the way home at an open grave with the casket yet to be covered, he took a liver from the dead man and took it home. That night on the steps he heard the eerie voice of a man saying "One step, give me back my liver, two step give me back my liver," and on until I grabbed the arm of the person close to me and said "Gotcha" and they screamed. Actually, I did it once when camping at Girl Scout camp with my troop, too.

E. B. Davis said...

A wonderfully told tale, Tina. The sound of train whistles at night are eerie. There are many legends in the Outer Banks of swimming or shipwreck victims finally finding shore--long dead of drowning. The island north of me where Nags Head is located is named Bodie Island. That's Body Island--changed the spelling to sanitize the image to visitors I guess. What I find eerie here? To hell with sharks--Shipwrecks appear here overnight. The beach can be clear one day--the waves/wind uncovers those wrecks buried in the sand--the next day. And they aren't little row boats--some have steam stacks that point out of the sand. I watch where I put my feet down in the ocean here because you just never know what will be down there. Now that I think about it, I'd better get my tetanus shot renewed.

Shari Randall said...

Huggin' Molly - what a great story! Though the sailor cap is a funny detail, isn't it? I guess a sailor was the one who done her wrong. Ah, those sailors!
I used to think a train whistle was a lonesome sound, but now when I hear it I think of those on the train, where they're going, what they're leaving behind.
At my house, we're more likely to hear the fog horn than train whistle. Not nearly as romantic a sound.