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The road was dark and quiet.
The only sound was the whir of my car engine, the glow of my headlamps the only light. It was my junior year of high school, and I was venturing out to Crawford Road for the first time, under the guidance of a friend.
Crawford, the winding, secluded two-lane road that runs through Newport News and York County, has inspired ghost stories for generations. And these tales almost always incorporate the creepy, graffiti-covered bridge the road passes under.
The legends are many, each with as many variations as there are storytellers. There’s the one about how the Ku Klux Klan used to meet here, hanging hundreds of victims from the bridge. There’s the one about the woman who hanged herself from the bridge in her wedding gown, choosing death over marrying a man she didn’t love. There’s the rumor that this is where they hanged slaves who attempted to escape.
If you park underneath the bridge and turn off your car, it’s said, the ghosts will reveal themselves. You’ll see a teenage bride swinging in the breeze, or hear the cries of babies from another century. In the bridge’s shadow, your car might shut itself off, or your stereo might suddenly malfunction.
Naturally, the prospect of seeing a ghost held quite a thrill for two bored teenagers with nothing but time on their hands. We parked under the bridge, turned off the car, and waited for our friends from the other side of the void to appear. And we waited. And we waited some more.
While the road was sufficiently eerie, the ghosts apparently weren’t interested in scaring a couple of high school juniors that night. I turned the car back on, and we headed home a little disappointed. It would be years before I’d learn that the ghost stories that brought us to Crawford Road that night obscure a history just as deadly.
Frank Green has heard the stories.
For 25 years, Green served as a deputy with the York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office, driving down Crafford Road in the dead of night hundreds, if not thousands, of times. And each time, he came up empty-handed.
“I have not personally seen anything down there,” says Green, who is also past president of the York County Historical Society. “I rode down there at various times of day and night, and have yet to see anything down Crawford Road or the bridge or anything like that. It’s a creepy old road, but I think the stuff you hear is more of an urban legend.”
According to Green, discussion of ghoulish tales on the road began in the 1970s, and the legends have only grown in popularity since. The Haunted Commonwealth, a blog that chronicles supernatural events across the state, asserts, “There have been more stories told about what happens around Crawford Road in Yorktown than any other road in Virginia.”
Adding to the Crawford’s mystique is the fact that the street has different spellings at different points in the road, either “Crawford” or “Crafford.” Though most signs read “Crawford,” Green insists the other spelling is correct, named for a turn-of-the-century schoolteacher named Helen Crafford.
Much of the road runs through watershed and Yorktown Battlefield property, meaning there aren’t many homes or streetlights around. While undeniably spooky, some ghost believers are still skeptical about whether the road is “actually haunted.” Before he passed two years ago, I interviewed local ghost expert L.B. Taylor Jr. about the road. Taylor authored 25 books about ghosts in Virginia, but said his investigation of Crawford Road was unsuccessful.
“I think it’s more of an urban legend than an actual haunting,” Taylor told me in 2013. “I think it’s teenagers that have wild imaginations. They just go down there half-scared to death to start with.”
Of the slave hangings, Green says the bridge is too recent for the tale to be true. There’s no known documentation of a bride hanging herself on her wedding day, but there is some truth to accounts of the Ku Klux Klan in the area.
“There was KKK in York County, but as far as I know, all they did was meet right where Tabb High School is at,” in the 1930s, says Green. He brings up another legend he heard, perhaps inspired by the nearby Colonial Parkway killings in the 1980s. In those cases, three couples were murdered and another went missing and is presumed dead. The perpetrator still hasn’t been identified.
“You hear about the couple parking and then somebody trying to open their door, then they look to see a bloody hand,” says Green of the Crawford Road rumor. “I heard another one of these things—if you wrote your name on the bridge, you would die. I guess there’s a lot of dead people I haven’t heard of.”
The road’s proximity to the battlefield that effectively ended the Revolutionary War has also played into the stories.
“Some people say it’s the soldiers that are haunting the bridge, some people say that it was the place where they killed slaves in the past, and other people think it’s just an evil road,” says Lt. Richard Moore of the York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office. “It just depends on which group they talk to and which story they heard.”
While he’s never seen anything paranormal on the road, Moore says the real-life incidents he’s witnessed on the road have been gruesome enough.
“It’s a very bad road,” he says. “A number of people have been killed on that road, which only adds to the rumors of it being haunted.” And he’s not talking about car crashes.
In the 1950s, Green says a cab driver was murdered on Crawford. In the ’60s, some children died in a house fire along the road.
But the murders that took place there in the 1990s would draw national attention.