Troubled Waterways: Origins of the Crybaby Bridge Legend

Troubled Waterways: Origins of the Crybaby Bridge Legend

Boston Mills Bridge in Hell Town by Andrew Borgen

There’s plain-looking concrete and steel bridge near where I live that’s supposed to be haunted. It replaced a covered bridge that once crossed the Cuyahoga River in what used to be the town of Boston. Since it’s near a little spot full of local urban legends known among the local teenagers as “Hell Town,” even the plainest sights have some horrible fictional history behind them. But this simple bridge shares a common bond with many others across the country: some people call it “Cry Baby Bridge.”

You can almost think of cry baby bridges as modern-day folk tales. They come in a variety of designs and sizes, each with its own twist on the same basic story. Sometimes, the passed-down-by-word-of-mouth history for the bridge gets mixed up with other legends. Several instances involve a busload of children killed in an accident; dusting the back of your car with baby powder will make the little handprints visible when they try to push your car to safety. Sometimes, a car parked on the bridge is supposed to have trouble starting. Aside from these rare deviations from the norm, the basic storyline stays the same.

A distraught mother finds herself on a bridge with her child. She tosses her baby over the railing and into the water below; after that, she often takes her own life at the site. Other versions talk about a husband killing his wife and child or an automobile accident involving an infant at the bridge. The variations of this tale are endless, but the final result is always a dead baby. And the story goes on to say that ever since that murder/accident/suicide, you can hear a baby crying at the bridge at night.

Is it a cautionary tale of teen pregnancy, premarital sex, or seat belts? A warning about untreated postpartum depression or domestic violence? If we totaled up the number of individual “cry baby bridges” said to exist across the United States, the number would be well in excess of a hundred. In Ohio alone, there are at least 24 such bridges. Perhaps visitors overheard some animal—such as a rabbit in distress, a fox (as suggested by Robyn from Strange Frequencies Radio) or a catbird—screaming in the dark and believed it was a baby crying.  Pranksters might’ve tried scaring kids on Halloween with creepy stories and simple tricks (as may be the case with one bridge in Ohio where speakers were found hidden under the bridge). Either that or a whole lot of babies have been tossed off bridges and scream for all eternity.

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Few people have scoured the archives trying to find any grain of truth behind these spooky bridge stories which have been passed along by word of mouth since as early as the 1950s. They’ve spread like wildfire via the internet occasionally giving approximate dates, sometimes with a name found on nearby road signs or in neighboring cemeteries, and told as true history. The backstory often takes place either in the early 1900s or the 1970s, possibly separating the older legends from more modern versions.

I’d love to research the history of every cry baby bridge there is, but for the sake of time I wanted to dig into the heart of the myth itself. I’m perfectly willing to admit that almost any story of a cry baby bridge you may find in your area is just a legend spread by teenagers who crafted a tale so memorable that it lives on as “a true story.” However, I’m a firm believer that truth is stranger than fiction; that the foundation of nearly every legend has some grain of truth to it. People rarely invent a story entirely from scratch; it’s based on something they’ve heard, seen, or read about.

Couldn’t this be true of the crybaby bridge?

Apparently, it is. Believe it or not, we can find evidence that similar events really have happened. Here’s a brief look at some true stories taken from various newspapers which could be the foundation of this urban legend.

July 19, 1886 – Four-year-old Richard Tufts of Long Beach, New Brunswick, carried a neighbor’s baby to a bridge over Tuft’s Brook and tossed him over the edge. When asked why, he said, “I don’t know.”

November 1, 1890 – Sadie McMullen threw Ella May Connors and Delia Brown (ages 11 and 6, respectively) 70 feet from the New York Central trestle bridge over Murderer’s Creek in Akron, New York, before unsuccessfully trying to drown herself. Ella died instantly; Delia survived but was permanently injured.

October 9, 1900 – Harry Stewart snuck out of his home at 812 Superior Street in Cleveland, Ohio, slit his two-month-old baby’s throat, and threw the body into a nearby sewer. The baby was found a week later at Lake Erie near Lake View Park’s “Suicide Pier.” He was arrested in New York City.

January 30, 1914 – In “one of the most sensational crimes” from the history of Spartanburg, SC, Clyde Clement threw his infant daughter Virginia off a bridge into a millpond on Lawsons Fork Creek. He threatened to leave his girlfriend, Laura Pendleton, if the baby wasn’t “done away with” and would only marry her after the child was gone.

February 28, 1914 – Mrs. Ralph Dinsmore, 23, of North Attleboro, Massachusetts, jumped from the Metcalf Street Bridge clutching her 4-month-old baby and was struck by a train around 12:30 PM. She left a suicide note stating that “no one will understand” her reasons.

September 1918 – In Wisconsin, an unidentified baby was strangled and thrown into the Milwaukee River near the east end of the State Street Bridge. A stone had been tied to its neck to weigh the body down.

July 16, 1922 – An unknown woman (possibly from Buffalo, NY) clutching a baby jumped from Goat Island Bridge and went over Niagara Falls to her death.

May 1, 1937 – Myrtle Ward tossed her 3-year-old daughter Louise off the Colorado Street bridge in Pasadena, California. The infant’s 100-foot fall was broken by a tree; the mother jumped afterward and died instantly.

December 13, 1938 – Mrs. Gordon MacKenzie of Vancouver “accidentally” dropped her three-month-old baby from Burrard Street Bridge while contemplating taking both of their lives by jumping.

September 27, 1950 – The body of a baby girl was found on the Kentucky side of the Ohio River south of U.S. Grant Bridge near Portsmouth.

May 23, 1972 – Keith Hamilton, 17, was seen tossing the infant of a 19-year-old girl and her 16-year-old male companion into the Ohio River at 2:00 AM from the 17th Street West Bridge in Huntington, West Virginia. It turned out to be a hoax; the baby was a doll. All three were charged with juvenile delinquency.

February 16, 2010 – Following a domestic dispute, Shamsid-Din Abdur-Raheem threw his three-month-old daughter off the Garden State Parkway’s Driscoll Bridge near Sayreville, New Jersey.

You might ask, “What’s the point of mentioning these? None of these news stories deal with any cry baby bridges I’ve read about on the internet.” You’re right. But my point is that similar stories have actually happened and been reported in the news over the last 150 years. While infant bridge deaths might sound like pure fiction, some of the real-life tales can be even more bizarre.

There are a few possible ways these and other true crimes tie in with the cry baby bridge legend. In some cases, the stories might be pure original fiction, but at least a few stories could be these real accounts altered and relocated to “spookier” places. Also, we can’t deny the possibility that some of these stories could be true tales, either literal or embellished, dealing with the actual locations. Of course, the difficulty with this is finding concrete historical proof. If any cry baby bridge stories are based on real events, there is documented evidence somewhere out there if you know where to look for it.

To dismiss all cry baby bridges as urban legends and contemporary folklore doesn’t really do them justice. Just because a story might be extremely unusual or even unfathomable doesn’t make it fiction. Perhaps we prefer to think of these events as myths instead of facing the reality that horrible, wicked things can and do happen.

The real monsters aren’t mutated midgets, crocodiles in the sewers, or ghostly goat-men; they’re the darker sides of humanity hiding inside the minds of people. We read about the ones that escape into reality every day in the news or find them lurking with passive-aggressive menace on social networking sites. What makes these tales of cry baby bridges so popular isn’t just the fact that they deal with mysterious supernatural themes; it’s the fact that they remind us of the dangers within humankind. I’m not as scared of the idea of a crying dead baby as I am the psychopath with a rifle lurking in the woods near the bridge itself.


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18 Comments

  1. George Wagner

    09/05/2011 at 1:22 AM

    It’s been my experience that it’s “La Llorona” in Hispanic areas of the United States, and of course, Mexico, but “Crybaby Bridge” in non-Hispanic areas.

    Ohio has a dozen or more Crybaby Bridges, each of them the original, one-and only true site.

    My own guess is that the sound of the baby’s crying is probably the sound of the wind sighing through the bridge’s steel superstructure.

    • Ken Summers

      09/05/2011 at 9:55 AM

      From what I understand, La Lloroa is the equivalent of a banshee (or bean-sídhe) so it’s more than a crybaby bridge ghost story in Hispanic/Mexican legend. There are lots of variations to the “Cry Baby Bridge” stories; I couldn’t possibly have written them all into one article. And yes, as I said there are at least 24 of these bridges in Ohio, though I’m sure I could dig up lots more.

      The problem with the idea of the sound being caused by wind through the superstructure is that most of these bridges are low-lying structures. There would have to be a storm to produce enough wind to get through the underbrush at a lot of these sites. Having been to a few of them over the years (sometimes on windy days), I can’t say I ever heard anything resembling a baby crying. I think the animal hypothesis is far more likely. If you’ve ever heard two raccoons fighting in the woods, you know what I mean.

  2. Chris Woodyard

    09/05/2011 at 8:58 AM

    Great article, Ken! I found a Canton case in 1906 where a man was believed to have thrown an infant off the Jackson Street bridge–the water-logged baby basket was found on the bank of the creek. However I have not yet found any follow-up. Another one of those “the body was never recovered” stories.

    I find the “auto accident” or “buggy accident” scenario to be the most common onein the Ohio Crybaby Bridges tales that I know. I always say that there’s a Crybaby Bridge in nearly every county, in every state!

    You also have the subset of Screaming Mimi bridges–somebody once told me that he found that the screaming came from the rain grooves on the pavement.

    • Ken Summers

      09/05/2011 at 10:03 AM

      Thanks, Chris. 🙂 I ran across plenty of other articles, but I didn’t want to drag the article out forever! I hadn’t heard the Canton one, though. I wonder if that bridge has any local rumors about it.

      I’d say the bridges I’ve heard about are half car/buggy accident, half woman throwing a baby overboard. I’d guess there’s probably at least one per Ohio county. I found stories from at least 10 other states, but I have no doubt there are more.

      I’ve heard about the pavement grooves too, but I can’t grasp how that would even be possible on most of these bridges. High steel bridges can create a whirring sound when traffic crosses at high speed, but these are mostly back roads where you’d be lucky to get up to 45 mph. Those grooves make a very low sound that’s quite distinct. I have a hard time believing anyone could mistake it for a screaming baby.

      • nicole ann covert

        01/08/2012 at 6:27 AM

        yes i all ways thought (cry babby brige) about a women and babby crying this is what i no.
        cry babby brige is about a women and a newborn babby the women was driveing over the brige in a horse carrage and the horse got spooked and tipped itself includeing the women and the babby. legand says if u got out to the brige at 11 or 12 at night and yell i killed your baby about five times then put ur car keys on the hood and walk away the car will lock and unlock sevreal times and then a women will apper with a babby in her hands. she will get closer and closer in till u get in the car thenw hen u get in the car she will go pass ur window and give u a evil look then disappear.

        nichole covert thats what i no i myself do killlings and gosht storys never solved.

  3. Marie

    09/05/2011 at 12:06 PM

    we had more than one ‘crybaby bridge’ when I was growing up in Oklahoma, too…most of them had stories of Native American mothers tossing babies into streams while being pursued by soldiers, or white settler women doing the same while being chased by Indians. All plausible, but un-verifiable stories.

    The source may go back much further, though. Many of our pre-Christian era European ancestors would bury the body of a young child in the foundation of a new bridge to ward-off spirits. The practice ended long before the founding of the US, but the stories lived on. Could our modern urban legend be an echo?

    Nice site.

  4. Katie

    09/05/2011 at 1:22 PM

    I can’t express how happy it made me to see someone else poking around NE Ohio. That aside, the article was very interesting. I’ve heard a lot of different things about the Hell Town bridge in high school but it would appear most of my friends were just lying jerks.

    That said, there’s a covered wood bridge over the Rocky River in Strongsville where my parents moved when I got older, a lot of kids have tried to make up crybaby stories there. Unfortunately I made the mistake of camping out by it one night, which included walking over the foot-side a few times, and the most I got was a nosey little raccoon.

    • Ken Summers

      09/05/2011 at 3:20 PM

      Being a Nordonia graduate, I heard the stories growing up… but it was called Mutane (or Butane) Town back then. I still remember that ride down Stanford Road over the “End of the World”. It was the place to go to scare everyone. Witches, cults, glowing gravestones,… it had it all. Of course, most of it was all urban myth. The cemetery has an interesting history there, though.

      Where’s that covered bridge? Now I’m curious. Is it in Big Creek Reservation? I’ve been scared by bats, deer, raccoons, coyotes,… just about everything nature can throw at you over the years. Then again, I spent a lot of time in the Cuyahoga Valley after dark.

      • Katie

        09/05/2011 at 9:17 PM

        I haven’t spent much time up there, most of my mischief was in/around Ohio City and downtown. I really should make the effort now that I have a job and my own car to support such shenanigans. I’ve always wanted to see it myself.

        It is indeed in Big Creek. It’s on Whitney Road just a two minute drive from Pearl. I drove over it today and made a daylight stop to snoop a bit and it was built in ’83. No idea what was there before that, but I doubt anything terribly heinous happened there.

        • Ken Summers

          09/05/2011 at 9:34 PM

          These days, police patrol Hell Town pretty well… though they must not have the one night a couple friends of mine were shot at by some psycho with a rifle in a van last year. I recommend a day trip…

          I saw that bridge a couple weeks ago. Something about it caught my curiosity. I’ll have to do a little digging into the history of that area this month.

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  7. Kris Funderburk

    03/19/2012 at 5:51 PM

    Hi, Ken. My greatgrandmother was Laura Pendleton whom you mentioned above. No one in my family knew this story until years after she died when I started doing research. Needless to say, we were all floored. Nothing like adding this to your own personal history…She was also jailed a few months but later was acquitted. I enjoyed your article.

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    07/01/2013 at 8:03 PM

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  9. evilsloth4

    02/16/2015 at 7:13 PM

    I must say, besides parasites in the brain that inspire people with those driving “forces” to do terrible godly things, that human nature’s darker sides cannot survive or be symbiotic with the self destructive delusions of spirituality, whether someone goes out to bump into a gun wielding psycho or the psycho giggles happily hiding in your crawlspace…

  10. Jim Whitehead

    06/22/2018 at 3:59 PM

    Too be honest I don’t discount the crybaby bridge stories. I just don’t think they are supernatural. Bridges are great shelters, and many animals will bed down under them. When I tallied up the location of every Crybaby bridge in Oklahoma, and got to looking, there had been multiple bigfoot sightings up and down the creeks within a few miles. Just something to consider

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