Looking For the False Start

The false start was roughly to the left, we knew that much. We had seen photos of a big mouthed tunnel to the left of the real tunnel, but where it was exactly… we didn’t know that much.

What strikes me first are the trees. We had just learned about this in science class – what was it called, a new growth forest? We look up at the trees, reaching, curling up and out of the rock face. A breeze comes in. The branches shiver when we do.

I look at the mound of dirt before me, and I have an idea. I look at Cassie, back again at the mound, then down at the camera and phone in my hands. I smile and put my phone in my backpack, shouldering it off so I can be a bit more nimble.

I clench my camera hard and still smiling, I use my long legs to propel me up the side of the hill. I’m still grinning when I get to the top, even with my mud-soaked knees and mud splattered camera lens.

“I can clean it,” I say, looking around. I get distracted, forgetting about the false start – the reason I came up here in the first place. I get distracted again by the trees and make my way over to them.

Moss on the rocks, a blip of green in the gray, brown scene.

I think to myself how new the trees are, how young. I can almost fit my hands around them. I look down at the ground, shouting over my shoulder to Cassie that there’s some Christmas fern up there, some other species of fern, too. I look up at the pine tree over my head, trying to see if I can remember species and can’t. I look behind me, looking for more plants, maybe a flower or two if they sprouted when the weather was nice.

My eyes drift down and stop. I’m looking at something, and it takes me a second to see it, to realize what it is.

“Hey! I found it!” I laugh, taking a few pictures before I forget.

Life at East Portal

We tried to find the false start to the east face of the Hoosac Tunnel.

I’ll admit it was a bit of a struggle trying to locate it. I wouldn’t call it a “hike” but it sure was a task. Mud and sliding rocks provided a bit of difficulty in trying to locate the false start.

When I think of “life” at the East Portal I think of the Deerfield River that runs just to the right of the tracks. You can’t miss it. If at first you do not see it, you will hear it. It’s loud and calls for your attention. For a moment it was relaxing to just stand there and listen to the rushing water.

I didn’t think too much about the vicinity otherwise. Just rocks under my feet, branches snapping with each step, getting caught in twigs, talking over the sound of the river.

But I quickly discovered another form of nature and life beside the East Portal.


Two be exact.

If I hadn’t seen the first one on my white shirt (why did I wear white knowing we were about to encounter mud?), we never would have seen the smaller one crawling on my pants.

A big thank you to Erica for saving me when all my brain was telling me to do was run around and cry in a panic.

On the bright side:

We found the false start.


Visiting The Library

Libraries are considered emergency services. During a snowstorm, or other extreme weather, they are one of the few places that must stay open, no matter what.

This is due to the fact that libraries are one of the few completely free locations left in the world. You can come in from any walk of life, and stay there, for free, while the library is open. You are not expected to pay a fee just for entering. You don’t have to purchase anything to be there. You won’t get in trouble for loitering. You have free access to wifi, computers, and hundreds, and hundreds  of books.

Libraries are welcoming, warm. I had never been to the North Adams Public Library prior to this project, and I am so glad that I was able to do so.

Admittedly, I was nervous before going for the first time. I had no idea what it was like, what it would look like inside, or what we would be able to get when we went. (The library is gorgeous – I was not disappointed)

Chandelier in the Library

On our first visit, we were deciding which location we were going to look into and research. Our first visit, we asked about another location, offhandedly mentioning the Hoosac Tunnel, but got information on another location instead.

The third time we visited, we made sure to ask specifically for information about the Hoosac Tunnel – and got a blank stare.

“What are you looking for?” The reference librarian asked us.

“The history, that kind of thing,” we replied. “Pictures, if you have them.”

She gave us a look, and turned away for a second, coming back with a binder.

“This is everything we have,” she responds. “You have the book, already, right? Builders of the Hoosac Tunnel?”

We nodded, we got that last time. We noticed a picture in the book with the caption, courtesy of the North Adams Public Library. So, we assumed there were pictures. Maybe hanging on the wall somewhere, we weren’t sure where it was, what we would find.

She opened the binder, and inside was, well, everything.

“Here is the table of contents,” she explains, pointing at it, flipping through the contents pages. “If there’s anything specific you’re looking for, you can find it here first. We have photos, microfilm, letters…” she flips to show us the lists and lists of stuff. “You know how to use call numbers, right? Just write it down and I can find it for you.”

She paused, then looks up at us.

“Do you know how to find stuff in the online database?”

Cassie and I looked at each other.

“What?” We say at the same time.

The librarian smiles and reaches for a sticky note. She writes down a URL to the library’s website, telling us how to find the online database as she writes everything down. She eventually goes over to the computer to log into it for us, and tells us to get her if we need anything.

By now, Cassie and I are grinning from ear to ear. We get it now. The first time we came here, it’s not that they didn’t have any information, it’s that they had too much, which is why they didn’t want to give us anything. The second time, nope, still didn’t get it that we wanted everything – but by the third time, they understood.

As of now we have practically full reign of the reference library. When Cassie and I are squealing over all the information we find about the tunnel and North Adams – they probably roll their eyes. I know they enjoy it, though, because when we smile and gush about how much we love libraries, the librarians tell us we’re preaching to the choir.

The Focus

We couldn’t not think of death when we thought of the Hoosac Tunnel.

The history of the tunnel is riddled with death and seemed odd to avoid the darkness heavily associated with the tunnel. But at the same time, we couldn’t avoid the life we saw in the space around the West Portal… We couldn’t ignore the presence of the beavers.

The longer we thought about it, the more we felt that we couldn’t disregard the local ghost stories. Even as a college student who spent approximately 7 months here a year for four years, I always hear of these tales. I often  find myself referencing the stories or talking about their to people back at home.

It cannot be ignored.

We decided to create the pages, “Life”, “Death”, “Afterlife”, and “Regrowth” to try and capture the full identity of the Hoosac Tunnel.

To take any of these aspects away from the identity of the tunnel we are trying to present would not give a clear and accurate picture of all that the is the Hoosac Tunnel.



We discovered early on in our research that the task of finding information on Hoosac Tunnel would not be easy.

Our first roadblock was trying to find information. We found a singular book, Builders of the Hoosac Tunnel by Cliff Schexnayder, that provided a lot of the ins and outs of the tunnel ranging from funding, important figures, and deaths. The problem? It seemed to be our only source of information, and thought it was vast, we felt we needed more.

After sometime, we decided to ask just once more if they had anything else on the tunnel. We were surprised to find that the reason we were initially given just one book was because they had “too much” information to give us.

We were directed to an online database of everything that was in the public library’s vault (archive).

Our new problem was searching through all of our new material. What should we use? What was important to use? What was our focus?



Ringo & Co.

I’ve been having such a hard time locating information on Ringo Kelley, Ned Brinkman, and Billy Nash. Nearly every article of the unsolved murder leads straight to the ghost stories of the three explosive experts. I was able to locate one article that did start with the mention of a police case and the name of the officer in charge, but I was unable to find anything else.

I’ve been wondering about this story a lot lately. The first mention that I was able to find of it is around 1970… As a ghost story.

Looking back on what we know about the story of these men, after they died many workers reported hearing moaning and yelling that they believed were the spirits of these men. Many even believed that the vengeful spirits of Brinkman and Nash were the ones who killed Kelley.

Their story has always been a ghost story.

I wonder if we’ll be able to find more information on them.

I wonder how much of their story is true, and how much was changed as their story has been passed around.


Whispering and Rocks

We visited the tunnel the other day and decided to do a little ghost hunt.

That was a few days ago and I am still a little spooked if I’m being honest.

We started the trip by using one of those supposed ghost finding apps. I do not trust the ability of those apps to (1) locate a ghost nearby or (2) tell me what it is trying to say to me. We had some fun and made jokes using the app. The first spook: when the ads kept popping up on the app.

I think it is fair enough to say those apps are pointless and if you were to go ghost hunting: do not use the apps as your only evidence.

I almost wish we had real equipment for at least EVPs… What I would do for a Spirit Box… Especially after the experiences we had.

To say my eyes were playing tricks on me a huge understatement. There was this one area down the tunnel that I strictly referred to as “the white bit”.  I was entirely uninterested (read: terrified) and would not venture to “the white bit” to see exactly what it was. I think we concluded that it was just the coloration of the stone down the tunnel. My eyes always found their way back to the white bit and that’s where my eyes played the most tricks on me. I kept making jokes trying to prepare myself in case it moved.

It did seem to move, whenever I moved. Once I figured that out I relaxed, but only slightly. I remember my eyes staring into the darkness beside the white bit and I felt like someone was staring back. I kept trying to convince myself to just not look down into the darkness of the tunnel. But I did. If I hadn’t I may not have seen whatever it was that moved in front of the white bit.

It wasn’t a shadow… To be honest, I do not know what it was. It’s possible it was still just my eyes playing tricks. I tried to laugh it off as I explained to Erica that I saw something (I may have said “another white bit”) move in front of the white bit. It was fast too, there was no way to really know what it was. So I pushed it to the back of mind.

It was hard to really hear anything since there’s running water inside the tunnel, and typical of a tunnel: everything echoes around you. I tried to explain to Erica what I was hearing but I am aware, and I was aware in the moment, that I was not making sense. I explained that I heard water but it wasn’t water. It was more like a whisper, but it wasn’t a whisper. I think what I meant was that I heard what sounded like an incoherent whisper, and since it was incoherent: it sounded a lot like the water we were hearing. And I heard that whisper, whatever it was, wherever it was coming from. My ears were straining to separate it from the sound of water. Unfortunately, I am incapable of separating noises like that. In a crowd I wouldn’t hear someone talking to me because I hear all the sounds at once and cannot differentiate between them. That’s what it felt like in the tunnel. I knew I could hear a whisper but it overlapped with the water in a way that made it difficult for me to truly hear it.

I made a comment about how if there was no running water we would be hearing a lot happening around us. I almost regret saying that, especially looking back on everything.

If we could hear more clearly I never would’ve asked for something to move closer to us.

To be honest, a lot of the times I was asking question for purely for the sake of asking questions. I made a comment about not asking “how they died” because it could upset “them”…. Minutes later: “I’m just going to do it- how did you die?”

Down the tunnel I could hear rocks moving. It was an odd sound, and it was so far down that I could barely make it out. I asked if that was them moving things if they could move it closer so that we could actually be able to hear it.


It wasn’t just a shuffle of rocks. I didn’t see anything thrown, and but it wasn’t just a rock falling– which I also did not see– (and also, where would it have fallen from?)… But it was a rock, it was loud, and it was right next to us.

I think I laughed as we ran out. But that was from fear rather than amusement. Because I can tell you that in that moment I was most definitely, not even remotely, amused. Knowing me I probably played it off that I was not that scared. I thanked whatever it was for doing what I asked, but I really wish I hadn’t asked.

Erica and I talked for a while, talking about how that noise came from this open bit off to the left that we would not look into. I’m kind of glad we didn’t look into it, but at the same time: I wish I had, even just briefly, because looking into it from this moment on is going to feel a lot creepier than before.

And we went back. I recorded into the tunnel, and Erica recorded us and behind us. The water was loud, my jacket made noise any time I moved (more like breathed) and we kept shuffling about here and there. Erica, still the logical one, made a point to comment on things as they happened for the sake of the audio.

I think it was this time that I said we shouldn’t ask how they died. I joked about asking what their favorite color was because I had seen that done before. I think I was just reaching for something to ask since I said we shouldn’t ask how they died… Which I did anyways because I wanted to see what would happen (honestly… Why am I like this?).

I remember asking if we bothered it by running out earlier. Erica asked it to move something if we were bothering it. And something moved. It wasn’t like before, but it was a movement of rocks (maybe) beside us… The only thing near me was Erica and the only thing near Erica was me. We were alone. But I guess we weren’t.

We heard the noise and immediately turned around to leave. We thanked it as we walked out as calmly as we could possibly manage.

Maybe you do not believe in ghosts, and that’s okay.

I believe in them. And after that experience I can finally understand the stories I’ve heard from friends about feeling like someone is watching you in there, or that things happen around you and not farther down into the tunnel.

I’m just happy I wasn’t touched.

Your girl would have booked it all the way back to Connecticut if I had.


The Plan.

I’ve finally visited Hoosac Tunnel and I’m itching to go back. Standing before the tunnel, imagining what it was like when the work for the tunnel first began… Imagining the conversation that needed to be had when the initial plan failed… Imagining how many people were just trying to do their job but ended up never making it home at the end of the day… Are they still here? In the tunnel?

There are so many stories within and around the Hoosac Tunnel, waiting to be told. It doesn’t seem fair to present them in a singular way when there are numerous tools to help. To simply layout the land with words alone wouldn’t do it justice. The tunnel calls for layers– photographs, story maps, video, audio, and timelines to accompany the words.

We’re lucky to have rich material to work with. With the help of the North Adams Public Library and the North Adams Historical Society, we have extensive information on the tunnel at our fingertips. The library not only has extensive information on Hoosac Tunnel but they also have physical artifacts tucked away somewhere in The Vault. With our differing busy schedules and limited, and sometimes inconvenient, hours at the library it’s a bonus that most of this material has been cataloged online for easy access.

We plan on sharing the experience of maintaining the blog and writing pieces to post as well as researching and visiting the site together. But we have also designated other responsibilities between the two of us as this project progresses:

Erica: Filming and editing videos.

*Driver / navigator extraordinaire.

Cassie: TimeLineJS, StoryMap.

*Positive affirmation guide / spotter of beavers.


I’ve always described North Adams as “falling apart” and I’ve heard others doing the same. But what if there was another way of seeing it? What if it was just nature reclaiming abandoned man-made structures that we’ve given up on? What if nature was having a comeback in the Berkshires? Maybe we can start to live with nature instead of destroying nature. Maybe instead of moving on to destroy more land to replace something that has fallen apart… we can try to fix it first…

…like the beavers.




The Beginning

North Adams exists as a hub of activity, and commonly is called a “drive-through town.” Even the trains are driving from one place to another, trying to get to somewhere else, never stopping for long.

Much of North Adams is historic, run down, falling apart or somehow being “reclaimed by nature” if you prefer to romanticise it in that way. Old Victorians, falling apart, or apartment buildings marked with signs that say it is no longer safe to enter. One can walk into any old house and see dandelions peeking through the floorboards.  Or walk through the various historic sites, of the Hoosac Tunnel, perhaps, and see pieces of the past, where nature exists within history.

Like the beavers who live alongside the West Portal, creating shapes, changing the landscape, and adding to it as parts break, we as humans do the same thing.

The history of the Hoosac Tunnel is rich with individual narratives, horrible deaths, and more, which enable the stories of the tunnel to be all the more interesting. With the wide range of stories, there enables a wide range of materials to show them, including TimelineJS, Storymap, of course visual aspects such as video, and the more straightforward nature writing.

The Vault will play into our writings as well. The archives we have access to, mostly documents which have been scanned and posted online, will aid us in our research. Physical artifacts will help us as well, and the aid of the local historical society will be of great use to us.

We have also designated some responsibilities for the two of us.

Cassie: TimeLineJS, StoryMap, maintaining the blog/ writing pieces, research/ visiting the site.

Erica:  filming and editing videos, maintaining the blog/ writing pieces, research/ visiting the site.

The Hoosac Tunnel, although well known, has much that is no longer understood. In seeking the truths that the tunnel will tell, we may be able to see more than what even the builders themselves fully intended to show.


– Erica