A haunting tale from days long past that took place in Burlington, VT.
By the turn of the twentieth century, the legend of the apparition of a former worker at the Burlington waterfront’s Queen City Cotton Mill seemed to enthrall local citizens. Many eyewitness accounts attest to witnessing the appearance of Marie Blais, a 22-year-old young woman from Quebec. a former mill employee, on the premises.
The ill-fated Marie was tragically struck by a train in June 1900 at the Lakeside Avenue railway crossing, where she died quickly.
As the autumn arrived, tales of the female mill ghost circulated, and the lights of the trains passing by the site of the Marie witching hour would flicker. And some folks even claimed that they could peer past the tracks near where Marie was virtually worked to death, seeing visions of her near the railroad trestle and of her, tormented by the ghost of a former occupation, working at night at her loom. Some even claimed to have seen Marie scream near the tracks.
The tragic accident happened where the railroad intersected with Lakeside Avenue. Ever since the Rutland RR line to Burlington opened in 1849, the Lakeside Avenue intersection had been a grade crossing. Warning signs were primitive and not very helpful. There were no flashing lights or protection from safety gates as the train approached.
She was not the only one to die crossing the tracks at the waterfront in Burlington. The trains passed constantly and efficiently transporting goods from the waterfront factories, and unfortunately there were no safe crossings. In 1908, there was finally an attempt to build an underpass by the cotton mill. During a meeting about two and a half years later, it was claimed that over 500 workers, crossing the tracks many times each day, were in danger of being injured or killed by while the trains passed by. Fortunately, during that same year, an underpass was constructed.
From an article in the Vermont Watchman – November 28,1900
Dozens of Burlingtonians are ready to swear that they have seen a veritable ghost working at her old loom at the cotton mills. Visitors do not seem to disturb her, and whoever cares to take the trouble can see her at work at midnight. They recognized her as a young woman weaver who was run over and killed by a train while walking on the track alongside the shops, and that train now gives a jolt and the headlight goes out while passing the spot at night.
The Burlington Daily News says:
Unlike some tales of ghosts, the story of the one at the Queen City cotton mill does not wane and grow cold. It rather increases and is more and more intense and exciting from day to day. It is strange that the watchman is not utterly amazed by the actions of the ghostly visitor, but he is not. He is getting used to the familiar form of the feminine spook, and would probably feel lonesome if she did not appear.
The big engineer on the night express shakes every time the train passes over the spot where the life was crushed out of the girl whose spirit they say it is the ghost of the vicinity. He says that it is the motion of the train that caused his knees to knock together upon reaching the fatal spot. He denies the story that the headlight keeps going out.
But the believers ask, how comes the story so vivid, so distinct and so explicit? Must there not be some foundation to this headlight business? lsn’t it a strange coincidence that someone should suddenly extinguish the light just where the accident occurred? Is it all imagination that causes one to hear noises resembling dying groans? Can it simply be the weird puffing and blowing of the engine?
The watchman keeps his own counsel. He may know more than he will divulge about this now somewhat famous spook which is attracting the attention of students of the supernatural and preternatural from far and near. It is the most widely talked of ghost which has ever inhabited the spook haunts of Burlington; and Burlington has been the home of many spirits and is today. The recounting of half the tales of the doings of these uncanny beings would fill many pages.
There are new converts to the authenticity of the report of the cotton mill ghost every day. For various reasons, however, they desire that their names not be published. Visit the mills at night, if you have the courage, and see for yourself, and be convinced. Others have, and you will find them there watching, strangely fascinated, almost overpowered by what they see wrought before them. The soft light within, the moving figure in white, the look of agony upon the face, the quick, yet subtle movements, the machinery, seemingly in rapid motion; all this is enough to blanch the ruddiest cheek and make the stoutest heart quake, they say. Did you ever see a ghost? If so, you can appreciate what happens nightly at the Queen City cotton mill. If you are weak and have little courage, keep away.
In the daytime, everything is normal again. The mill runs without disturbance and we can find no alteration in the cloth’s arrangement or other material in the process of manufacture from the way they left it the night before.
Photos are courtesy of this great article about the history of Burlington, Vermont’s cotton mills by Kyle Obenauer