Hometown Tales Podcast

Monday, December 29, 2008

St. Francisville, IN - The Purple Head

Some say it’s old James Johnston, out searching the Wabash River bottoms for anyone who crosses Stangle’s Bridge by night, disturbing his slumber. They say his habits never change. A purple head rises from the grave where they laid him 156 years ago and floats the half-mile stretch of county road to the old, one-lane plank bridge.

Accounts vary about what the purple head does on the bridge. Some believers say the specter needs no invitation to appear. Others insist it’s necessary to flash headlights on and off three times or honk the horn of a stalled car in the middle of the former railroad bridge. There are reports that the head will float above the iron spans, wandering from end to end as if patrolling the 85-year-old structure.

One account has the head appearing in the rear view mirror of an unfortunate passerby, staying there until the car sped past Johnston’s grave and headed toward St. Francisville. Still others claim the purple head floats below the bridge and can be viewed through spaces in the railroad ties that now support the plank floor.

The standard story has to do with ghosts of persons who died by accident or were murdered at a site. Johnston’s ghost might have good reason for haunting Stangle’s Bridge but he did not meet his end there.Or perhaps the head is that of another.

On a December night in 1906, a Catholic priest, J.B. Hatter, fell from a Big Four train as it passed over the bridge. Hatter, pastor of the St. Francisville church, struck his head in the fall and lay all night, moaning for help. Workmen on the morning train spotted him, and he was taken to the home of friends where he died. Before his death the priest explained that he had a few drinks in Vincennes and stepped onto the platform after he became ill. A sudden jolt led to the fatal fall.

Source: Carroll, Doug, “Stangle’s Bridge, Home of the Purple Head Legend“, The Valley Advance, October 26, 1982