The Old Yard at Stowe

Like most folklore, the stories unravels in a few different ways, depending on who tells it. Some claim that she arranged to meet her lover at midnight at the bridge that spanned a shallow creek, throwing herself to the rocks below when he didn’t come to meet her and make their escape into the night — away from their small town and their parents’ disapproval.

Some versions of the tale say that he turned her away at his window, and with a stolen carriage, flew down the narrow, tree-lined road in the dead of night only to lose control of the horses — the collision leaving a tangled, broken mess in the darkness that would only be found the next day.

Again, another retelling says she staggered to the bridge, clutching her stomach and its unborn life and clutching her heart as it broke as surely as she snapped her own neck with a rope.

In the legends that follow, the curious and the foolhardy who journey to Gold Brook Bridge at night say that you might see a wisp of white in the dark in your rearview mirror after you cross the single-lane, covered bridge. Some will also say that the sides of their cars have been scored with nail marks, or have sworn that they might’ve heard the scrape of toes on the roof — feet dancing their last, jerking jig.

This is the story of Emily’s Bridge in Stowe, Vermont. No one seems to agree on the severity of the haunting, nor how it happened, though at its core is a thread of lost affections and dashed hopes, shallow waters, and sharp stones.

I suspect that we tell these cautionary tales about bridges because they act as liminal places: suspended over water and over earth,  neither quite there and neither quite here. Emily’s story, too, might not’ve made her a final girl by today’s horror movie standards either:

They warned her off that boy, but she dallied with him and lost her virginity or lost her heart or lost her baby as a result, because such behaviour makes for slasher movie fodder, and those that deviate from the prescribed standard must suffer punishment and to serve as a warning for others who might flirt with promiscuity, or flout their parents’ decrees.

Apparently, it sucked being a teenager back then too.

We visited the bridge in the cold, clear daylight for the second time this past week, and returned following the twilight hours with flashlights to ward off oncoming traffic. It’s pitch black out there, and unless you’re sporting reflective gear, to walk the bridge at night invites contemporary tragedy by way of the cars travelling too fast through the dark. No apparitions. Only moderate EMF readings nearest the metal stays that support the bridge over the water. No notable temperature drops, either.

Yet, Emily’s Bridge remains one of those places where possibilities remain huddled in shadowed corners, under the stays and supports that hold the bridge aloft. You look up into the rafters, because it’s easy for the imagination to place a body there, feet dangling just behind your shoulder when you turn away. There’s graffiti scored into the old wood, but none of it are made by human fingernails. It’s fine. You’re fine. So you travel that dark tunnel of trees back into town, and let the golden wash of streetlights burn away that feeling of unease visiting the bridge brings with it. Wash it down with a beer at the public house, and allow for speculation when visiting the Old Yard behind the church the next day, where far too many grave markers bear names similar to hers:

Emilia. Emmeline. Emilie.

Perhaps even more curious are those stones that have been so eroded that no name remains, the identities of those the stones commemorate disappearing with time and harsh winters. Yes, it’s possible she was remembered here. But yes, it’s also possible that the account is a fiction meant to draw those like me to places like these, wondering at the sensationalization of something that may not have happened as the story’s been told.

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