The Ghost of Allatoona Pass in Bartow County, Georgia

The Deep Cut at Allatoona Pass, where the ghost climbed aboard passing trains in the years after Civil War.

The story of the Ghost of Allatoona Pass is one of Georgia’s most intriguing ghost stories. The specter allegedly haunted trains that passed along the Western & Atlantic Railroad north of Atlanta during the years after the Civil War.

Employees of the W&A reported that they often noticed a mysterious figure riding along on top of the train cars as they came and went betwen Tilton, a crossing near Dalton, and Allatoona Pass near Cartersville:

…For some months, railroaders – conductors, engineers and brakemen – have been noticing, between Tilton and Alatoona, that when their respective freight trains would enter on to that portion of the track named, that their number would be reinforced by an extra train hand, who of course the officers of the W. and A. Railroad cannot persuade to sign the “death warrant.” – Atlanta Journal, Dec. 1872

The W&A tracks approach the Deep Cut at Allatoona Pass in this 1864-1865 photo by George Barnard. National Archives

In other words, the railroad employees found themselves dealing with a ghost. And not just on an occasional basis!

The appearance of the specter was unnerving, but the railroad men of that day had survived the Civil War seeing horrors on the battlefield that made a shadowy figure seem much less threatening. In fact, they were so unconcerned about the ghostly visitor that they even tried to collect a far from him on occasion:

…This individual appears suddenly on top of the freight cars, takes a seat and remains there for many miles, then the unknown brakesman disappears. Conductors, seeing him, have often gone out to collect his fare, but on nearing him, he would vanish like mist. – Atlanta Journal, Dec. 1872.

The ghost often appeared as northbound trains left the Deep Cut at Allatoona or disappeared as southbound trains reached that point. This prompted some to wonder whether he was the spirit of a soldier killed in the Battle of Allatoona Pass, perhaps one who had worked on the railroad before the war.

This bewilderment over the identity of the ghost finally led a bold engineer to try to obtain an answer to the question in person:

A ghostly orb appears in a photo taken on the Allatoona Battlefield in Georgia.

…One night, an engineer, on a freight train, plainly saw the ghostly brakesman, seated on top of the third car from his engine, he determined to settle the vexed question as to who he was, and accordingly, left his engine in charge of the fireman, and proceeded at once towards the mysterious object. – Atlanta Journal, Dec. 1872.

The 19th Century ghost hunt produced results, but not those hoped for by the brave engineer:

…The engineer approached cautiously, with both eyes fixed on the form of the man, but as he neared his ghostship, he gradually faded from view, leaving the engineer completely bewildered, but who still tried to unravel . . . his disappearance by passing over the entire train and looking in every place, which was capable of concealing a man, but nowhere was the man visible. – Atlanta Journal, Dec. 1872.

The ghost, however, was not done with the trainman:

…The engineer turned round in despair, and as he cast his eye toward his engine, which was swift in speed, there sat the object of his search, unterrified and full of life, on the same identical spot where he first discovered him. – Atlanta Journal, Dec. 1872.

Now even more determined, the engineer walked back down the top of the train. Once again, however, the ghost disappeared as he approached:

Earthworks used in the Battle of Allatoona Pass still exist on the battlefield. Was the ghost a soldier who gave his life here?

…The engineer passed on to his engine, and on looking back there sat, perched upon the car box, the same unknown being, where he remained until the train had left many miles in the distance, then his ghostship disappeared, and returned, probably, to re-enact on the next passing train the same scenes. – Atlanta Journal, Dec. 1872.

The ghost continued to appear for many years and stories about him were widely told along the route of the W&A. Newspapers across the South picked up articles from area papers about the ghost creating considerable speculation across the region.

Trains still run along the old W&A route, although the tracks have long since been rerouted from Allatoona Pass itself. The Deep Cut where the trains once passed through the Allatoona Mountains ridge is now part of Allatoona Pass Battlefield, which is open to the public daily during daylight hours. The map below will help you find it.

The sound of the trains can be heard as they pass nearby. Whether the ghostly rider still sits atop the cars, no one can say.