by Christopher Laursen
A historic Canadian railway tunnel, in disuse since the 1930s, suddenly becomes an Internet-driven, ghost hunting sensation. What was it that sparked such intense interest around this site?
interview | historical research
John Savoie on the Making of the Blue Ghost Tunnel
February 2, 2013
Paranormal investigator and author John Savoie was among those caught up in the fascination over this rail tunnel.  The tunnel is located near the Welland Canal which was constructed in the late nineteenth century.  The canal slices across the Niagara Peninsula in Ontario between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. To understand the making of the legend around the tunnel in context of its history and paranormal studies, John has written The Blue Ghost Tunnel: Making of a Legend, available here as a printed book and right here on Extraordinarium for free as an e-book (16 MB file size, .pdf format). At least since the 1950s, the abandoned tunnel has had a reputation among the community, especially among its young people who ventured to it at night as a party spot, but its spooky atmosphere remained a fairly obscure part of local lore. Until 1999. In that year a young man only known by the name Russ sparked mass interest in the tunnel, telling tales on his website about encountering misty apparitions, banging noises, green slime, and sexual harrassment from a demonic entity. He referred to it as the "Blue Ghost Tunnel," and from his dramatic accounts (which Russ attempted to sell to publishers and to Hollywood), interest among paranormal enthusiasts became viral, spawning a televised investigation by ghost hunters on the Canadian television series Creepy Canada and countless night vigils documented on websites. In his book, Savoie also looks at the history of the tunnel, the construction of the Welland Canal, the land on which the tunnel was built, and how historical events were distorted to fuel the urban legend of the haunted tunnel.  Interspersed are John's own experiences at the tunnel that suggest that despite the hype, there are things that are extraordinary about this tunnel.  Featuring historic photographs, maps, and artful photography by Kevin Valencourt, the book is a valuable contribution to studies on folklore, urban legends, and paranormal experiences. John has a blog related to paranormal investigation, Out of the Dark: The Ghost Hunting Chronicles.  He is also the author of Shadows of Niagara: Investigating Canada's Most Haunted Region, available through lulu.com and iTunes.   He currently lives in Bragg Creek, Alberta, where he investigates the paranormal in Alberta, British Columbia, and the western United States. I spoke to John as he prepared the release of the book. Christopher: How did you personally become part of what was happening at the Blue Ghost Tunnel (BGT)? What did you originally think of the place? John: I became aware of the tunnel through conversations with friends about suggested haunted locations that were accessible in Niagara and I became fascinated by the stories of the tunnel, the suggested consecrated cemetery and the remoteness of the location. My first impression of the tunnel was one of awe. The dark, large-mouth of the tunnel was oppressive, even during the dusk hours. Inside the cold, damp atmosphere brought imagination into play. My relationship with the tunnel started off with fascination and fear, and later turned into belief, and then some ten years later turned to skepticism. What the tunnel had allowed me to do was to change my perception of ghosts and hauntings and to examine a totally different angle of why places are haunted. Christopher: Individual people experienced the tunnel in very different ways. In what ways did these experiences bring people together or create adversity? John: The tunnel has produced a great deal of experiences for many individuals and paranormal groups and these experiences vary to such a degree that this single location has caused a great deal of tension and misunderstanding amongst ghost hunters, researchers and others interested in the paranormal. It is one of the most highly contested “haunted” locations I have ever come across. No where else can one expect threats of violence based on your belief of the occurrences and history of the location. Christopher: What I found particularly fascinating in the book is that originally it seemed that one person who we only know as Russ had spawned the intense attention around the Blue Ghost Tunnel in 1999. But you later found out that the tales around the tunnel went back quite a bit further. How did these earlier experiences emerge as you were assembling details, and in what ways did they impact the direction of your research? John: I knew that Russ had not stumbled upon the tunnel, as he maintained online and through conversations with others. His story simply did not add up and it was evident he was trying to be the discoverer of the tunnel, as this would add to his story later on. As I assembled the history of the tunnel and conversed with others who had visited the tunnel I learned that the stories about a haunting went back as early as the 1950s. However, these tales did not weave their way into the fabric of the legend that we know today. They were simply stories passed on between children and teens. I tried hard to find evidence of the essence of the hauntings and followed a few leads that did not pan out. Without news clippings, police reports, historical documents and death records, I was lead to believe that these earlier stories were not based on fact. I included all the stories in the book because, they are now part of the urban legend. Christopher: I really enjoy how you intersperse the development of an urban legend with the actual history of the place. There are many different tales of fatal accidents and deaths around the construction of the Welland Canal and the tunnel itself. How did these historical facts become part of the legend of the Blue Ghost Tunnel, and how, especially, did they become convulted in the process? John: A lot of paranormal researchers and groups attribute a haunting to the death of an individual or groups of individuals. The BGT, historically, has had no such deaths or even injuries reported inside its walls or within a reasonable distance to the tunnel. With the assumption that a ghost is that of a dead person, they attributed any death near or related to The Welland Canal as a possible explanation of the experiences at the BGT. However, with this rationale we could expect the ghosts of individuals to travel miles to new locations to haunt. Like the 'telephone game,' the history of the tunnel and the surrounding area became so indescribably tangled that anyone conducting research online will find the facts twisted and quite simply fictitious. When one corrects these individuals in a respectable manner, they often defend their own research and history as they do their multiple orb shots. Christopher: From what you've come across, are ghostly tales common around mega-scale construction projects in which people have lost their lives, or is there something about the place itself that inspires such experiences or legends? John: There are many tales about ghostly happenings at construction projects, especially with ones with historic deaths. There are tales from historic hotels and bridges about ghostly employees that have remained after death. The BGT proper, has never had a work related death. The canals around the tunnel have had their fair share of injury and death, but how do we go about attributing a haunting to the tunnel from a death that happened tens of kilometres away? There are more deaths on the roadways near the tunnel than anywhere on the canal lands. Do we attribute these deaths to the hauntings of the tunnel? Christopher: Are there other allegedly haunted sites that you know about that evidently also spiralled from a single person's experience or an initial experience that resulted in the creation of urban legends? John: I believe that if Russ did not exploit the tunnel that it would have remained as an insignificant rumoured haunted location. I know of a few suggested haunted locations that have sprung up as a result of one individual's persistent and often glamourized experiences with the paranormal, but these often are a result of monetary gain. They often operate tours of the said haunted location, or open retail shops within a historic building that suddenly becomes possessed by ghostly activity. These same individuals will claim a site “Not Haunted” if they feel there is no monetary or promotional advantage to their business. Christopher: If you were standing at the mouth of the Blue Ghost Tunnel right now and you could post a metal sign of no more than twelve words, what would it say, and what colour would the letters be? John: "Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one." – ALBERT EINSTEIN The letters would be yellow - AND I BET YOU WERE THINKING BLUE. Christopher: At this point in time, would people leave your sign alone, or do you think someone would defile it? John: I would have no doubt that the sign would be defiled within days of its placement and the meaning of the words lost to the individuals visiting.
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John Savoie is the author of The Blue Ghost Tunnel: Making of a Legend. Jennie Speakman stands in front of the Grand Truck Railway Tunnel circa 125 years ago.   Photo: General Photograph Collection, Niagara Falls Public Library Orbs in the Blue Ghost Tunnel.  Online photo uncredited Inside of the Blue Ghost Tunnel.  Photo by Kevin Valencourt from John Savoie's book The Blue Ghost Tunnel Used by permission
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