Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Sensabaugh Tunnel

This infographic has made the rounds on social media sites more than a few times. Every few months someone emails it to me, or tags me in a Facebook post with the picture. The now infamous Sensabaugh Tunnel is located just outside Kingsport, TN, a couple hours drive from here. Since I had a meeting about 30 miles away, I decided to do a daytime drive-by to scout out the location and to snap some photos and maybe try out some of the legends associated with it.

I had spent several hours researching the Sensabaugh Tunnel.  One YouTube video listed it as #1 of the "Top 5 Most Haunted Tunnels in the World." It's history is confusing, to say the least. To start with, there is contention as to which is the right haunted tunnel. According to some, there is a smaller tunnel, not wide enough for a car to drive through, that is the real haunted Sensabaugh Tunnel. Legend has it that three of the workers were killed during the smaller tunnel's construction, and their spirits are responsible for the haunting (It is unclear if the construction workers' bodies were recovered and properly buried, or if they became a permanent part of it, being buried inside as is alleged to have happened in another haunted tunnel, near Hazard, KY). I also read of a third tunnel in the vicinity sometimes confused with the haunted one. However, most seem to agree that the tunnel I went to is the right haunted Sensabaugh Tunnel. One, or more, of the other tunnels may well be haunted as well, but one of the main components of the legend involves driving through the tunnel, and since this is the only tunnel big enough to do so, I was sure I had found the right place.

My first visit to Sensabaugh Tunnel

As I turned off the interstate and followed my directions through rolling hills populated with farmhouses, I started to get excited. I'd seen this infographic so many times, and it had been a while since I'd had a spooky adventure. I didn't hope to capture much evidence, as it was just after noon and broad daylight, but the best photographic evidence of the paranormal is often captured in the daytime. Plus, the whole scouting out the situation and all. I had read on a forum about people being chased away, so I thought seeing things in the light of day first would be best before possibly returning later, perhaps attempting to speak with locals and investigating after dark.

I followed the directions and turned onto Big Elm Road. Houses were fewer and further between now. The Holston River that had been running alongside the road turned to a trickling creek. I couldn't help but notice the abundance of No Trespassing signs posted along this road. Before I had much time to think about it, I came around a bend, and there it was. The infamous Sensabaugh Tunnel. The tunnel is actually the main road that continues on to several more homes. Water, at least an inch or two deep, continuously runs through the tunnel, and empties out to the creek beside the road. Absolutely covered in graffiti, it makes for an intimidating sight in the middle of the day. I could only imagine seeing this for the first time in the dark of night, illuminated in headlights. I pulled my car into a wide spot off to the side of the road and got out. No sooner had I turned my camera on, than an SUV started through the tunnel from the other side. Once they reached the side I was on I threw up my hand in a friendly wave, and they did the same in return. Maybe the stories about being chased away by screaming old men were just stories after all...

Before we go any further, let me tell you why I wanted to go to this little tunnel. Besides the infographic being passed around social media sporadically, I had looked into it, and there is some interesting history associated with it. Like any good urban myth, the details get obscured and create confusion. As a researcher all you can do is see which versions come up the most often and weigh them against the ones that are the most logical. 

It seems that there are actually three different tunnels in the area. The infamous Sensabaugh Tunnel, the Click Tunnel, and another. Some people claim the tunnel in the infographic, the one I visited, is actually the Click Tunnel, but wherever the Click Tunnel is located, it is supposedly haunted, too, it just doesn't have the detailed history to go along with it. It was possibly the Click Tunnel's construction that claimed the lives of seven workers after an accidental explosion.

The tunnel I visited, which we will call Sensabaugh Tunnel for simplicity's sake, has served as a rite of passage for teenagers in the area for decades. They would dare one another to drive into the tunnel, turn off their engine and lights, and roll their windows down. Many were terrified when they claimed to hear a baby crying in the quiet of the tunnel. The spirit was apt to mess with your car, causing it not to start back when you tried to. If you had covered your car with baby powder, when you came out of the tunnel, there would be tiny hand prints visible all over the car. We've traced back the origins of many aspects of the hauting...

In the 1920s, the hill was blasted apart to make the tunnel, to serve as a road and as a support for the railroad that would run above it. The land belonged to the Sensabaugh family, who lived in a farmhouse just on the other side of the tunnel, that is still there today. According to records, the tunnel is 12 feet high and a little over 180 feet long. Soon teenagers would use the wide spot just before the tunnel (the place where I parked, come to think of it) to do what teenagers do. It didn't take long for stories to begin circulating locally about hearing crying and screaming noises coming from the tunnel.

Here's where the variations start. Once the tales began, some people started to tell of a hobo who had kidnapped a baby after a robbery gone wrong at the Sensabaugh house, and killing it in the tunnel. In other versions, the hobo, running with the baby, with Ed Sensabaugh hot on his heels, tossed the baby into the pool of water on the other side of the tunnel, sometimes called “Crybaby Pool,” in hopes that Ed would stop for the baby allowing him to flee. Unfortunately, if this version is to be believed, the baby still drowned.

Another version also involves Ed Sensabaugh, who lived in the white house on the other side of the tunnel, lost it one night, going crazy and killing his entire family and then going to the tunnel to kill himself. It has been speculated that the tunnel is one of those strange areas, infected with negative energy that effects those around it. The Amityville House would be a perfect example, had Ed Warren not exploited it beyond recognition. 

Coming back through the other end of the tunnel

There is another part of the Sensabaugh Tunnel history about a woman who was driving in a thunderstorm one night when her car broke down inside the tunnel. She got out and started walking to the Sensabaugh home to use the phone. Her car was found later and she never made it to use the phone. She was never seen again. It's hypothesized she was murdered by either a lunatic or some random person-turned-killer or that she just vanished into the tunnel itself. I guess this story is where the legend of turning your car off in the tunnel comes from. There are stories where people reported their cars not starting back and hearing shrieking laughter. A tall dark figure with red eyes has also been seen inside the tunnel.

Hopefully on the next trip I can try out this next part of the legend. It has been said that no one can walk all the way through the tunnel at midnight, from back to front, without going insane or being attacked. I imagine with all the stories of the Sensabaugh family running through your head, it would be quite unnerving to walk the potential route the hobo would have taken, at exactly midnight.

Sometimes when I start researching something, I come to a point that I wish I had quit just a little earlier. So is the case with Sensabaugh Tunnel, and the next bit of info I found. A Sensabaugh family decendent went on record with the Kingsport Times stating that Ed would get upset when the teenagers partying in the tunnel would wake his kids up, and having the uncanny ability to mimic animals and make different noises, would sneak out close to the tunnel and imitate a baby's cry and women screaming. The tunnel carried the sounds and amplified them. I imagine the party ended very quickly and the kids made haste to get out of there.

I didn't get to conduct a proper EVP session, and it would have been hard to do so anyway, with all the water running through the area. I did take a lot of photos, but don't seem to have captured anything. I didn't think to take any baby powder with me (will be on the list for the next trip) but I did try out turning my car off inside the tunnel. The video is below, it started back. However, just after I had snapped the first couple photos I took, something caught my ear. I smiled, shaking my head, but couldn't help but wonder, just a little, if it was just my mind/ears playing tricks on me, or if I had just heard the sound of a baby crying.

In the opinion of the Lost Creek staff, Ed Sensabaugh is most likely the only 'haint' to ever haunt the tunnel, and not knowing this nor unable to explain what they heard, the kids' imaginations evolved the stories into what has been passed down over the years and now continuing to make its way around the internet. If nothing else, it's a little para-tourism for the area. 

We may be experiencing some problems with the video. We're working on that. It can also be viewed on my Facebook wall until we get this fixed.

Below are a few more photos I took at the tunnel.

Facing Sensabaugh Tunnel

Driving through

The old Sensabaugh home, just on the other side of the tunnel

Small cemetery across the hill. I wonder if it's a family graveyard?

The other side of the tunnel

Driving back through, just before turning the engine off
Sensabaugh Tunnel

The Lost Creek Medicine Show staff are taking a field trip to Point Pleasant, WV, this weekend to spend some time researching the Mothman legend.  Stay tuned for that adventure!

To read more on Sensabaugh Tunnel, check out these sites:
and Listverse's Top 10 Haunted Tunnels if you still want more

While you're waiting for more Medicine Show blogs, check out what we're planning with or other project, Lost Creek Art Company. You just might dig it.