Folk News and the Haunted Old Alton Bridge: A look at what urban legends, especially the Goatman’s Bridge urban legends, do in society, including urban legends as “folk news.” Plus, some possible debunkings of some of the Old Alton Bridge phenomena.
Content note: This episode contains discussions of white supremacist hate groups.
• Reflections on the legends on the bridge
• Debunkings and hoaxers
• A haunted house that operates near the bridge
Episode Script for Folk News and the Haunted Old Alton Bridge (Goatman’s Bridge Series)
DISCLAIMER: I’m providing this version of the script for accessibility purposes. It hasn’t been proofread, so please excuse typos. (Especially because I use dictation software for a lot of my script writing!) There are also some things that may differ between the final episode and this draft script. Please treat the episode audio as the final product.
- Like I mentioned last time, there’s a lot more I could say about the Old Alton Bridge. For example, when I was listening back to last week’s episode, it struck me that Bob seems to be linked to the the tulpa/egregore communities online, and that the Goatman has some tulpa-like qualities. I also have some stuff to say about how Buzzfeed Unsolved in particular has created a whole nother layer of folklore and urban legends about the bridge. For example, in their episode about the bridge, they talk about how there’s supposedly an entity called Steve near the bridge, which I hadn’t seen mentioned before that, but which people mention online all the time now, especially in reviews and comments. And that’s really interesting to me.
- Maybe I’ll explore that another time. But I gotta talk about something else for a bit after this series, this has been a bit of a rough one.
- In this episode, I want to share some of my final (for now) thoughts about the bridge, as well as talk a little bit more about debunkings and pranksters.
Debunkings and Pranksters
- I saw a number of reviews and comments online about people pranking each other, so it felt worth talking about real quick. For example, there were plenty of comments like:
- “Fun to visit at night. Pretty easy to spook your friends” https://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=old%20alton%20bridge#lrd=0x864dccb9ff3e525b:0x427c899463ab2996,1
- “Was there today with my friends. Definitely not that scary. Went at 1am when it was raining. Nothing happened we walked around and some other guys came up too. Some people were playing country music after we got there. Said hi to some people. Might go back and mess around with bluetooth speakers.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XEZfGlyLQnA
- So just know that plenty of people are probably messing around and playing pranks on each other.
- also worth knowing: Sometimes a haunted house called The Dark Path is staged in the woods near the Old Alton Bridge. According to one listing that advertised the attraction in the Sanger News: “the historic Old Alton Bridge and surrounding forest were locations of horrific murders, suicides, disappearances, séances, ghost sightings and paranormal investigations since 1938.” https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth1238569/m1/5/zoom/?q=%22old%20alton%20bridge%22&resolution=3&lat=7083.752707203783&lon=3503.9566847394735
- Now let’s look at some debunkings. Some of these I’ve mentioned before, but it felt worth mentioning them all in one place
- Note: I saw one google review from someone who grew up near the bridge and said there used to be lots of fireflies nearby, but that they hadn’t seen them in the area since then. But that’s a possible debunking for lights in the woods.
- Brian E (https://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=old%20alton%20bridge#lrd=0x864dccb9ff3e525b:0x427c899463ab2996,1)
“I grew up just down the road a mile or two. Loved night time ghost stories on the bridge, and catching lightning bugs by the dozens. I still remember driving over that old bridge. Haven’t seen the lightning bugs in the thousands like they use to be out there ever again, so sad. Cool piece of history that you can touch. Remember the goat man is always watching.”
- One person claimed that the goatman is just a goat MYDODGEYUTUBENAME Youtube comment https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XEZfGlyLQnA 3 weeks ago
The goat man is merely just a goat walking on its hind legs. You rarely see it happen but goats can go it. In fact there was a Facebook video just going around in March 2022 of the very thing. A goat walking on its hind legs, standing upright and looking spooky. Debunking comment on buzzfeed unsolved video
- “Some friends and I went about 10 to 15 years ago armed with a video camera, an emf detecor, and voice recorder and did a “paranormal investigation ” and found weird noises (cats), water splashing under the bridge (turtles) and the red eyes in the distance are car tail lights from a road several miles away. We did not find anything “paranormal” although we wanted to. I think i still jave all the footage on a vhs c tape” reddit.com/r/Denton/comments/ibhs12/hey_guys_let_me_know_if_this_is_or_is_not_the/
- “Also, this is Texas so no doubts of coyotes- and there’s a farm near the bridge and it’s also used as a horse trail. Sooo.. like a million animals before a demon lol.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XEZfGlyLQnA
- “interesting thing about the screaming they keep hearing, is that cougars/mountain lions sounds HORRIFICALLY like a woman screaming. So there was probably a cougar stalking around the woods in the area.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XEZfGlyLQnA
- “Listen I was rewatching this and I’m looking at the video, and I love how you can actually see eyes when they’re asking who’s there and about the cult add. If you look to the right of the screen, you can see two yellow eyes there which is cool cause it’s most likely the fox who’s “screaming” as the scream is def a fox screaming” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XEZfGlyLQnA
- “I live nearby this. It isn’t haunted, but between fireflies, bedding deer making creepy noises, and car headlights from the highway people get creeped out.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XEZfGlyLQnA
- “So, I was showing some episodes to my brother, and when we saw the part where the bush moved and there was something that sounded like a scream, he paused it and showed me a video of a mountain lion trying to roar (here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pxo8X5uIWRE ). Fun fact, it sounds uncannily like a woman screaming bloody murder. So while there might not have been a demon encounter, you guys were likely very close to death. The presence of the camera crew and use of the (very loud) spirit box likely kept you safe.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XEZfGlyLQnA
- “Showed this to my mom who grew up in the country not far from Denton and she said the scream was either a bobcat or a mountain lion” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XEZfGlyLQnA
- This one just made me laugh:
- “Did anyone see the ghost adventures episode on goat man’s? They acted like it was super haunted. Meanwhile I walked it at night and the worst thing that happened was all the damn spiders.”
- Now, here’s a time where you can catch me in an inconsistency. I know I’ve complained in the past about how it seems like, at least in the ghost stories in NYC, so many of them that are attributed to a certain person are supposed to be white historical figures (often enslavers), and I’ve mentioned my discomfort with the idea of people being written out of both written history and urban legends. Now, I haven’t done as much paranormal research in the south and the west, so maybe that’s a less common phenomenon outside of NYC?
- But at any rate, I feel weird about this urban legend, centering around a Black man, as well.
- That’s because there’s this horrifying tale of a lynching that has been transformed into a creepy campfire-style urban legend for legend trippers and drunk teenagers to tell.
- I know I’ve talked about this in the past, in the episode about the supposed “Curse of the Fordham Ram,” but one question I’m interested in is: do people use tales of urban legends and hauntings to obfuscate horrific things that they feel uncomfortable or maybe even guilty about?
- It seems like there’s maybe something psychological at work there, but I’m more interested in what that does to people’s conception of history and the past.
In the United States, the version of history taught by the education system can often be a bit lacking, and, at least in my experience having gone to public schools in Texas, tends to downplay some of the truly horrific parts of the slave trade, reconstruction, white supremacy and the rise of the KKK, etc. And then, in addition to that, there are these stories transmuting terrible parts of history into a “creepy story,” a legend that you don’t need to engage with if you don’t want to. Because if it’s a ghost story, then it’s easy to say, “oh, it’s a made up story, ghosts aren’t real.” But then at the same time, in a story like the Old Alton Bridge’s Goatman, you can also sort of lump the racial violence into the same zone of urban legend un-reality that also encompasses ghosts and goatmen-type cryptids.
From: In The Tall Grass West Of Town: Racial Violence In Denton County During The Rise Of The Second Ku Klux Klan by Micah Carlson Crittenden, May 2020 (University of North Texas masters thesis), a paper about the rise of the KKK in Denton County: https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc1703339/m2/1/high_res_d/CRITTENDEN-THESIS-2020.pdf
“For a tale to catch steam, it must resonate with reality even as it injects a mystical component into everyday life. Through the story of the Goatman it can be surmised that Denton County residents believed the local Ku Klux Klan was not only in existence, but capable of the brutal murder of the Washburn family in 1938. They also believed the existence of a moderately successful Black farmer was enough to enrage hooded white citizens into the commission of heinous acts of violence. These acts would only be possible through the dehumanization of Black families, even those well known to the membership of the KKK.”
- Later in the paper:
“There is a complex code of silence surrounding racial violence in Denton County. Privately, the Black community was all too aware of the crimes committed against itself and yet, a public silence was required by the white supremacist power structure. The same dichotomy is observable in the white population. The perpetrators of racial violence were members of the white community and therefore knew of the crimes as they were committed; however, like the masked costume of the Ku Klux Klan, white knowledge of these crimes was capped. It does not appear to this researcher that anyone discussed racial violence in Denton County in a public forum during the 1920s. This divide between private and public acknowledgement has led to a modern ignorance of local racial terrorism. Yet, despite the best efforts of white supremacist sympathizers at containment, the truth leaks out through folklore. Stories like that of the Goatman signal to a violent past without direct indictment of the participants.”
- I talked in previous episodes about Washburn being a character created from a composite of many similar people who were murdered by the Klan, rather than being an actual historical figure himself.
- Now I want to take a look at some local Denton folks who have written very eloquently about what all of this Goatman’s Bridge legend stuff means.
- An article in the blog We Denton Do It (https://wedentondoit.com/blog/2013/10/18/back-in-the-day-goatmans-bridge), written by Shaun Treat, who founded the Denton Haunts historical ghost tour, concluded with a nice summary of some conclusions that can be drawn from the Old Alton Bridge stories:
“You won’t find the names of Oscar Washburn or Jack Kendall in any historical records. Most ghosts are given names because we need to feel like we can know them. As a mentor once wisely advised, never let the facts of a story obscure the truths in the tale. If history is the self-congratulatory narrative of a community written by its victorious elite, then our ghosts will often problematize and haunt such tidy romanticisms of back in the day. “A handful of states have a Goatman tale, with Texas having a few itself, but each expresses unique reminders of threats from a forgotten past. Liminal areas of crossing can be full of possibility and danger, present injustices are informed by past prejudices, and there are critters – like snakes or gators – down in the creek that young’uns might outta be leery of. The Goatman isn’t just a haunting campfire tale, it’s also a reminder that an ignorance of our history is no protection from its everlasting consequences.”
- There was also a great writeup from last year on steampunklibrarian.blog (https://steampunklibrarian.blog/2021/10/21/folklorethursday-goatmans-bridge/) that I wanted to read here. The author of this post, Elizabeth Headrick, had lived in Denton for 12 years, and had been a student at Texas Women’s University for 7 years, so was very steeped in the culture of the area. This is probably the best analysis I’ve found on the subject, and it very eloquently puts into words some stuff I’d been trying to articulate:
“The simple fact of the matter is that, while Washburn may or may not have existed, racial injustice, up to and including lynching, did exist in Denton county, for a very long time. And we all know this, even if many of Denton’s white residents choose to ignore and deny these very real facts. But certain facts can’t be ignored or denied, like the fact that things were so bad in Texas that it was named the #1 state for lynchings in 1922. And the Klan was very much a presence here in Denton, with over 300 hooded figures showing up in the streets of this town a few days before Christmas in 1921 for a torchlit parade. “And even when straight murder wasn’t on the table, Denton had other ways of asserting white racial dominance, including the 1922 “removal” of a thriving community of Black freedmen and women called Quakertown, in order to make way for the Texas Industrial Institute and College for the Education of White Girls of the State of Texas in the Arts and Sciences, later to be known as Texas Woman’s University. “The real horror of the Goatman lies in the fact that he stands as a cutout for the racial violence that Denton county has exacted on its Black residents. The actual person of Oscar Washburn may not have existed, but so many more men like him did exist. They struggled to create lives in a community that didn’t welcome them and they were killed for base and meaningless reasons. “By taking this Black man, who was said to have been murdered in this way, and giving him the “demonic” visage of a goat, he is dehumanized, the fact of his race removed, so that he can be considered scary, something for ghost hunters to search for so they can get a good story, all while giving only the vaguest pass to the acts of violence that precipitated his demonic nature. The terror of his death matters less than the terror that he causes in his afterlife. And that should tell us something about the ghost stories we create.”
- I also wanted to read a bit from the book The Vanishing Hitchhiker by Jan Harold Brunvand:
“In order to be retained in a culture, any form of folklore must fill some genuine need, whether this be the need for an entertaining escape from reality, or a desire to validate by anecdotal examples some of the culture’s ideals and institutions. For legends in general, a major function has always been the attempt to explain unusual or supernatural happenings in the natural world. . . urban legends gratify our desire to know about and try to understand bizarre, frightening, and potentially dangerous or embarrassing events that may have happened.. . . Informal rumors and stories fill in the gaps left by professional news reporting, and these marvelous, though generally false, “true” tales may be said to be carrying the folk-news–along with some editorial matter–from person to person even in today’s highly technological world.” (12-13)
- So, what function do the legends about the Old Alton Bridge have? To me, the last part of what I just read resonates the most, this idea of carrying on folk-news, stories that may have been repressed or left out by traditional sources.
- At least for me personally, that is how the legends have functioned. I became interested in this paranormal tale, only to learn about a horrific history about the area I grew up in. That history–the legacy of slavery, the Texas Troubles of 1860, the many lynchings–were all things that somehow were left out of my education. And whether or not Washburn or Kendall were real people, the stories of their horrific murders led to me to learn about other horrific murders in the area that were very real and confirmed by the historical record.
Sources consulted RE: Folk News and the Haunted Old Alton Bridge (Goatman’s Bridge Series)
Don’t miss past episodes:
- The Trickster and the Goatman (Goatman’s Bridge Series)
- I went to Goatman’s Bridge (Goatman’s Bridge Series)
- This Way to the Goatman (Goatman’s Bridge Series)
- Death at the Goatman’s Bridge (Goatman’s Bridge Series)
- Who is the Goatman? (Goatman’s Bridge Series)
- “I Seen the Devil” (Goatman’s Bridge Series)
- Satanic Rituals at the Bridge (Goatman’s Bridge Series)
- Rewriting Urban Legends (Goatman’s Bridge Series)