The Ohio Trolley Tragedy That Never Was

–via the Daily Mail (copyrighted Seph Lawless)

It’s all over the news: an urban explorer/photographer stumbles across the rotting skeletons of numerous trolley and train cars “in the Ohio woods near the Ohio/PA border”: The remains of the Trolley Tragedy of 1957. While in the area, a local lets it be known that the site is also believed to be haunted.

But how is it that these cars, which were part of such a tragic event in history, remained hidden for so long? The answer is quite simple, really: there is no such thing as the Trolley Tragedy of 1957 and these particular train/trolley cars were not part of any “horrific wreck.”

The stunning photographs that have surfaced recently are the work of one man, who goes by the pseudonym Seph Lawless. Lawless travels around the United States, photographing abandoned locations. As far as the Trolley Tragedy goes, it seems to have started popping up on news sites earlier this month (July). Right from the start, the facts seemed to be getting lost. For example, this NewsNet5 article, dated July 9th (and updated on July 10th), claims “it’s not certain how the train cars arrived at the location or why they were put there.” The very same day, July 9th, posted an article off the Tribune Media Wire that referred to the cars, collectively, as an “abandoned train wreck” and also contained the following statement:

A man who lives in the area told Lawless the train wreck is referred to as ‘The Trolley Tragedy of 1957’ and it’s believed to be haunted.

FOX8 out of Cleveland also published an article on July 9th that stated “Lawless said his new book, ‘The Trolley Tragedy of 1957,’ is based on folklore in the area.” But FOX43’s article from the same day call the location an “abandoned train wreck”, not once, but twice, including in the headline.

One week later, newspapers everywhere, including the UK’s Daily Mail, were officially calling it The Trolley Tragedy of 1957 and saying the site was haunted. Even the Weather Channel, of all sites, got into the act and further confused things by including this line in their article: “A local told Lawless that many of these trains were involved in a tragic trainwreck in 1957, but it’s possible that the debris came from multiple accidents over the years.”

So what exactly is the Trolley Tragedy of 1957? Well, do any sort of online search for “trolley tragedy of 1957” and guess what you get? Nothing but links to recent articles about Lawless. There is not a single piece of documentation to support that anything happened at the site Lawless photographed. You would think that even if this event was “based on folklore in the area”, there’d be something about it on the Internet, especially given the speed at which ghost stories and urban legends spread across the Web. But there’s nothing.

--via the Daily Mail (copyrighted Seph Lawless)
–via the Daily Mail (copyrighted Seph Lawless)

OK, but where did all the trolley cars come from?

Well for one, the cars aren’t located in the “Ohio woods”. They are actually over the border in Pennsylvania (and no, I’m not telling you where they are–you’ll be trespassing if you go there, so don’t). Regardless, it would appear that most, if not all of the cars at this site are owned by the Vintage Electric Streetcar Company out of Windber, Pennsylvania. By the sound of things, the company is “storing” the cars with the intent of selling them, possibly for parts. Here is a link to a page which lists the cars at this location.

While I was on that page, I did a quick bit of digging and found that some of the cars allegedly involved in the “tragedy” followed the same path through history:

  • Built in 1945
  • Operated on the Boston Elevated Railway from 1945 until 1947
  • Operated on the Boston Metropolitan Transit Authority from 1947 until 1964
  • Operated as part of the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority from 1964 until 1992
  • Purchased by the Vintage Electric Streetcar Company in 1992 (unknown when they were moved to their current location).

So you see, not only were these trolley cars in operation almost 30 years after they were supposedly involved in some sort of “tragedy”, they never left the state of Massachusetts until 1992 when they were taken out of service–35 years after they were alleged to have been involved in a “tragedy” in Ohio…even though they’re actually in Pennsylvania.

It’s pretty easy to check all this information, too. In the Daily Mail article, car numbers are clearly visible in 3 of Lawless’ photographs. The car numbers are 2290, 3259, and 3255. Do a search for any (or all) of those numbers on the “inventory” page for the Vintage Electric Streetcar Company and it will pull up the information on those particular cars.

--via the Daily Mail (copyrighted Seph Lawless)
–via the Daily Mail (copyrighted Seph Lawless)

Look, I’m not trying to stomp on someone for trying to make a name for themselves or get their work out into the mainstream. Lawless’ photographs are indeed stunning and some are downright creepy. What I’m taking issue with is the clear disregard to historical facts and the attempt to attach imaginary disasters to a location. And why wasn’t any of this fact-checked before being sent out across the news wire?

In my opinion, the photographs stand on their own as a testament to urban decay, albeit in a rural setting, which makes them even more intriguing. Fabricating stories associated with the photographs only cheapens things.

Could these cars be haunted? Sure, I guess so. But one thing is for certain: the ghosts aren’t the result of the Trolley Tragedy of 1957, because that event never happened.


You can read the entire NewsNet5 article here.

The Daily Mail article can be read by clicking here.

The FOX8 Cleveland article is here.

YOu can read FOX43’s article by clicking here.

The Zap2it article can be found here.

The Weather Channel article is right here.

The web site DCist has an article entitled Pennsylvania’s Streetcar Graveyard that gives more background on the site and where the cars originated from.

8 Thoughts

  1. Fellow photographer here. Would love to know where this location is if anyone knows! Only going to shoot pictures. Would be much appreciated thanks 🙂

    1. Sorry, but the trains are located on private property that apparently employs security, so it’s probably not one you’d want to explore. If you still do, I strongly encourage you to seek out the owners and get permission. I’m hearing that since the “Trolley Tragedy” story ran, there’s been an increase in vandalism. Here’s a link to give you more information on the site:

      1. Understandable! Thanks I appreciate the reply. Have any other cool Northeast Ohio locations on your blog? Love hearing about new discoveries!

  2. I stumbled across Seph’s video about the trolley graveyard on You Tube. The shameless self promotion is… insane. My guess is he got permission to shoot there, and now claims he “discovered” it.

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