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Texas | Columns | "Texas Tales"

Jake's Bridge

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox

Being a cotton farmer was not the easiest way to make a living, but if a man didn’t mind working from can see to can’t, he could get by and maybe save a little.

Texas farmers tilled the black soil to bring forth white fiber, battling the boll weevil and the vagaries of Texas weather to produce a crop each year. But some years, no matter how many hours a man and his family and hired hands put in grubbing and picking, forces beyond his control could suddenly control his life. When the price of cotton went down, all a man could do was hope the market rebounded next year. When it didn’t rain enough to keep his plants alive, he could pray for more rain next season, providing it didn’t all come at once in a flood.

But as the Depression began to worsen in the early 1930s, cotton didn’t come back. In 1929, cotton brought 16.9 cents a pound. Two years later, the price had fallen to less than 6 cents. Many farmers lost their land, their homes and finally, their spirit.

Maybe that’s what made Jake snap. No one seems to know his last name, but many people in Williamson County know about Jake.

For whatever reason, according to the story, Jake killed his wife and two children. When the reality of what he had done set in, he took his own life as well, hanging himself from a back road wooden bridge between Hutto and Pflugerville, near the Williamson-Travis county line.

That’s one story. Another has Jake being a young man who killed his parents, pushing the car containing their bodies off the rural bridge. Later, this story goes, Jake died in a house fire.

Whoever he was, and if he ever was, Jake seems not to have been a happy person. His spirit, some say, lingers around the bridge (since replaced by a more modern concrete structure) that figures in both versions of the tale.

Somewhere along the line, the story arose that Jake’s ghost liked to mess with cars on the bridge, trying to push them off.

Supposedly, if you stop your car on the bridge and shift into neutral, you can feel the vehicle begin to move. If your car happens to be dusty, the story continues, you’ll find handprints on the back. Some claimed to have “proven” Jake’s efforts to move their wheels by spreading flour on their trunk.

Those who like rational explanations for unusual phenomenon have argued that the bridge must not be level, having enough of a slope for a car to roll if it’s not in gear. Since it’s a relatively new bridge, that doesn’t seem too likely.

An old house in the vicinity also is supposedly haunted by Jake. A Web site devoted to Texas ghost tales says visitors have reported hearing footsteps, children screaming and a voice yelling, “I am coming for you.”

A variant of the Jake story has to do with a friendly ghost – or ghosts – given to moving vehicles off railroad tracks. The story occasionally grows around a particular grade crossing where a busload of children supposedly died when a train plowed into their bus. If a modern day vehicle stops or stalls on the tracks, the story goes, the spirit of the children will push the vehicle to safety.

Retired Taylor journalism teacher Susan Komandosky remembers hearing the friendly ghost story attributed to a rail crossing in the Round Rock area, and a similar story is popular in San Antonio. (In the San Antonio case, someone did some research and found that a bus-train crash never occurred at the site of the supposed haunting. But the researcher found the telling of the tale dated to the late 1930s, when a bus-train crash in Utah received considerable newspaper coverage in the Alamo City.)

Twenty-seven-year-old Jeremy Boehm, a graphic artist with the Texas Department of Transportation, grew up in Pflugerville and first heard of Jake as a high school student.

“Looking for Jake was a great way to get your date out in the country at night,” Boehm smiled. “What better way to promote a spirit of closeness than to tell a spooky story and then comfort your scared date?”

Boehm says that if you ever go looking for Jake, to be sure and check out the glowing tombstone in the Hutto Cemetery.

According Boehm, when you drive south on FM 1660 at night and approach the cemetery, one tombstone will appear to light up.

The perfect ending for this Central Texas folk tale would be to report that the solitary “glowing” grave marker belonged to someone named Jake, but that wouldn’t be true.

“It’s just the way the graves are arranged,” Boehm said. “None of the other graves catch the light when a car passes.”

But no one has such a pat explanation for the stories about Jake.

© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales" January 17, 2005 column

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