Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Stuckey's Bridge

Stuckey’s Bridge is located in the middle of nowhere in Lauderdale County on a lonely gravel road which crosses the Chunky River. No longer open to vehicular traffic, the bridge is one of many historic bridges in the state which have seen better days. The 112-ft. long truss bridge was built in 1901 by the Virginia Bridge & Iron Company. The Virginia Bridge & Iron Company built a lot of bridges in the beginning of the twentieth century and provided the steel infrastructure for skyscrapers and industrial plants across the United States and even in places like Cuba, where they built sugar plants. Based in Roanoke, Virginia, the company also had a foundry in Memphis, where, no doubt, the bridge in question was built. Stuckey’s Bridge is unique in Mississippi; there is no other bridge with the same type of construction. Thus, it is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and is a Mississippi Landmark. However, that’s not what Stuckey’s Bridge is known for.

For most folks, Stuckey’s Bridge is famous because of the ghost stories attached to it. Yes, Stuckey’s Bridge is said to be haunted by the bridge’s namesake. According to the oft-repeated legend, there was a bridge built at the site in around 1850. Sometime around the Civil War, a man named Stuckey settled nearby and established an inn along the stage road which crossed the Chunky at that point. In almost every account, “Old Man” Stuckey was a member of the Dalton Gang, implying that he was a bad man. And, indeed, if the stories are true, he was a very bad man. From the middle of the bridge, Stuckey is said to have signaled with his lantern to boatmen on the river to stop at his inn and rest from their journeys.  Once sound asleep in their rooms, Stuckey would sneak in, murder his guests and steal whatever valuables they might have. Then, he would bury their bodies along the riverbank. Stuckey is credited with about twenty such murders before he was caught. When rumors of people disappearing reached the sheriff, however, a posse was organized and “Old Man” Stuckey was promptly arrested and hung from the bridge for his foul deeds. His body was left hanging for five days (presumably as a warning to other would-be murdering innkeepers), after which the rope was cut and his body splashed into the Chunky River.

With such an awful story, one can only imagine the ghost stories that follow. For years, people have claimed that an old man has been seen walking across the bridge with a lantern in his hand. Others report loud splashes in the waters of the Chunky River, reckoned to be an unearthly reenactment of the murderer hitting the water after the noose was cut. Still others report a strange glow in the river where the splashing sound occurs. Occasionally, there have been reports that Stuckey’s body has been seen still swinging from the rope, always in the light of a full moon.

Of course, as with any good ghost story, facts are kind of hard to pin down. First of all, who was “Old Man” Stuckey? The only clue we have is that he was supposed to be a member of the “Dalton Gang.” Immediately, there are issues with that theory. The Dalton Gang operated out west in the early 1890s, and specialized in bank robberies and train holdups. The Daltons were related to the Youngers, who were associated with Jesse and Frank James. Most of the gang members met their end in Coffeeville, Kansas, on October 5, 1892, where they were gunned down in a wild shootout with locals during an attempted bank robbery (as shown here with four of the Daltons laid out is a postmortem photograph).  One of the few surviving gang members that day was Emmett Dalton (left), the youngest of the brothers, who remarkably survived twenty three gunshot wounds, served fourteen years in the Kansas penitentiary, and then began a new life in Los Angeles as a real estate agent, author and actor, where he starred in a couple of films portraying himself as an outlaw.

All of this is interesting, of course, but there’s no mention of anyone named Stuckey. There is a man named John Stuckey buried in the same cemetery as all of the Daltons in Coffeeville, Kansas, but other than that there is no connection - he was a local bricklayer who died in 1906. Furthermore, according to the good folks at the Lauderdale County Archives, there’s no Stuckey name associated with the county, and no incidents involving the Dalton Gang either. Where the name Stuckey came from to begin with is a mystery, although there’s probably some kernel of truth to the name somewhere. Then there’s the bridge itself. Some of the stories about the hauntings reference the image of Stuckey’s body swinging from the “trusses” of the bridge. If true, then the murders and the subsequent hanging would have to have taken place after 1901 (when the truss bridge was erected), yet almost all of the stories link the events to the mid-19th century. Finally, just from a logical standpoint, what did the evil Mr. Stuckey do with all the flatboats and barges that were suddenly emptied of the rivermen who were piloting them along the Chunky? And if you were on a flatboat already, why would you suddenly decide to spend the night in an out-of-the-way inn anyway? Questions, questions…

Facts aside, the saga of Stuckey’s Bridge makes for a good ghost story and gets a lot of visits from curiosity seekers. If you visit the bridge yourself, be advised that danger does lurks in the darkest hours of the night. It’s not from the ghostly lantern or the haunting visage of “Old Man” Stuckey swinging from the bridge span, though. No, it would be from you driving onto the bridge. If you do that, you might make an even bigger splash in the river than “Old Man” Stuckey.

(1) Stuckey's Bridge: http://en.wikipedia.org
(2) Lantern: http://www.martofimages.com
(3) Dalton Gang: http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk
(4) Emmett Dalton: http://www.kshs.org/kansapedia
(5) Ghost image: http://meridianstar.com
(6) Stuckey's Bridge #2: From the National Register of Historic Places nomination on file at MDAH


  1. I have crossed Stuckey's bridge many times on my motorcycle (many years ago) often at night. If i had know it was haunted i would have stayed around.

    Tim W.

  2. I was stationed in the area (NAS Meridian) back in the late 1990s. Local news reports suggest the bridge actually dates back to the late 1840s...local newspaper said the bridge contract was let ca. 1847.