Sunday, April 29, 2012

Fred the Ghost of Union Station in Phoenix AZ.

The man in charge of unlocking the gate at old Union Station hates to hear the buzz of the intercom.

Sometimes he is greeted by a traveler standing there with a suitcase, looking confused. No, he tells them, no trains here, not anymore.

Often there are people who want a tour, a peek through dirt-fogged windows at the heart of downtown Phoenix, circa 1923. No, Dudley Weldon says, shaking his gray head back and forth, you can't come in, not anymore.

Occasionally he can be entreated to answer questions about the place, and that's when it comes out:

"If you really want to know about the old station, you need to talk to Fred," Weldon will say.

"When you're up in the attic of the station, and you feel a tap on your shoulder, and you turn around and no one's there -- that's Fred," Weldon says.

Fred is what he named the ghost -- the ghost of Union Station.

Yes, there's a train station in downtown Phoenix -- a sprawling, historical Union Station where soldiers once kissed their girls before going off to war. It has penny-tile bathrooms and two-story ceilings and a carved oak refreshment booth in the corner -- authentic icebox still intact. For 73 years it was a place that connected people with one another, a stop on the Sunset Limited between Los Angeles and New Orleans, until Amtrak suspended passenger service in 1996.

The cancellation, Weldon notes, had nothing to do with "that woman and those murders," which happened years before.

When the station opened in 1923, "the largest crowd ever gathered in (this) city" assembled to celebrate the place -- according to this newspaper at the time, which tended to exaggerate such matters.

But U.S. President Calvin Coolidge did send telegrams to city officials offering his "felicitations," offering grand statements about the "expansion and prosperity of the great Southwest."

Even the Westward Ho hotel was built to house the hordes of new tourists pouring into the station on the trains.

Now, the station sits in a downtown corner where no one goes anymore -- hunkered down in the spot where Fourth Avenue dead-ends at Jackson Street, just past the jail.

The fences and gates went up shortly after the passengers moved out, and the communications company that owns the building moved more of its equipment in: wires and switches, cables and blinking red lights. It's a privately owned place of business now, and visitors aren't encouraged.
But the train tracks are still there.

The circa-1923 luggage carts are still there.

A vintage gentleman's cane rests in the corner of a dark hall.

And inside Phoenix's old Union Station, thousands of voices still travel -- it's just that no one can hear them now. Except maybe Fred.

Fred. The name "just popped in" to Weldon's mind one day, he says. He liked it because it would work whether the ghost was a he or a she -- "Frederika," he figured, for a girl.

Weldon is 60 and has worked at Union Station since 2002. Before that, he worked on a "nuclear biological chemical team" -- and on the Hawk missile, specifically. His technical title is Technician III, in charge of building maintenance and security -- which means that he keeps tabs on the old place and all of its creaks and quirks. There are many days when he is, in theory, the only living being there.

The station is owned now by Sprint -- as in cellphones -- and still, the place is used to connect people. The building is the size of a city block, and although the lobby remains historically intact, the west wing is filled with stuff: wires and switch boxes and fiber-optic cables and the backbone of Sprint's network from Los Angeles to Fort Worth.

Union Station also houses connections for Verizon, American Express, Cox Communications and others -- a mass of voices and Google searches and video feeds that speed silently through cables in dark rooms on the second floor.

Let's say you were a ghost that could eavesdrop through wire. This would be a wicked place to hang out.

Once, Weldon had a pair of installers up in the cable room during the evening hours, working on maintenance, side by side. Each, at different times, noticed a shadow of something -- or someone -- at the other end of the room.

"Out of the corner of the eye, it appeared that somebody was running across the floor," Weldon says, "and it occurred to them, 'Who else is here?'"

That would have been Fred.

Fred is the heavy side gate that opens and closes, and opens and closes, solidly, steadily, back and forth, without enough wind to explain its doing so.

Fred is the presence that the air-conditioning guy felt in the attic, looking over his shoulder, complete with a chill.

Fred is the reason that some employees flat-out refuse to go into the attic -- where the ghost is rumored to hold court. (To get into Fred's loft, you climb up bars on a wall, fold yourself in half, squidge through an opening and land in a place that is dark even at noon. There are pipes and steel beams and a platform walkway that plunks rhythmically as you follow it into the deep.)

Fred played for days with a team repairing some of the telecommunications equipment -- breaking a new thing every night -- until Weldon offered them some counsel.

"I said, 'Have you talked to Fred?'"

The team asked for mercy.

"'Fred, please, we want to go home.'"

After that, Weldon says, the ghost behaved.

For the record: Weldon says he is a skeptic, but he has also felt the particular eek of Fred now and then, like "if somebody comes up on you from the rear, and you notice the change in the atmosphere right around you -- a brief rustling, an airflow."

Sometimes Weldon turns to greet the whoosh he feels approaching and finds emptiness instead.
A word from Weldon to all ghost chasers who are right now Mapquesting the location of Union Station:


"You can't come in here and set up your sensors looking for ghosts. It takes time out of my day to satisfy someone's curiosity," Weldon says, and he won't have it, not at all.

Officially, ghost chasers are called "paranormal investigators," says James Kelly, of Arizona Paranormal Investigations, who has been looking into the supernatural for 35 years.

Recently, he and his team found a slew of hauntings at the Tee Pee Mexican Restaurant in Phoenix -- even creep-tastic whisperings in the storeroom, which manager Jeff Killeen confirms.

Kelly would looooove to get inside Union Station, but even without the edict from Weldon, there's not much official work a ghost chaser can do.

"Paranomal theories are just theories, no one can prove them," says Kelly. "And we try to look for natural explanations first before we go to paranormal explanations."

They can dismiss about 95 percent of suspectedhauntings, Kelly says, "so we're pretty skeptical."
To confirm a ghost, he and his teams use recorders to try to capture voices and sounds in empty rooms. They ask questions and can hear answers only when they play back the recordings.

As good as it gets: Once, they asked a ghost why it always seemed to hang out in a certain room of a house. Their tapes caught a feminine voice in an empty room: "Because I like it here."

There are many reasons that a ghost would choose an old train station, Kelly says.

"Older places tend to be more paranormally active than new places. An older building can hold memory, or it can hold what we call residual energy -- basically things that happened in the past replaying themselves over and over.

"Another big theory is that emotions are somehow imprinted into the environment. Most haunted places are places where people gather: bars, brothels -- brothels are big haunted places, because there's so much emotion," he says.

Also, ghosts choose places that meant something in their lives.

"Maybe they worked at the train station. Maybe they liked being there," Kelly says.

Plus, since it's a very old building, maybe the wiring's not that good and is emitting electromagnetic fields that cause the human brain to wig out.

"Those fields can make you feel like you're having a paranormal experience when you're not," Kelly says.

"I can't confirm any of this," Weldon says. He can't explain Fred, and he won't speculate.
Weldon is a scientist. He worked on missiles, for heaven's sake.

"But do you know about the murders?" he asks. "The famous murders -- that woman who cut up those people, and put them in her trunks."

With the state's centennial-year celebration, and all this talk of history, he's been wondering when a reporter was going to show up at the gate of Union Station, hoping to poke around.

"What was her name? I can't remember. Anyway, everybody knew her name," Weldon says. "She put those trunks on the train from Phoenix to Los Angeles, and where do you think the baggage got on board?"

Winnie Ruth Judd
On the evening of Oct. 16, 1931, a Phoenix secretary named Winnie Ruth Judd got into a tussle with two of her best friends. All three were seeking the affections of the same man, who happened to be married to someone else.

That night, prosecutors said Judd shot both women, hacked one of them into pieces and placed both bodies in steamer trunks -- which she brought with her to Union Station and checked as baggage, bound for LA.

When Judd arrived in Los Angeles -- her hand bandaged and crusted with dried blood -- she went to claim her trunks. The porter had flagged them and demanded a key to have a look inside.
Winnie Ruth Judd's trunks were leaking, oozing blood.

Phoenix's "trunk murderess" was caught, convicted and served nearly 39 years in prisons and insane asylums. (By the by, she also became friends with Rose Mofford, who thought Judd was a kind little peach.)

The bodies of Judd's friends were sent back to Phoenix on the Golden State Limited. According to historical reports, they arrived Oct. 24 on the 7:20a.m. train and came home to Union Station.

Once upon a time at Union Station, there was a woman who could talk to the ghosts, says Richard Lineberger. He is Weldon's co-worker and has been in and out of the building since the '80s.

But that woman said her conversations were with ghosts, plural.

Also, she never got their names.

Sometimes Weldon dreams about a different life for this place in his custody: a restaurant in the lobby, maybe, or even a bar, the way that others have done with old train stations across the country.

People should see this place, he thinks -- so beautiful, even now, with the oak benches and tile floors sealed beneath spiderwebs and a coat of dust.

The old chandeliers are still here. The old ticket booth is still here. There are yellowing train schedules in piles on the counter: the Coast Starlight, originating in Seattle at 8:25p.m.

The ceiling of the lobby is two stories high, and, in the morning, light pours in through arched windows. Out back, near the tracks, there are cellphone towers and a row of palm trees -- transplants from gardens that were turned into freeways, Weldon explains.

Every few years, someone gets the idea that Union Station could be, or should be, something more.

But it has been awhile since anyone with big dreams came knocking -- "not for three or four years now," Weldon says.

For now, the only visitors are unseen -- the millions of voices that travel through Sprint's cables and switches and fuses every minute. The whole of Phoenix still visits Union Station, but they're ghosts now. Just like Fred.

Source: Arizona Republic

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