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Ghost writer on the right track

A decapitated conductor slumps over in his locomotive, undiscovered for miles, as the train barrels down the tracks.
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A decapitated conductor slumps over in his locomotive, undiscovered for miles, as the train barrels down the tracks.The ghosts of Irish immigrants appear at midnight near the railroad they helped to build.Hanged men and women haunt the attics and tunnels where they killed themselves.It's not unusual for such macabre and otherworldly tales to accumulate in little, old towns.But the stories that cause some people to shiver and sleep with a flashlight under their pillows gave self-proclaimed skeptic George Bruno an idea."Ghosts equal revenue," the 48-year-old Perkasie man said.Bruno has been collecting the spooky stories and folklore that surround the borough for a book he's writing on the subject. He started a Facebook group called "Ghosts of Perkasie" to share and gather more tales. The group has more than 220 members.Bruno also plans to organize dinners and evening ghost tours through Perkasie."Perkasie is a bedroom community, and we're trying really hard to boost the economy," he said.Bruno said he's been on ghost tours in Gettysburg, New Hope and other tourist-friendly locales. He added that he'll never forget a hotel clerk in Gettysburg who told him that "there were never any ghosts in Gettysburg until that guy wrote that book."Bruno wants to be "that guy" for Perkasie.Armed with a flashlight and a camera, he said he often takes late-night walks through the borough. "I'm pretty fearless when it comes to the dark," he said.He usually heads past Seventh Street to walk through the old trolley tunnel. Railroad tracks pass over the tunnel, and tiny Stout Cemetery, a 1700s-era family graveyard, is a few paces away. Bruno calls it a "convergence of creepy stories.""Anything railroad just begs for a ghost story," he added.One night in the cemetery, Bruno said he heard a rustling and felt a sudden chill. Ghost hunters say such cold spots can be indicators of paranormal activity.He began snapping photos of the train tunnel, and when he uploaded them on his computer, Bruno says he saw five ghostly figures appear. Despite that experience, Bruno said he doesn't believe in ghosts. "If I can't scientifically prove it, then it's not real," he said.Still, like gravity, some things exist whether you see them or not, he added.Research has led Bruno to speculate that the specters he witnessed may have been the spirits of Irish rail workers from the 1850s, many of whom died in a cholera epidemic during construction.Bruno, who has lived in the borough for seven years, said he has spent countless hours listening to the locals. A lot of the legend and folklore he's heard is "like whisper down the lane," he said.But one story that remains constant is the legend of the headless engineer.The story involves the 2,150-foot tunnel through Landis Ridge. Ground was broken on the tunnel in 1853, but track wasn't laid through the hand-dug tunnel until 1856, according to a Pennridge School District-affiliated Web site detailing Perkasie's history.An engineer is passing through Perkasie with his head out the window, looking back at the caboose, he said. The man doesn't pull his head back into the engine quickly enough and the tunnel "shears his head off," Bruno said. The train continues to Quakertown, where it stops, revealing the decapitated conductor."Anyone who lives in Perkasie will tell you that," Bruno said. "I've heard it from guys that are in their 80s."Though it has become the stuff of gruesome campfire tales, the story likely stems from a 1944 incident, when engineer Charles L. Krous died from a probable heart attack while his express train left Perkasie."The top part of his head was cut off as the train passed through the tunnel," according to the book "The History of Perkasie." "His body was hanging halfway out of the engine cab" when it was found in Quakertown by a fireman who stopped the train.The tale adds a grisly allure to the tunnel, which Bruno says is "creepy" even in the daytime. A paranormal group out of the Lehigh Valley has found a lot of research fodder in the tunnel, he added.A conservative blogger who makes a living through public speaking, Bruno envisions his forthcoming Perkasie book as the first in a series. He's already planning the sequel: an examination of the haunted places in Doylestown. Theresa Hegel can be reached at 215-538-6381 or