He would have said it was fate if he had been brought up to believe in such things. But he hadn’t been raised to think this way about an English girl either, so he let his mind believe it. His father had become suspicious that he had met someone and was holding him back this night, talked about the importance of community and family. Amos had fallen in love with Ingrid the moment he had seen her hanging clothes outside as he delivered his family’s celery crop to the market, and each time they made an excuse to get away and see each other he was alive.
They had developed a little ritual. She would sit on the north bank of Phillippi Creek on her side of the bridge on her side of the town, and he would walk down and stand on the south He would whistle a tune she did not know, and she would pop out of the tall grass and giggle, and they would meet under the bridge. The wild irises had sprung up overnight and as Ingrid waited for him that night, ignoring the fact he was later than usual, she picked at them from where she sat, making a little bouquet and thinking about what it would be like to be married. She stretched to get some more, but the fullest were out of her reach closer to the water.
If either of them really believed in fate, they would have said what happened next was supposed to happen. As she stretched over the water to get more flowers, she slipped and fell into the water. It was not too deep, but the rocks just below the water ripped her shirt and cut her arm. She could see the blood staining it, the same one she always wore to meet him because it was the one she had been wearing when they met. She decided to take it off to help stop the bleeding. He was running late, but she was not sure when he would be able to get away. She didn’t live more than five minutes away. She could run back, change her shirt, and be back before he returned. Her parents would kill her if they saw the torn and blood shirt, so she decided to leave it there and slip home in her undershirt.
When Amos finally whistled there was no sound from the grass. His heart sank a bit. Maybe she didn’t feel the same way he did. After all, what did he really understand about how the English felt about love? He whispered her name, and there was a noise from the water. An alligator raised his head from the water. There was something in its mouth. A white shirt, and Amos could see even in the moonlight it was dark with another color. The animals were notorious in this area and at this time of the year. It swam quickly to him with a lightening swish, and Amos retreated up to the bridge to try and get a look. He couldn’t see her, but he knew what had happened. He could feel his chest tighten and his mind lose focus. It has been two weeks that had changed his life, had made everything so clear. It was with that same clarity he swung his leg over the fencing of the bridge, softly said her name, and jumped from the bridge to the water and rocks below.
Ingrid had been delayed. Her older sister, whom she had told about the man she wanted to marry, had seen her come back in and asked her a few questions. She was only a half hour. If he had shown up, she knew he would have waited. She didn’t need to wait for the whistle. As soon as she got to the bridge, she could see his body floating in the water, the guilty alligator circling it as if preparing for a meal. In that moment, just like her mother always accused her of, she made a rash decision and jumped to join him in death.
The two lovers, from different worlds, will never be together. For almost a hundred years residents have told the story of the ghosts returning to the bridge to try and find each other. They are always unsuccessful. At night people see orbs of light floating on either side of the bridge, unable to cross the running water to hold each other for eternity. When the irises are in full blown, the people of the town talk about seeing Amos and Ingrid themselves, transparent with glowing lights outlining their bodies. They stop at the edge of the water, each on their own side with hands outstretched. Other people talk of seeing them on the bridge right before they jump, but when people try and talk to them or search for the fallen bodies, they can’t find anything. People walking across the bridge report whistling at night but can’t find where the music is coming from.
Amos and Ingrid’s story is one of those that may have been created for a reason other than to celebrate love or explain activity. There are just too many holes in the story and too many things that do not add up. The bridge itself, without the help of some hungry alligators, will probably not even injure a jumper, never mind kill them. There is a deep belief in folklore that spirits can’t cross running water, but in this circumstance, it does not hold true. The water runs east to west, and the bridge separates the north from the south or Amish side. It is said they would meet under the bridge, meaning they never needed to cross the water to find comfort in each other’s arms. Why would their ghost have to do this? It also feels like a stretch that she would cut herself and her shirt and then just leave it there.
The lights in the fog might be explained by headlights. While this is a famous explanation for ghost lights in any location, at the bridge it might even work on another level. While most people could explain away a car headlight and understand what they were seeing as not anything paranormal, at Pinecraft the recommend mode of travel is bicycle. People are seen driving across the bridge but also down the paths bordering the banks, all with reflectors and lights on the front and back. This makes it more likely to see something quickly which disappears and then reappears somewhere else. It might also account for ghost sights as they move fast, seeming to float when viewed through high grass.
Drowned, star-crossed lovers are nothing new, and in Sarasota the story points to expected tensions between two different communities rather than warring families. The Amish have been a vital part of the Sarasota community since they first arrived in large numbers in 1925 and now number over 3,000 in an area known for its beautiful beaches and tourist attractions. Pinecraft has evolved over the years from a winter getaway for Amish and Mennonites in areas such as Indiana and Pennsylvania to a permanent settlement which has impacted the complexion of the community since after the Second World War. Philippi Creek represents the northern border. It would make sense then that it would act the gateway between the two worlds and a place where the tension between the two people could generate a story about their distrust and dislike for each other.
The trouble is there does not seem to be any tension. The legend dates back decades, and might hint at some initial clashing between the two worlds, but there is nothing in the history of the town to suggest there has not always been a natural balance between the Amish and their Florida neighbors. The people of Sarasota, as a whole, seem to have no issue with the people of the Pinecraft. In fact, most speak about the business boost the community gives the city and the touch of history and quaintness the Amish provide. They are quick to educate visitors on the right way to interact with them. For their part, the Amish have no issue with the English they live near, aside from the occasional, isolated incident. This is perhaps due in part to the fact that the Amish there are a mix of citizens from other parts of the country who have learned to live in a single community despite variations of their cultures and beliefs.
It’s unclear how well known the legend is. Tripping on Legends has been there twice, and both times no one we spoke to had heard of the story, both on the Amish and English side of the bridge. Several Amish smiled and directed us to the bridge but were sure they had never been told anything about Amos and Ingrid despite being of several different generations. Several citizens of Sarasota had the same response, and there is not much information on the Internet about it. However, the person who originally contacted us spoke over everyone knowing it when she was a kid. There is even a popular postcard celebrating the folk tale in local restaurants, although the people there had no idea what it represented.
There is something else at work with the tale that may have everything to do with a different kind of love. Phillippi Creek, especially where the bridge separated the north and south, is famous for its alligators. In the time we spent there, we were able to see two, and the people we talked to on the water, including the woman who owns the property the banks are on, told us of there being a danger in swimming and fishing there. Even those who do fish are acutely aware of where the alligators are when they cast their reels. “There is one in the water there,” said one man fishing with his son on the English side of the bridge. “He’ll pop up under the bridge if you wait a bit. He ain’t even the big one. “ Several people spoke of this larger alligator in the area, almost as if he were a better legend than any ghostly lovers.
The story may have been created to keep kids away from the gators, a cautionary tale used to make the danger there even greater. Even this is unusual though. A ghost story would make kids want to go to the bridge. They are much more likely to fear alligators, something they can see and know, than the paranormal. Much like the story of monsters and ogres in the Mini-Lights story (which also features Mennonites) the legend is too complex and drowns out a real danger you could just warn the kids about. The ghost legend is also about love and suicide, which feels like the wrong backstory to engage kids.
Both side of the bridge are also dotted with boxes, blankets, and camping equipment for the homeless people, Amish and not, who make the bridge their home. There is a feeling at night that people are watching you because there are indeed people living there. It would make sense to create a story to keep children away to protect themselves, although it is unclear for how long this has been a haven for the homeless of Sarasota.
Naming things is an unusual practice, sometimes lost in time because no one can quite remember where it comes from. Bridges tends to become markers of the past, hints at what things used to be called or what was important to people in the moment. The smaller the crossing, the more personal they become. Places like the Arbuckle Creek Bridge are named for the water they cross but ask different people where that is, and they’ll point to several different structures. Bloody Bucket might be named for the ghost there or a rowdy bar down the street. In Pinecraft, the haunted bridge has several named depending on what it means to you. Some call it the Phillippi Creek Bridge or even the Amish bridge. For those who believe in the story of Amos and Ingrid, those who were told the story when they were kids and passed it on to their young, it bears the name of the residents that can’t leave and the story of how their love stretches out across time, much like a bridge. They call it the Ghost Bridge of Pinecraft, and no matter how many years pass, they root for the young couple to find what they are looking for.
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