What is haunting the bridge on Shakerag Road to the west of Millington, Tennessee? An old munitions factory from World War II my hold the answer to the bizarre tale of the Shelby Forest Pigman.
Welcome to the Tennessee Ghosts and Legends Podcast. My name is Lyle Russell. I am your host, and I love a good ghost story. This episode will explore a bizarre tale out of Shelby County, Tennessee north of Memphis. Something stalks the monstrous tract of woods in the Meeman-Shelby Forest that runs along the mighty Mississippi River, but what is it? Today, I’ll introduce you to the strange tale of the Shelby Forest Pig Man.
The city of Millington, Tennessee is situated directly west of the 12, 539-acre Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park. If you travel west on Shelby Road, then turn left on Shakerag Road, you’ll see the ruins of two tall smokestacks, once the site of the Chickasaw Ordnance Works power plant. In 1940 at the beginning of World War II, 6,000 acres were set aside for the creation of this plant to produce a smokeless powder cake called Guncotton. These cotton liners were highly explosive and used in making artillery, small arms munitions, and dynamite. The factory was built over miles and miles of underground tunnels which were used to transport the products to create high-explosive cakes. The smokestacks that stick up above the woods are not the factory itself. They towered over the coal-fired power plant. Due to the volatile nature of the product they created, workplace safety was paramount. The 8,000 employees there boasted a world record by operating for 3.6 million working hours without a major documented injury. The factory ran 24-7 and only closed for one day, Christmas in 1942. Industrial records indicate that more than $50 million dollars were spent on creation and operation of this facility up until 1946. When the plant closed it was deemed too dangerous to be sold as public surplus and was dismantled, leaving only the foundation, some walls, and the two unmistakable smokestacks protruding above the horizon.
The workers at the plant were held to stringent standards to mitigate safety risks, and MPs searched employees both coming on shift and going off shift. Smoking was strictly prohibited, and you could not even carry a ball point pen because it was thought the click would spark and detonate some of the Guncotton residue that got on everything. With that much volatility in one place, even the best risk management plan would be put to the test. Not following those standards would change one man's life forever.
The story says that one day, a man working at the plant was disposing of some chemicals behind the tunnels and into the creek. While that practice is prohibited now, it was fairly common for industrial waste at the time. The hot Memphis days required those who worked outside to take regular breaks in the shade, so when this man finished dumping his barrels, he went to a nearby tree where he had stashed his cigarettes and matches for a smoke. He pressed the filterless cigarette to his lips and struck the match on the box. The flame did not even have time to ignite as the tiny spark from scratching the match ignited the residue on the man’s hands and clothes. Needless to say, the fireball explosion was enough to do great damage to his face, hands and body, but his life was amazingly spared. The miniature explosion mutilated his face, taking off his nose, scorching his face and scalp, and burned his ears almost completely off. His heavily scarred face left behind what looked like a disfigured pig head on a human body.
For months, the man recovered at the Kennedy Hospital in Memphis. Once he recovered sufficiently to be released, the cold world had no love for the man with the burned and scarred head. His wife left him because his new visage frightened the children. His friends and family spurned him, saying they could not get over how grotesque the accident had left him. The only place he could find refuge after the accident was back at the factory. Experienced labor that knew the chemical work to make Guncotton were few, so the factory management allowed him to continue working for them until the war ended, even with his injuries. Being shunned by his family and friends due to his disfigured appearance, he could not find a place to live and found himself sleeping under a bridge. Cast away from society, much like many throughout history with disfigurements, the man became bitter and angry. He would only come out to work the factory, then go back to the bridge. His co-workers stopped and stared, some pointing and whispering about him while others outright snubbed him. Then the day came the factory closed and he truly had nowhere to go. He stayed under his bridge and was hardly ever seen, only coming out at night to avoid people. His seclusion begat rumors, and before long stories were told around town that the “pig man” under the bridge was kidnapping children and eating them.
Stories vary as to which bridge is the one in the legend. Shakerag Road at the time of this story would have been right through the middle of the factory grounds. While it’s possible that’s where the bridge was, another bridge stood at Epperson Mill Road connecting to Shelby Road before a highway widening project was completed in the 50s. The bridge there is said to have been washed out in a flood before the road project, leaving the Pigman with nowhere to go except the countryside leading to the Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park. Some think, however, that the Pigman still lives under the bridge on Shakerag Road at the turn just past the smokestacks.
Legend says if you park in the middle of the bridge in a night with a full moon. Turn off your car, roll down your window and flash your lights three times and call him each time. “Pigman, Pigman, Pigman!” and he will appear. Many have claimed to try this summoning ritual, but no serious reports of Pigman sightings have come of it. That said, campers in Meeman-Shelby Forest have claimed to see and hear strange sounds and figures in the woods
Stories differ on whether the Pigman is a person or the ghost of the disfigured man in the factory accident, and there are more than one Pigman hauntings in Tennessee. One video on YouTube claims to have encountered the Pigman in a farming are near Knoxville. Three thrill-seeking young men took a grainy, Blair Witch-type video of their hike through the woods looking for the Pigman. After a short while, a sound of squealing is heard in the distance, followed by a barking dog. The sounds continue over a few minutes until they actually encounter what they believed to be the Pigman. They described him as a person, not an animal, with tumor-like bulbous features on his face, and likely a homeless person who taps into the Pigman legend and tries to scare people away from where he lives in the woods. If the video is a hoax, the audio is on par with high-quality effects that rivals Hollywood-level creepy sound effects. In either case, the encounter was frightening and believable.
Other Pigman stories exist in multiple states across the country. Denton, Texas has a story of the Pigman of Bonnie Brae Bridge. The tale says a drug runner in the 60s was caught and mutilated under the bridge by the gang he ran for, carving his face to look like a pig because he squealed to the police. Angola, New York also has a bizarre tale of the Pigman of Road Bridge. They say he was a farmer that placed severed hog’s heads on pikes near his property line to frighten people away from trespassing. It is said a group of boys went to put the legend to the test, encountering the Pigman who then placed their severed heads on pikes in place of the pigs. Hawkinsville, Georgia also has a Pigman on Holland Road that runs through several tunnels. He is said to be a circus trainer who enjoyed the company of his pigs than of people. One day, he fell next to their trough and the pigs killed and ate him. His ghost is said to haunt the tunnels appearing with the body of a man but the head of a pig. Finally, Northfield, Vermont has what I find to be the creepiest Pigman haunting.
This legend also began in the fifties and involved couples out parking in secluded areas. The pigman seems to specifically target boyfriends, leaving girls to run home screaming and terrified. Some versions of the story describe this Pigman as being covered in white hair, or even wearing a rotting pigs head as a mask. It all started in 1951 when a local teenager named Sam Harris went out on the night before Halloween to get into mischief. Sam Harris never came home, but soon afterward the Pigman began terrorizing the area.
Some say that Sam sold his soul to the devil and became the Pigman; others say that he was the creature’s first victim. A few years after his disappearance a group of teenagers drinking in a sandpit near the high school reported seeing a man-like creature with a pig’s face come lumbering towards them from the woods. They ran back to the school dance, but no one believed their story. Soon after this people all over town began reporting sightings of the Pigman. Drivers claimed he had run in front of them across the road, and farmers reported seeing it on their property, possibly hunting their animals. Teenagers making out in the Devil’s Washbowl- an area known for its caves and waterfalls- reported the creature banging on their cars. There were even reports of bones and cloven hoofprints being found in one of the caves. This story has gotten bigger and better over the years and is one of Vermont’s most popular tales to tell after dark.
While those stories are not specific to Tennessee, they illustrate that the haunted stories of Pigmen spans across the country. Interestingly enough, most of them also include a bridge and an isolated road. Further details of the story all track back to the 50s, when people on car dates would try to find places in the woods to park. So much commonality begs to question if the pigman legend wasn’t created to deter teenagers from parking in the woods and isolated back roads.
An investigation group called Southern Paranormal of Tennessee spent time at the smokestacks with K2 meters supposedly having a conversation with the spirit of a little boy at the site. During the conversation, the little boy communicated through turning flashlights off and on and lighting up the K2 meter when he was asked questions.
During the course of the investigation, they claimed to see a shadow figure cross the field next to where they were. When asking the boy who the shadow figure was, the responses on the K2 meter indicated the boy might be afraid of it. He answered yes when asked if it was the mean person. Was the shadow figure the Pigman stalking the area? Or some other malevolent entity on the factory grounds? Additional footage of that night provided some EVP evidence of different disembodied voices.
So, did the Pigman start as an urban legend to scare teenagers from parking in the woods? Or is there something more sinister stalking the forested areas of the United States? The local legend says the Pigman still haunts the Shelby Forest looking for victims, though I don’t necessarily believe that. Without no confirmed sightings or victims, it’s hard to believe it to be anything other than an urban legend. However, if you find yourself on the bridge on Shakerag Road, perhaps you’ll be tempted to stop your car, flash your lights, and say, “Pigman, Pigman, Pigman!” and let me know how it turns out.
Thank you for listening to today’s Tennessee Ghosts and Legends Podcast episode. I would like to invite you to visit my website at www.lylerussell.net if you’d like to learn more about this and other stories I’m working on. I am your host, Lyle Russell, and remember, the dead may seem scary, but it’s the living you should be wary of. Until next time.