Tucked away on a secondary road in the northern part of Iredell county is a small, one lane bridge that spans an ankle deep creek.
The road it’s self seems to serve very little purpose, with a portion on both sides of the bridge being gravel instead of pavement. Even though it connects a main north/south road to the east with a major highway to the west, it doesn’t do so very effeciently. Drivers looking for a shortcut across the little tendril of a creek that snakes it’s way down from the South Yadkin River would certainly be better off choosing several other paths.
It’s on the site of this unassuming bridge that we have what might be one of Iredell county’s strangest bits of folklore.
Not so much with the current generation, but people of a certain age will tell you that the area is called “Munchkinland”, and will likely be able to give you a version of a story that used to circulate freely about the area.
Talking with one resident who lived just up the road from Munchkinland in the early 1970’s, I was able to get the basics.
It seems the tale begins with some “little people”; a family suffering from dwarfism. They moved into the area near the bridge sometime in the vague past, built a house and set out to live a quiet life in what was an extremely rural area at the time.
The story doesn’t really have specifics for what happened to them, but they eventually died off. Perhaps they were insular due to societal pressure, and kept to themselves until however many generations of their family living there succumbed to either old age or illness. At any rate, their time eventually came to shuffle off this mortal coil and to begin life anew in a different plane of existence.
However, as the story goes, they didn’t actually leave.
To prove this, there’s a formula for interacting with the little people.
First, this is best done at night.
On a dark evening of your choosing, lightly sprinkle the back bumper and maybe trunk of your vehicle with baby powder or a simiar substance. Once this is accomplished, drive onto the bridge, put your vehicle in neutral and wait.
If the spirits are feeling particularly bored, you will find that not only will you begin to roll uphill, but an inspection of the rear of your car afterwards will show tiny handprints.
Why the apparent spirits of the dead have nothing better to do than hang around a lightly traveled rural bridge is unknown. No impetus is given in the tale for thier actions
But, as I am apt to ask, how true is this story? Does it have some basis in fact? Where did it come from?
We can attempt to answer these questions in several ways.
First. Did the little people mentioned in the story ever exist?
It’s very hard to pin down any proof that they did. Lack of proof in this case though is not a nail in this tale’s coffin. There are a variety of reasons why there would be scant information about such people. For one, living in a rural area sometime before the 1970’s there would likely have been a stigma about thier condition. It’s entirely possible they were socially isolated by the prejudices of the community around them or by thier own fear of being treated poorly. There would be little reason to put to paper a record of them save for possibly census data, which isn’t likely to mention thier height or exact location near the bridge.
On the other hand, it seems a family as unique as this one would have been remembered by the local community in stories other than this one. Someone would have told thier grandchildren about the “Munchkins” who lived down by the bridge. We don’t have that. But perhaps it’s been so long ago most rememberances of them have simply passed out of common knowledge.
Perhaps then we can find some physical proof? We know the story was being told in the early 1970’s, so we can look back before that time for some trace of the family.
Using an aerial photo archive (which you can find on the “of interest” links page) I was able to find two images that are earlier than 1970. These are images for 1951 and 1956.
In the image from 1951, a mere 300 feet north of the bridge you have what appears to be a man made path that branches off west from the road it’s self, appearing to go into the trees and re-emerge on the same road, detouring around a particularly large curve. At the other end appears to be some sort of structure with what might be a barn just to the east along the side of the road. This could be related to our little people, but it doesn’t seem close enough.
However, in the next image from 1956, a new structure has appeared within view of the bridge on the same path, just 300 yards from the crossing it’s self. Due to the age and resolution of the photos it’s impossible to tell precisely what this structure is, but it doesn’t appear to be a barn, shed, or simply a collection of hay bales. It is rectangular with a protrusion on the north end that appears to possibly be a porch. If there’s a candidate for our little people’s home, this would have to be it. There are no other houses within a reasonable distance of the bridge that make sense, unless they have existed in a more distant past.
Interestingly enough, the next image is 1983, and by then trees have overrun the property and no sign of structures can be seen in any images going forward.
This would fit rather well with our story’s timeframe, giving the people who lived in this structure had nearly two decades to make themselves known before disappearing between 1956 and the 1970’s, when the story was being told.
What about the name “Munchkinland”? You may not be aware of this, but L. Frank Baum created the phrase “Munchkin” and “Munchkinland” in his 1900 book “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”. How widely known the names were before the film finally debuted in 1939 is anyone’s guess, but the name couldn’t have been used before 1900 and likely wasn’t before 1939. However, it could have been attached to the tale at any time later than that, even in the 70’s when the tale seemed to have it’s heyday. So that’s no help to us.
How else might we vet this story?
There is the possibility that the movement of a car on the bridge is something that actually happens unrelated to any sort of ghost story.
“Magnetic hills” are what we call places where terrain creates an optical illusion that makes gravity seem to work backwards- causing things to roll up hill rather than down. We have one of these manufactured in our very own mountains at the tourist attraction known as “Mystery Hill“. And just a county over in Rowan there’s “Gravity Hill“. So perhaps Munchkinland is an actual phenomena that needed a story for explanation.
Recently, I put this theory to the test. In neutral, with my light, compact car on the bridge, I was unable to get it to roll in either direction, and certainly not up hill- which the road on both sides of the bridge certainly is. I checked a topographical map to make sure it wasn’t simply an illusion.
It could very well be I was in the wrong place or aligned the wrong way for it to work but I wouldn’t wager that’s the case. I don’t think Iredell has it’s own gravity hill.
What is worth noting here is that this story follows a pattern found in other urban legends from around the United States where supernatural forces are claimed to push vehicles- either up hills, off of railroad tracks, or in some other manor. Munger Rd in Illinois and San Antonio’s ghost tracks are just two examples of incredibly similar results with only a slightly different story. In most of these the baby powder and handprints are even present.
So maybe what we actually have here is the proliferation of a type of urban legend that attached it’s self to a place. But did the chicken or the egg come first? Were the little inhabitants of the area a fanciful addition to the story’s framework, or do they predate the story and are the cause of it’s attachment to the place?
We’ll never really know.
Munchkinland is not a name that’s spoken by very many people anymore. Fewer today even know where the bridge is.
Unlike many urban legends, it seems this one’s rural setting may actually do it in sometime in the next couple decades. And if there were any little people living on the spot, they will finally be fully forgotten.
Note: There is another “Munchkinland” in North Carolina, and it has a verifiable history.