Since 2019 started, I wanted to see what was the situation with Crybaby Lane…but a lot has changed since many of the articles on it have been written. I’ll be exploring the history behind this famous NC ghost story and what recently happened to Crybaby Lane. Get ready, because there are lots of photos and articles!
For Raleigh natives, this might be a local urban legend that is common knowledge. While I’ve been in Raleigh for about six years now, I’m still learning about new things about this city. I’m always up to hearing interesting ghost stories, especially local stories. Majority of cities around the world has some sort of local myth or legend. Some of the most popular ones include the ghostly hitchhiker, a woman in white, and a crybaby bridge. Have you noticed that almost every town has a crybaby bridge legend? Well, in Raleigh’s case, it’s Crybaby Lane. I first read about it on Candid Slice, and thankfully the author, Heather Leah, had done a LOT of research and gave me a lot of resources to use when researching this legend.
I’ve heard numerous opinions on Crybaby Lane. I’ve even had a local told me that the story was completely made up in order to create some sort of local ghost story. For those of you who are unfamiliar, here is the premise of the legend. A Catholic orphanage burned down in 1958 because some escapees from Dorthea Dix started lighting things on fire. According to legend, several children lost their lives either from the flames or the escaped mental patients. It’s a rather gory legend that puts mental health patients in a bad light. Today, if you visit the site, you’ll hear ghostly cries of the children as they scream to be saved. People who live near the orphanage claim to smell sulfur even though nothing is on fire. There is also a
The first odd thing I noticed with Crybaby Lane is that no one could agree on the location. Besides Pattison’s information, the most common thing I hear is that it is near Dorthea Dix, it’s by Dix, it’s near Dix, it’s AT Dix…the list goes on. I’ve read countless stories of people who wandered around the area and couldn’t find the site. This was worrisome for the orphanage’s existence because usually there is some local who will know where the orphanage was. From my understanding, the buildings were torn down in the 1970s, which isn’t that long ago. Given that modern day record-keeping has improved tremendously for data from the past century, why was finding Crybaby Lane so confusing? Thankfully, I ran into Heather Leah’s article about Crybaby Lane, and all of her work gave me the shortcut I needed to really dive deep into this legend.
The Catholic orphanage was founded by Father Thomas Price. He bought the land off of Western Boulevard in the 1890s and built a chapel there. After seeing children suffering because of their families’ poverty, he opened an orphanage in 1898/1899 with his sister, Sister Mary Agnes Price, called the Catholic Orphanage of Nazareth. As many as 250 children lived there during the Great Depression. Not all of the children there had deceased parents, most were there because their parents could no longer afford to take care of them. The orphanage closed in the 1970s. There are some discrepancies when it comes to the year. One website says that the orphanage was founded in 1898, and then the seminary followed in 1902. Apparently, there was a reunion in 1982 where 200 people gathered, and many were old enough to talk about the babies that were left at the orphanage during the Great Depression. I was really excited to find a blog where former residents of the orphanage shared their old photos and stories from living there. Sadly, it hasn’t been updated since 2014. But, I found a wealth of info, photos, and a glimpse of what life must have been like at the orphanage.
I am currently still in the process of trying to find proof of the 1958 fire. I haven’t found it yet, and will update when I do. The location did have several fires that happened over the span of its existence. There was an article in the News & Observer that talked about a fire that broke out on October 29, 1905 at the orphanage. This is supported with newspaper clippings you’ll see here. The fire was so bad that a priest jumped out of windows to get to safety, and he ended up permanently crippled. There were three students who were sleeping on the fourth floor when the fire broke out, and they had no choice but to jump out the window as well. It was a 45 foot drop, enough to cause serious injuries and even death. The priests were spreading mattresses to cushion their fall. Timothy Wallace, who was 21 years old, and another student, jumped with injuries, but they survived. However, 16-year old John Gladish ended up missing the mattresses and died from his injuries the following Sunday. Gladish was the only casualty of the 1905 fire.
There was another fire in 1912 in the stables, but no one was injured or killed. There was a fire noted in 1961 after a priest was attempting to burn a wasps’ nest and burned the rectory to the ground. Unfortunately, some records of the graves at the orphanage graveyard burned with it. Father Price left Nazareth in 1911, and then died in 1919 China on an international mission trip after his appendix burst. There is a movement at the moment to get Father Price canonized and beatified, and he was inducted into the Raleigh Hall of Fame in 2018.
John Gladish and others were buried at the cemetery at the orphanage. But, what is really disturbing, is that these graves are now unmarked and seemed to have totally disappeared. In the early eighties, an NCSU student by the name of Dean Ruedrich took walks through the graveyard. He found around 20 or 30 stones, with three people dying on Christmas Day. 30 years later, while Ruedrich was working on restoring and repairing Mount Hope after a tornado, visitors asked him about the Catholic orphanage graves.
Ruedrich had to compare aerial maps of Raleigh and traced the graveyard. According to him, he thinks the graveyard was at the corner of Main Campus Drive and Partners Way. Supposedly, the graves have been moved to St. Joseph’s Cemetery in New Bern, where there are 14 unmarked graves with crosses on them. For more information on these forgotten graves, check out the News & Observer article. It is a bit unsettling considered that these remains were entrusted to the Catholic Church and then forgotten.
The Land Today
The Catholic Diocese donated a portion of the land to Cardinal Gibbons High School in 1962. Then, a substantial portion of land near Dorthea Dix was bought by North Carolina State University in 1988. Today, the buildings are gone and replaced by modern buildings and the new cathedral. According to Kate Pattison of the Raleigh Public Record, the original orphanage building became the home for the Catholic Diocese of Raleigh and still stands to this day. Granted, her write up was dated back to 2009…but that is recent enough where a building could be remembered. From my understanding, the Catholic Diocese is now located in North Raleigh, about 10 minutes from where I live.
According to WRAL.com, the new Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral apparently sits on the former site. Again, first it was the office for the Catholic Diocese, now the new cathedral sits on the same site. From what I can see on Google Maps, it appears Crybaby Lane has been paved over in efforts to provide another entrance to the massive cathedral. This was later confirmed by Heather. According to Heather, there is a stone left of the orphanage, but that’s about it. Considering how much of an impact Father Price made on the area and how massive of a presence that the orphanage had, it would be ludicrous to allow this part of history to be paved over and forgotten. If you look at the satellite version of Google Maps, it hasn’t been updated yet and you can still see the old site. You can tell it’s outdated because the new cathedral isn’t on the satellite image.
Anyway, despite the confusing history about the Catholic Orphanage of Nazareth, Crybaby Lane, the haunted orphanage, whatever you want to call it, there is truly a diamond in the rough tucked away in South Raleigh that is worth researching.