On Halloween night, 2011, a 14-hour-long traffic checkpoint turned away some two-hundred plus people from the Colchester Overpass in a rural part of Fairfax County, Virginia, near the suburbs of Washington, D.C.
What brought so many strangers to a modest railroad overpass in a wooded area near Bull Run at the end of October?
The unlikely answer is a man in a bunny costume who had possibly not been seen in more than forty years. Since the 1970s, the region around the Colchester Overpass had been associated with a particular urban legend, from which the overpass gained its unofficial name, “Bunny Man Bridge.”
The particulars of the legend change with the telling, but there are some elements they almost always have in common: a man in a bunny costume attacks motorists near the Colchester Overpass with an axe or a hatchet.
Sometimes they aren’t motorists. Sometimes the Bunny Man's not wielding an axe. Sometimes he’s dead, and his angry spirit is the problem. Sometimes he’s not even wearing a bunny costume.
Most of the time, though, it is the image of an axe-wielding man dressed up like a rabbit that is at the heart of the eerie legend of the Bunny Man—a legend that has been featured on the Amazon show Lore, and found its way onto the silver screen in the 2011 exploitation flick Bunnyman, which spawned two sequels.
So, who really is the Bunny Man, and why does he (maybe) haunt this one lonely stretch of road in Virginia? For answers, Brian A. Conley, a historian at the Fairfax County Public Library, dug deep to find the origins of this unsettling legend. What he found were two otherwise-unrelated incidents taking place ten days apart, both in October of 1970.
The first involved Robert Bennett, an Air Force Academy cadet, and his fiancé. The couple were parked in a field along Guinea Road, in the nearby town of Burke, Virginia, where they had driven after a football game to visit an uncle who lived across the street. While the two were in the front seat with the motor running, the right front window was smashed in with a hatchet.
A man wearing “something white over his head” had run out of the bushes behind the car and hurled a hatchet through the window, shouting, “You're on private property and I have your tag number.” Of course, Bennett immediately put the vehicle in gear and peeled off, taking the hatchet—which was now inside the car—with him.
While the legend grew that Bennett reported the man was wearing a “white suit with bunny ears,” Bennett’s fiancée claimed it looked like the man was wearing a peaked white hood.
Had that been the end of it, we might not have the legend of Bunny Man Bridge that we do today. However, just ten days later, another event occurred.
In Kings Park West, also along Guinea Road, a security guard named Paul Phillips was patrolling an under-construction housing development after dark when he came upon a man in a bunny costume who was standing on the front porch of an unfinished home, chopping at the porch post with a hatchet or a long-handled axe.
This time, Phillips emphatically described the man as wearing a “white bunny suit with floppy ears,” as one contemporary newspaper account reported it. When Phillips approached, the man threatened him, “You are trespassing. If you come any closer, I’ll chop off your head.”
What happened next? “The strange figure then turned and hippity-hopped off into nearby woods,” according to an October 31, 1970 press clipping from The Minneapolis Star. Each of these stories on their own might have been quickly forgotten, but the two together—with their unusual shared details: the hatchet, the accusations of trespassing, and the possible bunny costume—were more than enough get an urban legend going.
Nor did it stop there. The Fairfax County Police opened an investigation, and were flooded with more than fifty reports from people who claimed to have seen the “bunny man.” This drew the attention of newspapers from all over the area. Besides the aforementioned Minneapolis Star, other major outlets like the Washington Post ran repeated stories throughout October and into November concerning the Bunny Man, including a claim that he had actually eaten one man’s missing cat.
If a man with an axe in a bunny costume eating a pet cat isn’t enough to get an urban legend going, we don’t know what is. Even in those early newspaper accounts, considerable variation in the tales had already begun.
Indeed, in 1973, just a few years after the incidents themselves, a student at the University of Maryland submitted a research paper in which she counted some 54 variations on the two incidents.
So, how did the legend spread from Guinea Road in the D.C. suburbs, and settle on Colchester Overpass, near Clifton, Virginia? Ask Mary C. Stachyra, a reporter for the Centreville Patch, who wrote that, “Local lore has it that late one night, around the turn of the 20th century, a bus filled with inmates from a mental institution crashed near Clifton. Two escaped into the woods.”
Stachyra’s reporting continues the legend, which concerned locals finding the bodies of dead rabbits hanging from the trees, having been eaten raw. Eventually, locals also found one of the two escapees in a similar predicament.
Thus began a manhunt for the remaining inmate, who was cornered on the railroad tracks above, you guessed it, Colchester Overpass. There, he was struck and killed by a train while trying to make his getaway, and hence his spirit has haunted the place ever since.
Significantly, this legend, which the author notes as having “spread far beyond Fairfax County,” contains none of the elements of the original incidents, and likely has no basis in history, especially since the Colchester Overpass wasn’t even constructed until 1906, making it a pretty new thing around the “turn of the 20th century.”
So why did this spot become “Bunny Man Bridge?” It might just be because it looks suitably spooky at night…
[via Fairfax County Virginia]