In the Buff on the Tracks

A railroad worker got quite a shock one evening in 1903 when he saw a “gleaming white” figure suddenly appear and slowly approach him on the railroad tracks.

Pennsylvania Railroad worker Joseph Kingsley was standing in front of the Frederick Road station around 9 p.m. one March evening when he spotted a “perfectly nude man” walking along the railroad track, according to a report in The Baltimore Sun.

The figure “…emerged suddenly from the gloom, gleaming white in the darkness. The apparition, as Mr. Kingsley first saw it, was moving with slow and measured tread along the space between the two tracks, coming from the south. It looked neither to the right nor left, but sedately and serenely approached the spot where the beholder stood gazing with staring eyes.

“As it approached nearer and the details of the figure became discernible Mr. Kingsley discovered that the form was that of a man being entirely destitute of clothing of any description. The legs, from the knees down, were covered with mud, dry and scaly, as if the eccentric wanderer had passed through a marsh some hours previously. The remainder of the body was perfectly white, and the rough brown whiskers gave an added weirdness to the appearance of the strange wayfarer,” reported the Sun.

Kingsley approached the man and was able to determine that he  was extremely frightened, fearful that someone was following him and would drown him. Shivering, the man was given a blanket to cover and warm himself, and was taken to a waiting room in the station, according to the Sun article.

It was determined the man was Louis Tola, 37, and he’d arrived from France to Baltimore about 15 days prior. Tola said that he’d left his clothes under the Wilkens Avenue bridge about a mile away from the station. “The clothes were new, he said, and he was afraid of getting them wet,” the Sun reported.

A cemetery worker had seen Tola removing his clothes and asked what he was doing. Tola told him to stay away and started walking along the tracks.

“Mr. Kingsley sent for the clothes, and found them to consist of a nearly new blue serge suit, black slouch hat, black laced shoes, a blue necktie with red dots and the mark of the seller — “Goldbaum, 783 South Broadway” — on it. The stockings were of wool and very heavy and were laced above the knees. In the pockets of the suit were an old schedule of the Southern Railway and 3 cents in money,” according to the Sun article.

Kingsley believed Tola to be “demented,” and called the police for assistance. Tola was ultimately taken to the police station.

Source: The Baltimore Sun, March 19, 1903

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