Among the countless chilling stories surrounding mysterious vintage photographs, by far the most heavily shared images come from the notorious “ANOMALY” series, several of which I’ve examined in previous installments of this column — including the nightmarish story of “Charlie Noonan’s Last Interview,” the horrific fate of a farmer’s three children, and a possible link between this image and New Orleans’ infamous jazz-loving killer known as “The Axeman.”
Today, I’m going to delve into one of the more obscure and baffling photos from this series, all of which were allegedly acquired from the collection of a single individual who had planned to compile them in an book, but suddenly decided not to continue the project… for reasons never fully explained.
According to a photo archivist who had once been in contact with this collector, the image above is said to be that of the North Fork Textile Mill in Elko County, Nevada. The mill is one of several examples of harsh child labor conditions and a deplorable lack of safety measures which ultimately influenced congress to pass the historic Keating-Owen Child Labor Act of 1916, which, among other regulations, prohibited the employment of children under the age of 16 in factories, mills and industrial sites.
Arguably the tipping point in the passing of that bill might have been a horrific accident which happened at North Fork in 1912. While there had been prior fatal accidents at the mill over its long and storied history, the death of nine-year-old worker Sally York sent waves of outrage through the surrounding community. York had been one of several children working cotton looms at North Fork, when she was caught in the machinery and literally torn apart.
Though regulations drastically reduced injuries and nearly eliminated fatalities at North Fork in the decades to come, some have argued that the image below, taken in 1932, ultimately led to the mill’s closing the following year.
The photo was reportedly taken by freelance photographer Benny Johnson while the mill was temporarily closed for the holiday season. Johnson sold the picture to the North Fork Gazette, who published it on January 3, 1933.
Almost immediately, the Gazette began to receive letters from several locals, who claimed to see eerie images in the photograph… and more than a few of them claimed to see the ethereal form of Sally York staring out one of the windows.
Rumors began to circulate through the small town that the mill was haunted — claims that seemed to be supported by reports from workers who felt mysterious “cold spots,” and heard the distant voices of young children. One staffer even claimed to have felt a tiny hand touching her arm when no one else was nearby.
The mill closed in the summer of 1932, and the official story was that the owners went bankrupt during the Great Depression… but rumors persist even today that the mill actually had been critically under-staffed in the months following the publication of the photograph in the Gazette.
The official story was obscured over the next couple of generations as former residents steadily migrated from the area, and eventually even the legends of the haunted mill faded over time. The spot where it once stood is now a pile of rubble, and the entire town of North Fork has been abandoned for decades.
But when the ANOMALY series surfaced online, that image suddenly became the focus of new scrutiny and controversy, making the rounds on various boards and forums, as hundreds of users debated the details of the North Fork photo. Many have been unable to spot any oddities in the image… but a couple of theories have taken hold lately.
First, a closer examination of the large front window near the center of the photograph reveals a pale form standing at the bottom, roughly the height of a young child. It’s also noteworthy that this window reportedly corresponds to the location of the massive loom which violently ended Sally York’s life.
But another user points out a particularly chilling element that others had previously missed: further to the right, at ground level, what appears to be a tall, hooded figure can be seen standing to the left of the ladder.
So far, no one can confirm whether the photo has been retouched (digitally or otherwise), but the general consensus among photographic experts seems to confirm there was no Photoshop or other tampering involved.
Over eighty years after the closing of the North Fork Mill, the mystery surrounding this photograph remains unsolved.
But if its authenticity is eventually proved, it may be the only surviving visual reminder of the fate of poor Sally York.