There’s something special about urban legends. Sometimes they’re only known to locals, but they can also become infamous and well-known far beyond the community from which they begin. Urban legends about monsters like the Mothman, Sasquatch, the Jersey Devil, and even Dracula and vampires have fascinated people for decades. Countless books, movies, and TV shows have been based on these stories, and their legend grows each time the narrative is recounted. Other legends like the Kecksburg UFO incident and southern California’s Lost Ship of the Desert have real-life connections that add a different kind of mystique beyond the world of monsters and cryptozoology. Halloween is probably the best time of the year for urban legends to flourish—especially if they have scary or sinister undertones. In Northern Virginia and the Washington, DC region, there’s one story that comes up in discussion every year around Halloween. The locals know it as the tale of the Bunny Man or the story of the Bunny Man Bridge.
After hearing different versions of the legend over the years, we decided to check it out for ourselves on a particularly spooky October day. If you’re interested in a slightly scary day trip, here’s why a visit to the Bunny Man Bridge might be the perfect addition to your Halloween season!
Bunny Man Bridge: Many Versions of a spooky storyI don’t remember when I first heard about the legend of the Bunny Man or Bunny Man Bridge, but it was after I moved to the Washington, DC area years ago. The interesting thing—or frustrating thing—is there are multiple versions of the story, and it can change depending on who is telling it. This seems oddly fitting for an urban legend, as the story takes on the characteristics of a game of telephone with new details added in each telling. Details become more embellished, and new “facts” are added to deepen the tale. In fact, a student researching the legend at the University of Maryland claimed there are more than 50 variations of the Bunny Man story. That was shared in a research paper published in 1973, which means it’s possible some versions have been lost to time while others have emerged in the decades that followed.
The campfire story of the Bunny Man features a few details that remain consistent throughout most versions:
- There was a breakout of prisoners from a Virginia insane asylum.
- One of the prisoners is said to have attacked people near the Colchester Road Bridge in Clifton, Virginia, with either a hatchet or an axe.
- The attacks are said to have happened at the stroke of midnight on Halloween at the Colchester Road Bridge—which is now known even to Google Maps as Bunny Man Bridge.
- The “bunny” element is commonly related to the suspect wearing a bunny costume (either a fake bunny suit or actual rabbit pelts, depending on the storyteller).
Creepy, right?Some people have also said the story of Bunny Man Bridge may have provided inspiration for the Bunny Man character “Frank” in the 2001 movie Donnie Darko. The movie was directed by Richard Kelly, who grew up in Virginia, so it’s possible he may have heard the story. The connection between the movie and the legend is fairly thin, but Donnie Darko is probably the most well-known reference to scary bunny suits.
So what is the story of Bunny Man Bridge?
One version of the urban legend shares that a mental patient escaped from a local asylum and found refuge in the woods around the bridge in Clifton, Virginia. Distraught by the murders of his wife and daughter (that he may or may not have committed himself depending on the version of the story you hear), he remained in hiding and lived on wild rabbits to stay alive, leaving their half-eaten remains by the bridge. One year on Halloween, some children were hanging out near the bridge around midnight, and they were confronted by the man. He murdered them in a blind rage and hung their bodies on the bridge next to the dead rabbits.
Another version says a bus carrying convicts from a nearby insane asylum crashed, and one of the prisoners escaped into the woods of Clifton, Virginia. During a search of the area, police found carcasses of dead rabbits hanging from the trees around the train overpass of Colchester Road Bridge before eventually locating the suspect. The man was wearing rabbit pelts and tried to escape the police, but before the authorities could apprehend him the suspect was hit by an on-coming train over Colchester Road Bridge. His spirit is said to haunt that location to this day. Some have said his ghost may even appear at midnight on Halloween.
In 1970, another story gained popularity with actual newspaper reports of a man dressed in a white bunny costume threatening people near Colchester Road Bridge, claiming they were trespassing on his property. I’ve also heard additions to this real-life story where the man in the white bunny costume began throwing axes or hatchets at people near the bridge. This event from 1970, combined with elements of the insane asylum escapee stories, tends to make up the most commonly accepted versions of Bunny Man Bridge legends.
Is the story of Bunny Man Bridge True?
From what I can tell, none of these events seemed to have actually happened. For the most part, the Bunny Man story is comprised of elements of many different news stories that have taken place over the years. For instance, there doesn’t seem to be an account of an insane asylum in the area near Clifton, but there was a prison south of Clifton called the Lorton Reformatory. There were also newspaper reports of an Air Force cadet and his fiancee being attacked by a man in a white suit with bunny ears. The attacker threw a hatchet at their car and yelled at them for trespassing on his property, but this event had nothing to do with the Colchester Bridge location; it happened in nearby Fairfax, Virginia. If you really want to split hairs (hares?), you could even say that Bunny Man Bridge isn’t actually a bridge; it’s more accurately a tunnel that runs under the train tracks.
Piecing together various tales and tying it to a creepy location on the scariest night of the year is a great way to create an urban legend, and it seems that is what gave the Bunny Man story its legs.
True story or not, the town of Clifton, Virginia has embraced the tale of the Bunny Man, and visitors can even find t-shirts and souvenirs at some of the local shops. There’s also an annual event called the Clifton Haunted Trail that brings people together to explore the area.
More Information: CliftonHauntedTrail.com
What is the address of Bunny Man Bridge?The location of Bunny Man Bridge is easy to find; the actual address is 6497 Colchester Rd, Clifton, VA 20124, but you can also type Bunny Man Bridge into Google Maps and it will take you to the location. It’s in the dense woods of Clifton, Virginia about 20 miles outside of Washington, DC. Clifton is a suburban area, so please respect the privacy of the community and avoid loitering if you visit. If you’re planning to go on Halloween, be aware that local police are known to stop by the area and even block off the area around the bridge. They’re not necessarily looking for the Bunny Man, but they are trying to protect people from wandering onto the tracks and getting hit by trains. The Colchester overpass is an active train route, so there’s serious danger if you’re wandering around at night.
Parking is not available and the tunnel under the bridge is one-way and incredibly narrow, so if you drive through remember to have your lights on and proceed with caution.
Beware the Bunny Man!
The mystery of the Bunny Man and Bunny Man Bridge is a work of fiction, but it’s the perfect scary story to tell at Halloween each year to add a little extra fright to the festivities. Whatever the true origins are for the Virginia urban legend, it’s a tale that will surely grow as more and more people learn about the mythology and incorporate it into their own Halloween traditions.
If you would like to learn more about the story of the Bunny Man and Bunny Man Bridge, this documentary from YouTube shares some additional information on the legend.
Here are a few more spooky places to visit around the world!