We all seem to have a fascination with creepy sites, and when it comes to creepy MRTs it fascinates us even more – probably because we all ride them pretty often. Most of you have probably read about haunted MRTs, but this could because the stories are perpetuated by the fact that most of the stations are built on what were once graveyards. Since Singapore is so small, it’s no surprise that almost every building or MRT is built on top of one.
Here are some MRT stations built over former cemeteries:
Probably one of the most famous ‘haunted’ MRTs, Bishan Station is well known for its bizarre happenings and nightly ‘visitors’ – a popular myth involved a story where a lone passenger saw a ghastly spirit of a girl who removed her head and placed it on an empty seat next to her.
Bishan MRT was built on an old cemetery site known as Kwong Wai Siew Peck San Teng (广惠肇碧山亭) which was established in 1870 by the Cantonese and Hakka. The area was also once home to the bustling village of Kampong San Teng, near where Raffles Institution stands today. During WWII, British and Japanese forces fought among the graves, with many casualties; however, it was the bombing of the site by the Japanese that resulted in heavy civilian casualties in the nearby village.
Back in 1986 during the construction of the MRT, the cemetery was exhumed, and neither the graves nor the kampung remained.
Before there was ION Orchard, there was a little park just above Orchard MRT. This was the exact site of a Teochew cemetery that was established by the Ngee Ann Kongsi (the very same association related to Ngee Ann City). In 1845, they purchased 72 acres of land on Orchard Road – between Paterson Road, Orchard Road, and Grange Road – and used it as a cemetery called Tie Swah Ting (泰山亭) which also contained a temple. The huge area is now home to ION Orchard, Wisma Atria, and Ngee Ann City.
Tie Swah Ting had 25,000 to 30,000 graves, but was cleared in 1957, long before Ngee Ann City was built in 1989 once the government acquired a portion of its land. It took so long to build the mall because exhuming the thousands graves took a long time, and even after that, they had to wait for the land to settle before it was safe to build anything over it. Legend has it that the building was built in red to appease the disturbed spirits.
Tiong Bahru MRT
People might mistakenly assume that ‘Tiong’ refers to folks from China, but actually its name is derived from the Hokkien word for cemetery: Thiong. Up until the 1920s, it was an area dotted with many cemeteries, and Thiong Bahru basically means ‘new cemetery’ because it was the second cemetery site after Chinatown. Tiong Bahru Rd used to be called “Burial Ground Rd” (by the British) which was declared unsanitary in 1925, when the graves were removed and the area filled in.
Dhoby Ghaut MRT
Dhoby Ghaut station sits on the site of a former Jewish cemetery, which was established in 1841 and actually survived WWII; however, it only held out until 1983 when the land was repossessed (get it?) by the Singapore government for redevelopment. The cemetery has since been relocated to Choa Chu Kang.
The Trustees of the Jewish Synagogue held the land on a 99-year lease, and had around 160 burials – the last one there took place on 8 Dec 1903 when Sam and Christy Dimmenberg were interred. Most of the Jews interred there were Baghdadi Jews (who originated form Arabia, unlike the Ashkenazi Jews who were from Europe), and the area surrounding Middle Road was known as the Jewish Quarter. The first population census conducted by the British in 1830 revealed a grand total of nine Jewish men out of a population of 16,500.
Novena MRT is another station that sits on a former Jewish cemetery which was opened just before WWI, and wasn’t reflected in the 1907 town plan of Singpore. The old Jewish Cemetery was located just north of Moulmein Road, adjacent to the junction of Thomson Road and Newton Road. The cemetery was closed in late 1985 after the land was reclaimed by the government to make way for the then-new Novena station. Like Dhoby Ghaut, the cemetery was relocated to Choa Chu Kang.
While many creepy stories surround the site, the most popular ones involve sightings of ghostly figures or coffin bearers along the tunnel tracks by MRT staff at night.
Not much is known about Tampines’ cemetery, but since Singapore is so small, it’s no surprise that almost every building or MRT is built on top of one. Before Tampines MRT station was constructed, the remains from the cemetery were removed. These days, stories revolve around a male spirit who is seen jumping onto the train tracks towards the back of the platform. Sure, this has nothing to do with graveyards, but it’s creepy nonetheless.
Woodleigh MRT station currently sits on one of the biggest cemeteries in Singapore: Bidadari. Opened in 1908, it was a multi-religious site that became the final resting place for Roman Catholics, Protestants, Muslims and Hindus. Some notable personalities buried there include Lim Boon Keng and R.A.J. Bidwell, the architect who designed the Raffles Hotel and Goodwood Park Hotel.
Bidadari was closed in 1973, and the HDB exhumed the estimated 143,000 graves between 2001 and 2006 (the remains were moved to Choa Chu Kang) in preparation for redevelopment – one of them was for the construction of Woodleigh MRT.
Although it was totally operational by 2003, it was only opened for service in 2011 (which is weird considering everything is fast-paced here). Today, it is rumoured to be haunted by a white figure (specifically, a pocong).
As SMRT continues to develop its infrastructure, it’s no surprise that more former cemetery sites are being redeveloped. Here are some future MRT sites which will be on former cemeteries:
Bukit Brown MRT
Some of you may notice that there’s quite a distance between Caldecott and Botanic Gardens MRT stations along the Circle Line. This is because the line actually runs near a huge cemetery of the same name – Bukit Brown. Officially opened in 1922, the cemetery contains about 100,000 graves, including those of notable personalities like Lim Chong Pang, Gan Eng Seng, Chew Boon Lay, Chew Joo Chia, and Lee Hoon Leong (grandfather of Lee Kuan Yew). It remained open until 1973.
Bukit Brown MRT Station is a currently unopened underground shell station, which is only used for emergency escapes. It will be refitted and opened only when the area is more developed. Who knows where the commuters may come from…
Mount Pleasant MRT
Unlike Bukit Brown MRT, Mount Pleasant MRT (along the Thomson-East Coast line) is currently under construction – right under Bukit Brown Cemetery. Sometime in March, construction work underground for the Thomson-East Coast line caused one of the graves – which belongs to Chen Yi Kua who was from Fujian – to collapse. Will we be hearing sightings of a disgruntled spectre at the MRT once building is complete?
While construction was temporarily halted, this does not bode well for the future of this historic cemetery.