Ghost Stories and Appalachia

Why there are so many ghost stories in appalachia

Almost every year since I first started the Blind Pig and The Acorn I’ve tried to share spooky things during the month of October. Not everyone likes these types of posts. I’m over 40 years old and I still hide my eyes if The Deer Hunter watches a scary movie-so I totally understand folks who don’t do scary. However, I think it would be impossible to have a website about Appalachia and not delve into the supernatural world.

In today’s guest post, Granny Sue offers her thoughts on the popularity of ghost stories in the Appalachian Mountains. She focuses on her home state of West Virginia, but in my opinion her thoughts are spot on for the rest of Appalachia as well.

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Ghost Stories written by Granny Sue

Ghost stories abound at this time of year. Fall is a time of death, really, as trees shed their leaves and frost kills what is left in the gardens. Night comes early and the chill, damp air lifts fog from the valleys to cover the land with an ethereal glow. It’s a time for drawing in, hunkering down, shuttering the windows, stoking the fire and contemplating the end of life we all face at some time.

Why are there so many ghost stories? What gives this particular type of tale its longevity and popularity? The answers are as varied as the tales themselves. In West Virginia, we have many such tales, from vanishing hitchhikers to malevolent peddlers to crying ghost babies. The degree of “hauntedness” varies. Some are fragments, really, a mere whisper of a tale or piece of memory passed down as a “they say” story. Others are well-known, documented in books and occasionally on film or in photos.

My interest in ghost stories started as a child when my parents told us the story of the haunted house in Royston, England, where they had an apartment as newlyweds. Add to that the big old house in Manassas where we lived when I was a child, with its chipping plaster walls, spooky basement and Civil War relics in the yard, and my fertile imagination was well supplied. When I moved to West Virginia, however, I found that I had moved to the mother lode of ghost stories. It seemed like every place in the state had a story connected with it. In my own county, I heard almost a dozen stories of haunted places or events.

As I learned more about my new home, I found books by Ruth Ann Musick, collections of ghost stories from around the state. Many were vague, others were more developed with names and specific locations. The stories grabbed me because they were told by ordinary people living their ordinary lives–except there were these weird things that had happened that they knew about and were willing to share.

I wondered why we had so many ghosts in this state. Was it because of the valley fogs that can look pretty spooky in the evening light? Was it that people who live here just have more active imaginations than people in other places? Did it have to do with the ancestry and cultural background of West Virginians? Did religion play a role?

I’ve come to the conclusion that it is all of the above. We are a state of storytellers, as you would know if you stood in line at any grocery store. We talk to strangers and we talk in stories. West Virginians tend to be a religious people too, and ghost stories often carry lessons of forgiveness, retribution, unrest because of a grave sin, or warnings to listen to elders. We’re imaginative–some of my posts recently demonstrate the imaginative and creative minds of our residents: the plane van and the big eye, for example!

Our heritage here is Scottish, English, Irish and German predominantly, but with a good helping of Italian and a seasoning of Polish, Russian, African-American, and many other nationalities. British folklore, particularly that of Ireland, includes revenants of all kinds, along with both little people and giants. Some of those tales were simply transplanted and adapted to a new environment. The German tales also moved to the mountains, with their often darker themes.

Then there is our environment: towering dark mountains, deep shadowy hollows, evening and early morning fogs, the intense quiet broken only by the falling leaves, an owl’s call, the cry of some unnamed night creature. All lend themselves to a sense of the supernatural, of someone or something watching, lurking, in the dark and hidden places along our roads.

On this Halloween, take some time to travel into the countryside. Find a quiet place, stop your car, get out and listen. You too may find, even if you are not in West Virginia, that there is something in the air that sends a shiver down your spine, and has you looking over your shoulder. You may go home with your own tale to tell.

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Granny Sue is a fantastic storyteller as well as a great writer be sure to jump over to her site and check out her book list-many of which are available for download (go here for Granny Sue’s download page on Amazon). And go here to see her story telling schedule. If you’re lucky maybe she’ll be performing near you!

Check out the links below for some of Granny Sue’s ghost stories and drop back by for some spooky October posts here on the Blind Pig in the coming weeks.

Tipper

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14 Comments

  • Reply
    mary Lou McKillip
    October 15, 2016 at 6:09 pm

    Tipper I misspelled about the dog seeing the ghost his reaction I said he was the ghost, I meant he saw the ghost.
    Mary Lou McKillip

  • Reply
    Will
    October 10, 2016 at 8:02 pm

    This was a great article and I just love some of these old ‘Spooky Tales’ as it be, and I get reminded of a song, not sure of the originator of who wrote it but I have alway’s liked the song, and I think it was about a mountain in North Carolina, the version that I am familiar with was by Bluegrass singer Charlie Moore, and the song was titled I think called ‘ The Brown Mountain Light’, Maybe some of you folks could let me know if you have heard of the song, or know it’s origin, I would greatly appreciate it, Thank’s, Will..

  • Reply
    Melissa P (misplaced Southerner)
    October 10, 2016 at 9:56 am

    Wonderful post Granny Sue! Thank you, Tipper, for sharing this! I also think that there are some folk who are just more more (shall we call it) “open” to experiencing things that are perhaps from another dimension or time. I’ve heard it called “sensitive.” Whatever it is. Some of us see or hear things others do not (and, no, I’m not talkin’ about after a few snorts). Perhaps it comes from an active imagination fueled by stories from the past; but just maybe those things really are there – just out of the seeing and hearing of most folk.

  • Reply
    Granny Sue
    October 9, 2016 at 6:30 pm

    Thanks for the posting, Tipper! And Ken, I remember you well from that evening. Didn’t we have a good time? I heard a new story just this weekend. A man told me that he lives in a historic three-story house that people say is haunted. His niece and her husband were visting from Michigan and the husband was particularly worried about being in a haunted house. Well, like many old houses the doors didn’t close easily, and sometimes didn’t latch. The young man was in bed when he heard a creaking noise, and when he turned over to look, he saw the door open all by itself, and then he heard a scrabbling under the bed. He was out of the bed and out the door in one bound!
    Turns out it was the family’s cat–the cat knew how to push the door open, and went under the bed to sleep for the night. There was a lot of whooping and hollering by that young man as he made his way out of the room, but the cat was undisturbed.

  • Reply
    anita griffith
    October 8, 2016 at 7:06 pm

    Not exactly a ghost story,but when i was a kid some of mom’s family would tell us young children when we went out in the dark,that old raw head and bloody bones would get us.Can you imagine what kind of images we conjured up in our minds? have never used that on a young person.

  • Reply
    mary Lou McKillip
    October 8, 2016 at 4:22 pm

    Tipper,
    I write dog stories as well with the dogs doing the talking. This ghost story took place in Robbinsville, N.C. in a log cabin as far back in the sticks as you could get. The ole coon dog Blue and what his hilarious actions he performed when he was this ghost.( wwwcoondawg.com)
    Mary Lou McKillip

  • Reply
    mary Lou McKillip
    October 8, 2016 at 4:07 pm

    Tipper,
    I enjoy telling ghost stories as well as others, but my Miss Julie states she saw a ghost. I have felt strange touches that were never explained. I was siting in an arm chair after loosing my first husband and Mother to dead. I do not recall having anything in particular on my mind. I felt a soft squeeze as I sit in my chair. It did not alarm me, but a rose fragment scent accompanied the squeeze. I love Granny sue posts
    Mary Lou McKillip (story Teller)

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    October 8, 2016 at 2:11 pm

    My favorite ghost story is that of Zealandia Castle (specifically Helen’s Bridge) near Asheville, NC. https://haunthub.wordpress.com/ghosts-haunts/helens-bridge-asheville-north-carolina/
    John Evans Brown, my grandsons’ g-g-great grandfather on their daddy’s side is mentioned in this article. Mr. Brown moved to Australia and New Zealand in the mid 1800’s and made his fortune there. He named the area where he lived there Swannanoa for his homeland here. After his return he named his home here Zealandia.

  • Reply
    Ken
    October 8, 2016 at 2:05 pm

    Tipper,
    I had the privilege to meet and listen to Granny Sue tell stories at Martin’s Creek Community Building. At the end she did “Rendercella and Her Sad Blisters”. I thought she did as well as Archie Campbell of Hee Haw.
    My daddy loved to pull prankster jokes on our four fiests. One time he got a False Face and one of mama’s orange-looking fur coats. He had me and Harold to keep the dogs busy while he went down the road. In a few minutes the dogs saw him and began to barking like crazy. He’d stop and sniff along the road, and he let those long arms dangle. (it kinda looked like Bigfoot) And the False Face looked like Freddy Krooger warmed over. Ole Copper was about 17 and couldn’t hardly see, but
    was convinced that thing didn’t belong here. Me and Harold came out on the porch when Daddy got there and the fiests were gone. But they had all pissed a blue streak as they went under the porch. Then they heard daddy laughing and knew his voice. They were still trembling as daddy shed those things…Ken

  • Reply
    Brian P. Blake
    October 8, 2016 at 10:08 am

    A true story: I grew up in a hand-hewn, 240-year-old farm house in rural Cross River, Westchester County, New York. One morning in 1962, when my younger brother Tony was seven, he came to breakfast asking about the old man dressed all in black who had stood at the top of the stairs, shrouded in a mist. In 1971, my twin brother John and his girlfriend were week-ending at “The Double R”, named for my mother Ruth and step-father Reggy Townsend. At midnight, the house echoed to a piercing shriek. John’s guest flew to his room on the third floor, dove into his bed, and burrowed under the blankets. Reggy rushed upstairs to confront the crisis. Maryann had felt her room grow cold and awoke to see a small, silvery old man at the foot of her bed. The figure glided towards her– but it had no lower body.

  • Reply
    Brian P. Blake
    October 8, 2016 at 9:49 am

    Here’s a true ghost story from England 180 years ago. A famous photograph, accessible on the Web, captures the image of the ‘Brown Lady’ descending the stairs.
    According to legend, the “Brown Lady of Raynham Hall,” named for her brown velvet gown, is the ghost of Lady Dorothy Walpole (1686-1726), the sister of Robert Walpole, generally regarded as the first Prime Minister of Great Britain. She was the second wife of Charles Townshend, notorious for his violent temper. The story goes that when Townshend discovered that his wife had committed adultery with Lord Wharton, he punished her by locking her in her rooms in the family home, Raynham Hall, the Townshends’ rambling estate in Norfolk at the edge of East Anglia’s marshy fens. According to Mary Wortley Montagu, however, Dorothy was entrapped by the Countess of Wharton, who invited Dorothy to stay for a few days knowing that her husband would never allow her to leave, even to see her children. Dorothy remained at Raynham Hall until her death from smallpox in 1726.
    After she died, a ghostly presence was seen from time to time wandering the mansion; bewildered house guests encountered it and terrified servants are known to have given notice. In 1836, Captain Frederick Marryat, author of popular sea stories and a friend of novelist Charles Dickens, asked to spend the night in Lady Walpole’s closed-off room at Raynham Hall, to prove his theory that the haunting was a hoax by local smugglers to keep people away from the area.
    He armed himself, and late on the third night he and two companions saw a strange, defuse white light suddenly glimmer at the end of the guest-wing corridor. A spectral form materialized, floated towards them, and halted before the door behind which Marryat stood, peering out. Holding up a lamp, the wispy figure fixed him with a malicious, diabolical grin. Marryat reported that the eye-sockets lay empty and black in its luminous head.
    The Captain sprang boldly into the corridor and fired his revolver straight at the shimmering face. Instantly the apparition vanished — the animated vision that all three men had been watching together for several minutes. Next morning, Captain Marryat’s pistol bullet was found to have passed through the outer door of the room on the opposite side of the corridor and lodged in a panel of the inner one.

  • Reply
    PinnacleCreek
    October 8, 2016 at 9:37 am

    As a child I loved ghost stories. By far one of my fondest memories was visiting our Aunt Darse. They lived in a very old farm house. She cooked the best chicken n dumplings ever, and lined around the table everybody had a steaming hot cup of coffee. That is only time I was permitted to drink coffee. At night second floor was lined with pallets for eight children. That is when the fun began. An older cousin would tell us ghost tales way into the night. We would beg for more. Our uncle hauled us around in back of big old red cattle truck. To this day love ghost stories and hot coffee. I would love to ride in back of a truck, but believe it to be illegal.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    October 8, 2016 at 9:29 am

    I have never seen or heard any physical manifestation of the supernatural, or at least didn’t know it. But my Dad and Mom lived in a haunted house before my time. And my Dad and his sisters saw what apparently was a ghost lady once. The veil between this world and the next seems to have been thinner in the past. I’ve heard it said that electric lights have made a difference. Or maybe most folks are just too skeptical.
    I used to say I wanted to see a ghost one time. Now I just let it be. There is something real about it. But I don’t understand what it is.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    October 8, 2016 at 7:42 am

    No ghost stories in my house when I was growing up. I learned that my mother’s family had sacred her so badly with a story as a child that she would never allow them in our house. She was being protective of the children never allowing one to be scared as badly as she was.
    The story that scared her was about something called false face and involved an adult wearing a mask outside the house looking in a window.
    There was German in her background, it may have been something traditionally German that frightened her so badly.

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