Appalachia

Why Are Ghost Stories Popular In Appalachia?

Why there are so many ghost stories in appalachia

Every year since I first started the Blind Pig, I’ve tried to share scary, spooky, and unexplained things during the month of October. Not everyone likes these types of posts. I’m 42 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. But, 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 favorite ghost stories.

Granny Sue’s Ghost Stories:

My most recent ghost story was written from a prompt in a newspaper article.
The story my parents told about their haunted house in England.
A couple of ghostly poems; and here is another. And a classic from Thomas Hardy.
Ghost story and comedy, all in one! The Gatehouse Ghost story is a true story that happened to me.
West Virginia’s most famous ghost story, The Greenbrier Ghost.
A true story of something that happened to me. It still gives me shivers to remember it.
One of the stories from Jackson County, Sidna is a tale I often tell.

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Tipper

 

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16 Comments

  • Reply
    susie swanson
    November 2, 2012 at 6:49 pm

    I’ve always wondered about them being so popular.. Thank you and Granny for sharing. My dad could really tell them too.. They’d make the hair stand up on your neck..lol.

  • Reply
    warren
    October 31, 2012 at 8:00 pm

    So cool you got Granny Sue to write! She is some of the very best of Appalachia!

  • Reply
    B. ruth
    October 31, 2012 at 4:09 pm

    Tipper,
    and Granny…Great post..loved it.
    In my heritage, I believe that ghost stories and tales were the result of:
    A long, tiring day working in the fields. After a good supper, a finale sit down with family and relatives before bed. In the late evenings, sitting on the porch, there was no TV, no watching games, just stories of life and gossip of the area…As the wind begins to blow, and sounds arise between conversation it would bring up a tale of a varmit (panther,etc.) or maybe an erie light on the mountain. One would suggest the tale of the ghosts and lights..Maybe someone had recently passed…That would bring up the graveyard and it being nearly full, would have placed the deceased near the back site near the cemetary fence..No one wanted to visit one that far back if it was close to dark with the fence near the woods…On and on it would go, until I got shivers, about Devils holes, ghosts, rolling fire balls, apparitions, weird centuries old grave stones sayin’s and stories of why they were put there. About that time scary noises as the wind unexpectedly turned and whipped the leafless branches against the corner of the house. As the conversation quieted down again, with yawns and sleepy, tired folks begin to nod, I was startled with a scream from the hill behind Grannys and someone saying “See, listen, thar it goes again! By then I was movin’ my legs and heart-pounding body to the doorway into Grannys parlor…
    Thanks Tipper,
    Nosy children often get more than an earful…Sometimes I wish we could talk in the quiet of the fall evenings without a blasting TV..and get a little scare…Not like the reality ones on the tube!

  • Reply
    kat
    October 31, 2012 at 3:15 pm

    When I was a child and someone would start telling ghost stories, I’d get so excited I could barely sit thru them but was more afraid of missing how it’d end. I enjoy mysteries if they’re not full of blood & guts.

  • Reply
    Madge @ The View From Right Here
    October 31, 2012 at 2:50 pm

    Love this post… I think part of the stories is to explain the unexplainable… Happy Halloween!

  • Reply
    Ken
    October 31, 2012 at 1:45 pm

    Tipper,
    I got to say Granny Sue is an
    excellent Storyteller. I have
    distant family in West Virginia.
    My prayers go out to all our
    friends of the Northeast who are
    trying to rebuild their lives.
    Speaking of Halloween, I have a
    George Bush mask to greet the
    little people tonite…Ken

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    October 31, 2012 at 12:42 pm

    Miss Cindy – Do you dare suggest that we might occasionally drift into an unseen world and be revealed to its inhabitants as an apparition? I hope I don’t scare any littl’ns when I stray onto the other side.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    October 31, 2012 at 10:23 am

    Thank you, Granny Sue! Tipper is correct you are spot on. I have an interest in these spooky stories, not because I like to be scared but because i love all things paranormal.
    I think there is as much in the unseen world as in the seen world.
    I agree with Judy the veil is thinner here in these mountains.
    Yep, Ed, that’s scary!

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    October 31, 2012 at 10:21 am

    Ed-
    And the darkness settles over you and you become part of it. And you are a denizen of the dark forest too. And the horrifying night sounds become warm and comforting. And all you have to fear are the things that the light reveals.

  • Reply
    Teresa
    October 31, 2012 at 9:51 am

    I totally agree with Judy Mincey. That, plus our oral history traditions.
    And I HATE scary movies. Watched just PART of a history on the Bell Witch last night. I’ve heard it many times before, but when they showed a picture of the young Bell widow, I had to turn it off. I made sure the closet doors were closed before I went to bed. lol. (But not kidding.)
    ~ t.

  • Reply
    Lonnie Dockery
    October 31, 2012 at 8:20 am

    I don’t like ghost stories or scary tales (but I read them anyway!). I don’t mind an enemy I can see, but I don’t like anything that “sends a shiver down your spine”. I like to think it’s because I’m such a realist but to be honest it’s probably because I’m such a big chicken! I did enjoy the post–and I’ll probably go read her stories!

  • Reply
    PinnacleCreek
    October 31, 2012 at 8:05 am

    I have loved Ghost stories ever since my childhood when an older cousin would gather the children into an attic of an old cabin at bedtime. She would tell the scariest stories, and we would shiver and beg for more spine tingling tales. As I look back that old cabin was scary enough, and was the home where my aunt and uncle “set up housekeeping.”
    One such tale was called “The Golden Arm”, and some tale about an old woman who lived in the woods. I have known many who were given “warnings” such as seeing a flying saucer land in their yard right before their family suffered years of bad luck. Another friend told of having some type of apparition chase their car in northern WV. We WV natives have a long history of belief in a sixth sense whether it be religeous or intuition.
    My absolute favorite was a friend who told of a youth filled with alcohol and partying. He staggered home one night, and he swears he saw the Devil under a bush on his lonely trek home. He never drank another drop after that, and he died a teetotaler. I know now that was probably the alcohol, but who knows what methods are used in warnings!

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    October 31, 2012 at 7:56 am

    “the intense quiet broken only by the falling leaves” What a beautiful arrangement of words! How many billions have never heard a leaf drop? Or a snowflake hit the ground?
    Boogers don’t scare me any more! Next Tuesdays election does! No matter who wins, I lose!!

  • Reply
    Ed Myers
    October 31, 2012 at 7:47 am

    Think of a forest on a black night of the new moon. Trees large enough to live within, moaning and creaking in the wind. Screech owls and phosphorescent moss. The occasional scream of a small animal as it is caught by a larger one. Sudden quiet as the denizens detect your presence. A twig tugging at your collar. The big empty.
    Too much whiskey, perhaps,but none really needed.
    Ghost stories? Bah, who needs them? If you live here, simply step outside your door and unlock your mind.

  • Reply
    Judy Mincey
    October 31, 2012 at 7:17 am

    It’s a part of our Celtic heritage, these notions that the veil is thin in some places and that that mountains in particular have great power.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    October 31, 2012 at 6:30 am

    Thank you for sharing the ghost stories. I will tell they to my grandchildren.

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