It’s spookytime again! The leaves are beginning to change, and nighttime is creeping in earlier and earlier. This is the time of year for ghost stories. I grew up in rural Appalachia and was lucky to have older people to share stories with me. Here are some tales of things that go ‘bump’ in the Appalachian night. Some are old war stories, some are of haunted churches, and some are of other things that still rattle around in the night.
The Casualties of War
My hometown and the surrounding areas of southwest Virginia saw battles during the American Civil War. Many communities have stories of hidden treasures and ghost soldiers. My community has several of these stories. Crockett’s Cove in Wythe County saw a battle. “The Battle of the Cove” was fought here on May 10, 1864. Union troops passed through the Cove. The small country church was transformed into a field hospital, and wounded soldiers were treated here by people with little understanding of germs and sanitation. Several men died. At least one never left.
In the 1910s, a young man in Crockett’s Cove was looking for a missing cow. He went into the woods after he heard a noise, hoping his cow was there. He saw a man leaning up against a tree, holding his stomach with blood soaking through his dark blue jacket.
The stranger called out to the boy, who agreed to help him. The boy ran back to his farm as fast as he could to get help and returned with several men to carry the wounded stranger out of the woods. They could not find the man. There was no sign of him. The boy insisted he wasn’t lying and that there had been a man in the woods, bleeding. They asked the boy to describe the wounded man. He described a man wearing a dark blue suit with black boots and a satchel over his torso. The boy had just described a Union soldier. The wounded soldier was seen several times in the woods by different people after that. Some people who saw him were hunting, some were foraging for sassafras, others were just exploring. The soldier is still out there, having never made it back home to his family.
The Treasure Hunt
In the same cove, there is a home with several tales attached to it. A family built a substantial home in the area that would be known as Crockett’s Cove. During the Civil War, when the family heard that soldiers could be on their way to the area, they buried their silver and some other wealth near the house to prevent pilfering. For some reason that is unclear, no one retrieved the items after the war, and they were lost. Perhaps the person who hid the treasure died before they could exhume it. This story passed into family lore. Many communities have similar stories. Was there really a treasure? Did anyone ever find it?
In the 1960s, the same family-owned the property, and some descendants thought it would be amusing to look for this legendary family treasure. They brought shovels, beer, and a metal detector. As they began to search for the treasure, they began to feel a sense of dread. Uneasiness crept into their fun. They began to think that what they were doing was wrong. They shook it off and continued with their search but began to talk about these odd sensations. One treasure hunter saw the hair on his arms begin to bristle, and he felt like he was being watched. He continued searching but still felt eyes on him. He tried to ignore this sensation, but then he looked back at the house and saw someone in an upstairs window…watching him. No one was supposed to be in the house because they were all out on the grounds with him, joined in the treasure hunt.
The group stopped their search for treasure and instead searched the house but found no one. There was no intruder inside the home. They went back out to the field, but their metal detector had stopped working. They decided it would be best not to continue their quest. Later that night, one of the group fell over a railing on the grand spiral staircase. He only had bumps and bruises. He insisted he had not fallen but was pushed.
Years later, in the 1980s, the home was unoccupied. Several teens decided it would be fun to sneak inside and look around. When they crept up the front porch stairs in the moonlit night, they found the front door was ajar for them. They paused, daring one another to go inside. One decided he wasn’t afraid and barged in. A loud sudden sound from the porch roof made everyone scream and run back out. They heard another of their friends outside laughing and deduced that he was throwing handfuls of gravel onto the roof. The group chuckled and rested a moment, allowing their hearts to go back into their chests and their legs to stop shaking.
Just then, another member of the group pointed to an upstairs window, screaming. The group dismissed it as another joke but then looked as the witness insisted there was something in there. They fumbled over one another, tripping and shrieking as they made for their car.
There was a man standing in the window watching them. In the same window, the treasure hunters spotted a man 20 years earlier…perhaps in the same window where he had watched over his land a century before that.
A widower lives in the home now. He was married to a woman who was connected to the original family’s descendants. He has quiet evenings of building model airplanes and has friends over occasionally to play cards. He is not troubled by any spirits. He doesn’t believe in ghosts, and he has reverence for the house. He and his wife restored the home to its former beauty during their years living there, and descendants of the original family gather for reunions here.
No one has looked for the treasure lately.
The Snake Charmer
This story came to me from my elderly grandparents, who heard it from their aged relatives, placing the origins of this story in the early 19th century. In the small community of Slate Spring Branch lived a family with several children. One of the children began to behave strangely. She grew weak and had fevered dreams. Each night, she would rush out to the porch after supper
She continued to behave strangely, and the parents were concerned and curious about what was happening. Her parents followed her, peeped outside, and saw her feeding milk and cornbread to a snake that had raised his head through a knothole in the porch floor. The startled adults hurried back inside to collect themselves and to talk about what to do.
The parents had heard of this sort of thing before…of snakes being able to charm people into doing their bidding. The father decided to kill the snake to stop the charm. They were ready the next night. After supper, the little girl rushed outside to feed the snake. The father followed quietly. Presently, the snake raised his head through the hole for his meal. Abruptly, the father grabbed the snake and swiftly cut his head off. He heard a thump as he did so, and when he was finished dealing with the snake he looked away. He saw his daughter lying dead on the porch. Some unbreakable bond had been forged between the snake and the little girl. She had been ‘Charmed.’
The Haunted Church
Mount Olive Methodist church is in the small community of Austinville. For decades, teenagers have gone to the church after dark to wait for a phenomenon that is still unexplained. It is said that a giant ball of light can be seen floating over the road, into the church, and down the aisle. Some say this ball of light is connected to a resident of the church cemetery. This story was a popular local legend that has died and then resurfaced several times as new generations learn of it. The small community surrounding the church deals with the traffic of curiosity seekers for a period of time and then sees the parade of cars subside again.
Several people have tried to duplicate the ball of light. They suspect it could be a reflection of oncoming headlights or a view of the moon. Despite efforts to recreate the lights and explain it away, no one has been able to do so. Teens would sit in the parking lot waiting to see the lights or visiting with one another and would experience something else. Several have reported hearing a tap tap tap on their cars. Others felt their car being shaken by something unseen.
A 1977 newspaper article in the Desert Sun titled “A Busy Ghost Haunts This Small, Virginal Church” describes the haunting.
The experiences are hit and miss. Some have the experience, and some do not. The story receives new life every generation, and the curious come to look for the light again. It’s time for the story to be reanimated again.
Special thanks to oral historians who shared these tales with me over the years.
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