Halloween Hauntings, Part 12: The Sleeping Prophet of Kentucky

Halloween Hauntings, Part 12:

EDGAR CAYCE, The Sleeping Prophet of Hopkinsville, KY

I discussed the Bell Witch extensively in Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground and also a bit more about her and other Tennessee witches in Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee, so I won’t chew my cud twice on that score—at least not here.  However, if you are visiting Adams to get in touch with ol’ Kate, you might want to keep going to visit another town with a reputation for the uncanny and paranormal: Hopkinsville, Kentucky.

If you take Highway 41 up the road apiece beyond Adams, you will soon cross the Tuck-asee state line and come to Hopkinsville, Kentucky, a place equally worthy of note for those who derive joy in being scared out of their wits by paranormal phenomena and other high strangeness.

Hopkinsville, while considerably more urban in character than Adams, is still a quiet town most times and hardly a place one would peg as the epicenter of unexplained events or strangely gifted people.  Yet on both counts Hopkinsville can hold its own with places more famous or more populous.  For one thing, it is the home of Edgar Cayce, world renown as the “Sleeping Prophet.”  Edgar Cayce was an unlikely candidate for notoriety, at least to start with.  Born in 1877, in Beverly, just a stone’s throw south of Hopkinsville and his father would knock him about because he was such a poor student in school.  When he was very young and wandering in the woods he claimed to see “little folk” cavorting about and occasionally spotted his dead grandfather.  He knew grandpa was dead because he could see through him.

By 1910, when this photo was taken, Edgar Cayce had already become nationally famous for his readings.
By 1910, when this photo was taken, Edgar Cayce had already become nationally famous for his readings.

At the age of ten he was taken to church and from that time on diligently began reading the Bible.  Then, at the age of twelve one day an angel appeared to him in a woodland shack as he was doing his daily Bible reading.  The angel told him his prayers would be answered and asked him what he wanted.  Cayce allegedly replied that most of all he wanted to be helpful to others, especially sick children.  On advice of this same mysterious “lady” he found that if he slept on a school textbook, he would absorb all its knowledge while he slept and he soon became an exceptional student.

By 1892 Cayce was giving “readings” in his sleep relating to people’s health issues, although he tried to support himself with a number of day jobs.  Although he never charged for a “reading” at one of his sleep sessions, eventually followers donated enough money to support Cayce that he could concentrate on his readings, which began to expand from health issues in to metaphysics and prophesy.

He moved to Selma, Alabama from 1912 to 1925 and from then to his death in 1945 lived in Virginia Beach, but he was buried in his hometown of Hopkinsville.  Edgar Cayce, unlike many mediums, was not dogmatic about his readings and advised people to accept them only to the extent they benefitted from them; likewise he always advised to test them against real world results.  When awake, Cayce claimed no conscious memory of what he had said or why he said it.  His utterings remain closely studied to this day and some say they have proven remarkably accurate.

New York Times article, dating to 1910, chronicling Edgar Cayce's renown as a healer and psychic.
New York Times article, dating to 1910, chronicling Edgar Cayce’s renown as a healer and psychic.

Hopkinsville is in the heart of the Pennyrile region of southern Kentucky—or Pennyroyal as some more refined folk prefer to call it—and there is available for traveler’s a “Edgar Cayce Cell Phone Tour” of Hopkinsville, while the Pennyroyal Area Museum has devoted a good part of its exhibition space to Cayce and artifacts relating to him.

Hopkinsville, being part of Bell Witch Country, also celebrates the Old Girl in October every year.  There is also the annual Edgar Cayce Hometown Seminar, usually held in March, which celebrates Cayce’s life and readings.

For more about the Tennessee The Bell Witch and Pennyrile oddities, go to Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground.  Also see Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee for more weird witchery as well.

Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground: True Tales from the Haunted Hills of the Mid South
Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground: True Tales from the Haunted Hills of the Mid South
Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee. True haunting tales of the Mid South
Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee. True haunting tales of the Mid South

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For exhibitions on Edgar Cayce, visit:

The Pennyroyal Area Museum

217 East 9th Street

Hopkinsville, KY 42241

(270) 887-4270

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Halloween Hauntings, Part 11 Witches of Appalachia, Wicked, Wise and Otherwise

Halloween Hauntings, Part 11:

Witches of Appalachia

A modern take on the traditional witch has her bewitching readers in an entirely different manner
A modern take on the witch has her bewitching men in an entirely different manner
The late great Margaret Hamilton as the Wicked Witch of the West from an MGM publicity still ca.1939
The late great Margaret Hamilton as the Wicked Witch of the West from an MGM publicity still ca.1939

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Around about Halloween it is not unusual to see images of alluring females all bedecked in black, slinky and seductive apparitions in witch’s costumes.  That is one modern stereotype; the other, older one, is of an ugly, cock-eyed old crone with crooked nose and hairy mole leering out with a toothless smile.  

The truth is that neither of these stereotypes is true, at least not of real witches—and make no mistake, real witches have existed and for aught I know still do—in the mountains of Tennessee. I go into this in much greater depth in Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground, and Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee, so for more on this and similar phenoms, go there if you dare.

popular modern iconography of the witch and her familiars, the owl and the pussycat.
popular modern iconography of the witch and her familiars, the owl and the pussycat.

Of course, the curious thing has always been that there were always far more folk who would own up to being witch-hunters (or ‘witch-doctors”) than those who would actually own up to being a witch. And especially today, if we are talking about beings with genuine supernatural powers, if they proudly proclaim themselves a witch in public, the likelihood is that they are not.

Still, it was not so long ago in East Tennessee that folks knew very well who in their community was, and was not, a witch.  And for the most part they were neither ugly nor sexy, nor any kind of neo-pagan. But what they all had in common was that they were feared and avoided—unless you needed them for something.

Before the creation of Smoky Mountain National Forest, that multi-county region it covered was home to several mountain communities that now are no more. The area back in the 1930’s was not quite so backward as Yankee journalists of the day might have proclaimed, but even by the standards of early twentieth century South, folk up there were land rich but dirt poor.

Of course, if you raised your own crops and had herds of livestock, and had a gun and a fishing rod, there was always food on the table and no one starved.  As far as modern amenities went, such as indoor plumbing or electricity, well, that was something city folks had, not mountain folk.

Up around that part of the Smokies once lived a lady later known as “Witch McGaha.”  It was not her Christian name, of course; but then she was not the church-going type anyhow.  One thing that set folk wise to Witch McGaha was that she was continually trying to borrow things from neighbors.

It was not as though she needed anything; but, you see, if a witch can borrow three things from you, then sure as spit she can put you under her spell.  Conversely, Witch McGaha would never, never lend anybody anything, not even to members of her own family.  Many tales are told about her and her powers, but one will suffice for now

One fall, her own blood kin, sister Nance McGaha, wanted some nice juicy apples from her sister’s orchard. But Witch McGaha would have none of it.  Not one apple would she loan or give.  Nance even got her mother to talk to her older sister to loan her some apples until her own orchard came into its own, all to no avail.

Nance, too willful for her own good, snuck onto her sister’s orchard and started plucking the shiny red fruit off’n the trees and putting them into a large tote sack.

Not able to wait till she got home, she bit into one. It was red, and ripe and oh so juicy, just bursting with the sweetness of Autumn in the mountains.

Vintage photo of members of a British tea party. Poison apples were served after tea.
Vintage photo of members of a British tea party. Poison apples were served after tea.

When she had picked her full, Nance started off for home, thinking her sister would be none the wiser. She was dead wrong.

As she walked along the mountain trail, Nance felt a small tug on the hem of her dress; then another and another. What was that tugging?

She looked down. Nance found a pack of bushy tailed grey squirrels had formed a ring around her and were giving her angry looks as the insistently tugged on her dress.

Nance began to walk faster, but as she did even more squirrels appeared. They were all angry and intent on stopping her progress.

Soon she broke into a run, dropping the sack now in her haste to escape, but the growing horde of squirrels were keeping pace and would not let up their assault.

Now they were scratching and biting and clawing at every part of Nance’s body and no matter how fast she ran they all held on and kept attacking her.

By the time Nance reached the threshold of her house she was all bloody and her dress in tatters.  Before she could cross the threshold of home where a broom was lain across it to ward off evil, Nance McGaha keeled over, dead.

A common feature of traditional Appalachian life has always been the local Wise Woman, a person who had knowledge of herbs, potions and poultices, who also knew how to conjur spells. Their craft was in part derived from Ireland and Scotland, where Wise Women were a common occurrence; partly they also learned from the local tribes’ medicine women about healing remedies and about the local spirits that might be of benefit; and perhaps too, they picked up knowledge of spells and herb magic from those few Negro practitioners of Hoodoo that dwelt in the mountain regions.

In nineteenth century North Carolina, one such Wise Woman was especially famous, called “Mammy Wise” (actually her name was Weiss) and while not particularly wicked, she was a particularly talented Wise Woman.

She claimed to have “spelt” the Civil War (she always regretted that); she could also divine out who a thief was in the community and was Mammy Wise was the first person one resorted to when it came to cooking up a love potion.

Mammy Wise was respected and honored on that side of the mountains. Still, no one with any sense ever tried to get on her bad side, for they knew what she could do if her ire was raised.

Woodcut of a British witch ca. 1643. Any woman with herbal knowledge or healing skills could be accused of witchery. The real ones likely went unnoticed, practicing their craft in secret.
Woodcut of a British witch ca. 1643. Any woman with herbal knowledge or healing skills could be accused of witchery. Few accused were guilty, for the real ones  practiced their craft in secret.

There were—are—other Wise Women in the high mountains, although these days they are far more discreet. Society may be more tolerant these days of folk who claim to be witches, but those with real power are wise enough to say little and mind their business—especially when their business is the Dark Art.

For more about Appalachian Witches and their haunts, see Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground and Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee.

Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground: True Tales from the Haunted Hills of the Mid South
Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground: True Tales from the Haunted Hills of the Mid South
This latest offering of all things spooky in the South covers the favorite haunts of downtown Nashville and other Country spooks.
Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee covers not only mountain witches but the haints of downtown Nashville and West Tennessee spookiness.

 

Halloween Hauntings Part 2: OLD HICKORY & THE BELL WITCH

Halloween Hauntings 2:

OLD HICKORY & THE BELL WITCH

Andrew Jackson visits the witch.
Andrew Jackson attempted to solve the mystery of the Bell Witch, but even he was no match for the Mysterious Spirit.

“A volume might be written concerning the performance of this wonderful being, as they are now described by contemporaries and their descendants. That all this actually occurred will not be disputed, nor will a rational explanation be attempted.”

—–Albert Goodpasture, 1886

John Bell, patriarch of the Bell clan, who were bedeviled by the
John Bell, patriarch of the Bell clan, who were bedeviled by the “Mysterious Spirit”

Much has been written about the supernatural doings between 1818 and 1820 in Adams, Tennessee.  In Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground, I devoted two full chapters to the Bell Witch, and in my latest effort, Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee, I discuss her along with other Tennessee witches.  Although referred to as the Bell Witch, it was neither a witch, nor did it belong to the Bell family, although they were the ones mainly bedeviled by it.

Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground chronicles true stories of unexplained phenomena in the Mid South.
Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground chronicles true stories of unexplained phenomena in the Mid South.

It began innocently enough; knockings and scrapings at night; then strange creatures were sighted in broad daylight.  John Bell, the patriarch of the family, at first thought it was just some local youths playing pranks on his family.  But soon it became clear to him and his family that no humans were causing the sounds and other physical phenomena.  Then one night it began to attack members of the family—notably John Bell and his beautiful daughter Betsy.  Quilts were pulled from the bed in the dark of the night, and Betsy and the others were violently assaulted by unseen hands; scratching and slapping and biting.  Yet there was nothing and no one to be seen.

At first the Bells only discussed the incidents among themselves, calling it “Our Family Troubles.”  Eventually word got out about the malevolent poltergeist haunting their home.  First their neighbors visted to see what was up; then the curious came from farther away came to see it for themselves.  Fame of the Mysterious Spirit spread far and wide.

At times the spirit was just mischievous and amusing; but it could turn vicious at a whim.  Moreover, it seemed to be aware of goings on over the whole community, traversing great distances unseen.

This image is the closest we have as to what the Bell Witch may have looked like. Here she is terrorizing the Bell children.
This old engraving is the closest we have as to what the Bell Witch may have looked like. Here she is terrorizing the Bell children.

The unearthly phenomenon even attracted the attention of the famous General Jackson, who mounted an expedition to get to the bottom of the haunting.  He arrived with a wagon and an entourage of skeptics.  First Jackson’s wagon became frozen on the road–until he acknowledged the Witch’s reality.  Then that night, one of Jackson’s entourage thought he could outsmart the invisible spirit–instead the would be witch-slayer became the object of the entity’s wrath and was driven out of the house.  Although Jackson was all for staying, his followers decided to flee for the safety of Nashville–the first time General Jackson was ever forced to retreat!

Many of the disturbances focused on the beautiful, buxom Betsy Bell, and the spirit—by now called The Bell Witch—took a personal interest in the girl, to the point of telling her to break up with her fiancée, and threatening violence if she didn’t.

Betsy Bell, called the Queen of the Haunted Dell; even after she married and moved away, rumor has it she was beset by paranormal events in Mississippi.
Betsy Bell, called the Queen of the Haunted Dell; even after she married and moved away, rumor has it she was bedeviled by paranormal events in Mississippi.

Ultimately Betsy married the local schoolteacher and moved to Mississippi with him.  As for her father, it was said he was poisoned by the witch; but who the witch really was, no one could say.

It is alleged that the Mysterious Spirit murdered John Bell by poisoning.
It is alleged that the Mysterious Spirit murdered John Bell by poisoning.

A local matron of common birth but ample girth, Kate Batts, was named by some as the culprit.  While Kate Batts had a number of personal oddities in her behavior, for all of that she was a God-fearing woman and no one dared accuse her to her face. Indeed, her modern descendants I have talked to say she was more sinned against than sinning by John Bell. The Bell family today has a different story, needless to say.

Kate Batts, accused of witchcraft, was a god-fearing woman, shown here going to church.
Kate Batts, accused of witchcraft, was a god-fearing woman, shown here going to church with her entourage.

Still, when Kate died, cats howled around her grave in a most uncanny way and such a dread fell on her resting place that no one dared approach it.  Her grave became overgrown and forgotten and to this day its location is not known.

As the historian Goodpasture declared, a book could be written about the Bell bewitchment—and have.  In fact, quite a number of books, plus two plays and an opera at last count.  Still, no one has fully plumbed the mystery—nor can it be said that the Bell Witch has ever truly gone away from Adams.

This frontier home where most of the poltergeist activity took place. The Bell homestead near modern Adams, Tennessee is gone but the Bell Witch Cave is open to the public and is allegedly still haunted.
This frontier home was where most of the poltergeist activity took place. The Bell homestead near modern Adams, Tennessee is gone, but the Bell Witch Cave is open to the public and still haunted–so they say.

This brief post cannot hope to tell you all you need to know before you go to Adams; for further reading see, Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground and my more recent Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee.

Go there, if you dare, and see for yourself

GHOSTS AND HAUNTS OF TENNESSEE
Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee. True haunting tales of the Mid South. Witches, Haints, Strange Lights & Sights, Uncanny Creatures; and where to go to experience them.