Category Archives: Ghost Stories of the South

Was Grendel a Bigfoot?

Grendel from Stories_of_beowulf 1908

Could the story of the monster Grendel in Beowulf really have been an early account of a Big Foot attack?

 

While we normally chronicle all things weird and wonderful about the American South, we are not averse to occasional side trips into other realms of the uncanny.  Given that there are abundant reports of Big Foot and his stinky-ass cousins all over the South, it is not too far afield to inquire about the famous monster from Old English literature, Grendel.

Once upon a time there was an obscure English scholar of Medieval Literature who wrote an obscure paper about a long forgotten Old English epic poem.  The poem was Beowulf and the eccentric academic in question was J.R.R. Tolkien.  His resurrection of the epic poem started a major re-appreciation of the poem, first by scholars, then by literary critics in general and finally Hollywood, running out of comic books to make into movies and TV shows, grabbed onto Beowulf and ran with it.  At last count, I believe there have been three movies made about Beowulf and more recently a TV series, all of which play fast and loose with the original story–but that’s Holly Weird for you.  So, in case you have to read it for a class this fall, be warned that the Germanic hero does not have sex with a demonic Angelina Jolie morphed into a dragon, or anything like it.  Read the book.

What set this latest inquiry into monsters is an article I came across by a Dark Age scholar chronicling all the (allegedly) legendary monsters who inhabited Medieval Lincolnshire.  Bear in mind, on a dark and stormy night, jolly old England in the Dark Ages could be a pretty scary place and she lists quite a few wyrd and uncanny beasts.  No doubt J. K. Rowling could raid her blog for more stuff for her sequels.  The original blog post is here: “The Monstrous Landscape of Lincolnshire.”

She posted an old illustration of Grendel, the monster from Beowulf, in the post which immediately caught my eye.  She connects Beowulf with a local monster or ogre called a byrs or thyrs in Anglo-Saxon. The illustration from a 1908 book (see below) which included the story of Grendel versus Beowulf is strikingly similar to what most eyewitnesses have described as Bigfoot.  Now, admittedly, a modern artist’s conception is not proof that the ancient creature called a byrs and which was the term to describe Grendel was the same beast, but it does set one wondering.

Artists Conception of Bigfoot jesse_Sasquatch

Artist’s conception of Big Foot.  Could it be Grendel’s descendent?

 

Anyone familiar with either my books Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground, Dixie Spirits or Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee will know I have an abiding interest in Cryptozoology.  It is my belief that, more often than not, these legends of strange or uncanny creatures do have a basis in fact.  Animals though long extinct, such as the Coelacanth, manage to confound biologists all the time and fossil hunter are always uncovering previously unknown extinct species.  So whenever a biologist vehemently denies the existence of one or another creature as legendary, they should always add the qualifier “for now.”

Over the years there have been quite a few Bigfoot sightings in the Mid-South, although they do seem to have tapered off in recent years.  I live in a suburban county to Nashville and while I can’t claim to have seen any giant ape-men (or man-apes, depending on your point of view) I have talked to a few who have.  Modern Hendersonville, Tennessee is rapidly building up and developing, but one long time resident remembers the time he was walking along Drakes Creek, before the sports complex was built up along it, and finding large claw marks high up on a tree.  He is a veteran hunter and knows quite well bear signs; he insisted to me these claw marks were far too high up on the tree for any black or brown bear to have made, even if they had wandered down from the mountains.

Dating from about the same time period is a report filed with BFRO (Big Foot Research Organization) of a multiple person sighting in Hendersonville.  When many of the old farms were just beginning to be turned into sub-divisions a group of six people caught a Big Foot in their headlights rummaging through garbage can.  When sighted the eight food creature walked away.  As noted above, even in 1965 Indian Lake was by no means wilderness, although heavily wooded in parts.  The BFRO Report is posted here.  Even now, with decades of development, there are still herds of deer that inhabit the area, so a large biped could still have plenty of big game available to feed on if it didn’t mind all the people.

Just north of Hendersonville, a resident of the Beech area also reported a Big Foot crossing an open field just off of Long Hollow Pike.  This too was some time back, but Long Hollow Pike meanders through a hilly region and sits below the Highland Rim, an area more conducive to large creatures living and feeding, with abundant fresh water and game to be had.  Some time back I charted most of the published Big Foot sightings and they tended to cluster either along the Cumberland Mountains and Highland Rim area or else in the Smokey Mountain region.  With economic development and the disappearance of natural habitats, it may well be that the Tennessee Stink Ape is extinct, or nearly so.

So the Stink Ape, or Wooley Booger or byrs or Grendel may be gone from the scene, but that does not necessarily mean they never existed, and for some they continue to exist in  memory.

Tennessee Bigfoot by Sybilla Irwin via Frontiers of Zoology

Tennessee Stink Ape after sketch by Sybilla Irwin in Frontiers of Cryptozoology

 

For more uncanny but true tales of the South go to Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground, Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee and Dixie Spirits.  Just remember to keep a light on at night.  You never know what might be prowling about you window.

THE FIRST CASUALTY: Ellsworth’s Ghost

Colonel Elmer E Ellsworth was a personal friend of Lincoln's and leader of the elite New York "Fire" Zouaves.

Colonel Elmer E Ellsworth was a personal friend of Lincoln’s and leader of the elite New York “Fire” Zouaves.

In Dixie Spirits we investigated the Custis-Lee Mansion, also known as Arlington House, which still stands near Alexandria, Virginia, but we did not explore the many ghosts and haunts of Alexandria proper.  Today let’s take a quick look at a Civil War ghost down in town.

They say the first casualty of war is the truth.  That may well be true, but in the early days of the war, neither side was much concerned with truth, but more with justifying their own actions, as well as portraying the opposite side as the aggressor.  Regardless, by the time that Lincoln was inaugurated, the time for rational discussion was already over and the Secessionists moved quickly to surround Washington, DC in the weeks following his installation as President.  Lincoln could call for 75,000 troops—but actually organizing, equipping and fielding them to defend the capitol was quite another thing. 

 

The original zouaves were Algerians, recruited by the French to serve in their army. Their elan in battle became legendary and many "zouave" regiments were formed during the Civil War in emulation of them.

The original zouaves were Algerians, recruited by the French to serve in their army. Their elan in battle became legendary and many “zouave” regiments were formed during the Civil War in emulation of them.

      Before the war, volunteer militia units were quite the rage in the US.  In the antebellum era it was fun to be a soldier and many volunteer groups donned colorful costumes, learned to drill like real soldiers and above all, attract the ladies with their displays of martial virtue.  Some militia groups developed a reputation for their skill at close order drill and toured the country performing for the public, especially those units who fashioned themselves as zouaves.  The original zouaves had been recruited by the French in Algeria and wore colorful oriental style uniforms, but over the years their ethnic makeup was of less importance than their reputation for élan and aggressiveness. 

Recruiting for a Zouave regiment, NYC in 1861. While considered elite units, the zouaves could also be quite rowdy when not in combat.

Recruiting for a Zouave regiment, NYC in 1861. While considered elite units, the zouaves could also be quite rowdy when not in combat.

One of the more famous such show units was Colonel Elmer E. Ellsworth’s Cadet Zouaves, originally based out of Chicago.  Although he was never able to get into West Point, Ellsworth had studied military tactics with a passion and his fencing instructor in Chicago had been an actual French zouave.  Ellsworth was a close personal friend of Lincoln’s and when the call went out for volunteers to suppress the rebellion, Ellsworth wasted no time forming a regiment.  He went to New York City, sent out a call, seeking out firemen in particular, and within an amazingly brief time received more than double the number of volunteers than he needed.  Although rough around the edges and short on discipline, the 11th NY “Fire” Zouaves were shipped south in short order. 

The Marshall House as it looked in 1861. Note the tall flagpole on the roof of the building. Its owner was a brutal slave owner and fire-breathing Secessionist.

The Marshall House as it looked early in the War. Note the tall flagpole on the roof of the building. Its owner was a brutal slave owner and fire-breathing Secessionist.

When, on May 23, Virginia officially seceded from the Union, Ellsworth’s regiment was ordered across the Potomac to secure Alexandria and Arlington Heights on the Virginia side of the river.  While securing the city, Ellsworth noticed that a Rebel flag was still flying over the Marshall House, a local inn.  The flag had been something of a sore point for weeks, being visible from across the river and symbol of Lincoln’s inability to preserve the Union even within the shadow of the capital.  Not willing to allow this act of defiance to go unanswered, Ellsworth personally climbed up to the top of the Marshall House and tore down the offending flag from the large flagpole on the roof.  As he was descending the stairs, however, the hotel owner, one James Jackson, suddenly appeared without warning and shot and killed Ellsworth with a shotgun at close quarters, for which action he was immediately rewarded with his own death at the hands of Ellsworth’s men.  It was still early in the war and the death of a single officer, such as Ellsworth, was still notable news in the North.  Ellsworth being a close associate of Lincoln amplified the importance of his death.  Soon Ellsworth was hailed as a martyr—the first of many—to the cause of preserving the Union.

The murder of Colonel Ellsworth. His ghost was sighted in the Marshall House on repeated occasions over the years.

The murder of Colonel Ellsworth. His ghost was sighted in the Marshall House on repeated occasions over the years.

In the ensuing months and years following his death, rumors began to circulate that, although dead, Colonel Ellsworth was not really gone from the Marshall House.  Some claimed to see him removing the Rebel flag from the rooftop of the hotel, others swore they saw his shade on its stairs, where he was murdered.  It was also said that the ghost of the fire-breathing Secesh James Jackson also haunted the same stairwell in the old inn.  The Marshall House and its ghosts stood on the same spot until the 1950’s, when it was torn down as part of a modernization trend in the city.  Normally, that would be the end of the story, but apparently it is not.

Today the Monaco Hotel, a nice “boutique hotel,” occupies the same space where the old inn stood.  It has all the amenities one expects in a modern hotel, plus one more: it is haunted.  There are those who claim that it is the restless shades of the Civil War who still roam the new hotel.  Sometimes nothing is actually seen, but people claim to hear the sound of gunshots out in the hallways, as if the Rebel hotel owner and the zouaves who killed him are still having it out in the new building.  On one occasion recently, a couple was riding the elevator when it unexpectedly opened at the fourth floor; no guests were there but they saw a glowing light appear on the wall opposite, then disappear.  Later, the visitors found they were not alone in having uncanny experiences there.

Some visitors allege the modern hotel on the site of the old Marshall still holds the ghost of Ellsworth and perhaps of his murderer.

Some visitors allege the modern hotel on the site of the old Marshall still holds the ghost of Ellsworth and perhaps of his murderer.

 

 

According to some, it is the Monaco’s sixth floor that is most haunted, which could be a reflection of Ellsworth’s flag taking venture, although the reports are vague on that score.  Regardless, the hotel embraces the site’s haunted heritage and in the Fall offers a “Ghosts of Alexandria Family Package” which includes discounted room rate, a stay on the “haunted sixth” plus tickets for the local ghost tour of the town.  Not a bad deal and maybe Colonel Ellsworth will put in a personal appearance, but don’t hold your breath.

 

Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife cover

Ambrose Bierce, famed American author, is best known for his macabre fiction and cynical definitions served in the front lines throughout the Civil War.  Bierce’s wartime experiences were the transformative events of the young author’s life.  Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife for the first time chronicles this pivotal period of Ambrose Bierce—and America’s—life.

Ambrose Bierce, famed American author, is best known for his macabre fiction and cynical definitions served in the front lines throughout the Civil War.  Bierce’s wartime experiences were the transformative events of the young author’s life.  Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife for the first time chronicles this pivotal period of Ambrose Bierce—and America’s—life.

For more Civil War ghosts see: Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War and for more on General Lee’s Arlington ghosts, plus other famous Southern ghosts, go to Dixie Spirits.  Happy haunting y’all.

Dixie Spirits via Sourcebooks

Ghosts & Haunts of the Civil War. True accounts of haunted battlefields, CW ghosts and other unexplained phenomena.

Ghosts & Haunts of the Civil War. True accounts of haunted battlefields, CW ghosts and other unexplained phenomena.

Halloween Hauntings, Part 12: The Sleeping Prophet of Hopkinsville

 

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

TOOTSIE’S ORCHID LOUNGE: THE HAUNTED HONKEY TONK

TOOTSIE'S ORCHID LOUNGE one of the oldest and greatest Honkey Tonks in Music City--and most haunted!

TOOTSIE’S ORCHID LOUNGE one of the oldest and greatest Honkey Tonks in Music City–and most haunted!

Of all the many haunted buildings in downtown Nashville, surely one of the most haunted is Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge! At 422 Broadway, it’s smoke-stained walls and beer-stained floors have seen the greats of Country Music pass through its swangin doors–not to mention a few Rock stars as well.

Behind the bar, its back door opens onto an ally which faces the old stage door to the Ryman Auditorium. In the old days, when the Grand Ole Opy’s home was the Ryman, the now legendary stars of County would toddle across the alley to Tootsie’s to pull back a few brews in between sets. Sometimes when in their cups they would get up on the stage of Tootsie’s and play for free, and by all accounts, their performance on the stage of Tootsie’s was far better than what you would see on the straight-laced stage of the Opry. In those days they wouldn’t even allow drums or brass on stage to back up the performers. Sometimes, the old Country greats had one too many a drink and never made it back to the Opry for a second set.

Almost all the Honkey Tonks of Music City's Lower Broad have at least one ghost haunting is hallways.

Almost all the Honkey Tonks of Music City’s Lower Broad have at least one ghost haunting is hallways.

The old owner of the bar, Tootsie herself, was a tough old broad, but with a heart of gold and she was known to give perspiring musicians a handout and a hand when they needed one. She is long gone and so are the old legends of Country—but not their ghosts.

Lower Broadway in the old days. Many of the Honkey Tonk's buildings date to before the Civil War and have many generations of ghosts haunting them.

Lower Broadway in the old days. Many of the Honkey Tonk’s buildings date to before the Civil War and have many generations of ghosts haunting them.

In the hustle and bustle of the crowded bar you might never notice when the odd ghost or two is also listening in to the show. But sometimes a cold draft of air will fill the air and a door open or close on its own. Perhaps it is Hank Williams Sr. trying to make it back to the stage of the old Opry; or one of a dozen other spectral singers whose shades still dwell there: hard to say. The alley out back has also been witness to apparitions, seen passing back and for between the Ryman and Tootsies.

Upstairs, where Willie Nelson once camped out, thanks to Tootsie’s good graces, other ghosts have sometimes been reported as well. All told, living or dead, the spirit of Country Music is very much in evidence at Tootsies.

For more about the Haunted Honkey Tonks and other Music City ghosts, see: Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee .

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween!

 

Spectral Carnage at Carnton

Carnton Mansion, one of the more haunted Civil War sites in the South.

Carnton Mansion, one of the more haunted Civil War sites in the South.

“Many thousand bodies here

Lay rotting in the sun:

But things like that, you know, must be

After a famous victory.”

Although recent transplants to Middle Tennessee are only dimly aware of it, the Cumberland Valley and its surrounds were much fought over during the Civil War.  Although that is not the origin of the phrase, this section of the South amply earned its moniker The Dark and Bloody Ground during the Late Unpleasantness.  Many an old house is home to a resident ghost or two who date back to the dark days of the war.  The causes of their continued residence on the mortal plain may differ, but as often as not it is due to their violent or untimely death, being cut down in the prime of life, often with great pain and the awareness they will never to see their loved ones again.  Sometimes that agony and anguish are all that remain.

 

Confederate troops charging the Yankees at Franklin, by a veteran.

Confederate troops charging the Yankees at Franklin, by a veteran.

Such, it seems, is the case with Carnton Mansion, the grand home sitting on the southeastern outskirts of Franklin, Tennessee.  The very name of the manse is suggestive of death, for in ancient Celtic tradition, a cairn or carn was a place where a warrior would be buried who had died with honor in battle.  During the Civil War, late one Autumn day, the mansion would earn its name, a reputation that endures to the present day.

A sketch of the open fields the Rebels had to charge over--a longer distance than Pickett's Charge. via Harpers

A sketch of the open fields the Rebels had to charge over–a longer distance than Pickett’s Charge. via Harpers

After the fall of Atlanta, Sherman planned his next move; ignoring the still viable Confederate Army of Tennessee, he would conduct a scorched earth campaign across Georgia, destroying everything in his path.  Basically, it was an act of terrorism, designed to cow the white civilian population of the South into submission and break their will to resist.  The Rebel army, now under General John Bell Hood, at first fenced with Sherman, attacking his rear and threatening his long supply line heading back northward towards Nashville.  Then, when Sherman began marching south, Hood began marching north; a bold move not only to draw Sherman’s army after him but also to seize the mass of supplies stockpiled in the strategic city of Nashville; from there he could threaten many other places further north.  It was a bold strategy and whatever historians may say about General Hood, he never lacked for either courage or boldness: “all lion” is how one postwar writer characterized him.

A small Union army was deployed to slow Hood as he marched northwards, to give time for the Yankees to gather more troops to defend Nashville.  General John Schofield, a classmate of Hood’s from West Point days, was placed in charge of this Yankee force and basically his task was to hold the lion’s tail without being devoured.  At Columbia, then Springhill and finally at Franklin, Schofield’s men conducted a fighting retreat.  While most historians portray the Autumn Campaign as a done deal and that a Southern defeat was inevitable, in truth it was a very near thing.  Had circumstances just been a little different at any point; had orders been obeyed, had the Yankees marched or fought just a little less heroicly; had one Yankee brigadier not disobeyed orders, or some Rebel pickets not been quite so fatigued—at any point just a feather-weight of difference in the chain of circumstance–and we would be celebrating John Bell Hood as a brilliant commander and victor.  But that was not to be.

The rear porch of Carnton, where five generals were laid out after the battle. The "general" is sometimes seen on the upper porch.

The rear porch of Carnton, where five generals were laid out after the battle. The “general” is sometimes seen on the upper porch.

Others have chronicled the Autumn Campaign in great length; we needn’t go into it here.  Our concern is with the aftermath.  On the afternoon and evening of November 30, 1864, the two armies clashed on the outskirts of Franklin, Tennessee.  Both sides fought and bled and died with uncommon courage, and by the early hours of the following morning the blood-soaked fields of Franklin found the Confederates in possession of the terrain.  It was a Pyrric victory, however, for Hood’s army was decimated in the process: five generals, twenty colonels and thousands dead or grievously wounded, incapable of combat—all to fight the Yankee rearguard.

Even before the battle was over, however, the wounded began to make their way to Carnton Mansion, on the eastern flank of the battlefield.  All through the night and on into the next day, the wounded and dead were brought in a steady stream to the stately antebellum mansion.  The owner of the home, Randall McGavock, had served in the Confederate army but accepted a parole to look after his family and was a non-combatant; of course that did not prevent him from opening his home to the wounded.

By the following day, the dead were being piled in Carnton’s yard like cordwood; the back porch held the bodies of no less than five generals, while the moans of the suffering could be heard everywhere.  For the dead and dying at Carnton, the victory at Franklin did not seem so glorious.

Carnton Cemetery, where many of the Confederate dead were interred.

Carnton Cemetery, where many of the Confederate dead were interred.

In time, the McGavock’s home was cleaned of the awful carnage and the blood—where it would go away.  In one room that had served as the operating room for surgeons, try as they might, they could not wash or bleach the blood from the floorboards; the stains always came back and cannot be erased.  They linger there to this day.  There were other things that linger about Carnton as well; some of a spectral nature.

Inside the mansion, several spirits have been detected by successive occupants of the mansion and more recently by visitors as well.  On the second floor, for example, a presence some called “the general” could be felt and occasionally seen.  In the graveyard, even to this day, visitors sometimes spot a man in Confederate garb.  Other spectres have been observed elsewhere in the mansion or on the surrounding grounds.  Many are the eyewitness accounts that recount encounters with the ghosts of Carnton.  Some of these apparitions are well known; others just passing shades, as anonymous as many of the graves on the grounds.

What seem to be a family of ghosts assembled on the back porch. The McGavock family?

What seem to be a family of ghosts assembled on the back porch. The McGavock family?

Many speculate about the sightings reported at Carnton; a few doubt them, most do not.  What is certain, however, is that for many of the men who fought and died at Franklin on November 30, the Battle of Franklin will never be over.

For more about the restless dead of Carnton and of Franklin Battlefield, see Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground and Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War.

For a link to a YouTube video of the blood-stains that won’t go away, see this short piece by Kraig McNutt: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1fvVfiWOckQ#t=16

Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground chronicles several Battle of Franklin hauntings

Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground chronicles several Battle of Franklin hauntings.

 

Halloween Hauntings, Part 11: Wicked Witches of Appalachia

A modern take on the traditional witch has her bewitching readers in an entirely different manner

A modern take on the traditional witch has her bewitching readers 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 Halloween time it is not to see images of alluring females bedecked in black and looking slinky and seductive in a witch’s costume.  That is one modern stereotype; the other is of the ugly cock-eyed old crone with crooked nose and hairy mole leering out with a toothless smile.  Yet another trope is those neo-pagans who enjoy getting nekkid, then dancing widdershins ‘round campfires and having mostly harmless devilry on selected nights of the year. The truth is that no of these stereotypes are 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.  Of course I have gone into this in much greater depth in Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground, so for more about all this, you can learn about it there.

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 far many folk who would own up to being witch-hunters (also called ‘witch-doctors”) than those who would actually own up to being a genuine witch.  And as I noted before, if they proudly proclaim themselves a witch, the likelihood is 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 not ugly nor sexy nor any kind of neo-pagan; but they were feared and avoided—and most, most wicked.

Before the creation of Smoky Mountain National Forest, the multi-county region it covered was home to several mountain communities, now no more.  While the area back in the 1930’s was not quite so backward as Yankee journalists who never ever visited there might have proclaimed in their florid prose, but even by the backwards standards of the early twentieth century South, the folk up there were land rich, but dirt poor.  Of course, if you raised your own crops and herds of livestock, there was always food on the table; but as far as modern luxuries went, such as indoor plumbing or electricity, well, that was something city folks enjoyed, not mountain folk.

Up around what is not national forest once lived a lady that was later known as “Witch McGaha.”  It was not her Christian name, but then she was not the church going type anyhow.  One thing that set folk wise to her was that she was continually trying to borrow things.  It was not as though she needed anything; but 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 time her sister, Nance, 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 orchard came into its own, all to no avail.  So Nance, too willful for her own good, snuck onto her sister’s orchard and started plucking them off the trees and putting them into a large tote sack.  She bit into one and it was red, ripe and oh so juicy, just bursting with sweetness.

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.  Suddenly she felt a small tug on the helm of her dress; then another and another.  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.  She began to walk faster, but even more squirrels appeared.  She broke into a run and dropped the sack but the growing horde of squirrels would not stop.  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 she reached the threshold of her house she was all bloody and her dress in shreds.  Before she could cross the threshold and the safety of home, Nance McGaha keeled over, dead.

A common feature of Appalachian life was the local Wise Woman, a person who had knowledge of herbs but also knew how to conjur spells.  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); but she could also divine who a thief was in the community and was the first person to resort to when it came to cooking up a love potion.  Mammy Wise was respected and honored on that side of the mountains, but no one with any sense ever tried to get on her bad side, for they knew what she could do.

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. The real ones likely went unnoticed, practicing their craft in secret.

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

This latest offering of all things spooky in the South covers the favorite haunts of downtown Nashville and other Country spooks.