More Christmas Ghosts: A Disturbance at Sandringham House

The modest little royal digs at Sandringham House, by all accounts adrift with ghosts and spirits at Christmastime

The modest little royal digs at Sandringham House, by all accounts adrift with ghosts and spirits at Christmastime

As all no doubt are aware, telling ghost stories at Yuletide is an ancient tradition which we have inherited from England.  The fact is that ghosts seem oft to make their presence felt at Christmas.  Some say it is because our thoughts harken back to loved ones no longer with us; others aver that it is because the holiday coincides with the Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year when the worlds of the living and the dead are closest.  Or perhaps it is simply because, like old Uncle Scrooge, we all have had too much mince meat and hot toddies and our senses play tricks on us.  Regardless, ghosts do seem to cluster close around the season—perhaps even more so than at Halloween.

For example the Queen’s residence at Sandringham House in Norfolk, England, has long known to experience poltergeist activity that begins activity from Christmas Eve, as well as other fey encounters. The estate has been occupied since the Elizabethan era, but it was in 1771 that architect Cornish Henley cleared the site to build Sandringham Hall. The hall was modified during the 19th century by Charles Spencer Cowper, a stepson of Lord Palmerston, who added an elaborate porch and conservatory.  Today it is the private domain of Queen Elizabeth II and not considered public Crown property, as many royal residences are.

The spectral activity at Sandringham House manifests strongly in the servants quarters and the unseen spirits would seem to have a particular dislike for Christmas cards. The cards are frequently scattered, thrown and generally moved around.  In addition, blankets are pulled off of beds and something very creepy breathes down the necks of the maids who serve the royal family.

"The Guardian Angel" which watches over Sandringham House; hopefully it is not a Weeping Angel though.

“The Guardian Angel” which watches over Sandringham House; hopefully it is not a Weeping Angel though.

There are old parts of the mansion, little used, that nobody wishes to go alone in.  According to one account, Prince Charles and his valet once went exploring in an old wing of the palatial building in search of old prints.  They suddenly both felt very cold and had the feeling that somebody—or something—was following them.  Neither saw anything, but the experience was quite unnerving.

The library of the House is regarded as one of the most haunted rooms of the rambling manse. A napping servant was once awakened to the sight of books flying off the shelves. The hands on an old clock in the room often move by themselves as well.

The chamber maids believe that the most frightening spot in the house is the Sergeant Footman’s corridor on the second floor. They are so terrified of this part of the palace that they only clean that area of Sandringham in pairs or groups.  According to reports, light switches are turned on and off, footsteps are heard walking down the corridor, and doors are heard opening and closing. They also report hearing a terrifying noise like a wheezing sound that, “resembles a huge, grotesque lung breathing in and out.”

With as long a history as Sandringham House has had, it is believed a number of ghosts haunt the building at Christmas.  Members of the royal family died there in the nineteenth century and more recently one of Queen Elizabeth’s loyal retainers, Tony Jarred, the Queen’s favorite steward, died there in the cellar in 1996. Rumor has it that the Queen herself has seen Jarred at Sandringham, although as usual with the Royal Family, no one will speak publicly about it. Nor is Jarred the only ghost Her Majesty has seen in her long life.

Kate Middleton, the popular Duchess of Cambridge, has been duly warned about the ghosts that haunt Sandringham House at Christmas.

Kate Middleton, the popular Duchess of Cambridge, has been duly warned about the ghosts that haunt Sandringham House at Christmas.

The haunting of Sandringham is reported to begin on Christmas Eve and endures for about six to seven weeks, after which the spirits seem to become dormant until the next Yuletide. This year should be especially interesting, since Kate Middleton will be spending her first Christmas at Sandringham House. Bonny Kate has been duly informed about the Christmas ghosts there and also been advised to not make any jokes about ghosts to the Queen, who apparently takes her royal hauntings quite seriously.
 

 

For more true haunting tales, see Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground and Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee.  Both best read by a roaring fire with duly spiked eggnog on Christmas Eve.

Strange tales of unexplained phenomena and paranormal activity in the Mid-South.

Strange tales of unexplained phenomena and paranormal activity in 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

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Paranormal Hopkinsville: Case of the Kelly Green Men

Sketches of the little green men the Sutton family saw

Sketches of the little green men the Sutton family saw

In addition to being the home of the Sleeping Prophet, Pennyrile’s Hopkinsville next biggest claim to fame is to being the location of the Great Goblin Encounter, also known as Kelly Green Men Case.  We should note at the outset that the creatures described, while green were not Kelly Green; rather, Kelly was the rural community just outside of Hopkinsville where the close encounter occurred.  Just about everything else about the incident has been disputed ever since.

The incident occurred in 1955 and to this day ranks as one of the best documented—and scariest—close encounters in UFOlogy.  Seven persons from two farm families witnessed the events and their accounts, examined and cross-examined repeatedly over the years, have stood up to withering criticism and scorn and remained remarkably consistent.

Duendes or green goblins, as rendered by artist from folklore, similar to the Kelly aliens.

Duendes or green goblins, as rendered by artist from folklore, similar to the Kelly aliens.

On the evening of August 21, 1955, Billy Ray Taylor of Pennsylvania was visiting the Sutton family in the rural community of Kelly, in Christian County outside of Hopkinsville, Kentucky.  As the house had no indoor plumbing, sournt 7pm Billy Ray went outside to the pump to get some water.  It was at theis point that he observed strange multi-colored lights to the west, which he interpreted as a disc shaped craft of some sort.  He ran into the house all excited and told the gathering he had seen a flying saucer.  The assembled multitude scoffed at his sighting, reassuring him that he must have seen a shooting star or some such.

Then, about an hour later, the group began to hear eerie and unexplained sounds outside.  The Sutton’s dog began barking wildly, as if there were strangers lurking about; then the dog suddenly became terrified and quickly ran under the house, where it remained for the duration.  Billy Ray and the family patriarch, Elmer “Lucky” Sutton, grabbed some guns and went outside to investigate.  There they saw a strange creature coming at them from a line of trees.  When it got within about twenty feet, they let loose a volley, one of which was a twelve gauge and the other a 22 cal. varmint gun.  The creature flipped over and then ran into the darkness; the boys were sure they’d hit it.

Stepping off the porch, they went in search of the creature, when they spied another one sitting on an awning.  Again they fired and knocked it off the roof.  But as before, although they were sure they had scored a direct hit, the being seemed unharmed.  A bit shaken by the encounter, the duo went back into the house.  Then, a few minutes later, Lucky’s brother, J. C. Sutton, saw another creature peering into the house through a window.  J.C. and Solomon, another kin, fired through the window at them, seemingly to no effect.  For the next several hours the little green men played whack a mole with the Taylors and Suttons, popping up at windows and doors, with the two families replying with hot lead.  Whenever they scored a hit, they heard a hollow rattling sound, like banging around in a metal drum.  The creatures also seemed to float off the ground at times, rather than walk.  Finally, the family matriarch, Grandma Lankford, counseled the boys to stop shooting at the creatures; not only did it not seem to have any effect, but the creatures did not seem to mean any harm to the humans.  Because the small children were badly frightened, around 11pm the group made a break from the house and got into their cars, making it to the Hopkinsville Police Department around 11:30pm, where they filed a report.

Police Chief Russell Greenwell, in filing his report, noted that the group were visibly shaken by the experience beyond reason.  The Suttons, he noted, were not folks easily upset and not prone to filing complaints to the police; without weighing in on the accuracy of their account, he concluded that “something frightened them, something beyond their comprehension.”  The witnesses were also judged not to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time.

Elsewhere in Christian County, around 11pm a state trooper reported seeing “unusual meteor-like objects” flying overhead, with a sound “like artillery fire” emanating from them. The police officers visiting the Sutton farmstead themselves witnessed the strange lights in the sky and in the nearby woods (although later, some would refuse to talk openly about it).  To their surprise, the officers found that nearby neighbors were also terrified and reported seeing the same strange lights in the sky, and strange sounds, at their homesteads and diners at the local Shady Oaks restaurant, also reported seeing the strange lights in the sky. .

The Hopkinsville police investigated the farmstead that night, found numerous bullet holes and hundreds of spent shells.  They found a luminous patch of unknown substance on one of the fences were a creature had been shot but neglected to collect a same for testing.  In the distance a green light was seen that night.  When the police left around two am, the green men returned and kept poking around the farmhouse until close to dawn.  They were never seen again.

Contemporary newspaper clipping of the Kelly Case.

Contemporary newspaper clipping of the Kelly Case.

In the days and weeks that followed, the incident garnered national publicity and scores of curiosity seekers came visiting, some in awe, many to scoff.  People accused the witnesses of being drunk or of being liars and the usual professional debunkers fabricated their usual explanations to deny what had happened.  While at firs the Suttons freely told the press and others of their experience, eventually the ridicule and criticism by self-anointed experts caused the family to refuse to discuss their encounter.

A 39 foot replica of the flying saucer built for the annual Kelly UFO festival near Hopkinsville, KY.

A 39 foot replica of the flying saucer built for the annual Kelly UFO festival near Hopkinsville, KY.

Apparently military types visited the farm to investigate the close encounter.  The Air Force denies ever visiting the Sutton farmstead, but Project Blue Book listed the case as a hoax without comment.  It is curious that Project Blue Book could make that judgment if, as they say, they never investigated it.  It should be noted, however, that Hopkinsville is not far from Fort Campbell, Kentucky, which, while not an Air Force base, is home to the 101st Airborne Division and various Special Operations units; some are known, such as Delta Force, others remain top secret.  What Special Ops units were operating there in 1955 is not known.  In 1957, one Air Force spokesmen theorized that the creatures were just some circus monkeys, painted silver, who’d escaped–which was perhaps the least believable of all the vain attempts to rationalize away the event.

Because of the creatures green color, they began to be referred to as “Goblins” by some in the medai.  Over time the cynics grew tired of their scoffing and the locals began to embrace the incident as part of their local lore.  The 5th annual “Little Green Men” Days Festival was held at Hopkinsville in August, 2015.  The artist’s impressions of these “Green Goblins” is even said to have inspired one of the many Pokeman anime characters.

While people celebrate the event in song and story, to Lucky Sutton and his family it was serious business and remained so for the rest of their lives.  As his daughter related as an adult, “He never cracked a smile when he told the story because it happened to him and there wasn’t nothing funny about it. He got pale and you could see it in his eyes. He was scared to death.”

Strange tales of unexplained phenomena and paranormal activity in the Mid-South, including the Pennrile Region.

Strange tales of unexplained phenomena and paranormal activity in the Mid-South, including the Pennrile Region.

For more strange stories of unexplained lights, close encounters and unidentified flying weirdness in the Mid-South and elsewhere in Dixie, see: Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground and Dixie Spirits.

A compendium of strange, unexplained and uncanny events and places throughout the South.

A compendium of strange, unexplained and uncanny events and places throughout the South.

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.

A Franklin Homecoming: September 30, 1864

This Captain Carter is not the Rebel Soldier who ended up on Mars–but it turns out that he dwells in another Undiscovered Country.

The Late Unpleasantness: A Civil War Blog

During the autumn of 1864, Captain Tod Carter was coming home to Franklin.  He was coming home to stay. During the autumn of 1864, Captain Tod Carter was coming home to Franklin. He was coming home to stay.

Although Thanksgiving as we know it originated with Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation of 1863, late November had long been the season of Harvest Home, of family and friends returning to gather around the hearth.  November 30 was a homecoming of sorts; long distant fathers, brothers and sons were returning to Franklin; but it was not to visit loved ones and enjoy a bountiful meal and celebrate a successful harvest; it was to engage in a deadly and ultimately fruitless duel with their mortal foes.  It would indeed end with loved ones seeing their returning family members–lying dead on the battlefield or slowing dying of their wounds.

Fountain Branch Carter, the family patriarch, was still alive in 1864 to see the war come to his door. Fountain Branch Carter, the family patriarch, was still alive in 1864 to see the war come to his door.

The first Yankee troops started filing past the Carter family home…

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