Tag Archives: Spooky Southern Stories

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.

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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.

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.

 

Thomas Jefferson and the UFO

Thomas Jefferson, president of the United States, author of the Declaration of Independence and early ufologist.

Thomas Jefferson, president of the United States, author of the Declaration of Independence and early ufologist.

While I normally write on paranormal topics rather than on UFO’s, where they involve a Dixie mystery, I sometimes make a detour to investigate various unexplained aerial phenomena.  For example, in Strange Tales I researched the time one or more UFO’s buzzed the Tennessee Valley at the beginning of the twentieth century (multiple reports of that) and also rare Fortean falls of blood and gore in Tennessee and Kentucky.  In Dixie Spirits I reported on a close encounter in West Virginia that Joe Nichol and his professional cynics have tried to explain away with a unique combination of arrogance and ignorance.  Moreover, down in Pascagoula, Mississippi, I have written about the “singing river” mystery, of which I reported only a fraction of the weirdness known from that area; while I didn’t bring in any theories about alien beings being responsible, others have, citing numerous UFO, USO and close encounters in the area; what the truth behind all that phenomena around Pascagoula may be is still unresolved, but definitely something is, or has been, going on there that defies ordinary scientific explanation.

While there is a certain overlap between paranormal phenomena, cryptozoology and UFO’s, as a rule these are discrete and separate fields of inquiry.  For one thing, most scientists do not take paranormal or supernatural accounts seriously and tend to dismiss them all, either as hoaxes or “delusions of the masses” when they can’t rationalize them away; whereas most scientists take the possibility of extraterrestrial life quite seriously, even if they might not accept the evidence of UFO investigators.  The SETI program is quite well funded and other scientific programs have also been searching the skies for proof of life elsewhere in the universe—even on mars.

So when I learned of Thomas Jefferson’s own interest in unsolved celestial phenomena, it piqued my interest. Jefferson was very much a man of the enlightenment and he kept an open mind to many mysteries that lacked easy answers.  He was one of the first, for example, to recognize that mammoths and mastodons roamed America and it is not generally appreciated that one of the goals of the Lewis and Clarke expedition was to go “looking for the elephant” and see if any still lived in the unexplored western territories at that time.

So we should not be surprised when, in 1800, Jefferson learned of a strange aerial sighting, he was moved to publish a report of it in a scholarly journal.  We are beholden to Thomas J. for an accurate account of one sighting in Louisiana.  Jefferson’s original correspondent was a gentleman planter named William Dunbar, a Scotsman by birth and a naturalist, astronomer, ethnologist and explorer living in Natchez, Mississippi at the time.  In searching the Jefferson Papers, it turns out that one part of Dunbar’s missive to Jefferson survived, on Indian sign language, but not apparently his separate enclosure on the UFO, so we just have Jefferson’s summary of it.  Like Jefferson, however, I will attempt to give an objective account of the sighting without too much speculation.

On night of April 5, 1800, an object was seen pass over Baton Rouge.  It came from the southwest, flying low overhead and moved at an extremely high rate of speed, disappearing out of sight within a quarter of a minute.  Eyewitnesses described it as being “as big as a house” and 70-80 feet long and being only some 200 feet above their heads when it passed.

It was described as being “wholly luminous but not emitting sparks” and Jefferson gives a vivid description of its luminosity: “of a colour resembling the sun near the horizon in a cold frosty evening, which may be called a crimson red.”  When it passed overhead a considerable degree of heat was felt “but no electrical sensation,” by which I take Jefferson to mean that it was not ball lightening or similar phenomena.  Immediately after it passed to the northeast a violent rushing noise was heard, indicating it was passing faster than the speed of sound; apparently the force of its passage bent trees before it and a few seconds later a loud crash was heard, “similar to that of the largest piece of ordinance” and a shock, like an earthquake, was felt as well.

Observers rushed to where the object landed and while the area plant life was burnt to a crisp and the ground much torn up, apparently there was no object found and Jefferson’s description does not indicate an impact crater either.  What was it?  Well, the simple answer would be a meteor of some sort.  But if so, why was no debris from it found.  Curious onlookers swarmed the area apparently, but no follow up report of finding a meteorite or fragments thereof were found.  It was obviously very large and low flying, so one would expect a considerable zone of destruction if it had exploded above the ground, along the lines of the Tunguska explosion in 1909.  Yet apparently that was not the case, since the nearby witnesses lived to tell the tale.  Another curious fact emerges from Jefferson’s report; it sounds as if it were flying almost parallel to the ground; surely most meteors or other space debris would be falling at an acute angle, if not a near vertical angle.

I myself have seen a bright object come down a few years back.  To the best of my knowledge no one else saw or reported it and it made no sound; like Jefferson’s UFO it disappeared within a few seconds.  But it descended at a forty-five degree angle and while luminous it was not close to the ground.  It may have been a small, bright meteorite, for if it been the size of Jefferson’s object it would have been noticed when it impacted.  Of course, we cannot be certain that Jefferson’s object did indeed crash; it may have exploded mid-air and disintegrated into nothingness.  Then too, it may have pulled up at the last moment and climbed up out of its gradual but supersonic descent; but if the latter, it would have to have been a manned craft and not simply some inert rock or fragment of a comet.  This may have been the first such sighting, but apparently it was not the last.  Checking recent accounts, there are evidently quite a few sightings of strange lights and aerial phenomena in the Baton Rouge area, pretty much ongoing, some of which have been recorded by camera or cellphone.

In an article on the University of Chicago website, Penelope, the blogger makes a similar point to mine, only does some interesting calculations:

Distance from impact: 6 km
Projectile diameter: 75 feet
Projectile density:

porous stone: 1500 kg/m3
maybe a bit more if some kind of craft, i.e., a semi-hollow metal object

Impact velocity: 0.6 km/s
Impact angle: 1.9°
Target type: Sedimentary rock

The U. of C. blogger notes that:  “if it was a house-sized object coming in at a meteoric speed, it would have been a huge event, with no survivors for miles, flattened trees, etc.”  They point out that the object which created Arizona’s Meteor Crater would have been about 50 meters in size, or only about twice the size of the object reported by Dunbar.  So, where’s the beef, as it were?

In the end, Jefferson’s report of a UFO leaves more questions than answers.  What was it?  Did it somehow recover from its rapid descent and peel off, leaving only burnt vegetation and blasted ground behind?  Well, the honest answer is we simply don’t know and unless more information surfaces, we must continue to categorize it as an unidentified flying object.

 

William Dunbar was also an early ufologist.

William Dunbar, naturalist, astronomer and explorer, was descended from titled nobility, but settled in Natchez and corresponded with Jefferson and other leading intellectuals of his day.

Sources:

Thomas Jefferson, Transactions, American Philosophical Society, vol. 6 Part 1 (Philadelphia, 1804), p. 25.  Jefferson mentions an illustration, but none of the sources I consulted had it.

The Penelope website at the University of Chicago: http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Journals/TAPS/6/Baton_Rouge_Phenomenon*.html

National Archives, Founders online: http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-32-02-0037

For more unexplained phenomena, see Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground and Dixie Spirits.

SOME COME BACK: A Primer on the Undead

Some Come Back: on The Undead and the Walking Dead.

Some Come Back: on The Undead and the Walking Dead.

While I write true accounts of supernatural places and things, I am as fond as the next person of a good horror story, not to mention credible science fiction or well executed fantasy (the latter category, I’m afraid, is rarely well executed though).  However, as I am hip deep in true accounts of the paranormal—or at least what I believe to be true—I get miffed at the widening gap between supernatural fictional and the real thing.  Fiction writers are certainly entitled to use literary license in crafting their tales to entertain us and after awhile, I understand it gets difficult to come up with something new and original in the horror genre; but I also think tales of the supernatural should have some relationship to reality, however remote.

How far will Hollyweird take the Undead craze? As long as you buy it they'll churn it out.

How far will Hollyweird take the Undead craze? As long as you buy it they’ll churn it out.

So today, boys and girls of all ages (as they used to say), we are going to provide a bit of a reality check—or surreality check—and correct some misconceptions which have arise about the undead, or at least in folk beliefs about them, versus the ever growing pop myths that seem to have snowballed out of control in recent years.  I don’t expect to change any minds in Hollywood, much less in the ComiCon universe, but I least I can provide a bit of fresh air here and there to the stale stereotypes that have become dogma in pop horror.

First off, as a disclaimer, let me say that I do not go around abandoned buildings with a flashlight and camera aimed at my face trying to spook myself out; I do not claim to be psychic, although I have once or twice in my life had uncanny experiences which might qualify—as most people have—nor have I personally ever seen a fully embodied ghost.  However, I have met many people, from all walks of life, whom I believe have genuinely experienced some kind of paranormal event.  I do not have much truck with professional psychics, but I have on rare occasions met or known people who may well have genuine psychic abilities.  While there are a lot of fakers around, and even more self-delusional believers, unlike the professional debunkers, I am willing to genuinely keep an open mind about the many phenomena which science is unable to adequately explain.  And there is a lot out there which science can’t explain.

The association of sex with vampires is nothing new and goes back at least to the Victorian era.

The association of sex with vampires is nothing new and goes back at least to the Victorian era.

So it is with accounts of the undead, a generic term for the belief that dead bodies may sometimes, somehow, reanimate.  There are accounts I have come across which are credible enough for me to be willing to consider the possibility, even if hard evidence may be lacking, or if most of it is more folklore than fact.  Can such things be?  I don’t know for certain; of all paranormal phenomena it is the most elusive and even credible cases are few and far between.  Yet western society, not to mention other world cultures, has a deeply engrained believed that such a thing is possible.  One only to look to the New Testament and the story of Lazarus, as an example that the claim of bringing the dead back to life has been made.  If you believe in the Bible, then you cannot reject the notion out of hand.  Outside of Christianity, of course, there were people who were called necromancers—a type of sorcerer who specifically claimed to be able to reanimate dead corpses—although not necessarily with the soul still in it.  So this whole thing is not a recent invention of some Hollywood hack; it has a background, a tradition, even if the hack writers have much abused it lately.

Modern pop horror is silly with stories of both zombies and vampires, both of which have a solid grounding in western beliefs, and it is these two types of undead which we are focusing on presently and which I propose to vent my peeves upon.

Bela Lugosi was for many years the stereotypical vampire; today's bloodsuckers are younger and sexier.

Bela Lugosi was for many years the stereotypical vampire; today’s bloodsuckers are younger and sexier.

 

First off, let us deal with the notion that vampires can be good or romantic, or somehow friendly or misunderstood.  There are whole rows of paperbacks in bookstores dedicated to vampire romances these days, even broken down into equally popular sub-genres, such as teenage vampire romances.  If there are such things as vampires that roam the night, let us understand what they really are: they are dead bodies, lifeless corpses, which have been reanimated by a demonic spirit.  Nothing more, nothing less: so any notion that they are somehow misunderstood or lost, or in need of your company, is utter nonsense.

The belief that a malevolent spirit can somehow occupy a dead corpse originated in Eastern Europe in the Dark Ages and goes back to the split between the Eastern Church and the Western one.  In Christianity one of the seven sacraments is Extreme Unction or Last Rights and while it can be administered to almost anyone who feels in need of spiritual healing, it has traditionally been administered to the dying.  The trouble came in when they tried to determine how late one could administer the sacrament to a dying person; in other words, when does the soul leave the body?  In the Western Church, they used the rule of up to one hour after clinical death; however, the Eastern Orthodox Churches were quite a bit more generous as to how long the soul might reside in the dead body and allowed up to thirty days to administer the sacrament.

But in those thirty days, especially in a colder climate, the dead flesh may still be viable and without visible signs of decay.  What if the soul leaves the corpse; don’t you then have an empty vessel, suitable to be occupied by something else?  Enter the vampire: an empty vessel reoccupied, not by the soul of the deceased, but by a demonic entity which has the power to reanimate the corpse and imitate the living.  It is in the nature of demons to roam the earth seeking the ruin of souls; what better way to do so than to take the shape of a deceased and pass among human society with its true nature undetected?  The business about sucking blood was a later addition: it is the life force which a demon seeks to drain and blood, itself a mysterious substance, is but the symbol of that life force.   Novelist D. H. Lawrence wrote about “emotional vampires:” these are flesh and blood humans, not dead corpses, who gain strength and vitality by draining others of their emotional sense of well being.  Doubtless we have all encountered an “emotional vampire” at one time or another and just not realized it: a co-worker or a relative who seems to leave all those around them drained of energy or strength.  This is not supernatural, but I’m afraid is all too common.

A genuine vampire hunting kit from the 1840's.

A genuine vampire hunting kit from the 1840’s.

Many years ago I read an account by the famed archaeologist A. J. B. Wace, the noted excavator of the city of Mycenae, famous from Homeric legend.  He was engaged on a survey once in a less explored part of Greece, seeking out Late Bronze Age tombs.  Most of the tombs had long ago been robbed of their contents, nut he came across one where the skeleton was still intact, with a bronze arrowhead still lodged in the chest where the heart would have been.  With nothing else of value left in the tomb, Professor Wace took the arrowhead and also removed the skull from the skeleton for anthropological analysis.  He thought nothing of the days work, until that night, and on succeeding nights, his camp was disturbed by an invisible intruder, apparently intent on vandalizing the camp.  Professor Wace and his British team could make no sense of it as they had found nothing of value worth stealing; but the local Greeks workers claimed to know what was afoot: the excavators had taken the skull of a vrykolakas—the Greek version of the vampire.

People who have led a sinful life, who have been excommunicated or been buried in unconsacrated ground; all these are potential causes for a corpse to reanimate and become a vrykolakas.  The activities of the vrykolakas are almost always harmful, although they may seem tame compared to the Hollywood version: it varies from merely leaving their grave and “roaming about” at night, to engaging in poltergeist-like activity, up to causing epidemics in the community.  One local villager even claimed to have seen a headless skelton walking along the dirt track that led from the tholos tomb where had Wace gotten the skull and arrow towards their camp.  The disturbances in camp nightly became more violent and were threatening to disrupt the expedition; so even though the British team had seen nothing themselves, they discretely put the skull back in the tomb and replaced the arrowhead in the ribcage of the skeleton.  Once done, the disturbances ceased as suddenly as they had begun and for years afterwards the Greek villagers referred to the incident as “St. George the Vampire.”

In Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground, I relate the case of the discovery of a corpse in East Tennessee where the body was almost perfectly preserved but had a wooden stake through its heart—the traditional method of disposing of a vampire.  I was at a loss to explain it, since vampires are traditionally an Eastern European or Near Eastern phenomenon and Anne Rice’s novels notwithstanding, not generally present in the South.  However, after the book was published, I came across a reporter for a Tennessee newspaper whose family were of Armenian extraction and sheinformed me that in the earlier part of the twentieth century—about the time of the discovery of the “Vampire of Bradley County”—that there were indeed Armenian folk in that part of the South.  In Armenia they tell of the Dakhanvar who dwells in the mountains and sucks the blood from the soles of peoples feet.  So perhaps the mountains of East Tennessee have their own Dakhanvar.  Who knows?

George Romero's Night of the Living Dead started the cannibal zombie craze.

George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead started the cannibal zombie craze.

Insofar as that other popular undead monster goes, the zombie, the evidence, of sorts, is actually much better—although, here again, not what Hollywood would have you believe.  I credit George Romero with his black and white B movie horror classic, Night of the Living Dead, for having introduced the business of zombies becoming cannibals.  I grant you it was a stroke of genius and upped the horror level of zombies immensely: but really people, can’t you think of something original here?  Everyone since Romero has basically been ripping his idea off.  I will confess that I and most of my family do following the Walking Dead series on TV, which is exceptionally well rendered; but in general, the cannibal zombie plague trope is way, way overdone and I sincerely hope Hollywood will give this one a rest very soon.

That being said, there is in fact some basis to the traditional Voodoo belief in zombies.  It has long been believed that Voodoo practitioners can curse people to death and that if they are really in need of household help, will dig up the corpse and, via their magical powers, reanimate the corpse.  Several years back, an anthropologist studying Voodoo in Haiti uncovered persons who were believed to be zombies.  The real zombie, I should add, is not cannibal, or anything like it; it serves a master’s bidding, mostly doing hard manual labor.  In theory, unlike the vampire, a zombie is an empty vessel: it has no soul but it also has no demonic spirit inside.  It is just a mindless automaton, a piece of dead flesh made to do drudge work.  The anthropologist, however, did not find any walking dead; rather, he found persons who had been slipped a mickey by the local witch-doctor, gone into a death like trance, even been buried, then dug up and kept under the influence of the drugs and been virtually turned into slave labor.  Are there such things as genuine zombies out there somewhere?  I don’t know; but I certainly hope not.

Ed Wood's Plan 9 From Outer Space mixed zombies with aliens. A movie so bad it was good (for a laugh at least).

Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space mixed zombies with aliens. A movie so bad it was good (for a laugh at least).

For more true accounts of the uncanny, the unexplained and the just plain weird, read Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground, Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee and, of course, Dixie Spirits.

BIG ORANGE GHOSTS & HAUNTS

BIG ORANGE, the school, the team , the legend.

BIG ORANGE, the school, the team , the legend.

As any fool knows, Big Orange stands for the University of Tennessee and UT is BIG ORANGE.  In the SEC sports universe fans of the football team are said to bleed orange and not red; everything comes to a standstill in Knoxville on game day and supporters will travel eight to ten hours to get a prime spot in the parking lot for tailgaiting.  What even dyed in the jersey UT fans may be unaware of, however, is that UT’s school spirits extends far beyond the grave.

Strong Hall, ca. 1950, whose resident spook is Sophie.

Strong Hall, ca. 1950, whose resident spook is Sophie.

Perhaps the best known campus ghost is “Sophie.” Her name in life was Sophania Strong and for years she was a devoted mother, wife and leading light of Knoxville society.  After her death her son donated money to the school to build a woman’s dormitory on the site of the old family manse.  Over the years, successive generations of UT coeds have come to realize that Sophie never quite left the premises.  One room in Strong Hall was so filled with psychic activity that it came to be called “Sophie’s Room” and it was rare that its mortal resident lasted out the semester there before moving out.  While the coeds now are gone from the old building, Sophie is not.

Hoskins Library, home to "Evening Primrose" a playful ghost fond of cornbread.

Hoskins Library, home to “Evening Primrose” a playful ghost fond of cornbread.

Then there is the old Hoskins Library, whose resident spook is called “Evening Primrose.” Who or what she may be is unknown, but the elevators seem to travel without any human agency, books unshelve themselves and the smell of fresh baked cornbread will at times waft through its halls.

Far more frightening, and definitely high on the creep meter, is “The Hill.” An eminence on campus.  On a given night one might encounter an elegant gent strolling about the Hill.  While at a glance he seems normal, his bowler hat and antique garb seem oddly out of place.  When you pass close by he may even tip his hat—at which point one will see the gaping hole in his head.

The Hill, where the spirits of the dead are more numerous than Big Orange fans on game day.

The Hill, where the spirits of the dead are more numerous than Big Orange fans on game day.

There is a more sinister spirit which haunts the Hill, a large black dog with eyes like coals and long sharp fangs that emits a howl that sounds like the cry of a lost soul from Hell. Whether it is in fact is a hound from Hell or ghost of a family pet, he definitely a dog you want to take home to the kids.

Union soldiers killed defending Fort Sanders are also thought to haunt The Hill and adjacent buildings and there presence add to the supernatural aura of this old part of the campus.

There more ghosts that haunt the campus of UT Knoxville—many, many more. For an in depth look of the spooks of Big Orange, however, see Chapter 1 of Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee.