The house that makes broomsticks stand on end

Posted by Dave Tabler | August 18, 2017

GO to Mystery Hill at Blowing Rock, NC! SEE people stand on 45-degree angles! WATCH water roll uphill! Mystery after mystery!

America loves Mystery Spots. Irish Hills, MI, also has a Mystery Hill. Lake Wales, FL, has Spook Hill. California has the Mystery Spot in Santa Cruz. Mystery spots of land, often known as gravity hills —they seemingly pull objects uphill— are found throughout the United States. The story behind each one is similar. Gravity doesn’t work in them. People grow smaller, can’t stand up straight and can barely walk.

House of Mystery, Gold Hill ORPromotions may boast that strange forces in the spots trump the laws of physics. In reality, however, the Mystery Spot is an example of clever optical illusions paired with good old fashioned capitalism. Mystery spots sprang up throughout the country during the Great Depression, a period when the American public was anxious for a little sensationalism to distract them from their daily reality.

The House of Mystery in the Oregon Vortex, Gold Hill, OR was the first one built, in 1930. The attraction proved popular enough to spur imitators, and other anti-gravity houses started appearing, each identical in construction, appearance, and presentation of effects. In 1948, North Carolinian William Hudson encountered an article in LIFE magazine about the Mystery Spot in Santa Cruz. He and his wife traveled out to research it, and in 1949 opened Mystery House at Blowing Rock, NC.

“Broomsticks appear to stand on end with no means of support,” gushed his brochures. “Balls seem to roll uphill. The museum contains the Hall of Mystery — an ample collection of well-known and obscure optical illusion displays including the Spooky Spigot, Magic Light bulb, holograms and the Flying Mirror.”

And just how does the Mystery Spot illusion work? First of all, notice the strange tilt when you enter a Mystery Spot house. All references to the true horizontal are removed from your sight. This is always true whether you are just outside the house or inside it. For example, there is always an opaque fence around the house to remove any significant comparisons to the true horizontal.

The Mystery Spot house is actually built at an angle of 25° off the true horizontal. This will explain every effect seen. Once in the area of a Mystery Spot house you are always comparing the effects to what you are used to — normal-level floors and walls that are perpendicular to the ground.

diagram explaining a Mystery Spot house illusionOn the diagram you see the actual tilt of the house to the true horizontal.

Both people are perpendicular to the true horizontal. On the bottom, you see the situation as it is perceived by the people inside the room.

They have no access to the true horizontal, and are judging their surroundings by a horizontal that is created by the room. This causes one to have an internal change of reference frames, which causes the people to appear as they are actually leaning off the walls.

Secondary cues to horizontal orientation, such as inner ear and other bodily sensations of gravity, appear to become less functional in the tilted condition, leaving visual context as the dominant cue.

We like to tease reality, to lose the security of familiar spatial references for a brief time. No wonder so many people still consider mystery spots to be a premium ticket.

A Guide for Spiritual Travelers in North Carolina, by Timothy Whittaker, 2005, Dueces Wild


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The preacher threw the dirt out of Unatsi’s grave and robbed it

Posted by Dave Tabler | August 17, 2017



Hogbite [‘hogbite’]
His wife Zetella [‘crane’].
Their daughter, Unatsi [‘snow’].
Their baby boy, name unknown.

In 1835 the blacksmith Hogbite and his wife, Zetella, with their daughter Unatsi, fourteen, and their baby boy, six months old, crossed the Nantahala mountains to Franklin.

cherokee blacksmith shop

A Cherokee blacksmith shop.

On their return in the evening, when they got back to the top of the mountains, Hogbite told Zetella and Unatsi to go down on Pendergrass Creek, build a fire by a certain rock, and camp there for the night. He would hunt through the woods and try to kill a deer or wild turkey and come to them, or go home, according to where the pursuit of game had taken him at night.

After the three of them had laid down, they heard a loud holler and thought it was Hogbite who had hollered to fill their hearts with joy at his approach; but it was a panther which slipped up on the rock and leaped down on Zetella.

Unatsi snatched the baby and ran with all possible speed, but the panther, after killing her mother, followed and overtook her, took the baby off her back and killed it. Unatsi ran home, about four miles, and fell on the floor with exhaustion.

Hogbite went back to the camp to find that the panther had not preyed on the baby, but had returned to Zetella, eaten her breast out and left.

Hogbite, aided by some of his white neighbors, wrapped his wife and baby in some deer skins and buried them, coffinless, by that rock.

Unatsi as she grew older became a great huntress, using a small fire-lock, muzzle-loading rifle which was individually hers.

One cold day some dogs ran a deer into the Nantahala near her father’s house. Unatsi waded the stream to a position where she was able to get a clear shot at the deer, which was on the other side.

From this she took pneumonia, died and was buried on a sunny hill, a short distance north of her home. The things in her father’s cabin that were personally hers, were put in the grave, that Unatsi might take them with her to the Happy Hunting ground where there would be no more cold rivers to wade and no more fevers to burn her fair brow.

When the Cherokee Indians were moved to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) in 1838, they were assembled by soldiers. Hogbite heard they were coming after him and sank his blacksmith tools in a deep pool in an elbow of the Nantahala, not far from his cabin. He hid out and threatened to shoot the soldiers.

But they watched his cabin till they caught him, and he went away weeping, nevermore to see the graves of his wife and baby, nor that of his dear Unatsi, who had witnessed the death of her mother and little brother by that cruel beast.

Some years prior to 1910, when I got this story, a preacher by the name of Kaler come from Tennessee, threw the dirt out of Unatsi’s grave and robbed it. Her cups and saucers were fitted to her ears and the dish pan placed over all. The breech of the little rifle bad been placed against her right shoulder with the muzzle extending down almost or quite to her feet, and her several strands of beautiful beads were in placed on her neck and bosom.

Rev. Kaler took all these, put the dirt back and left—on his way to Heaven?

“The Most Unkindest Cut Of All.”

Also prior to 1910 a corps of Government surveyors, with headquarters near the mouth of Hogbite Creek, went to the head spring of that creek, camped there, drank out their wines, broke the bottles over rocks at the spring, and re-named the stream Wine Spring Creek, to perpetuate the recollection of their drunkenness. And it is so recorded in the Government maps.

Think of a group of thoughtless, ignorant, dissipated men, in the employment of the United States, robbing a worthy unfortunate Indian of the name of a creek that he and his family so justly merited, and giving it another that would commemorate their own nefarious conduct.

They had the same chance that I had to know the name of the creek and its origin. Of course they did know it, and to say the least they were almost as void of principle as cannibals, and unworthy to be in the employment of the United States.

Shepherd Monroe Dugger

Shepherd Monroe Dugger

In 1910, an old gentleman by the name of Rollin and an old lady whose name was Moore gave this story to me, as it was told to them by their fathers, who lived near neighbors to Hogbite till after all these things occurred, except the robbery of Unatsi’s grave. Hogbite was the blacksmith of the neighborhood and two apple trees of his family orchard were still alive in 1910.

from Romance of the Siamese Twins and Other Sketches, by Shepherd M. Dugger (1936)

Shepherd Monroe Dugger’s most notable books are The Balsam Groves of the Grandfather Mountain (1892) and The War Trails of the Blue Ridge (1932). Phillips Russell wrote of him, “No man knew the Blue Ridge people, lore, habits, and tastes better than Shepherd Dugger (1854-1938). In his day he was the foremost historian of the region and recorder of its traditions.”

Lightly edited; original online at Digital Library of Appalachia

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You really had to work to keep them molasses

Posted by Dave Tabler | August 16, 2017

“[My grandparents] had a molasses mill; they made molasses. I used to help make them, too. [They made molasses to sell.] And they made for people. They’d make molasses for six weeks or longer at a time, every day except Sunday. Sometimes they didn’t make them on Saturday. It was usually five days a week.

“They’d start grinding the cane in the mornings about four o’clock, and it’d usually be ten or eleven before they’d get the last ones cooked and off of the pan, before they quit. [My grandmother] was in charge of the cooking of the molasses, and she was really good at it. She stayed right there from the time they got juice on that pan and started cooking till it was all off at night. She didn’t even go to the house to eat her meals. They’d bring her meals to her.

sorghum molassess millPhoto caption reads: Boiling juice of sugarcane into sorghum molasses. Racine, West Virginia. Sept 1938.

“They cooked them with wood. It was a big long pan, and you let the juice come on first, and you’d keep the fire going. It had to be a certain kind of wood, oak wood. And you’d keep the fire going under that pan to get the juice started, and you’d have to skim the skimmings off because it would be real green and foamy skimming. And you had what looked like a wire pan, and you’d take that and go down in under them skimmings and dip them off, and you had cans and buckets that you’d put those skimmings in. They weren’t any good; they’d just throw them away.

“And as the molasses would cook, they’d have divisions in that pan, and over here would be when the juice would start coming in. And then after they started thickening a little bit, it had a place that would close up, and they’d open that up and let that juice, as it started to thicken, come over in the next section. And it would cook so long in that section. And then at the last they would let them go over in the third section to finish cooking. And you had to stay with them all the time and keep stirring them to keep them from sticking, after they started thickening.

“You really had to work to keep them molasses. And they tried to keep that temperature about the same temperature all the time, to make good… They would make them for people and take so many gallons for making them. That was the pay they got out of it. They’d get twenty-five cents a gallon for them when sold them, and now they’re twelve dollars a gallon.”

Eunice Austin
b. 1915, Catawba County, NC

Interview H-107
Southern Oral History Program Collection


related posts: “Maple syrup time”

Eunice Austin
Catawba County NC
sorghum molasses
appalachian culture
appalachia history
history of appalachia

4 Responses

  • tipper says:

    Wonderful details! You should hear Pap’s story of the time the cat got into the molassses-lets just say it wasn’t a pretty sight.

    I wish I had the land to grow cane-I’d make Pap teach me the way they did it when he was a child. He said it was one of his favorite times of the year.

  • Gene Bowker says:

    Love the podcasts!

    Was Molasses something that was only done in the fall, or was it a year round process?

  • Admin says:

    Glad to hear the podcasts are catching your ears. :-)

    Molasses was & is definitely a fall thing; as is hog butchering.

  • […] to molasses as a plural when speaking of them. But in this oral history from 1915 titled “You Really Had to Work to Keep Them Molasses,” we see a treatment of the word that does use the plural pronoun “them” when […]

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The flood trapped people before they knew what was upon them

Posted by Dave Tabler | August 15, 2017

The Mountain Eagle


The death list of the terrific storm which swept Letcher County Sunday night has mounted to sixteen, with reports coming in which indicate that it may reach twenty.

Property damage cannot be estimated. Homes are destroyed, livestock and poultry drowned, and whole farms practically ruined. The fury of the flood far exceeded anything that has ever hit this area in its history.

Numbers of the dead have been found, but searchers are still at their gruesome task of tearing into drifts along the banks of the streams in hopes of finding bodies. Loved ones anxiously await some word from the searchers.

Mrs. Nannie Collins, on Rockhouse, died after her family had to be moved out of the home on account of rising water, but she was already at the point of death, and it is thought that the flood did not contribute to her death.

The bodies of the little Boggs child and Breeding child have not been found yet; but, so far as reports here go, all others have been recovered.

Pine Mountain storm in Letcher County KYOriginal caption reads: Letcher County, Kentucky. Thunderstorm on Pine Mountain.

The storm has left desolation in its wake. A large number of homes that escaped the death toll do not have food or clothing, except as it is furnished by neighbors, the L. & N. railroad and the Red Cross.

Train service has been cut off, telephone and telegraph service is practically destroyed, and the North fork of the Kentucky River is in a world by itself. The extent of the storm cannot be determined.

Nobody is going hungry, so far as is known. There is enough food in the valley to last several days, and arrangements have been made by which more supplies can be brought in through the Big Sandy valley if they are needed before the train service can be restored.

Volunteers are busy with rescue and reconstruction work everywhere, and a heroic effort is being made to heal the wounds inflicted by the angry storm.

Red Cross headquarters at Washington, D. C., volunteered help; and the local committee, under the direction of Chairman C. H. Burton, is furnishing aid wherever a need can be found.

Elsiecoal was the first place to be reached. The work there was turned over by Mr. Burton to Dr. Collier, railroad surgeon, who is taking care of the situation at that place.

All mining work has been stopped, and many men are out of employment. It is estimated by the operators that the work will be held up from a few days to several weeks, depending upon the extent of the damage at the different places.

The greatest loss of life and property was in the heads of small streams. It appears that the rain Sunday night came in cloud-burst fury, flooding the narrow gorges and trapping people before they knew what was upon them. It is in these isolated places throughout the county that the greatest suffering will result, men who are studying the situation say.


Letcher+County+KY floods appalachia appalachian+history history+of+appalachia

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We have canned 113 cans of corn and several beans

Posted by Dave Tabler | August 14, 2017

Fletcher, N.C.
Dec. 12, 1932
Mrs. Rosalee Gibson, Vonore, Tenn.
Dear Mother,

I had a letter from Seth this morning. I was glad to hear from you all. This leaves us all very well, hoping it will find you all the same. I have just neglected to write as I should have. And I think you all have been slow enough about it.

You know how we neglect those things. I am so busy now that it looks like we cannot come before Christmas. We are going to try and come between Christmas and New Years. The school will be closed that week. And I have so much work with the churches before that time that I just cannot come. But I hope we can get the money and the time to come then.

My church work is doing about as usual. I am going to quit one church the first of the year. That is the Hominy Church which pays me $50 per month, then I do not know what I will use for money. The other churches do not have money. I hope you will have a good Christmas. We hope to know when the day passes. That will be about all with us. Grady is sure that Santa is coming to see him. Santa brought him a wagon last week.

Carrie is getting so fat that she cannot wear her dresses. She may have to come to see you with a sheet wrapped around her. She weighs 138 lbs. I think I will have my teeth pulled and see if I will get fat. Otas is doing fine in the Army. Willard is still working at the dairy. Carson works with him part of the time. Estella, Fred and Grady are all in school. Neither of them have missed a day or been tardy during this school term.

I have said about all I know to say. I sure hope you will take care of yourself and get strong. You should not worry about any of your sorry kids. We are not worth worrying over. We have not forgotten you. And I hope you will not think so just because we do not write often.

I hope money is plentiful and everything lively with you all, for it sure is not that way here. Times are very hard with most everybody here. We do not have any corn this year. We have only one hog to kill. It is not large. Our cow is almost dry. We do have canned goods and some friends, I hope. So I guess we will not starve. We should not grumble about things to eat and wear. Have Seth to write us a long letter and tell us all about things..

Be cheerful and enjoy life as best you can. I sure hope you can get strong and live many happy years yet. I think of you often and pray for you. I hope we can come about the 3rd of Jan. But I am not saying so for sure. You know that it takes money to buy gas, and I do not know just what to use for money. May God bless you.

Your Son as Ever, M.L. Lewis

1939 pressure cooker

A 1939 model pressure cooker from a kitchen in Flint River Farms, GA. Taken by Marion Post Wolcott for the Farm Security Administration.

Tuxedo, N.C.
Sept. 12, 1933
Mrs. Rosalee Gibson, Vonore, Tenn.
Dear Mother:

I am writing this letter hoping that you all will get. I cannot think I am as guilty of not writing as you accuse me.

I think that I have answered every letter that I have received from you all. I confess that I do not write as often as I ought to. This leaves us all well hoping it will find you all the same. I sure was glad to hear that you are getting along good.

I do not want you to worry about us not writing more than we do. We will try and do better. We are made to wonder why you all do not answer when we do write. I do not know whenever we had heard from you until yesterday. We sure were glad to hear.

We have moved from Fletcher to Tuxedo. Tuxedo is eight miles south of Hendersonville on the Greensville Road, about three miles from the S.C. line. I have been preaching to this church for three years part time. I am here now full time.

Willard is working in the mill. Carson will go to work soon. We have been very busy since we moved yesterday as a week ago. We have canned 113 cans of corn and several beans. We have a pressure cooker and a can sealer. We used tin cans for our corn. We have about 600 qts. in all canned.

Estella goes to the Flat Rock School. It is about 4 miles away. She goes on the bus. Fred and Grady goes here at Tuxedo. We think that we will like to live here. The Fletcher Church hasn’t got any pastor yet. I have no idea who they will get. Willard has him a girl here. I guess they will marry. Otas was with one of the C.C. Camps near Bryson City. But he was called back to Fort Bragg about two weeks ago.

We are living in a six room house. It has two stories. We will soon have a sink and a bathroom. We have a good basement. We have two halls and two porches. Yes plenty of room. I wish you could be with us I think you would enjoy it. We live just across the highway from the church. Times is some better here than they have been.

The mill here is running good. Still it is hard to get a job as so many are still out of work. Well I will close by promising to write more often, and by asking you to do the same. I have addressed this letter to my Mother, but it is for all.

M.L. Lewis


One Response

  • Granny Sue says:

    It sounds like mothers never change! Always fussing at their children to write or call more often. At least today we have email and facebook so it’s a little easier to keep in touch. I thought the part about having a can sealer was interesting. Can you imagine doing that today in your kitchen?

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