The following article is excerpted from ‘Traditions’ magazine, Volume 13, published by Fairmont University, Fairmont, WV. It is reposted here with permission.
The image of a group of friends swapping ghost stories around a campfire late at night is one that is very familiar to Appalachia and an integral part of Appalachian folklore and literary history. Nearly everyone has had his or her experience of ghost stories filled with spooky sounds, horrid murders, and ventures into the unknown, and to celebrate this magical facet of folk literature, we at the Frank and Jane Gabor West Virginia Folklife Center have chosen a selection of Appalachian ghost stories that Dr. Ruth Ann Musick collected during her years teaching.
In these stories, ghosts fill and color the folk landscape of Appalachia, making trouble and causing disturbances for people from all walks of life. In “The Family That Disappeared,” a ghostly mist haunts a family, while a group of lumberjacks experience the fright of their lives in “Ike the Lumberjack.” A young couple find themselves living in a haunted house in “A Night of Horror,” and in “The Ghost of the Golden Cup,” an antique dealer finds that he has gotten himself into more than he had bargained for. The uncanny and the macabre fill these authentic Appalachian ghost tales, breathing life into the stories of the undead.
Throughout all of these stories, our Appalachian heritage shows through, reminding us of the stories that have been passed down through our families for years. These tales hearken back to our childhoods when we listened to the ghostly stories of times gone by. While they are chilling and sometimes disturbing, they are also nostalgic, instilling within us not only a sense of history and heritage, but also one of the magical whim and mystery of childhood.
Without a doubt, the stories that we have chosen are rife with mysterious events and spooky encounters with the beyond. They really do leave one questioning, “Could this have really happened?” Whether you are an avid ghostlore enthusiast or are a skeptic, I dearly hope that the following stories transport you, carrying you away to worlds of pure imagination and the wonder of childhood. —Ian Williams
The cover design of ‘Traditions’ magazine Volume 13, published by Fairmont University, from which this article is reprinted. It features pen and ink with mixed watercolor images created by Noel W. Tenney. Various illustrations were inspired by the chosen haunting stories contained in this excerpt. Tombstone carvers, flying cats and kits, a hitchhiking lady in red, and a golden cup are the main motifs used on the cover.
The Family that Disappeared
On the border between West Virginia and Virginia, a very unexpected thing occurred some years ago. A family was driving to visit some neighbors. A weird sound caused the driver to stop and investigate. As he stepped from the car, he noticed a thick fog very low to the ground. He thought nothing of this but, as he looked around, he noticed it was heading for him. He walked away from the car and left his family there just for a moment.
When he returned, the car was empty and there was no sign of footprints or of the strange fog. His family had disappeared into thin air. He got frantic and raced for his neighbor’s house. He told his story and a small group returned to the scene. Nobody was in the car as the man had said and no tracks of any kind could be found. He returned to the neighbor’s house and called the police to investigate. The policeman told this man that a similar occurrence had happened only a month or so before and still nothing had been found of the others.
This threw the man into a panic and he ran back to his car. He searched and searched but only to find nothing. Then, he heard the weird sound. When he turned, he saw the strange fog rolling toward him. This time he stood where he was and apparently the fog enveloped him. When it rolled away, he was gone and was never heard from again. The police again were called to investigate, but nothing substantial was ever found of either of these two families.
[Note: Corrections suggested by Dr. Musick.]
Collector: Rick Price
Location: Border of VA and WV
Date: January 15, 1969
Type: Supernatural, Ghostlore
The Ghost of the Golden Cup
There once was an antique dealer who bought a tarnished golden cup. He acquired this cup at an auction miles away from his home town and his shop. The cup, as it seemed to him, would bring a very good price, so he took it to his shop and polished it until it shined with great splendor. Almost everything this man had bought or sold had a slight flaw in it, but this cup had none. The perfection of this cup pushed it for a fast and high sale price. Still, the dealer couldn’t help worrying about the perfection of this cup. The cup was sold to an elderly lady who loved its simplicity and adored its beauty. This lady took the cup home and drank from it, which was a terrible mistake because the next morning, she was dead. This fact made the antique dealer really worry, so he went to the lady’s son and bought the cup again.
Illustration by Noel W. Tenney
The dealer figured this would be a good way to make some money, so every once in a while he would rent this cup to people who had enemies they couldn’t stand. All of the people who drank from this cup died the next day.
The dealer figured that since the cup had served its purpose in making him rich, he would destroy it to forget its bad memories. One day, he
melted this cup and formed it into a statue of a man. Not long afterward, the statue was sold to an antique hobbyist who collected antique miniature statues. That night, after it was sold, a ghost appeared and told this dealer he would die the next day because of his improper use of this odd golden cup. The dealer didn’t believe this ghost, but in spite of his doubt, he died the next day.
[Note: Corrections suggested by Dr. Musick.]
Collector: Leonard Romino
Date: November 22, 1968
A Night of Horror
A young married couple had just moved into their new home. It was in a sparsely settled community and their nearest neighbor was a half mile away. The newlyweds had enough of the pioneer spirit that they did not mind the isolation. They felt they had been fortunate to find such a location, for the land was new and rich and soon they hoped to be living comfortably and secure from want. The house consisted of four rooms with a large attic which could be used for an extra room in case they had company.
Four large pines almost hid the house from view and through their branches the breezes stole, making sweet, sad music. The meager furniture left the rooms looking almost bare, but John could make a piece occasionally and Mary was already planning the weaving of a rug for the living room. And, by saving money from the sale of the crops, she hoped to have drapes for her windows. They had worked hard all afternoon and after a nourishing supper, they retired for their first night in their new home. After a time, they fell asleep.
Near midnight, they were awakened by a rending crash in the kitchen. “John, what was that?” screamed Mary, grabbing her husband in horror. “I don’t know,” whispered John, “but it sounded like falling dishes.” He was out of bed now, grasping for the lamp and matches beside the bed. Lamp in hand, he walked cautiously to the kitchen. “Nothing amiss here,” he called back to Mary who still lay in bed, frantically clutching the covers about her.
“We must just have been dreaming,” said her husband as he came back into the room. No dishes were broken and the cupboard was in its rightful place in the corner. “Strange that we should both have had the same dream,” Mary whispered, trembling. John set the lamp on the stand and turned down the wick, leaving a very small flame which cast pale ghostly shadows across the floor. He had just settled comfortably in bed when there came a sound as of water dripping—just a subdued pat-pat-pat, about a second between each drop. Neither spoke for a time—the water pail must be leaking, though it hadn’t before. “John, will you please see what it is?” asked Mary.
“I just can’t possibly sleep until I know. I seem to be a bundle of nerves since that crash.” John turned up the light and started for the kitchen. “Wait for me,” panted Mary. “I don’t want to be left alone.” The noise ceased as they stepped into the kitchen. The water pail was not leaking and there was no sign of water on the floor, but there was something which neither had noticed before—a large reddish-brown splotch on the floor near the table. It looked like paint, but both wondered why Mary hadn’t noticed it when she scrubbed the floor that day.
Glancing up at the ceiling they saw a similar stain, as if something had run through from the attic. John started up the steps and Mary followed him fearfully. They searched carefully and the light at last fell upon a dark red stain and a large smear which looked like dried blood. They discovered a path of blood leading toward the stairs. Their fear was beginning to leave them now and there remained only the desire to trace down this mysterious phenomenon. Down the stairs and into the kitchen it led them. Now, John noticed something he had not observed before.
A section of flooring had been cut out and then nailed back into place. With the aid of a mattock, he loosened the boards and underneath, in a shallow grave, he found all that remained of a human being—a well preserved skeleton. They were horrified but their fear soon left them. They went back to bed and to sleep. Early next morning, John and Mary walked to town about four miles away and reported their discovery to the constable. An investigation soon led to the discovery of the murderer and he was given a long prison term. Never afterward were the young couple disturbed by weird noises and they lived happily for many years in what had been a haunted house.
Informant: J.R. Kimble
Location: Wetzel County, WV
Ike the Lumberjack
This story was told to me by my grandfather who is still living in Shinnston today. The time was in the middle of March in 1922. The place was a small village called Everette. The lumberjacking crew had just arrived from another job and were “doing the town” before their next job. Their job was to clear the Everette forest. My grandfather was a member of that crew. The Everette forest was practically untouched because of the legend of “Ike.”
Ike was supposedly the ghost of an enormous lumberjack who was killed by a giant redwood tree in the Everette forest. The legend said he would come out once a month and chop down a tree in the middle of the night. Many people of the village had heard chopping in the night and the next day they had always found a giant redwood tree on the ground. Many crews had tried working the Everette forest but they were all scared off.
The next day, the crew started to work and everything went smoothly for about two weeks. One rainy night, the crew was awakened by a loud chopping and groaning noise in the forest. The men got up and ran toward the chopping sound. When they were almost there, a giant redwood fell and killed two men. The rest of the men ran back to the camp and left that night. Some said they had heard footsteps crunching away from the fallen redwood. The Everette forest remained uncut.
Collector: Robert Patterson
Location: Everette, WV
Date: December 5, 1966
Dear reader, there are many more stories beyond this excerpt to be found in the original ‘Traditions’ article! See below the photo to order a complete copy.
The Frank and Jane Gabor West Virginia Folklife Center, Fairmont, WV.
Traditions, which is the official journal of West Virginia folklore/folklife studies, was originally started in 1950 as West Virginia Folklore with Dr. Ruth Ann Musick as its longtime editor. It was a quarterly journal and linked to the West Virginia Folklore Society, the fourth such society in America to showcase regional follkore. The name was changed in 1993 to incorporate more content related to the study of folklore, such as its scholarship, research, and educational application, along with the actual lore. Dr. Judy P. Byers and Noel W. Tenney have served as co-editors since 1993, and it is published annually. The Society with its archives and membership evolved into The Frank and Jane Gabor West Virginia Folklife Center, also, in 1993.
The complete version of this article can be found in Traditions, Vol. 13, which you can order from The Frank and Jane Gabor West Virginia Folklife Center, Fairmont, WV. The price for an issue of the journal is $10.00 which includes shipping plus information about becoming a Friend of the Folklife Center and its various activities.You can also contact the Center via Facebook. Special thanks go out to Dr. Judy P. Byers, Director of the Center, for her help preparing this article.