October is spooky season, and in the archives and online we’ve been seeing increased interest in hearing local ghost stories. One would think that a place called Transylvania would be teeming with haunted places and the stories to accompany them. Surprisingly, there are not nearly the number of ghost stories of this county as there are in neighboring counties. Those that do seem to originate in Transylvania are not always unique. Ghost stories everywhere seem to fall into predictable categories, which can make one doubt the verity of stories that resemble ones we’ve already heard.
Ghosts can show up to finish unfinished business from a life cut short or because they are stuck in the loop of a moment in time. Some ghost stories aren’t ghost stories at all but are instead jokes. Sometimes ghost stories are about specific events involving real people with names that have grown to legendary status. But sometimes they are more general–a person believed to be seen who then disappears or a lost soul in need who then vanishes in the mist only for the helper to later discover it was a ghost.
The first set of stories this month all fit into the category this author is calling “There and Gone” – stories in which a being, perhaps mistakenly identified, seems to be present only to disappear, thus convincing the observer of supernatural origins. The reader can decide for themselves if these are real stories. Many of these were collected by Vernie Owens and have previously been published in the Transylvania Times.
“Orb light at Spook Gap”
A man was deer hunting in Transylvania with some friends. They had killed a few deer, and this man was sitting with the deer while the others went to collect the other deer they’d killed. The man sat down on a rock at the base of a tree. As he sat there, he began to see a light coming towards him. It would get close to him and go out just before it reached him. Over and over again, the light would come towards him and go out when it reached him. He thought it was his friends coming back, but every time it would go out. About an hour later, his friends returned, and right away he asked them, “Why were you coming toward me but only shining the light out through here and then turning it off?” They said they hadn’t been. Then one noticed something and said, “Say, didn’t you notice that you’ve been sitting on a headstone?” “No, surely it isn’t,” said the man. “Sure is – look here.” And they showed him that he’d been sitting on a lady’s gravestone the whole time. People still call that place Spook Gap.
“Mysterious scarf lady”
Two men were fishing a creek along a back road in western North Carolina, and it was pouring rain. The younger man was going to fish down the creek, and the older was going to fish up the creek near a waterfall. The older man fished awhile and then came back out to the road. As he crossed a footbridge, there were two large mudholes, a laurel thicket, and an old split rail fence. A woman appeared out of the forest. He mistook her for a friend’s wife and greeted her. He was a little embarrassed because they hadn’t asked permission to fish and were on her family’s property. She was wearing a scarf that obscured most of her face and spoke not a word. He stepped over the fence and offered her a hand over the muddy holes. She didn’t move. He turned away, stepping back onto the road, speaking the whole time to reassure her that he and his companion would leave soon. As soon as he turned back toward her, he saw that she was gone. He tried to find signs of her footsteps, but the only tracks he found were his own.
The last Transylvania story in this set reminded this column’s author of a Cherokee legend, to follow:
“White fluffy being”
Some family members were driving back home from the funeral home one night after a funeral when a big white ball came rolling in front of the truck. It looked like a big ball of snow. When the white ball came to the middle of the road, it stood up and turned into the figure of a man. It walked by the truck and disappeared into the woods.
For comparison: “What the Stars Look Like” from “Cherokee History, Myths, and Sacred Formulas” by James Mooney
There are different opinions about the stars. Some say they are balls of light, others say they are human, but most people say they are living creatures covered with luminous fur or feathers. One night a hunting party camping in the mountains noticed two lights like large stars moving along the top of a distant ridge. They wondered and watched until the light disappeared on the other side. The next night, and the next, they saw the lights again moving along the ridge, and after talking over the matter decided to go on the morrow and try to learn the cause. In the morning they started out and went until they came to the ridge where after searching some time, they found two strange creatures about so large (making a circle with outstretched arms), with round bodies covered with fine fur or downy feathers, from which small heads stuck out like the heads of a terrapin. As the breeze played upon these feathers, showers of sparks flew out.
The hunters carried the strange creatures back to the camp, intending to take them home to the settlements on their return. They kept them several days and noticed that every night they would grow bright and shine like great stars, although by day they were only balls of gray fur, except when the wind stirred and made the sparks fly out. They kept very quiet and no one thought of their trying to escape, when on the seventh night, they suddenly rose from the ground like balls of fire and were soon above the tops of the trees. Higher and higher they went, while the wondering hunters watched, until at last they were only two bright points of light in the dark sky, and then the hunters knew they were stars.
A note on photos: the Local History department at the Library does not own photos of ghosts or alleged ghosts so have provided photos in the archives that match the themes of the stories. These photos represent elements similar to those in the stories only. Inclusion does not indicate that these people or places are ghosts and/or haunted.
Photographs and information for this column are provided by the Rowell Bosse North Carolina Room, Transylvania County Library. This article was written by Local History Librarian Laura Sperry. Sources available upon request. For more information, comments, or suggestions, contact NC Room staff at [email protected] or 828-884-1820.