By Molly Moore
As fall creeps into Appalachia, a smoky fog drifts through the hollows and wraps trees and church steeples in a ghostly haze. At this time of year, it’s wise to pay attention to the human stories buried in the region’s historical towns and landmarks.
Elizabethton, Tenn., one of the earliest permanent settlements west of the Appalachian Mountains, possesses haunted tales tied to the town’s distinguished history. The first independent government formed by settlers in North America, the Watauga Association, resided in Elizabethton. In 1772, thirteen men assembled beneath a landmark sycamore tree and held the first court of the fledgling government under its branches. Though the tree succumbed to disease and age, its stump still stands beside an old covered bridge.
“Stories circulate in the area where that tree was,” says Elizabethton storyteller Chad Bogart. “People have seen the tree and 13 men under the tree deliberating.”
Bogart and the other two members of the Front Porch Storytellers will guide Elizabethton’s Historic Ghost Walk, an event held in conjunction with the town’s Fall Fling Festival. Since the Front Porch Storytellers began their walking tours of Elizabethton in 2005, they have woven ghostly legends into their historical journeys.
The Front Porch Storytellers aren’t the only chroniclers of southern Appalachia’s ghostly tales. Joe Tennis, author of six books including Marble and Other Ghost Tales of Tennessee, Virginia and Haunts of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Highlands and a freelance writer for The Appalachian Voice, has written about Elizabethton’s haunted Carter Mansion.
“This is a story largely rooted in history and tells of a little girl who might be seen in the window of the historic Carter Mansion home,” Tennis says. “I actually am just as interested — or more — in the history of the home and Elizabethton and Carter County. I like stories that, even if you took out the ghost element, there was still a good story.”
As Tennis delved into southwest Virginia’s past for a historical guidebook, he unearthed otherworldly legends associated with locally-known locations such as Honaker High School, Mountain Lake Hotel and the Virgina Creeper Trail.
While Tennis was originally skeptical of the haunted rumors he heard, further investigation convinced him of the truth behind some of the tales.
“I tried to play devil’s advocate everywhere I went,” Tennis said. In his interviews, he isolated community members and tested their stories with probing questions. Yet, time after time, different people recounted similar happenings.
But sometimes local legends prove more fascinating than the actual hauntings. Tennis recounts the story of Christiansburg Middle School, a contemporary building constructed on the foundation of an all-girls academy that was torn down in the 1930s. Generations have shared sightings of ghostly 19th century women on the property — clicking heels, creaking doors and pale faces in the windows. Even more frightening, however, are the stories of murdered family members, burned homes and graveyard chanting that encircle three women who attended the girls’ academy.
Whether it’s history or haint — the mountain word for ghost — elements of mystery tie many regional spots to the past.
“If there is no such thing as ghosts, how did all of this start?” Tennis asks.
Haunted History Walk, Summersville, W.Va. — Oct. 29 at 8 p.m. $10/adult, kids 10 and under free with adult. Visit www.hauntedhistory.net or call (330) 412-6114.
Appalachian Ghost Walk, Abingdon, Va. and other locations — Nightly, start times vary. Varies from $13-$30 depending on group size, kids 5 and under free. Visit www.appalachianghostwalks.com or call (423) 743-9255.
Elizabethton Historic Ghost Walks, Meet at Bonnie Kate Theatre Elizabethton, Tenn. — Oct. 22 at 10 a.m. and noon. $12/person for ages 12 and up. Call (423) 542-9360 or email
Haunted Asheville’s Classic Ghost Experience walking tour, Asheville, N.C. — Nightly based on reservation. Cost: $20/adults, $15 age 14 and under. Call (828) 335-6764 or (828) 398-4678.
Gatlinburg Ghost & Haunt Tour, Gatlinburg, Tenn. — Nightly at 9 p.m. through Oct. 31; Nov. 1-31 Fri. & Sat. at 7 p.m.; Dec. 26-31 nightly at 7 p.m. $18/adults, $10 kids 8-14, 7 & under free. Visit www.gatlinburgghosts.com or call (865) 366-5834.