By Becky Cook
When I was a child in Kentucky, I was privileged to be a part of a folk community where Jack Tales were told and retold. Year after year North Carolinian Richard Chase, a well-known collector and teller of Jack Tales and Grandfather Tales, held his listener spellbound with the tales of the adventurous trickster names. Jack. Jack was an Appalachian boy with superhuman powers who got himself into all kinds of mischief. Originating, probably in Europe, the tales somehow reached the Beech Mountain area of Western North Carolina where Mr. Chase heard them and wrote them down, even though he disparages the writing and encourages his readers to learn them and tell them out loud. In rereading some of them, I might add, I’ve learned that, at least in the case of “Wicked John and The Devil” (by Richard Chase), there is another rendering of the same story, called “A Bargain With the Devil” found in ”Ghost Tales of the Uwharries”, by Fred T. Morgan. So, I’m inclined to believe there’s nothing new under the sun! ‘Just depends on who’s telling it.
Close to home is the story of “Dead Dan’s Shadow on The Wall” (of the then Rutherford County Jail). A brute of a man, Daniel Keith, was likely falsely accused in the beating death of an 8-year-old girl in 1880. He became the scapegoat for the town’s frantic search for a perpetrator of the crime, and when sentenced to hang he issued a curse on jurors and all who testified against him. After his hanging a shadow of a man dangling from a rope appeared on the south wall of the jail. Various attempts were made to rid the structure of the shadow. Those who convicted him were haunted by him for years, through the selling of the building twice, converting it to office space, repainting, etc. In 1949, however, after the last change of ownership, the shadow disappeared. Quite coincidentally that was when an 85-year-old, who had testified against Daniel Keith as a 16-year-old, died. He was the last of those cursed by Big Dan at the time of his conviction.
Of course, a “short stack” of ghost stories of our area would not be complete without looking at “The Mountain That Talks Back”. A family of giant size men lived at the base of a mountain. A mighty conflict between the father and one of the sons went unnoticed. The two disappeared. Years went by and the rest of the family went on about the rest of their lives. From his deathbed the missing brother wrote for his aged brothers to come so he could tell them the story of his father’s demise. The dying son had murdered his father in self-defense, stacked logs over his body, and set the fire which consumed the man’s body. Legend is that the ‘face’ on the mountain might be the dad’s and the smoke rising was from the dad’s burning body. That’s part of the reason for the name “Rumbling Bald”. The reality is there was an actual earthquake in 1874 which gave the mountain its name. Tremors were felt for six months. Rumbling sounds continued off and on for 70 years and a deep crack opened in the side of the mountain. It’s thought that large boulders were dislodged by the crack. Smoke emanated when rumbling occurred, possibly due to the internal boulders falling and the dust lifting from the falling rock activity. Many superstitions were associated with these events, including the idea that this was the beginning of a volcano or it was the devil coming from hell to claim the souls of the sinful.. It’s said that church attendance increased dramatically at that time.
There are many stories of haints and spirits all around us and descriptions of how they might appear/disappear. Keep yourself open to the possibilities. Lights spontaneously on and off. Furniture sliding across the floor with no person nearby. Strange sounds. Beware that many of these events happen in the fall. And Halloween is perfectly timed!