Monday, December 30, 2013

Light on the Parkway

This is a story that was told to me several years ago by a coworker. He was a very honest and straight-laced type of guy, so while I can't verify this story, I can vouch for the teller. He told me this story one evening wile we were working, and even though the encounter had been several years in the past, he still seemed shaken up by the experience. I've changed the names to respect his privacy, everything else is as I remember it.

     My name is Bill and I live in Cherokee, North Carolina. I had a rare weekend night off (I'm in healthcare), so my wife, her sister and the sister's husband decided to head over to Asheville. It's a fairly long drive, so when we go, we usually make an occasion out of it. We spent the day shopping, had a decent meal and then caught a movie. We left the theater around 11 pm. It was a beautiful summer night, so we decided that we should take the Blue Ridge Parkway from Asheville back to Soco Gap and then on to Cherokee and home. This would almost double the trip time, but we were enjoying the day and didn't mind a late night. I want to point out that I do not drink or take any drugs. No one else in the car had been drinking that day either.

     The parkway was almost deserted; we passed a few cars early in the trip, near the Asheville side of the Parkway. For most of the trip, we had the road to ourselves. The sky was clear and the moon illuminated the road and forest. We were enjoying the drive, talking and looking down into the valleys that fell away from the road. Just past the Black Balsam overlook area, I noticed a light on the road behind us. At first, I assumed that it was a motorcycle, but after a moment, I realized that it was glowing red. I still didn't think much of it; maybe it was the brake light of a car that had pulled away after we had passed. A couple of minutes later, I looked up again and realized that the red light had gotten much closer. I motioned with a nod and asked my companions to look back. They all saw the light, but none of us were alarmed by it. Within moments though, the light had gotten close, maybe 200 yards back. I could see it illuminating the trees that frame the road. Everyone again looked back, and we realized that the light was much higher off the ground than a car or motorcycle would allow. It seemed to be just below the tops of the trees. This spooked us. I sped up, trying to outrun this thing while also avoiding driving us all of the parkway. My wife and her sister were frantic, staring back at this ominous red light that seemed to be chasing us down the parkway. Ahead, I could make out the silhouette of Devil's Courthouse. I knew this meant that we were approaching a tunnel, and the thought of being trapped under the ground with that thing terrified me. I sped up again, but this damned light was still behind us, maintaining that same 200 yard buffer.
     I hit the entrance to the Devil's Courthouse tunnel doing about 60 mph. Seconds later, the light slipped in to the tunnel as well, and the walls were suddenly bathed in red. The inside of the van seemed to glow with this unnatural light. As soon as we were out of the tunnel, I whipped the car into the Devil's Courthouse parking lot, ready for a fight. We all saw the light just behind us. It flew past us, still above the Parkway road, and then ascended to just over the trees before swooping down the northern face of the mountain, heading towards Sunburst. The tops of the trees were lit up for the few seconds that the light was there, and then all was dark again.

     We sat there in the dark, silent, waiting for this thing to come back. After fifteen or twenty minutes with no sign of it, I backed the van out of the parking lot and sped down the parkway towards home. Nothing else strange happened that night. I looked around online after this happened, trying to understand the experience. I didn't really find anything, but I did read some about UFO encounters and abduction experiences. We didn't notice any missing time, and none of us had any sort of physical effects from the experience. It was simply and utterly terrifying. I'm still wary of the Parkway, especially at night. As a Native American, I know that certain places are charged with power, either good or evil. I'm not sure what we saw that night, but I know that I never want to see it again.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Boojum of the Balsams

     There's an old legend here in western North Carolina that has been all but forgotten in the last few decades. The story of Boojum of the Balsams is sometimes cited as a peculiar Appalachian variant of the Bigfoot legend, but it's hard reduce this tale into something so simple. I've read several articles about the Boojum, both online and in print, and they all tell a very similar story, with only a few details changing between versions. I'll give you the condensed version of the Boojum story, and then we can discuss.
     Boojum is described as tall, between 7 and 8 feet tall, and covered in shaggy dark brown or gray fur, except for his face, which is long and human-like. His eyes are almost always noted as being somehow sad. Most of the reports of Boojum, however, are based on his sounds and vocalizations. Lip smacking, grunting, and heavy breathing are all hallmarks of the Bigfoot of the Balsams. A particular noise, something of a cross between an owls hoot and the growl of a tiger is a frequent report. 
     Most of this sounds like a typical Bigfoot story; the physical attributes and noises are found in reports across the country. But where Boojum departs from the norm is in his actions and in the particulars of his story. He has an insatiable affinity for shiny jewels, rubies, sapphires and beryls found in the clear mountain streams of his home. He is said to hunt the hills in his search for these baubles, hiding them in caves scattered around the area. Beyond this, he has an affinity for human women, especially women who have slipped off to cool off in the mountain streams. Many less-than-fully-dressed young women have reporte hearing the sounds of breathing or a rustling in the leaves only to look up and see those sad eyes, framed in a dense mat of long hair, peering down from the underbrush. 
     It is said that one of these lasses, (named either Annie or Maggie, depending on the source) found herself drawn to that forlorn face. She followed Boojum into the forest, becoming his companion and eventually, his wife. 
     The end of this story revolves around another grand hotel here in the mountains, although this one is long gone: the old Eagles Nest Hotel. Built by S.C. Satterthwait of Waynesville, this high altitude hotel catered to wealthy patrons who could afford to escape the oppressive southern heat. Stories about strange occurrences started almost immediately. Well-to-do patrons of the hotel reported occasional sightings of Boojum and numerous unexplained sounds. Fearful of this strange beast, they demanded that Satterthwait put an end to the strange occurrences. I haven't found much in the way of historical documentation, but on April 22, 1918, the hotel burned to the ground. Some say that Satterthwait finally captured Boojum, and that a lonely, heartbroken Annie (or Maggie) burned down the huge building in retribution. The stories and sightings have continued, though only sporadically. Maybe the Balsam Mountains are home to some offspring of Boojum and his bride, still searching for gems in those cold and lonesome creeks. 
     It's hard to say much about this story. It's so completely tied to local legend that it's almost impossible to tease out what is true and what is purely imaginary. There are numerous mythological archetypes in here as well, and parts of the story seem to be designed to either teach a lesson (young women shouldn't be skinny dipping alone) or impart a moral lesson (true love is blind). Normally, I regard these sorts of stories with caution, simply because I can't prove or disprove anything. But the Boojum story resonates with me for a couple of reasons: I lived on Eagles Nest Mountain as a kid, and a relative of mine was said to have had a physical run-in with the elusive creature. 
     The story goes like this: A great uncle of mine was a driver for a livery company that existed in the days of the Eagles Nest Hotel. He would pick guests up at the old train depot just below Main Street, Waynesville and load them into his horse-drawn wagon for the trip to the top of the mountain. He reported several instances of feeling watched, of hearing strange noises in the forest or seeing shadowy shapes disappearing behind the brush. But on one night in particular, his experience became much more real. He was taking a load of passengers to the end, and the sun had begun to set as they made their approach to the hotel. Suddenly, his horses became skittish and refused to move another foot up the road. He urged them to move forward, as his passengers were tired and more than ready to check into their rooms for some rest. Almost instantly, the source of his horses fear became apparent as a tall, broad creature broke from the brush, crossing the road not more than 10 yards in front of him. As quickly as it appeared, it vanished into the dense forest on the other side of the road. After a couple of moments of coaxing, the horses began to walk towards the hotel, as if nothing had ever happened. 
     Unfortunately, this relative died long before I was born so I can't ask him for more details. This story was passed to me by my grandparents, like a lot of good stories are around here. I don't believe this story was ever written down, but I've told it as best I can remember. It mimics a more traditional Bigfoot story, but the location places it firmly in Boojum territory. I'll be looking at some more recent western North Carolina Bigfoot sightings in an upcoming article, so it'll be interesting to search for parallels with the Boojum legends of years past. 

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!

I'm taking the day off today to open gifts, eat too much food and enjoy some family time. I hope everyone has a happy and safe holiday. I'll be back on Friday to talk about Boojum of the Balsams. Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Great Balsam Mountains

     So far on the blog, I've written primarily about experiences and reports that are coming from within the confines of the actual town of Balsam, North Carolina. But the Balsam area is a much larger entity, covering several high mountain peaks and including parts of the Blue Ridge Parkway. This region is called the Great Balsam Mountains, and includes Cold Mountain, Black Balsam and Shining Rock. As I continue, I hope to expand the scope of this blog to include tales from these more far-flung areas. Beyond providing more area to cover, this expanded coverage also gives us a ton of additional history to look at, including some Cherokee legends. Included within the range of the Great Balsams are two incredible pieces of Native lore and history: Devil's Courthouse and Judaculla.
     In Native tradition, Judaculla (or Tsul 'Kalu, more traditionally) was a slant-eyed giant known by the Cherokee as the lord of the hunt. His home was on the boundary of three western North Carolina counties in a high mountain bald. Judaculla rock, far below the bald in a river valley, is a huge soapstone boulder covered in undeciphered markings and pictographs. This piece of prehistoric art is said to be the result of the giant leaping from his high mountain home down into the valley. His huge, six-fingered hand print impressed in the stone is a visible reminder of his presence.

     Judaculla rock can still be visited, although rain and wind have taken their toll upon the inscriptions. It's just a short drive past Western Carolina University off Caney Fork Road. Tanasee Bald, the legendary home of Judaculla, is a little harder to find. Some articles place it just down the parkway from Devil's Courthouse, while other reports seem to center on Richland Balsam, several miles further away. Judaculla rock is a fascinating artifact that helps make the legends of the past more solid and real.
     Some researchers who have studied Judaculla and his significance to the Cherokee have noted the similarities between this mythological giant and stories of Bigfoot and Sasquatch. In fact, the very name Tsul 'Kalu, when used in its plural form, refers to a race of giants that the Natives believed lived far to the west. It's also interesting that Tsul 'Kalu and Bigfoot seem to share several physical similarities. There are more modern legends of Bigfoot-type sightings in the area; a famous case revolves around the Eagles Nest Hotel, now long since burned and forgotten. This creature was referred to as Boojum, but the story is remarkably similar to tales of Tsul 'Kalu. I'm working on some reseaarch into the Boojum story; I hope to have that up in the next few weeks, so more details on that are forthcoming.
     So no real ghost story today, no tale of the paranormal. Just some history and legend that I find interesting, and maybe a reminder that this area, with it's high, dark and foggy mountains, has always been a place of mystery and mythology.


Friday, December 20, 2013

More tales from the Balsam Mountain Inn

     In doing some research, I stumbled across another book that mentions the strange occurrences reported at the Balsam Mountain Inn. Ghostly Encounters: True Stories of America's Haunted Inns and Hotels was written by Frances Kermeen. Kermeen is the owner of Myrtle's Plantation in Louisiana, which is touted as one of America's most haunted locations. The full book is available on Amazon.
     The brief chapter on the Inn includes a bit of the history of the structure and the surrounding town, and speaks briefly of the restoration of the Inn in the 1990's. Reports from guests of footsteps and jiggling doorknobs are cited. The most interesting aspect of the article is something I've never heard before. Back in the years when the Inn was a seasonal operation, the employees spoke of how they would spend hours buttoning up the building for the winter, tidying up, turning off lights and closing the windows and doors. They would leave the dark structure, say their goodbyes for the winter and then trek down the hill. Once at the bottom of the drive, they would be shocked to look back at the grand old hotel only to find all of the lights burning brightly. They would return, extinguish the lights, and leave again. By the time they had gotten to the bottom of the hill, the lights would be on again.
     This is an interesting report, but little additional detail is given, so it's hard to investigate further. It's a fascinating tale, however, that points to a long history of the paranormal at the Inn.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Ghost Hunting: The Basics

     If you want to watch ghost hunting on television, you are living in a golden age. Ghost Hunters, Ghost Adventures, Ghost Mine, the list goes on and on. There's almost always a show on where people, lit by the ghastly green light of a night vision camera, run and trip through some haunted location with all sorts of esoteric paranormal equipment blinking and beeping to let us now that something is there with them. Likewise, the amateur ghost hunter can pack a bag with meters, cameras and many more expensive electronic baubles that attempt to prove the existence of spirits. There are smartphone apps that are marketed as full-featured ghost detection units. So what's useful? What works? I think there are two answers, and my feelings about this aspect of paranormal investigation may surprise you. So here we go.

A Selection of ghost hunting tools from Amazon

    The list of equipment used in a typical television ghost hunt is staggering: K2 meters, voice recorders, EMF detectors and motion detecting cameras are the old standbys. Newer innovations include the aforementioned smartphone apps and the spirit box, which supposedly allows a spirit to select words from a digital dictionary that the spirit box can then play aloud. There are a host of other devices that show up on each television spook hunt. So what's worth using? Technically, I would argue that most of this stuff is worthless junk. Personally, I think that the chance of detecting any sort of spirit with a digital device is slim to none. K2 meters, EMF detectors and spirit boxes seem to rely on  random chance more than anything. I think that cameras and voice recorders can be a valuable tool to document the investigation and to capture the human reactions to the paranormal. The iPhone apps that I've played with have meters for things like EMF detection when the iPhone clearly does not have a sensor to detect EMF.
     So, does that make this stuff completely worthless? As a technical tool, probably. But I think that there may be a deeper value to these devices, something beyond the obvious. I think that having this equipment puts us in the proper mindset to be able to notice the paranormal.  The ritual of checking batteries, flipping switches and peering through the green-tinged eyepiece immerses us in the experience. When the voice-recorder is rolling, we are quiet and still, trying not to contaminate the sound. This allows us to actually listen to the environment.  When the camera is action, we are alert and aware of everything we can see. In this way, I think that the equipment can be a useful component for the paranormal team, as long as it's not allowed to get in the way of the human experience.
     I do want to end this with the admission that I have seen good paranormal photos, and I've heard some really chilling EVPs, so I can't completely discount these tools. But the human mind is especially good at making patterns from random noise, so everything becomes suspect. Again, these new digital toys should be used to supplement the human experience of the paranormal rather than as a substitute for it. So by all means, use a camera and a digital recorder to document the moment and maybe even catch something unexplainable. Use these other tools with caution, but don't be afraid to let yourself get into the moment and more open to the supernatural. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Update on the Claud Green Murder Research

     I've been doing a little follow up research on the murder of Deputy Sheriff Claud Green in 1928. Some attribute the unexplained phenomenon at the Balsam Mountain Inn to this tragic occurrence. We know that Deputy Green was shot on the grounds of the old Balsam School (now the Balsam Community Center) during a community dinner. We know that a man named Ed Smathers was arrested and convicted of the murder, but only spent a short amount of time incarcerated before being released. Several questions remained unanswered for me, most notably: What connection would this murder have to the experiences at the Inn? Was Green taken to the Inn before he expired?

     I began my investigation by searching for newspaper reports from the time period. My first attempts were stymied by bad luck. The archive of newspapers in Haywood County for the years of 1927 to 1931, including the crucial year of 1928, were lost in a fire that destroyed the old Haywood County library. Other archives of local papers were either missing or damaged beyond use.

     I made my way to the Jackson County library and hit the jackpot. The September 6, 1928 edition of the Jackson County Herald opens with the headline "SLAYERS OF GREEN STILL AT LARGE." The article goes in to significantly more detail about the events of August 31, and creates even more mystery. I'll attempt to condense and clarify this information as much as I can. I think the easiest way to do this is probably a simple timeline. I'll put my notes and comments in italics.

Friday, 31 August 1928: During a box dinner and play at the old Balsam School, Sheriff's Deputy Claud Green is shot seven times with two different guns. Only one eyewitness is noted in the reports, a 14 year old student from the school. His name is never mentioned again. The Jackson County Herald reports two shooters.

Thursday, 6 September 1928: Alney Mehaffey is arrested for the murder of Green. Mehaffey is a 24 year old escaped convict. 

Tuesday, 11 September 1928: Ed Smathers is arrested for the murder of Green. Smathers is a 35 year old escaped convict1. He is asleep in a friends home when deputies Strike him in the head, knocking him to the ground2. He is taken to a local doctor for medical care before being imprisoned.
     1Smathers was convicted in 1926 for manslaughter after claiming self-defense. He is sentenced to 5-7 years, but escapes after just six months.
     2It is almost definite from reading the reports that a relative of Smathers turned him in for the reward. He is lured to a friends home with the pretext of meeting this relative and procuring some liquor. It is here that he is arrested after nodding off at the kitchen table.  

16 October 1928: The trial of Edward Smathers begins. He stands accused of first degree murder. Smathers' defense team argues that his trial should be delayed until his accused accomplice, Alney Mehaffey is indicted. The prosecutors acknowledge that the case against Mehaffey is so weak that he will probably never be indicted unless new facts are brought up in the trial of Smathers3. The defense then argues that a fair trial in Jackson County is nearly impossible. To alleviate this concern, the judge orders that the jurors should be pulled from the eastern part of Haywood County4.
     3I have yet to find any further mention of Mehaffey, either in the papers or online, other than a census record from 1940 and a few pages about his burial. If this is the same Mehaffey, he passed away in 1985.
     4This is a distance of only 30 miles or so; the idea that the people in this area wouldn't have heard of the murder of a policeman seems ludicrous. 

18 October 1928: A witness in the trial testifies that she heard Smathers confess to his wife his role in the death of Claud Smathers, and further implicates Alney Mehaffey in the death. She quotes Smathers as saying, "I shot Claud Green, but I had to do it." The character of the witness is called into question, and it is noted in court that she has repeatedly denied that Smathers ever made the admission that she is testifying to5.
     Smathers has a comprehensive alibi; several people testify on his behalf as to his whereabouts on the night of the murder. School children that were present on the night of the shooting claim that they believe that Smathers was at the scene, but none of them will testify that it was definitely him.
     5The story gets murky here. To paraphrase, the witness testifies that she overhears Smathers admitting to the murder to his wife. Smathers goes on to explain what happened, and that Deputy Green had attempted to search a man on the Balsam School grounds. She never names this man. A scuffle ensues, and another man fires at Deputy Green. At this point, the man involved in the scuffle opens fire as well. She ends her testimony by saying that she also overheard Smathers telling his wife that he didn't kill Green and that she should believe him no matter what she hears. This testimony is all over the place, and makes little sense. This could be chalked up to poor reporting by the newspaper, or it could simply be an untrustworthy witness. It's important to note, however, that this is one of the only witnesses that is mentioned by the paper.

25 October 1928: Smathers is convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to 20-25 years in prison. The jury is concerned that there are no eyewitnesses and that the case is entirely cicumstantial.

Beyond this date, I don't have a lot of solid information. There are two interesting tidbits, however. It is known that Smathers only served a short portion of his sentence before being released and moving west. This seems strange, considering that he had been convicted of murdering a police officer, and that he was an escaped convict when he was apprehended. This doesn't seem like the type of prisoner who gets an early release. 
Secondly, there is a story within the Smathers family that seems to hint at a cover-up. According to the tale, Smathers sent a letter from the prison to his cousin George that said, "If you don't get me out of here, I'm coming with the truth." Was Smathers taking the fall for someone? According to this story, most locals understood that it was in fact George Smathers, and not Ed, who had murdered Deputy Green.

So what does this have to do with ghosts? If some theories are to be believed, a spirit may become stuck if there is some great unsettled tragedy or a wrong to be righted. Does Deputy Green still hang around because he feels that Smathers got off too easy, or is he still looking for the real killer?


Friday, December 13, 2013

Pots and Pans

This is another reader submitted experience.

For several years, I had a friend who lived just a few minutes away from me in Balsam. Our houses were connected by a narrow trail that cut through the forest. There were no other houses near the trail, so it could be a bit creepy at times, especially if you were walking it alone. My friends house had a particularly weird vibe, but this one incident really stands out to me. 
     My friend and his family were moving, so I had been up helping him get his things together and generally saying a long goodbye. His mother came up, and asked if we would carry some pots and pans to my house. She didn't want to pack them, and she thought my mom could find some use for them. We dutifully stacked the pots, maybe 6 or 8 of them I total, and started walking to my house. After just a couple of minutes, in a fit of rebelliousness and laziness, I pitched the whole stack of cookware over the bank, down into the dense brush.  We continued to walk to my house, grabbed a couple of sodas and never mentioned the pots and pans to my mom. We left for a while, heading out into town. When we returned, we started to walk back to my friends house. It was then that we saw a surprising sight.
     There, on the side of this quiet little trail, was a perfect stack of pots and pans. Someone, or something, had collected every piece that I had tossed down the bank and left a neat pile for us to find. It's important to note that we were out of sight of my friends house, and too far away for anyone to have heard the noise. My mom was home alone and could certainly not have done it. There are no other houses nearby, and no reason that anyone else would have been in this area. I don't recall seeing the brush on the hillside being trampled in any way that would indicate a person had been down there picking up cookware. It simply seemed like the forest itself was unhappy that I littered. 


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Background Info

     If you haven't already, please be sure to read the link in the sidebar to the page titled "Balsam Basics." This helps explain some of the history of the area as well as my personal links to the town. I'm also working on a page explaining my personal beliefs about ghosts, the paranormal and our realtionship to it. That should appear in the sidebar in a few days as well, so keep your eyes open. Lastly, please feel free to contact me with any personal experiences, family legends or just random comments.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Balsam Mountain Inn guest experiences

     I'm going to try to collect here some of the experiences that have been reported by guests at the Balsam Mountain Inn. Most of these are culled from various websites so I can't really vouch for the veracity of any of them. I think it's still a helpful exercise to simply compare stories and try to get an idea of any "hot spots" within the Inn and to look for patterns within the experiences.

A guest in room 109 was awakened by the senstation of someone grabbing her foot.

Two guests in room 332 were on the porch looking up at the building when a shadow crossed by the window to their (supposedly unoccupied) room. Both guests reported seeing shadows in the room later that night, as well as hearing whispering voices. They were roused from their sleep at around 5 am by the sound of knocking, followed by more anomalous whispering.

A female guest woke to see a man in overalls looking though a suitcase at the foot of the bed. She assumed it to be her husband, but quickly realized that he was still in bed with her. She closed her eyes, and when she reopened them, the strange figure was gone.

     Above reports collected from Ghosts of America.

Haunted Places notes that two rooms in the Inn seem to be haunted: 205 and 207. Unexplained footsteps, jiggling doorknobs and other unexplained noises are reported. No personal experiences are noted.

     Haunted Places

In a 2009 interview with The State, the former innkeepers specified room 205 as the focal point of the haunting, and even give a name to the spirit that lingers there: Henry. It's also noted in the brief interview that a crew from The Travel Channel had been at the In, filming a segment of the paranormal happenings1. One guests' experiences are related: A woman sleeping in the room awoke to find her husband rubbing her back. She turned to thank him, and then realized that he was sound asleep in the bed beside her.

     The State: Rooms with a Boo

Sheila Turnage notes room 205 again in her book Haunted Inns of the Southeast. A jiggled doorknob is again mentioned, as is a window being opened as guests slept in the room.
     Haunted Inns of the Southeast on Amazon

So this brief look at some publicly available experiences give us some interesting things to think about. Room 205 is an obvious starting point, and the name Henry is also an interesting tidbit. Without sounding mean, some of the stories on-line seem to be written by ninth graders. It's tempting to just dismiss some of this offhand, but I want to examine them as fully as I can. Some things (footsteps, whispering) are pretty easy to explain in a 100 year old Inn with paper thin walls. Some things are more mysterious. Hopefully this overview of reports can get us moving in the right direction, and provide a starting point for more serious research.

1: The Travel Channel spot mentioned in the interview is episode 8 of a show called Weird Travels, which ended its run in 2006. The episode is called "Haunted Hotels: Where Darkness Dwells." I've yet to find a copy of this, but when I do, I'll review it here.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Alone in the forest

This is another tale collected from my friends grandfather.

     As the tale goes, some years ago, before cars were readily available in Appalachia, a young man we'll call Carl was courting a young lady that lived on the other side of the ridge from Carl's home. Carl, being young and poor, would walk the long dirt road around the mountain to see his girlfriend, and on occasion her parents would invite him to stay for dinner. On one such evening, after a large and hearty meal, Carl began to set out for home in the dark. Now, this was long before flashlights or streetlights (Balsam, in fact, is still without that modern convenience) and so Carl found himself facing an oppressive darkness made even worse by the thick canopy of trees overhead. But Carl was a brave young country boy, and more importantly, he was tired. He made the decision that he would avoid the long walk on the dirt road and simply cross through the forest, over the ridge, and back down to his house.
     Within a few yards, Carl found himself in a darkness that was so complete he felt as if he were walking with a blanket over his head. He was forced to wave his hands around blindly to prevent himself from walking directly into a tree. When he reached the top of the ridge, he decided to rest, as the climb up had been more strenuous than he had expected. He reached out a hand in that inky blackness to support himself on a sturdy oak. But quite to his surprise, his hand came to rest not upon bark but upon another hand. Someone was there, within arms reach in that impenetrable darkness. Carl gave up all pretense of caution and ran, stumbling and blind through the forest, all the way back home.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Balsam Images

     These are just a couple of images of Balsam that I've taken over the years. Beyond the paranormal, Balsam is a beautiful place. It has a certain lost-in-time feeling, a rundown aspect that adds to the Southern Gothic overtones.

     These are the railroad tracks that bisect Balsam, and run directly in front of my old home. These tracks delivered upper class tourists to the Balsam Mountain Inn for years, now the tracks sit mostly idle.

This is another Balsam landmark besides the Inn. The old Knight's Store, named for a family that still lives in Balsam, definitely embodies the spirit of a town that time forgot. The building was built on 1900 and closed in the late 70's. It's stood abandoned ever since, with merchandise on the shelves visible through the dust covered windows and gas pumps rusting into the ground. This little building is one of the few reminders of the Balsam that used to be.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Personal Experience: Balsam Community Center

     A close friend and longtime resident of Balsam provides the following account:

The old Balsam School, now used as a community center.

     Several years ago, probably in the mid-90's, a friend and I had taken a late night walk out to the Balsam Community Center. At the time, the building was almost completely unused, and plywood covered the doors and windows. It was not unusual to find ourselves there at night, sitting on the steep concrete steps around back, looking out over the basketball courts and maybe sneaking a cigarette or a can of beer. Balsam was quiet at night, with almost no traffic, and very few houses nearby.
     This particular night the two of us sat there in the darkness, leaning against the boarded up door at the side of the building. As we talked and laughed, loud, heavy footsteps sounded out inside the building. Someone was running to the boarded up door! Before we could react, a huge thud sounded out as the person inside slammed their foot into the door. Without even thinking, we were both up, scrambling down the stairs and away from that horrible noise. We had to skirt the building to get back to the road, and those 50 feet were probably the hardest I have ever run.

The door, boarded up at the time, where we heard the noise.

     Was it someone inside? Probably. Maybe some drunk who found a warm place to spend the night and didn't like us making noise outside his door. But years of living here and experiencing several other unexplainable events has made me wary. This also ignores the fact that the place was very well boarded up. We had tried on several occasions to sneak in and had found no weakness. Whoever or whatever was in there wanted us gone, and I was happy to oblige.

My Balsam Mountain Inn experience

     I worked as a cook at the Balsam Mountain Inn for a couple of years, and I heard all of the stories from the other employees of strange occurrences, unexplained footsteps, all of the typical hallmarks of a haunted space. I hope to delve into some of those in the future, but for now I want to talk about my own experiences. Most are fairly low key and I assume all of them could be explained away easily enough. There are a few instances that I simply can't rationalize away, but I understand if you, dear reader, disagree with me.

     Firstly, I'd like to address a big issue: The Inn has a history, a certain gloss of the supernatural attached to it, and that is bound to color the perceptions of anyone who is aware of it. It also looks the part; like a miniature Overlook Hotel from The Shining, with creaky wooden floors, wavy glass in the windows and an overabundance of shadows. My own personal experience with the Inn also alters my perception of it; my first time in the building was an illegal entry through an unlocked window with friends and a Ouija board when the Inn was boarded up and unused. (I'll talk about that when I'm sure the statute of limitations has expired.) All of these things modulate the way that I react to and interact with the space, and I understand that. I guess what I'm trying to say is that the building itself might make one believe in ghosts.
     So, here's the easy to explain stuff: Footsteps. Sometimes near, sometimes far away and loud, but footsteps were very common. Many mornings as I sat the kitchen up alone in preparation for breakfast, I would hear someone crossing the large dining room. I would pop my head out to explain our breakfast hours only to be greeted by an empty room. The entrance to the dining room had an infrared door alarm that sounded a chime in the kitchen. This was tripped on many occasions without an obvious source, and many footsteps were heard in the dining room without the alarm being triggered.
     There was also that odd feeling of being watched, which undoubtedly has many potential causes. The odd thing about the Inn was that the feeling would come and go. Some nights, the place felt light and airy, like any other building. But other times there was an oppressiveness to it, a sense of foreboding that made the place see darker than it really was. And this feeling wasn't dependent on the staff; some nights I would work alone and feel just fine. Other nights with a full staff present and the whole building seemed to be watching you.

     More difficult to explain was the situation with the gas stoves. One more than one occasion, a cook would walk to the stove only to find an eye turned on, but not lit. I assume that some rational explanation could be found for this, but it seems unlikely. The control knobs were old and difficult to turn, and this normally happened quickly. My experience was this: I walked from the stove to the sink to dump out some water. When I returned to the stove seconds later, one eye had been turned on fully; the smell of gas was immediately evident. Could I have somehow bumped the knob and turned the gas on? Perhaps. But in two years of cooking, I had never done that before and I never did it again. Similar experiences happened to the other cooks, and frequently in situations where no one was using the stove.

     The last experience that I will mention is probably the most perplexing. To understand the story, I'll need to explain the layout, and that's probably easiest with a diagram. When the incident occurred, I was standing in the kitchen, talking to the head chef. It was early in the evening on a fairly slow night. The chef had his back to the walk-in cooler, I was facing him and could see over his shoulder and had a clear view of the short hall that connects the laundry room to our dry storage room.

     As we talked, I saw a person cross in front of the cooler door, as if they were walking from the laundry room into dry storage. There is an exterior entrance into the laundry room, but dry storage has only windows and is several feet off the ground. My initial thought was not of the paranormal. I assumed that someone had simply walked in the laundry room and slipped into storage. I interrupted the chef to explain that someone was in dry storage. Again, there was no thought of anything paranormal, no weird vibes or anything. There was a person, and they weren't supposed to be there. The chef and I walked into storage quickly to find an empty room. No windows were open, nothing was out of place.  Whoever I had seen had simply walked into the room and vanished. I tried to explain what the person looked like to the chef and other cooks, but there was nothing that really distinguished him. It was a man, but beyond that I had nothing. The whole sighting had lasted maybe two seconds, but it was absolutely real to me. Can that be explained? Sure. I had some sort of hallucination, maybe a visual disturbance. Does that seem probable? I suppose it's just as likely as me having seen a ghost, but the clarity and absolute realness of what I saw still makes me wonder.


The Light

     I moved to Balsam in the fall of 2003, finding myself alone in a small house. I was only a few yards from the house of my best friend from childhood, and just down the hill from his brother, another close friend. This situation allowed us to see one another fairly regularly, and it wasn't unusual for everyone to congregate in one house for poker or video games or a movie. One summer evening in probably 2005, my friend, his wife and his brother and I were all sitting on my front porch.

     The sun was going down to the west, and the horizon was a beautiful palette of oranges and yellows. I looked to the southwestern horizon, and saw a large red-orange ball. It was probably the diameter of a pencil eraser held at arms length. I caught the attention of the rest of the group, and everyone stopped to look at this unusual light in the sky. The sun had slipped a little further down, so the bright light was in stark contrast to the darkening sky behind it. We watched it intently for about ten minutes.

     At this point, I had begun to think that it was possibly just a very bright planet on the horizon, maybe Venus. I slipped inside to grab my telescope, a cheap Meade that I had picked up a year or so prior. Just as I began to adjust the scope to try to look at this supposed planet, the light began to move rapidly across the sky towards the north. It grew in size until it appeared to be about the size of a dime in the sky. It's margin was ragged, giving the appearance that it was on fire. Within a few seconds it had moved far enough north that it was out of sight behind the tree line. It was completely silent for the duration of the sighting.

     I spent the rest of the evening trying to work out what I had seen. The planet hypothesis was clearly out, as planets don't tend to move rapidly across the sky. The duration of the sighting rules out a meteor. It's possible that it was a plane, as odd as that seems. If it had been heading directly for us, it would have appeared as a point of light, especially with the sun illuminating it from behind. Once it changed headings, it would have moved rapidly from our field of view. The flaming effect could have been simply a mirage as the light traveled through the atmosphere, and the lack of sound can be explained by the distance. This is the explanation that I've settled on. While it doesn't fully satisfy me, it does seem to fit the circumstances of the sighting. This is important for me; to understand that as much as I want it to be something odd, it may well not be. Or maybe that's what the aliens implanted in my brain during my abduction. Who knows?