Monday, October 19, 2015

UFO Experience

This is a story that was related to me many years ago by a family member. 

When I was a little girl, we lived on a small farm in Bethel. (This would have been between 1910-1920. -Wes) One afternoon in the late summer or maybe early fall, my oldest brother came running in the house yelling about something in the sky. We all ran out to the porch and we could see this thick trail of smoke in the sky. My brother said that there had been something bright flying across the sky and leaving behind all this smoke. It crashed into the ridge up the valley from our house.

My father and a couple of my brothers and a man who lived further down the road rode their horses up to the spot a couple of hours later and said they could see a hole in the ground that was glowing red and smoking something awful, and the stench was so bad the horses didn't want to go too near to it. They told us this when they got home that evening. I think my brothers went up there a couple more times before my mom made them promise not to anymore. I remember that the hole smoked for several days after it crashed. We had never seen an airplane, and I don't think I had ever even seen a car when this happened, so it definitely stood out as something out of the ordinary.

 It was probably a week after we had seen this thing crash in the woods.  I remember that my dad and brothers had gone to town for the day, so my mom and my sister and I were sitting on the front porch talking and waiting for them to get back. There was this strange feeling, like right before a lightning storm, but it was a pretty, clear sky day. But the air felt almost prickly. We could see something coming up the road towards the house. As it got closer it looked for all the world like an egg, but shiny. It was 3 or 4 feet long and seemed to be floating above the road. It didn't make a sound. It floated right past the house, probably 100 feet from us on the porch, moving a little faster than a man can walk. It kept going up the road until we couldn't see it through the trees anymore. This would have been in the direction of the thing that had crashed. I don't know what that thing was, and I don't know if the two things were related. Sure was strange though.

The first part of that story seems easy enough to explain (meteororite, etc.), but the second part is indeed quite weird. 

Friday, October 16, 2015

Post EVP Session Experience

Thursday night, October 8. I find myself hunkered down under a metal pavilion with Jeremy, the dull red lights of three separate voice recorders our only light. Well, that and the retina-shattering flashlight that Jeremy insists on sparking up every few minutes. That's right, folks, we're on a ghost hunt!

In the ongoing investigation into the 1928 murder of Deputy Claude Green and the ghost stories that surround his death, I decided to explore the more paranormal side of the story. Jeremy and I walked down to the old Balsam Community Center from his house and sat up our voice recorders and cameras. Unfortunately, environmental noise ranging from crickets and dogs to a higher than expected amount of traffic made our recording almost unusable. We walked back to Jeremy's house and relaxed for a few minutes, giving the audio recordings a cursory listen, glancing at the handful of images that we took, and discussing our next steps.

I left Jeremy's house an hour or so after we had finished our session, and something odd and startling happened to me. Jeremy's driveway is gravel and lined on both sides with heavy brush. At the end of the driveway, you must negotiate a very sharp turn to get back on the paved road. In my large truck, it usually requires some wiggling to avoid driving onto the railroad tracks on the other side of the road. As I came to the end of the driveway, with my windows up and my iPod playing through the trucks stereo, I was shocked to hear a loud screeching sound coming from somewhere in the woods up the hill and to my left. I can only describe it as the compressed screech of a train braking violently; metallic and harsh and sharp. It only lasted a second or so, but as soon as it was over, my stereo went silent. I was, if I'm being honest, terrified. I don't think I even realized that my music had cut out as I whipped the car onto the pavement. My only thought was that I was going to have to back up to make the curve, and the thought of looking back, looking into that dark forest behind me, was almost paralyzing. I dropped the truck into reverse and backed up blindly, and then threw it back into drive and onto the pavement. The entire drive home was full of dread, absolutely unwilling to look behind me.

I have no explanation for what I heard or felt that night. It's been a long time since anything paranormal has happened to me and I feel that I'm still processing the event. In some ways, it sounds like a UFO experience more than a ghost story. And no, no missing time for me. I'm interested if anyone has had a similar experience. Share in the comments or shoot me an email.

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Cowee Tunnel

In the years following the Civil War, the South seemed unwilling or unable to deal with the realities of an economy that couldn't depend on the free labor of slaves. Continued institutional racism, Jim Crow Laws, the Black Codes and the deprivations of indentured servitude meant that many blacks in the South were really no better off than they had been prior to the Emancipation Proclamation and the passage of the 13th Amendment. One lesser known approach that the southern states took in the decades after the War was the leasing of convicts for hard labor. Business owners, including the plantation owners further to the south, could acquire very cheap labor from the states prison systems, with almost no oversight into how they treated (or mistreated) the laborers. Keeping in mind that many laws unfairly targeted blacks and created harsh penalties for virtually any perceived crime (including walking outside after dusk, for example) and it's easy to see how this system became a nightmare for incarcerated blacks.

One salient example that leads us to our story: As the railroads began to push further and further into the mountains of western North Carolina, they started to encounter very treacherous terrain. Wide, fast, strong rivers flowed beneath steep and rocky peaks; deep gorges and isolated construction sites impeded and slowed the work. As the railroads found it harder and harder to entice workers to join the teams in the mountains, they turned to the state for a solution. In return, the state of North Carolina leased teams of convicts to the railroad to continue the dangerous work.  These teams laid track and dug tunnels through some of the most inhospitable terrain in the eastern United States.

One of these chain gangs was tasked with digging the 700' long Cowee Railroad Tunnel, just outside Dillsboro, NC. They worked with pick axes and shovels throughout the winter of 1882 to clear the forest and tunnel through the rocky mountain. Every morning the team, one of whom was only 15 years old, would be shackled together, ankle to ankle, and make the long march to the site. They would be loaded into a raft and pulled across the frigid Tuckaseegee River. On the morning of December 30, 1882, 30 convicts were loaded in shackles into the boat. The river was especially rough that day, and the icy water crashed over the low sides of the raft. Panicking at the raging water spilling into the boat, the convicts rushed forward to the stern, causing the raft to tip and dump the passengers into the icy water. Nineteen convicts died, chained together at the bottom of the river. The bodies were dredged from the water two days later, on New Years Day, 1883, and buried in an unmarked mass grave near the mouth of the tunnel.

Other people have covered the history better and more thoroughly than I (specifically Gary Carden, although many others have written on the tragedy). Efforts have been mounted over the years to have the bodies exhumed and reinterred in a proper fashion, to give these men the respect they deserve.

Over the years, numerous people have reported noises emanating from the tunnel; the sounds of pick axes on stone, of voices echoing from inside the earthworks. On occasion, loud moans and screams and unexplained splashing sounds have been reported. Cave-ins and train derailments in the tunnel have led some to speculate about a curse directed at the place by the poor souls who worked on, and in some cases, perished at the tunnel.

Today, the easiest way to see the tunnel is to take a ride on the Great Smoky Railroad. Listen carefully as the train passes through the mountain, and you may just hear the cries of the men who died to cut this treacherous tunnel.

Sources and Additional Info

Gary Carden

The Ghost Writer

Smoky Mountain News Article

Friday, October 9, 2015

The Fiddler's Grave, pt. 1

There's a story that I heard a few years ago that goes something like this:

There's a grave in a small cemetery in Waynesville inscribed with the name "The Fiddler." No matter the time of year or day that you visit, the grave will be swept clean, even if the rest of the cemetery is buried in fall leaves. Is this hallowed ground swept clean by the dancing of a spectral couple enjoying the fiddling of some long dead musician?

All good questions, I suppose.

I visited the site a few days ago as the initial visit in a longer research project. I had hoped to delve into the legend, find out who this mysterious 'Fiddler' was, then dip into the more supernatural side of things. I did find a little information on my brief visit, and I did notice some discrepancies with the original story.

The headstone is a little more informative than I had heard. The full inscription reads

Joe Gillian
"The Fiddler"
Died 1934

There were, in fact, a few leaves on the grave. Oddly enough though, is that there is very little grass or moss growing on the grave, which consists of the small headstone and a large (maybe 10' in diameter) semicircular depression in the bank, even though the rest of the graveyard is very lush and green.
To the right is the mossy green of the cemetery, to the left is the bare earth of The Fiddlers Grave
To add to the weirdness is the fact that the grave site is set about 20 yards or so from the rest of the cemetery. If I hadn't been looking for this specific grave, I probably would have missed it entirely. 

Beyond that, my research has been fruitless. I can't find any reference to the legend online, and almost nothing about the enigmatic Joe Gillian. So I'll put this here: Has anyone else heard this story? Does anyone  know anything about Joe "The Fiddler" Gillian? If so, please drop me a note in the comments or via email. 

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Spirit Leaves

When I was a kid, my grandparents (like a lot of Southern grandparents) were full of great stories, including a few ghostly tales. This is a story from my grandmother.
When she was a young woman, she had an unusual experience after a family friend had passed away. As was customary, the casket and body were placed in the family's home so that friends and relatives could visit and pay their respects. The casket was on display in the back room of this small house, and most of the well-wishers had said their goodbyes and headed home for the night. My grandmother and her family lived only a few doors down, so they had stayed on to help clean dishes and put away chairs and the numerous pictures and mementos that had been hauled out as the various well-wishers had stopped by.
Late in the evening, with the still summer air hanging heavy in the house, my grandmother and the rest of the family found themselves sitting quietly in the living room. The silence was interrupted by a sharp creaking sound coming from the back room. They all realized that they were hearing the sound of the casket slowly opening. Everyone sat up, alert and scared and fascinated. They heard the creak of the wooden coffin as it opened and the dull pop as the lid closed again. Then there was the soft shuffle of footsteps on the worn wooden floor. And then last, the sharp metallic creak of the spring on the back screen door as it opened and then slammed shut. Silence followed, until the normal summer chorus of crickets and katydid's resumed in the darkness around the house.
They sat in stunned silence for several long minutes until a brave member of the family finally crept into the back room, followed closely by the rest of the family and friends. Nothing was obviously amiss so he slowly raised the lid of the rough oak box. The deceased was still there, still firmly deceased. They retreated to the living room and sat in the gloom of the late summer night until sunrise.
I think this is a great story, spooky and a little sweet in the picture that it paints of family and friends coming together and a less frightening view of the spirit world. The house is gone now, replaced with a parking lot for a builders supply store. But the good, solid darkness of a southern summer night is still around, and it's easy to imagine that the quiet is crowded with spirits if you try.