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by Frank Shortt
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Ghost Tales of Virginia
There are folk tales from many areas that are carried from generation to generation with
no basis as to who started them or if they are true. I am attempting to clarify some of these tales that have emanated from Southwest
Virginia. Hopefully, they will be both informative and entertaining.
My grandmother, Lou
Evelyn McGlothlin Shortt, was half Irish and half Cherokee. Her father came from Ireland as a boy and met her mother who was from
the Cherokee reservation. Grandma Evy, as we called her, was a fun-loving lady who would sometimes do things unbecoming a grandmother.
One day in the 1950’s my brother, Wendell, and I confidently went on our way to Altizer’s
Store, where we were sent by our mother for some items she needed. While crossing Grassy Creek, having to pass a large beech tree,
Grandma Evy jumped out in front of us, almost scaring the daylights out of us. She had stretched an old ladies nylon stocking over
her face, disfiguring her appearance, and decided to give us a good scare.
Later on, when
we reminded Grandma of this incident, we asked her if she had ever been scared really badly. She related the following stories to
“One night we were all sitting on the front porch just after dark and suddenly what
sounded like a wagon pulled by a team of horses rattled up in front of us. There was the most awful bellowin’ and pantin’ I ever did
hear. We gazed into the dark but couldn’t see a thang.”
The ‘Us’, that Grandma was referring
to, were some of her ‘often-mischievous’ sons. She was forever trying to scare them into being good boys.
She continued, “Just as suddenly as we heard the noise, it disappeared. We never did figure out what had made that noise. Cold chills
ran all over my body, I just knew that a ‘haint’* had visited us.
In actuality, it was
learned later that a team of horses had broken loose from a farmer and had ran up Grassy Creek. They were found next day up on Shortt
Gap Mountain, tired but safe.
“Then there was the time when I was a young girl visiting an uncle and aunt up on Smith Ridge. After supper we sat around and talked
for most of the evening then one by one we began to grow sleepy. As I was a guest I waited for my aunt to tell me where I was to sleep
and take me to my bed. She told me that I would be sleeping in the attic and commenced to take me there. I found the bed to be very
comfortable, with a feather tick mattress and warm hand-crafted quilts.
about midnight, without any warning, chains began falling from the ceiling. I didn’t know what to do! What could I do except to scream
for my aunt?
“Auntie, come quick, there are chains falling from the ceiling.”
Like the loving aunt that she was she came up the narrow stairway and began to try and comfort me.
“Aw, Honey, you must have been dreaming. Just go back to sleep and I’m sure you’ll be alright.”
“I lay back down with pounding heart and finally dozed back off.”
“About an hour later
I was awakened again by the same noises, only this time they were louder.”
go those chains again. I’m scared to death, what must I do?”
“Once again Auntie came up
the narrow stairway and commenced to try and calm me down.”
“Now, Evy, if you are not going
to be able to sleep up here tonight, just come on downstairs and you can sleep on the couch in the front room.”
This is what a living room was called in those days.
“So I spent the rest of the night
on the couch.”
“Next morning when my uncle and aunt arose I asked them about the strange
noises that sounded like chains falling from the ceiling.”
“The folks who owned this house
before were teamsters, my uncle began. They were a rowdy bunch and made considerable enemies. One night they were visited by some
ruffians in the community. They were probably lookin’ fer moonshine. They forced the occupants upstairs, killed them and bound them
with their own trace chains.
That’s how the Sheriff found them next day when they did not
show up for their jobs. Ever’ once in a while folks who sleep up thar hear the chains falling from the men’s bodies as the sheriff
unbinds them. It mostly happens during a rainstorm. I’m surprised it happened to you when there was no rain last night. If it had
been raining we would have never sent you up there to sleep.”
“I was glad I didn’t have
to stay another night in that ‘hainted’ house.”
“Did you go back up the stairs that day
to see if you could spot the chains,” I asked.
“Not on your life, she replied, You couldn’t
have drug me back up there with a team of wild horses!”
Wendell and I could only sit with
our mouths agape.
“There was another time when Jeff and I lived in the old Sally Jane Moseley
house that I had something else happened that I could never explain.”
Jeff, was Grandpa
Shortt. He and Grandma had once lived in the only remaining log house in Shortt Gap, Virginia with their oldest children. The house
was always referred to as the Aunt Sally Jane Moseley house. She was purported to be a witch and many folks had declared that strange
happenings had occurred while passing the house. Strange lights had flashed. Eerie screeches had emanated out between the logs, and
a host of other unbelievable things were reported. This was all according to who told the stories and how much imagination they had.
Actually, Mrs. Moseley was a midwife and most of the babies born while she lived there
were delivered by her. She must have been a little eccentric to cause folks to call her a witch.
“One night, grandma continued, I was sitting crocheting by the light of the oil lamp. Suddenly, I felt someone breathing on my neck.
I didn’t become startled immediately thinking it was Jeff playing a trick on me.”
“Jeff, you can stop that anytime now. You’ve had your little fun, now go do something useful.”
Grandma was always a little feisty.
“The breathing continued.”
“I turned around to see what was happening, and I declare, there was not a soul there. To this day I haven’t figured that one out.
I heard later that some folks had died there in the past.”
“Didja ever feel it again, Grandma?”
Wendell wanted to know.
“Nope, never did, but I always made sure there was one
of the children in the room with me before I did any work at night after that.”
the tales we heard from a well-meaning Grandmother knowing we had to go home by ourselves after she finished telling us the stories.
And, of course, it would be dark before we decided to leave!