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Absher, R.G. Ghosts of the Yadkin Valley. Haunted America. The History Press, 2009 (Ebook 2013).
As with some other authors I’m reviewing this month, R.G. Absher hails from the area he’s covering (the upper Yadkin Valley), is a local park service employee, and also works in the dark tourism industry, conducting ghost tours. Yadkin Valley is in the northwestern part of North Carolina, currently part of this state’s burgeoning wine industry, and is part of the Yadkin River system. The sweet wines from the ancient Muscadine and Scuppernong grapes are generally grown toward the coast, but more traditional European varieties can also be grown in the Piedmont and points west, notably in Yadkin Valley. So, with all the wine trails and heritage trails, this is a very touristy area.
Absher begins right off with a folkloric bent. There’s an opening Acknowledgements section with interviews for each chapter (and a bibliography by subject of websites in the back). Many of them are with local museum historians and ghost tour guides. His introduction then discusses the various characteristics of a traditional ghost tale or experience, such as sights, sounds and smells.
Absher deals with some well-known material, notably the Tom Dooley story, which occurred in the Yadkin Valley. Contrary to the Lost Cause myth of virtuous and godly women (and men) in the South, the Yadkin Valley was quite the swinging place in the 60s – the 1860s. One man, Thomas C. Dula (known to legend as Tom Dooley), was a Confederate veteran who got involved with numerous women after the Civil War. These included a love quadrangle that went horribly wrong when one of the women ended up pregnant and dead, after allegedly having given the small group an STD.
Dula was hanged, still protesting his innocence (it’s possible one of the other women did it), and a folkloric ballad tradition was born. Dula reportedly haunts the Old Wilkes Jail (where he was confined for trial) and Tom Dooley Road (where he was buried). There is also a small collection of hauntings from deaths near these sites.
Absher discusses early Native American relics (a large burial mound in Caldwell County) and folklore (the legend of huge battle that probably happened in the early 18th century and left behind ghost lights related to the Brown Mountain Lights). There is an impromptu mountaintop séance that results in a sudden storm.
There is also a rather long section dealing with Revolutionary War ghosts. Many of these were of soldiers and irregulars who were hanged from specific trees in the region. One old Colonial era hanging oak only came down in the 1990s after a series of storms (oaks live three centuries on average). One old Sycamore still stands that was used for the hanging of a Tory in 1781. Other Colonial era ghosts are related to battles and skirmishes in the area, and the defense of Fort Defiance.
The 19th century section has a good bit of the Old House Tour aspect often found in these books. Absher does liven it up, though, by introducing a variety of houses, such as an old slave quarters for the Brown-Cowles House in Wilkesboro. There are several Civil War stories, including one about Stoneman’s Raid, and one involving a murder (by “slow hanging”) of a Union sympathizer after the war by one of the author’s ancestors. This incident resulted in a haunting legend known as “Dead Man’s Hollow.”
The book then wanders a bit as we get a collection of familiar tropes, including haunted graveyards, churches and hotels, a Phantom Hitchhiker, a misty mountain ghost, and a Devil Dog from Purlear. As with the book about Old Salem, also from the Haunted America series, this book is quite short and sometimes (paradoxically) feels a bit padded. For example, Absher ends with a personal account of a haunting of the Reed Creek farmhouse – which is actually in Hartwell, Georgia – rather than a local legend.
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