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Barefoot, Daniel W. Haints of the Hills. North Carolina’s Haunted Hundred, Vol. 3. John F. Blair, Publisher, 2002.
So, this is the third volume in Daniel Barefoot’s hundred-county experiment and we finish up in Appalachia. The alliterative title may seem redundant, but it’s actually not. “Haint” is believed to be a folkloric entity originally from the African American Gullah people on the Carolina coast. In South Carolina, it’s a specifically evil entity that haunts children, but this isn’t true everywhere. I talked earlier about this bit of folklore when discussing the use of paint in “haint blue.” The title, therefore, is specifically stating that these haints (or “hanks” as they may be called in Virginia) are from the mountains and not the coast.
Since the Mountain region is very popular with folklorists and ghost storytellers, it should be no surprise that several of these stories would be familiar. You’ve got Tom Dula and his love quadrangle representing Caldwell County, the giant leech of Cherokee County, and the unfortunate hanging ghost of Dan Keith for Rutherford County. But even in these familiar tales, there may be some new angles. For example, the tale of the newlyweds lost in a storm from Cursed in the Carolinas gets a location (Mount Pisgah in Buncombe County) and a rough period (late 19th or early 20th century).
In the Dan Keith chapter, there’s an eerie coda to the original haunting. Historic preservationists failed to save the old jail where he was hanged from demolition in 1971 (still not an uncommon occurrence, as the case of a developer with more money than brains, who demolished the only Frank Lloyd Wright house in Montana earlier this year, basically just because he could, can attest). Every business established in the new building built on the site (at least, up to 2002) has failed miserably. And some employees began to report seeing a shadow of a hanged on the wall – again.
Some omissions are rather puzzling, not just because of choices Barefoot made, but because they reflect equally puzzling omissions made by other popular ghost storytellers. Barefoot gives us a rather abrupt and uninteresting story, of a gold prospector who hit it rich and disappeared on his way to Connecticut, for Burke County. This ignores what is probably the most notorious story for that county – the night in 1831 Frankie Silver killed her husband with an ax and burned him in the fireplace. The only woman ever hanged in Burke County, Silver was railroaded through a two-day trial by her angry in-laws, despite possible evidence that her husband had been abusive and her crime self-defense. Ghost story collections don’t tend to carry the Frankie Silver story (which I first encountered on Investigation Discovery’s Deadly Women), even though a famous ballad and at least one recent ghost story are attributed to her.
True to form, Barefoot gives us more stories of witches (Alleghany, Haywood and Macon counties), Native Americans (Jackson and Swain counties), a haunted college theater (Catawba County), Bigfoot (Yancey County) and the Devil. In fact, possibly the creepiest chapter in the entire series hails from Ashe County. This chapter focuses on a natural feature called the Devil’s Stairs. It’s pretty common in the western part of the state to call particularly rugged terrain (especially if it has a lot of Cherokee lore about it) after the Devil. Barefoot even mentions some of these features. But he claims that the Devil’s Stairs (a manmade formation created by dynamite blasting in 1914 during the building of the railroad) is the most haunted of them all. It’s got fatal railway accidents, infanticide, ghostly coffins, Phantom Hitchhikers, and at least one guy who died of a quick wasting illness after supposedly encountering Old Scratch himself. Tough to top that.
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