Coming from the border of Eastern Kentucky and Southern West Virginia, I was always surrounded by tons of folklore and legends. The Appalachian mountains make for the perfect scene when it comes to any spooky situations. This Halloween I decided to share with you some of the scariest myths and legends I heard growing up.
Disclaimer: All of the stories below are only tales that I have heard throughout my time in Appalachia. They are not meant to be factually accurate, but rather legends that provide entertainment. Although most legends have a factual root, I can’t provide any factual proof to support that the happenings of these stories are true.
I come from a small town called Belfry outside the tiny, but growing city of Pikeville nestled in the heart of Eastern Kentucky. Pikeville is home to one of the scariest, and most realistic stories: being buried alive.
In 1889, Octavia Smith married James Hatcher, one of the richest men in town. Their marriage was short, and they only had one son who passed away shortly after birth. The young mother fell into a depression, staying in bed for months. She eventually fell ill and slipped into a comatose state. Doctors simply couldn’t wake her. About 5 months after the death of her son, doctors pronounced Octavia dead from unknown causes on May 2nd, 1891. The funeral took place almost immediately, and she was buried in the Pikeville Cemetery.
As legend has it, others in the town started to fall ill with similar comatose symptoms. The rumored illness was some time of “sleeping sickness” caused by the bite of the tsetse fly. However, these people were starting to wake up from their coma. Soon, James realized his wife may have done the same thing. He rushed to exhume her coffin to find a horrifying sight. His wife had in fact been buried alive and woke up from her “sleeping sickness” while in her coffin. Her fingernails were bloody from scratching the lining of the coffin, and her face was distorted into a look of terror covered with scratches and tears.
Her husband erected a monument of her with their son in her arms, and a hotel across the city that faced her grave. Vandals have broken off the baby from the statue and it now lies beside her.
For a long time, it was said that Octavia’s monument would turn her back on the city on the anniversary of her death out of anger since they had allowed her to be buried alive. This was discovered to just be a prank done by some of the local college students.
However, there has been some activity that has yet to be debunked. Many have reported seeing a misty apparition of a woman in the cemetery who is often said to be Octavia herself. There are reports of sounds of a woman or kitten crying coming from the cemetery.
- Dingess Tunnel
My little town borders West Virginia very closely, so I’ve also heard lots of great West Virginian folklore.
One example of this comes from the Dingess Tunnel. It started as a project for the railroad during the growth of coal in the 1890s. However, building a tunnel of this size through such a mountainous area required a lot of workers. The railroad company brought in immigrants to build the tunnel. Due to the prejudice and racism of the area in the nineteenth century, the locals did not take well to the idea of having foreign people in their small town.
Legend says that locals would stand at the entrance and exit of the tunnel shooting anyone who didn’t look to be Appalachian. It’s also rumored that masked men would remove passengers from the trains and kill them if they didn’t fit their preferred description.
However, these murders weren’t the only deaths within the tunnel. There have been around 10 reported deaths from train wrecks in the tunnel.
Do to the bloody history or maybe just the discovery of a better trade route, the railroad moved away from the hilly terrain of Dingess to the gentle slopes of the Big Sandy River.
Dingess was left without just industrial activity, and the tunnel sat unused. By the 1960s, the tunnel was converted to use for road traffic. However, it is only wide enough for traffic one way, and the lack of light inside makes it a dangerous feat for any travelers.
Although I don’t know any specific ghostly encounters within the tunnel, I know that those who drive through the tunnel report feeling uneasy and many dread facing the tunnel haunted by such a dark history.
- Old Hospital on College Hill
One of our local hospitals is swamped with a haunted history. Although I don’t know the specifics of what exactly gives the hospital it’s haunted legend, I know many people have reported paranormal activity inside.
In fact, there are so many reports of paramount occurrences, that they are offering ghost tours this month. Attendees have reported seeing faces in the windows, many of which have been captured in their photographs.
One of the most popular rooms for activity seems to be the x-ray room. Many of the participants have sensed an indescribable presence there. Others have reported seeing a dead man in the room. Tour guides and guests both reported strange occurrences flashlights going off or doors shutting for no reason.
Tours are only offered until Halloween itself, but be on the lookout for the attraction next year as well.
- 22 Mine Road
Although this legend doesn’t receive much attention, the frightening tale of Mamie Thurman and 22 Mine road has always been one of my favorites.
In 1932, Mamie Thurman, a pretty, local housewife to a Logan, WV police officer, was found murdered on 22 Mine Road. The murder was too brutal to describe. She was found to have all of her belongings including a diamond engagement ring, ruling out robbery as a motive. However, Mamie was said to be involved in many romantic relationships with some prominent men of the town. One being her landlord Harry Robertson. Both he and his black in-house handyman Clarence Stephenson went to trial for the crime after evidence of bloody rags and razors were found in the Robertson house. Robertson’s prominent position as the president of the city commision landed him a get out of jail free card.
However, Stephenson was indicted only on the grounds of circumstantial evidence. This indictment caused much buzz about racial injustice in the law. Stephenson confessed to moving the body but claimed to have never actually hurt Mamie. Many saw this as an injustice to both Thurman and Stephenson as the controversial case remains partially unsolved.
A controversy surrounding Turman’s burial also adds to the unsolved aspect of this case. Records show she is buried at both Logan Memorial Park and somewhere in Bradsfordsville, KY.
Due to the injustice suffered by Mamie, many reports of her ghostly presence still occur today. On 22 Mine Road, it is said that you can often see her walking around the roadway. The strangest occurrence is said to be a physical interaction with the ghost in which you park at the bottom of the road, placing your call in neutral, and it will roll uphill. This spooky phenomenon is said to be Mamie Thurman pushing your vehicle for you.
If you are an avid internet user, I’m sure you’ve heard of the Mothman. He is a pivotal part of Appalachian folklore. The creature is said to be a man-size humanoid with large wings and red glowing eyes.
He has plagued the state of WV 1966. Couples have reported seeing him fly over their cars on the way back from outings. Most sightings have occurred by the World War II abandoned TNT storage, leading to the legend that the creature may be a mutant. Others claim he may be an alien or undiscovered species.
Sightings of him are often seen as a bad omen. After a 1967 sighting of the beast atop the Silver Bridge in Point Pleasant, WV, the structure fell killing 46 people. After this tragedy, 12 flashing lights were reported in the sky over Point Pleasant. From there the intertwining of UFO’s and Mothman really became prominent, and even legends of men in black questioning witnesses have become a common legend in the area.
Due to the popularity of this legend, the town hosts a museum and annual festival to celebrate their spooky creature.
As you can see, Appalachia is full of some of the spookiest tales you can find this Halloween season, and I hope you’ll embrace some of the scary stories from your area as well!