In our state, stories and storytelling have been a part of our culture since the earliest pioneers crossed the Allegheny mountains. People told stories to while away the time during long winter evenings, or on the porch on hot summer days. Stories were a way to pass on family history, traditions, stories from the “old country,” and to teach children the accepted rules of behavior.
Of all the stories told in our state, the most prevalent is the ghost story. I sometimes think that every ridge and holler in our state has its own ghost. The reasons for the abundance of ghost stories are several. The simplest explanation might be that the mist rising from the hills at night can create a ghostly aspect that might make a person think of otherworldly beings. Some folklorists speculate that the settlers of West Virginia brought with them the stories and lore of their native countries. English, Irish and Scottish folklore is filled with supernatural stories and ballads. Some of these stories were transplanted with the people who told them with new twists introduced in their new land.
Religion might have also played a role. Many settlers believed firmly in the flight of the soul after death, and it wasn’t too much of a stretch to believe that some souls lost their way on this final journey and were trapped here on earth. Usually these lost souls had a specific reason for staying: revenge, relaying a warning to loved ones, or some other unfinished business.
Some ghost stories were cautionary tales, meant to discourage children from dangerous activities. The legends of Booger Hole in Clay County fall into this category, telling of terrible things that were believed to have occurred around a certain muddy portion of a road on Twistabout Ridge. In my county, there is a story of a headless dog that supposedly haunts Tug Fork after dark and chases people. Children in that area might think twice about going out after dark if there is a chance of encountering that dog!
Ghost stories are different than horror stories. Ghost stories tend to be stories with supernatural occurrences, rarely include violent acts committed by the spirit, and are usually fairly short. They are generally more haunting than scary, leaving the listener wondering what might have really happened, if the person really saw what they claimed, or why the ghost chose that place or time to appear. The haunting, unexplained nature of ghost stories probably explains their continued popularity. There is mystery in ghost stories that engages the imagination.
Many ghost stories have been collected and published in books; still others are still being passed down from parent to child. Below is a list of a few collections of West Virginia ghost stories.
People use a variety of words to refer to ghosts. Some used in West Virginia are: Haint, Booger, Revenant, Spook, Shade, Spirit, Apparition
West Virginia Ghost Stories Booklist
This list is not all-inclusive, but includes some of the most popular and easily found collections of West Virginia ghost stories. Many stories are included in old county history books, back issues of the West Virginia Folklore Journal (no longer in publication), Goldenseal magazine, and many local sources.
Author: Musick, Ruth Ann.
Ruth Ann Musick is undoubtedly the First Lady of West Virginia ghost stories and ghost story collecting. While teaching at Fairmont State College, Musick collected stories from her students over a number of years. She also did research and found many stories herself.
Ballads, Folk Songs & Folk Tales from West Virginia. Includes some very strange ghost stories.Morgantown, West Virginia University Library, 1960. Out of Print, but available through libraries.
Green Hills of Magic : West Virginia Folktales from Europe. A variety of stories that includes ghost stories.Publication info: Parsons, WV : McClain Printing Co., 1989.
Coffin Hollow, and Other Ghost Tales
University Press of Kentucky, c1977.
The Telltale Lilac Bush, and Other West Virginia Ghost Tales.University of Kentucky Press,1965
Author: Deitz, Dennis
The Greenbrier Ghost and Other Strange Stories. West Virginia’s most famous ghost story is told from several perspectives in this collection.
Mountain Memories Books, 1990
Author: Roberts, Nancy.
Appalachian Ghosts. Includes several stories from West Virginia, including one about John Henry.
Author: Jones, James G.
Appalachian Ghost Stories and Other Tales. Also wrote “More Appalachian Folk Stories.
McClain Printing Co, Parsons, WV. 1997
Author: Holstein, Susanna “Granny Sue”
Granny’s Ghost Stories. Includes historical, family and original ghost stories. Available from me!
Author: Shepard, Susan.
Cry of the Banshee. A collection of stories by Parkersburg’s resident ghost hunter.