Friday, August 27, 2010

Searching for a Ghost

Fall is coming, and that means hunting season is coming. But for me, it's always hunting season--hunting for stories. And in the Fall, I am usually hunting for ghost stories.

I have many tales that I tell in this genre, but I am always looking for new stories, or additional information about ones I already know. My latest research projects have been in the latter category. And along the way, I've run into new stories that lead down intriguing paths in different directions. Ah, such is the storyteller's life!

First is a story I've told a bit--the last public hanging in West Virginia, which occurred in my county in 1897. It's not a happy story, although justice was probably served in the end. I wanted more information about the song that was written about the event. I knew the name of the person credited with the ballad, but he was not from West Virginia, and I was curious as to what would prompt him to write about a historic but local event. I'd looked online for answers but was still not satisfied. Finally I decided to go to the source. A little research turned up a telephone number and I called. The lady who answered listened to my question and told me someone would get back to me. I thought that would be the end of that.

But later in the day my cell phone rang, and on the other end was the writer himself. He answered my questions completely. Why he wrote it? He'd worked in West Virginia as a radio announcer and read Jim Comstock's newspaper column regularly. Comstock did a piece on the story and it was apparently so intriguing that it inspired the song.

That information prompted more questions, of course. Now I'm wondering where the guilty man was buried, and where his victims were buried. And the exact site of the murders. And, and, and. Always, there is more to learn about each story, no matter how much I research and how long I've known the tale.

The second story on my radar right now concerns the Ghost of Gamble's Run. I've told this one a few times and it's been a fairly short story. But as I looked for new material, this one kept popping up in my mind. How much did I know about it, really? Wasn't there more to learn? Who was John Gamble, anyway, and how did he come to live in Wetzel county? Was he married? Did he have children? What happened to his family, if he had one, after he was murdered? What was the date of the murder? How old was he? Details, details, but important ones if the story is to come alive for me and for my listeners.

Looking for information on Gamble led me down other paths and to a story that is new to me but ha evidently been around for some time--the Betts ghost of Calhoun county, West Virginia. Now I want to know more about this strange tale because of its many interesting elements--a murdered peddler, strange sounds, apparitions, black dogs. I want to know the why, when, where, why and what of this haunted place and in the course of discovery I feel sure a new story will be added to my storybag. And while I am on the trail of this story, I will bet that another will surface and I'll be after that one as well.

From the Hur Herald website, this is a photo of the home of one of Collins Betts' sons, which was built around 1888.

Of course, should you happen to know anything about the Betts ghost, I would love to hear about it. Or any other ghostly tale you might know.


Anonymous said...

We have a local recent ghost story where a guy murdered his wife and threw her over an embankment. The people below reported seeing her walk along the treeline. The body was found there upon searching. This was 2003.

Nance said...

oh, good luck! Good lucky, Granny Sue! I am confident that you will find and reveal the whole story!


Good luck with the search and thanks for your very interesting explanation of how you "flesh out" stories. Really a help and a challenge to others of us who also gather stories this way.

Rowan said...

I really enjoyed reading this post, if you find out any more about either story I hope you'll tell us about it. I could never be a storyteller but I would really enjoy researching the people and events behind the stories.

Staci said...

I just love a good ghost story.

Even though I'm well in my 30's now, I would still be that kid sitting cross-legged at your feet, wide-eyed, listening intently, and leaning forward as if it would help me to catch every word and every detail.

I have never had the pleasure of listening to a story teller. I need to put that on my list...

I enjoyed the glimpse into the research you do to get to the heart of the story. How wonderful and exciting it must have been to talk to the actual song writer.

Great post!

Mountainword said...

Hey I've heard of the Betts Ghost - maybe Gamble's Run as well. I'll look and see what I've got on it and send you anything I have. That is, if I can find it. I think somewhere I have an interview with a guy who actually encountered the Betts Ghost.

And oddly, I do remember that most of the "odd stories" I've heard of Calhoun County have to do with large snakes.

Granny Sue said...

Jason, the Betts story seems to be pretty prevalent and may be the most famous Calcounty ghost--at least, it's the story I encountered most freequently in my research. So I'm looking for a different take on this well-documented story. Know anything beyond the article in the cincinnati enquirer back those many years ago?

Big snakes? hmmmm, now that's interesting!

Tipper said...

I've been thinking about ghost stories too-wondering if I should do my Spooky October series again this year. If I do-maybe you can share one of these on my site-they both sound very interesting-and scary too : )

Jaime said...

Oops the top comment was mine. Not sure why my name did not show.


Susan at Stony River said...

I love mysteries and puzzles like this!
Good luck finding more - now you've got me curious about them all too.

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