Sunday, September 12, 2010

In Calhoun County

I went in search of information. About a ghost. A ghost from over 100 years ago. I went in search of a a place that is gone, a road that has moved, people no longer living and a story with many versions.

What I know is that the "Cale Betts ghost" was written about in newspapers and books over the years and the story lives on in the pages of the Hur Herald, an online newspaper from "Sunny Cal"--Calhoun County, West Virginia.

I read the article printed in the Cincinnati Enquirer in 1884 and I was intrigued. Whose spirit had haunted that house and scared so many people? Was it just the hysteria that sometimes occurs when people hear such a tale and then believe they experienced something themselves? Was it really a murdered peddler seeking revenge? Or just vapors from the natural gas prevalent in the area? Many questions about an old story.

I traveled to Calhoun County looking for some answers but knowing there was probably little physical evidence to see. I knew from my reading that the house was gone and that the road had been moved. What did I expect to see, anyway, on a bright, crisp fall day?

I can't say. I only knew that I needed to go there, be on the place and get a sense of how it might have been back in the late 1800's when the Betts ghost was wreaking havoc with people's nerves. I also wondered about that story of the murdered peddler. Could it be true?

My research suggested not. Mr. Betts, the owner of the home where the story occurred, seemed to have been an upstanding member of the community. He owned land, court was once held in his home and he was at one time a commissioner for the proposed new turnpike. I can't reconcile those facts with a picture of him or his family as murderers of a lone peddler.

I did find, however, another murdered peddler story in Ruth Ann Musick's book The Telltale Lilac Bush that supposedly happened on up the road from the Betts farm. Was it possible that the two stories were confused over the years in the re-telling? I think it likely--ghost stories have a way of morphing over the years as new tellers add new details and impressions, or mix up two similar stories.

I know a bit more now. I saw where the old road--or perhaps the railroad?--curved away around the hill.

I found the graves of Mr. Betts and many of  his family.

I found the home built by one of his daughters and her husband, next to the family graveyard.

I think I know where the Betts house was located, and I know the lay of the land in the area.

All of this adds nothing new to the mystery, except to give me as a storyteller a sense of the place where the story occurred, and after meeting many people during the day, an idea of the kind of people who probably lived in Mr. Betts' time--friendly, open, helpful and willing to talk to a stranger.

I've also learned a lot about the Betts family genealogy. I know that Mr. Betts was of English descent, coming from Nicholas county to Calhoun. I know that Calhoun county had a difficult time agreeing on a county seat, that the process took 13 years and that the location moved back and forth several times.  I believe Mr. Betts was involved in the dispute because court was once held in his home which was very near one of the proposed locations. I have learned much more than that. All of it will go into a written story, and much of it will end up in a story to be told to audiences when I'm performing.

That kind of background provides the frame for what is otherwise a weak story, at least for a storyteller. The ghost story is simply a series of events that supposedly happened to various people who stayed at the Betts' house--seeing a headless form, hearing chains, hearing a dripping sound, moaning, etc. But surrounded by the history of the time and place and of the people who lived there--then the story gains substance and interest.

I need to go back, of course. I need a better photo of the son-in-law's house; I need to visit the courthouse for more records if I can find them. I need to visit the library and see if any old history books have photos of any of the Betts family.

The beautiful new moon over Calhoun's Heritage Park revealed no secrets, at least on this visit. But I will return to the area of the supposed sightings at night, to see whatever might be seen or hear what might be heard. Very likely it will be the sigh of the wind and the call of a hoot owl or a whippoorwill. But maybe, just maybe, there will be something else?


Lisa said...

If you go to the Calhoun Co. Library, don't forget to ask for the key to the genealogy room upstairs which includes several (understatement) Calhoun families. You might find what you're looking for there.

Angela said...

You are quite the detective Granny Sue! I hope you find more information for your story!

Granny Sue said...

Thanks, Lisa, I will. I'm not sure when I can get there, hopefully sometime this fall. I didn't know about the genealogy room.

Angela, I love this stuff. I hope to do a lot more of it when I retire.

Twisted Fencepost said...

Good luck finding more information on the Bett's ghost.
It will be interesting to read what you find.
Love that picture of the old railway!

Granny Sue said...

I am always looking for signs of old roads or railbeds, Becky--in their way, they are also ghosts, of a past time. It's surprising how many are there, sometimes hidden beneath trees or even in towns; you can sometimes see how the houses were turned to face the new road.

Sandy@American Way Farm said...

I just came over from the Small Pines blog to check out yours. I really enjoyed this post, and also had fun poking around the blog. I'll look forward to finding out more about what you might experience on return visits to Calhoun County.

Granny Sue said...

Welcome, Sandy! I was just reading your blog too-serendipity. Pines and I have been blog friends since 2007, and I've enjoyed following his adventures as a new homesteader. I've been doing this since, ummmm, 1971, sometimes more, and sometimes less intensively.

Granny Sue said...

Welcome, Sandy! I was just reading your blog too-serendipity. Pines and I have been blog friends since 2007, and I've enjoyed following his adventures as a new homesteader. I've been doing this since, ummmm, 1971, sometimes more, and sometimes less intensively.

Jennifer's Craft Store said...

Love to read a travel story about ghost hunting! I used to do that before my daughter was born. I love a good unsolved mystery. Hope to read more stories from you just like this one!

Larry said...

I don't know if the Betts ghost is real or not but I do know that when I was growing up near Grantsville I made certain that I went nowhere near any location where the ghost might appear.

Susan at Stony River said...

Wow. I love this post!

Isn't it amazing how some stories just take hold and pull you to them, and to their places? The photos are super.

Teresa Bratton said...

I just found this article on the Calhoun Connector. My mother, who will be 90 on Christmas Day, remembers the Betts family and the "ghost" story well. She said the Betts family owned a boarding house and the story goes that a traveling salesman was murdered in the house. Its his ghost that haunted the old Betts home. When Pearl Betts, the last of the original family, built a new home across the road from the boarding house, my mother remembers Pearl telling them that she had to leave several things in the old house "because the ghost won't let me take them" She said she would move something and then find it again at the old home. Pearl was known to say she never locked her door because "the ghost won't leave it locked". My mother said Pearl was an intelligent woman and someone who wouldn't make up stories, she really believed in the ghost. My mother also said that when my great grandfather, who was president of the Calhoun Bank, had to travel to Parkersburg by horse, he spent the night at the Betts boarding house. When he returned home he told my great grandmother he would never stay there again. When asked why, he said he nearly froze to death because the ghost kept taking his blanket. Believe me, my great grandfather was not a man who joked or teased. He was very stern. My father and his family are buried in the Betts cemetery.

Granny Sue said...

Teresa, this is fascinating! Thank you for posting it. I am always looking for more information about stories like this one. Please contact me at I'd love to know more.

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