West Virginia has a wealth of ghost stories; over the years there have been many collections of these stories published. A new title, Ghosts of Greenbrier County, focuses on the Greenbrier River region of West Virginia .
Most West Virginians have heard about the Greenbrier Ghost, Zona Shue, who lost her life to her husband's murderous rage in 1896. Zona's mother insisted that her dead daughter came to her at night and described the murder, and the mother's testimony to this effect at the trial of Zona's husband, Trout Shue,was entered into the court records. So when Shue was convicted, the testimony stood as the first on record in which a ghost's word convicted a man of murder. The story is often told, and I've told it here on this blog, and there is even a state highway marker in Zona's honor.
But there are other reported hauntings in Greenbrier county. Nancy Richmond and her daughters, Tammy Workman and Misty Murray Walkup delve into some familiar and many not so well-known stories in their new their book, Ghosts of Greenbrier County.
Greenbrier county was settled early in the exploration of the lands of western Virginia, with some hardy frontier families making their homes in the rich valley as early as 1787. Skirmishes with the native population were not uncommon and these were still fresh in memory when the Civil War raged across the land. Several bloody battles were fought on Greenbrier soil, and many soldiers lost their lives in those conflicts. These three events--settlement, Indian attacks and the Civil War--and the frequently bloody outcomes provide the basis for many of the stories collected by Richmond and her daughters.
For example, a mass grave of Civil War soldiers was blamed for a "ghost army" seen in the skies above Lewisburg by many people one day, and prompted the re-interment of the soldiers' remains in a more fitting grave. Other stories tell of two haunted inns, restless graveyards and houses with a history of uncanny events.
The authors do not seek to dispute the age-old question: are ghosts real? In their introduction they give a nod to the controversy but make no attempt to either prove or disprove the validity of the tales they present. They simply tell the stories as they found them and leave it to the reader to decide what to believe. Some, like the Greenbrier Ghost and the strange events reported at the General Lewis Inn, have been written about in other places and are frequently told at campfire gatherings. These are not horror stories or seance stories; they are straightforward re-tellings of stories that have been passed down in the time-honored style of oral tradition.
The book's large format and well-spaced print makes for easy reading, and many photographs of Greenbrier county locations are included. I realized that although I have visited the county and the county seat of Lewisburg many times, I really did not know many of the historic locations discussed in the book. I would like to visit the area again to see places like the Stone Church and its old graveyard, Carnegie Hall and the county courthouse. There is a lot to see that might be missed by the casual traveler.
Stories included in the section titled "Ghostly Tales" are the kind most often told at campfires and porch gatherings--names, locations and dates tend to be generalized and the stories are brief. These are the kind sometimes referred to as "foaftales" ("friend of a friend" stories) because they have lost their sharp edges and become a tale that could be about any place, any time, anywhere. And yet they retain their haunting, compelling quality, leaving the reader with a faint chill and an uneasy feeling that perhaps, just perhaps, there is something to the story after all.
This well-written collection will leave readers feeling just that, and a few might find themselves looking over their shoulders and moving just a little faster should they pass through Greenbrier county late at night.