Ross, Legend Lady
-- by Scott Nicholson
For Charlotte Ross,
the Legend Lady, the best ghost
stories are those that are connected to a
specific time and place, especially when
its the Appalachian Mountains. Ross, who
lives in Boone, NC, has collected about 400 ghost
stories among the more than 4,000 she has
collected overall. She is a noted storyteller,
folklorist and Appalachian State University
love legends, she said. They are the
most underappreciated form of narrative in
America and one of the best.
main interest is in the historical grounding of a
legend, and she enjoys researching the people and
places that inspire later tales of supernatural
or strange encounters.
urban legends are traveling tales,
which are often localized to the area in which
the story is being told, Ross prefers those that
that stories bearing the original names of the
people involved not only have more authenticity
but also an extra power to disturb,
something that stirs an atavistic
best legends are those that are redolent with
social details so you can look into that time and
place for a moment, she said.
western North Carolinas early legends
involved a pioneering couple who built a house on
rocky soil. When they lit their first fire for
the winter, the ground warmed and the
rattlesnakes slumbering in the stones came out in
search of the heat.
had a version of it, she said. There
are 259 counties in the Appalachian region that
have it. The closer I got to where I figured it
happened, the more details came out.
believes the original incident occurred near the
Linville Ridge area, but the legend made its way
west or anywhere people were settling in the
wilderness. Ross describes it as a
collecting, she looks for stories tied to the
landscape, farms, houses and communities as well
as people. One of her most popular stories is
Long Dog, which she describes as one
of the oldest ghost stories west of the Blue
Ridge. She said young boys especially love the
chase tale of a large mysterious dog in the
woods. She heard it as a youth from one of her
teachers, but didnt tell it for 32 years.
She researched several books about dogs in
America and lost interest when she saw no breeds
that matched the description.
Then, on a
trip to Ireland with noted Appalachian historian
Cratis Williams, she was in a lightning storm at
the Museum of Ulster. She heard laughter in the
storm and the hair stood up on her arms, and
looked at the front of the museum.
dropped my coat and purse, and I started to run
and cry, she said. I thought,
Its every word true, all those
museum she saw a taxidermists exhibit of
five large Irish wolf hounds that matched the
description of the legendary Long Dog, with
silver-white fur and large, glowing eyes.
theres some basis for these stories,
Ross said. Those old stories will make a
believer of you when you least expect it.
tale traced to Jackson County involved a German
man who married a Cherokee woman in White Owl
Valley. The wife loved the owls that were around
their home property, and when her husband tried
to sell the land, she said, I will never
leave this valley.
the husband was drunk and ended up signing the
sale papers, then later sobered up and went home
to tell his wife. He found her in her white
wedding dress, hanging from a tree. As he cut her
body down, owls flew out of the woods at him. He
fell out of the tree and sought refuge in the
cabin, and the owls pounded against the house all
night. The husband stayed long enough to bury his
wife and then left for Texas.
that traveling stories are usually
dependent on plot and action, and become almost
generic, such as the Vanishing Hitchhiker and the
Hook on the Door. She prefers those in which she
can interview families, read newspapers or other
written records, then put the pieces together.
One of her
favorites involves a farm in cave country in West
Virginia. She visited the town of Union and saw
the cemetery, then asked about the family she had
heard about. Someone took her on an arduous
journey to the farm, and above it she noticed
chalky, white limestone cliffs.
made the grass as green as the grass in
Ireland, Ross said, but also the ground
beneath was a honeycomb of caves because of water
working through the limestone for eons.
In 1872, a
Welsh man named Abraham Jones bought the place
and later won a womans hand in
marriage whose father had lost a poker game.
Jones had a reputation for being moody and
sullen, but he and Rachel had three children
before Rachel began showing up at church with
bruises, telling people her husband had gone
weeks later, someone reported the sound of crying
children, and some of the town residents went to
search the valley and the caves. They found
Abraham pushing a plow that had no draft animal
attached. They searched the cabin and found
Rachel, who had been killed with an ax.
Abraham about the children, but all he said was,
Theyre safe from nosy neighbors the
likes of you. I put my children in the
people searched the 67 caves in the region, a
risky and treacherous search involving
subterranean rivers and drop-offs. The sound of
crying still came from the ground but grew
fainter as days passed, then ended altogether.
The governor called off the search and Jones was
placed in an asylum, where he never spoke again.
reported hearing the sound of children crying
many times over the following decades, and the
farm lay unused until a modern couple bought it
and began operating a dairy farm.
Laura Coolridge, couldnt bear children, so
she threw her energy into renovating the cabin.
Then she became interested in the caves and
started exploring them until her husband made her
promise to stop because they were so dangerous.
though, the husband found drawings and maps she
had made, a wet suit and spelunking gear.
months after she began searching, Laura found
three skeletons of children who were resting as
if they had been tied together. They were later
buried in the town cemetery.
Welsh legend says that if a barren woman releases
the spirit of a dead child, she will have a child
of her own.
that within five years, Laura had three children,
two girls and a boy, the same as Rachel and
to do the legend first, then the
supernatural, she said. I dont
care about jump or scare stories. I just love
history and folklore. There are things in this
life that none of us can explain."