Ghosts, Monsters And Things That Go Bump In The Night -- Inside Appalachia

For a few years now, an Inside Appalachia tradition is to ask listeners for a favorite ghost tale or legend. We have a lot of great storytellers here in Appalachia, and we love to celebrate that. 

The legends and stories in this episode aren’t fact-checked or verified. And they aren’t meant to be taken too seriously. But they do speak to something traditional for us.

After all, long before Netflix or Snapchat, our ancestors spent many an evening sitting around the fireplace spinning tales and telling stories.

It’s one of the oldest forms of entertainment there is. 


In This Episode: 

This Halloween episode is filled with spooky stories. We hope they thrill, entertain and educate you. As rational adults, we all know there’s an explanation for the supernatural. Yet, we still have questions. There are television shows dedicated to finding out what goes bump in the night, we sometimes engage in conspiracy theories to find the answers for things we can’t easily explain. 

The capacity for us to find explanations for the seemingly unexplainable is an inherent human trait. And sometimes, to find the answers, our imagination fills in the blanks. And, we all know there are no such things as monsters, right? ...

Flatwoods Monster

Andrew Smith wearing part of the Flatwoods Monster costume. More than likely, he says if you see someone in the costume it is him.
Credit Caitlin Tan / WVPB

The story of the Flatwoods Monster began September 12, 1952, in the small town of Flatwoods, West Virginia. It was 7 o’clock at night, and some school boys were playing football. They saw some kind of object falling from the sky that looked to be on fire, according to Andrew Smith, the director of the Braxton County Visitors Center and the founder of the Flatwoods Monster Museum.

“Something, something bright, maybe a fireball, appeared to fly overhead and land on a nearby hill top.”

So, as the original story goes, the boys and two adults hiked up the hill to check out this “fireball.” There was an overwhelming rotten-egg smell in the air that burned their eyes.

They saw a 10-foot tall monster hovering above the ground, spewing smoke and gas at them. Its head was red, and spade-shaped, with a distinct point at the top. It had glowing eyes, with spindly arms and claws. Its body was covered in some kind of green armor.

The story of the Flatwoods monster has evolved over the years. The legend has become a part of West Virginia’s pop culture. It's even made a resurgence just in the past four years through a tourism campaign, spearheaded by the folks who created the museum two years ago. Our folklife reporter, Caitlin Tan, brings us the story from Braxton County.

Mothman Festival

Mothman is probably the most famous monster in Appalachia, but did you know there is a festival in his honor? It’s held each year in the Ohio River town of Point Pleasant, West Virginia, and it draws in tourists by the thousands. 

Mothman has been the subject of several video games and plenty of conspiracy theories. It’s often depicted as a flying moth-bird-like monster, always with red, glowing eyes. 

A local museum has hosted a Mothman festival every September since the early 2000s. There’s a carnival atmosphere, local bands, and a wait of over an hour just to get into the mothman museum -- and another long line just to get your photo taken beside the shiny, silver statue of the imposing cryptid. 

Reporter Emily Allen attended this year’s festival, to meet some of the attendees, and learn more about why the legend of the Mothman continues to draw so much curiosity. 

Civil War Ghost Tour

Rick Garland took over the Ghost Tours of Harpers Ferry 10 years ago. He holds the tour year-round and meets tourists on the steps of the historic St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church.
Credit Liz McCormick / WVPB

Monsters aren’t the only thing that draws visitors to Appalachia. Some people come here just to be spooked by tales of hauntings. 

Ghost stories and haunted places exist all over the country. But some places just seem to be better scenes for ghost stories. Often, it’s the places where real historic events also took place- and that history lingers in ways that invite a good ghost tale or two. 

The Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia is well known for its American Civil War history – especially in Harpers Ferry, Jefferson County. The town was the site of John Brown’s Raid and the Battle of Harpers Ferry. During the civil war, control of the town changed hands from Union to Confederate at least a dozen times. 

Harpers Ferry saw so much destruction during the war that many now say it’s a town home to ghosts and hauntings.

Liz McCormick went on a ghost tour there and brings us this snapshot.

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Spooky Animal Tour

Credit Brittany Patterson / WVPB

While Halloween is often synonymous with scary, for this next story, we sent one reporter who is a self-proclaimed scaredy cat to a Halloween-themed event light on the scares, but heavy on the spooky creatures. Brittany Patterson reports from the West Virginia State Wildlife Center, in Upshur County.

John Hale guest hosts this episode. Roxy Todd is our producer. Eric Douglas is our associate producer. Our executive producer is Jesse Wright. Dave Mistich edited our show this week. Our audio mixer is Patrick Stephens.