Spooky Tales and Haunting Legends Are Alive and Well in Appalachia

Oct 30, 2015

West Virginia has some of the best settings for scary stories, including dark underground coal mines and remote forests. There are hundreds of remarkably bizarre, mysterious ghost tales that take place here in West Virginia. And maybe the most fascinating part is, for some of these tales, there’s historical evidence that says they might have actually happened.

In the latest episode of Inside Appalachia, Jessica Lilly and Roxy Todd talk to writers and folklorists who share their favorite West Virginia spooky story. Whether you think of these tales as fact, myth, history or folklore, we say--if there were ever a time of year to suspend your disbelief--it’s Halloween.


The Greenbrier Ghost

This is possibly the only story where the description of a ghost sighting was actually documented in a court case. Writer Scott McClanahan tells us this tale. He grew up just a few miles from where the ghost of Zona Heaster supposedly appeared outside the logging town of Rainelle.

The Greenbrier Ghost Teaser from Two Dollar Radio.

Wizard Clip

Visitors to the small town of Middleway, West Virginia might see symbols of a pair of scissors and half-moon crescents on various signs, buildings and even homes. These symbols come from a legend the town holds dear that dates back to the 1790s. It’s the legend of Wizard Clip.

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Big John’s Ghost

Cover for "The Telltale Lilac Bush and Other West Virginia Ghost Tales"

This story takes place in the coal camps of Grant Town, West Virginia, where at one time the Federal Coal and Coke Company operated the largest underground coal mine in the world.

As folklorist Ruth Ann Musick noted, "The dark passageways of the coal mines are likely places for ghosts. By and large they are friendly souls, -neither violent nor malevolent, who come back to see how things are getting along and to lend a helping hand when needed."

Although the mine at Grant Town is now closed and Musick has since passed away, people still tell the tales that she collected.

Big John’s Ghost was originally told by Jim C. Cliburn, and in our episode Dr. Judy Byers, of Fairmont State, tells this tale, which is from Musick's book of West Virginia ghost tales, The Tell Tale Lilac Bush.

Panther Tales

A couple of years ago Roxy Todd of West Virginia Public Broadcasting was living in Pocahontas County, West Virginia, where many people say they’ve seen panthers. The Department of Natural Resources claims that mountain lions have been extinct in West Virginia for over a hundred years. But the tales continue to be told. Roxy recorded many of these stories, including this one, at the house of her neighbor and friend Iva Williams.

Naomi Wise

Many musicians out there will recognize the name of Naomi Wise, sometimes called Omie Wise. The tale often catches the interest of musicians that have played the song over the years, but some people say that the song is based on an actual murder. In fact, in Randolph County, North Carolina it’s believed that a real woman named Naomi Wise was killed by her lover, John Lewis. A grave in North Carolina honors her story. But, a West Virginia folklorist Gerry Milnes says that another claim to the tale is also in Randolph County, West Virginia. Reporter Jessie Wright-Mendoza with the Traveling 219 Project takes us on this strange journey to find out if there could be any truth to the claims.

Ghost Train

West Virginia's poet laureate, Marc Harshman, tells us this story about a spooky locomotive which mysteriously disappeared. This story was originally told to Harshman by Bonnie Collins. 

What's your favorite haunted house or spooky destination in Appalachia?

Here are a few to explore for yourself:

Inside the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in Weston, West Virginia
Credit Daniel Walker/ WVPB

West Virginia

  • Halloween train rides on the Cass Scenic Railroad. Oct 31st. Ghosts & goblins on a night ride to Whittaker Station. 2.5 Hour Round Trip Event. Departs Cass Scenic Railroad Depot, 6:00 pm.
  • Mount Hope Haunted Hotel, in the former Mountaineer Hotel. Open October 15, 16, 22, 23, 25-30 from 7-10 pm.  $8 admission or $6 plus two can food items to be donated to the Raleigh County Homeless Shelter.
  • 16th Annual Second Creek Haunted Trail. This is a haunted trail in Monroe County that benefits the community as well as families in need. It’s the 16th year of operation and the trail sees upwards of 1500 guests each year. Dates are Oct 15, 16, 22, 23, 29,  and 30th. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for under 12. No children under 5 allowed. Open from dark to 11pm.  304-645-7450 or 304-645-2696.
  • The Haunted House in Pineville runs through October 30th from 7-10 pm.  Located in the old Sears building in downtown Pineville. Admission is $5 per person and proceeds benefit the Wyoming County 4-H.  304-732-6255.
  • Haunted History Tours at the Whipple Company Store in Scarborough.  Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays in Oct.  No one under 21 yrs of age. $25 per person. 8:30 to 11 pm.
  • Pumpkin Patch and Corn Maze in Shady Spring, Raleigh County. Each weekend in October, the Okes Family Farm in Shady Spring will feature a different event, such as pumpkin carving and painting, homemade apple butter to sample and buy, hay rides, bonfires and an acre-and-a-half corn maze. For more information, call 304-673-3268 or 304-673-3308.


  • White Hall State Historic Site "ghost walk". Oct. 22-24, 30-31. White Hall State Historic Site offers an alternative to the typical haunted house. "Ghosts" will come out of the darkness to tell the incredible stories of the Clay family, but in a theatrical history lesson tour that is very family-friendly. Afterwards, guests are treated to hot apple cider and cookies. Tickets are $10 per person and are by reservation only. Tours run from 7-9:30 p.m. Call the park at 859-623-9178.
  • Fright Nights at Jacobson Park. Opens at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Sunday through Nov. 2. Jacobson Park, 4001 Athens-Boonesboro Rd. $14-$30.
  • Waveland Paranormal Investigation. 8 p.m. Oct. 24. Waveland State Historic Site, Lexington. $20. Sign-up starts at 7 p.m. (859) 272-3611.

North Carolina

  • Pinheads graveyard has a haunted half-mile wooded trail just outside of Asheville for a 25-minute self-guided scary stroll, complete with intricately costumed monsters. Pinheads opens at nightfall every day now through Nov. 1.
  • Hendersonville Trick or Treat Street Party. Interested in a high concentration of candy? On Halloween at 5 p.m., downtown merchants give away the treats, and the town hosts a costume contest with different age categories and the "Monster Mash" DJ dance party.
  • "Handmade Puppet Dreams" is a showcase of independent puppeteers and filmmakers at Magnetic Theatre in Asheville. These innovators use live-action puppetry techniques to create short films. After the screening, the Asheville puppeteers will answer questions and show off the puppets from the short film. Screenings take place at 8 p.m. Oct. 29-31.
  • All aboard Tweetsie’s Ghost Train for a nighttime ride with spooky engineer Casey Bones, in Boone, North Carolina. Oct. 30- 31, 7:30 pm to 11:30pm. Family friendly Halloween adventure.


  • "Terror Behind the Walls" at Eastern State Penitentiary. The once-abandoned penitentiary is now home to Terror Behind the Walls, one of the top haunted houses in the country, operates through November 7.
  • Halloween at Franklin Square, October 30-31, 2015. Tee up at Spooky Mini Golf, featuring fog, lights, music and surprises. Pick a pumpkin from the pumpkin patch and take a spin on the Lightning Bolt Express.


  • Old Wise County Orphanage, Wise, Virginia: Numerous reports over the years include giggling children, bouncing balls, floating orbs of light. Some people claim that crying can be heard from the road late at night and ghostly forms move back and forth in front of the windows.
  • Miss Annie's House, Big Stone Gap, Virginia.
  • The June Tolliver House, Big Stone Gap, Virginia. There are reports of moving paintings and figures moving in front of the window.


  • Bell Witch Cave & Farm. No supernatural story in American history is more famous than that of the Bell Witch. Haunted Bell Witch Cave & Farm 430 Keysburg Road 37010 Adams, Tennessee.


We want to hear your favorite Appalachian ghost story. Send us a Tweet.

Music in today’s show was provided by The Soaked Lamb, Nora Keys, Kosta T, Ending Satellites, and the T Sisters.