One thing leads to another. I’ve been listening to this Bill Monroe classic–written by Tex Logan and recorded by Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys in 1951–and it reminded me of a story from Ruth Ann Musick’s posthumous collection of West Virginia folklore Coffin Hollow and Other Ghost Tales (1977).
‘Tis the season, after all, that an old railroad man from Cottageville, WV, loved best. . .
The old man lived in a tiny house in the woods, a couple miles down the tracks from town. In his working life, he’d been an engineer on the Baltimore and Ohio line. He’d been notable, in those days, for his love of the Christmas season; come December he was always singing Christmas carols and buying candy to toss to the children living along the tracks.
One of the old man’s proudest possessions, in his retirement, was a phonograph: perhaps an oldtime windup Victrola, perhaps something a little more modern. Most of his records were of Christmas songs and carols. Anytime a visitor stopped by his little house during the Christmas season, the old man would insist that they come in to have coffee and listen to his records with him.
In the course of time, the old man died, and his little house was left standing empty; his phonograph and other possessions were taken away by family members. In 1968, the old B & O tracks that ran by his house were dismantled and somehow, in the process, the house was completely knocked down.
The old trackbed now was used mostly by hunters going into the deep woods, past the place where the old man’s home had stood.
One hunter got the shock of a lifetime when, two days before Christmas, years after the old man died and not long after the house was destroyed, he found himself stranded and hearing Christmas music in a place where there shouldn’t have been music at all. He was driving along the old trackbed when he first heard it; startled, he stopped his car to make sure he wasn’t just imagining things.
He wasn’t. He was hearing Christmas music, the like of which he might have heard on an oldtime phonograph, pops and crackles and skips and all, through the trees alongside him.
He almost lost it, though, when he tried to restart his car–and the motor refused even to turn over.
All at once, he noticed something he hadn’t seen before: a small house there among the trees.
What in the world?
He saw movement from the corner of his eye, along the trackbed.
A man was crossing the track bed–a man he’d never seen before. He was familiar with most everyone in the area, but this man was a stranger. . .
a stranger who walked up onto the porch of the little house that had loomed up amid the trees. The stranger walked into the front door of the house as the Christmas music grew fainter and fainter.
And, as the last notes faded, the house, and the man who had gone into it, vanished into thin air.
By now terrified half-witless, the hunter found that his car finally would start again. He hightailed it out of the woods. When he got back to town he told his tale to anyone who would listen; to his surprise, the older people remembered the old engineer, the little house he’d called home, and how, during the Christmas season, he’d insisted that anyone who came to visit must sit a spell and listen to his Christmas records with him.
Word gets around. Thirteen local boys got together, talked the matter over and decided they would go see if they could experience what the hunter had experienced. The following night,in three cars, they went out to the area he’d described, parked, and waited.
That night, by the way, was Christmas Eve.
They heard the music.
They didn’t see the strange man cross the tracks to enter the little house that seemed to rise from nowhere.
But their cars wouldn’t start until the music stopped.
They went back for a few nights after Christmas, but nothing happened on those visits.
The locals say the music can only be heard in the days leading up to Christmas.
After Christmas Day, the woods around the tracks are silent until another Christmas rolls around.
Dr. Musick collected this story in 1969, from one of the thirteen boys who went out in three cars to investigate the hunter’s story.