Archive for December, 2012


Sleep well, sweet boy kitteh. See you on yon side of the Rainbow Bridge, one of these days. You and Mom wait for me, hear?

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Dead Man’s Run

Many American place names commemorate some event that occurred on that particular spot of ground. In Oklahoma, for example, there’s a place called Dead Woman’s Crossing. The scene of a murder in the early twentieth century, it was for many years haunted by a ghost light. And I could not count the number of little towns that have a curve—some on highways, some on back roads—anointed with the name Dead Man’s Curve, in memory of lives lost there.

There are stories behind the names, if we search them out. One such name is given to a little stream up on the state line of North Carolina and East Tennessee. Called Dead Man’s Run, it’s not identified by name on most maps; it’s too small, really, to warrant the naming.

Hikers know the place well, though. There’s a grave marker nearby that anchors the name in place and time.

About ten miles south of Knobite Corner, in the mountains, lies the little town of Tellico Plains. Tellico was once a boom town, based on the logging industry. The two biggest companies that came in to log out the mountains in the area were Babcock’s Lumber Company and Heiser.

Some of the loggers lived in town; others lived in logging camps, like the mining camps out west. It was from a camp on the Tellico River, at the mouth of Sycamore Creek, that two Heiser employees named Andy Sherman and Paul O’Neill set out on December 11, 1899, bound for Robbinsville, North Carolina, where they apparently were planning to spend Christmas before returning to their jobs. Sherman and O’Neill were young men, native Pennsylvanians. Before they left, though, they had already been drinking a bit, and took jugs of whiskey with them. (There has long been a tradition of good moonshine-making in the area.)

They apparently made it safely across the state line into North Carolina. But in the high mountains at the southern end of the Appalachian chain, snow can and does sweep in unexpectedly. And snow came. Already more than slightly drunk, Sherman and O’Neill missed the trail, along Hooper Ridge between Hooper Bald and Horse Pen Gap, that would have led them into Robbinsville. Lost, and with the snow coming down fast, the wind blowing it about in white disarray, they finally lost the battle, near a little nameless stream.

In the logging camp, where there were always more workers in need of employment, their jobs were quickly filled. Sherman and O’Neill were, however, reported missing.

It was not until the following September that their bodies were found, some three quarters of a mile from the place where Andy Sherman now lies buried. The sheriff and coroner of Graham County were notified, and they took a coroner’s jury with them to investigate. The two sets of remains were close together, and jugs of whiskey found nearby led to a verdict; lost in the snow while intoxicated, the two had died of exposure in the remote area. Andy Sherman, whose remains had been badly mangled by wild animals, was buried in an initially unmarked grave on Big Huckleberry Knob; Paul O’Neill’s skeleton, in better condition, was given by judicial order to a local doctor as a medical exhibit.

Andy Sherman lies there to this day, at 5560 feet elevation, his grave now marked by a memorial stone that tells the story of the two lost loggers.

Andy Sherman stone NC TN state line

The stone, dated 1999–a century after their sad deaths–replaces a previous brass marker. Hikers who come yearly to the area also donated, some years ago, a cross that marks the grave.

memorial cross Andy Sherman

The little stream where Sherman and O’Neill lost their battle with the snow and wind has been known ever since as Dead Man’s Run, the singular probably paying tribute to the fact that only Andy Sherman lies buried nearby. No one knows what became of Paul O’Neill’s skeleton. It may still be in use as a medical exhibit, or some merciful later owner may have given it Christian burial.

I once asked my brother, who has hiked in the area often, if he’s ever heard any stories of ghosts along Dead Man’s Run. He says, as far as he knows, there are none. But I can’t help but wonder if, in mid-December, so high up and far from civilization, Andy Sherman, or more likely Paul O’Neill, may not walk again. . .still trying to find the trail to Robbinsville and safety.
I first heard the story of Dead Man’s Run from Bill Landry of WBIR-TV, Channel 10, Knoxville’s THE HEARTLAND SERIES: A CELEBRATION OF A PEOPLE AND THEIR LAND, which filmed a segment on Dead Man’s Run in 1988.

Additional information came from contributing writer Marshall McClung of the GRAHAM STAR.

Photographs copyright 2012 by Paul Gamble. Used by permission (thank you, brother! 🙂 )

Confession time: this is a somewhat rewritten/condensed version of a previous post. I’ve revived it because it’s again the season when Sherman and O’Neill were lost, and because I now have access to illustrations of the high country. No snow this year, but it’s easy to imagine. . .

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. . .a date that will live in infamy.

Now, its name is as famous as any in American history: Pearl Harbor, on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, home base for the US Pacific Fleet. It’s hard to believe that on December 7, 1941, the majority of Americans had never heard of it.

They would before the end of that day.

Pearl is, naturally, a haunted place: there are stories of a horribly burned sailor who walks the Arizona memorial above the resting place of the doomed battleship; of a mischievous airman who haunts nearby Hickam AFB, also a casualty of that early morning attack; of phantom screams and groans and explosions that the psychically sensitive hear to this day.

Less known, perhaps, are stories of premonitions of Pearl Harbor’s place in that day of infamy: of its name appearing, out of context and unheard of before to bewildered bystanders, etched in snow on a midwestern sidewalk or painted on a car door by an incorrigible youngster at a school.

Perhaps the oddest of all Pearl Harbor premonitions, though, came from thousands of miles away in the hill country of Texas, where a ghostly horseman, herald of four previous wars, made his last and most spectacular appearance on Sunday, December 7, 1941.

Natives of the Tonkawa tribe were the first to tell the early white settlers about a ghost who earned the name Devil Rider; a giant of a man on a giant black horse. He wore antique Spanish armor and carried antique Spanish weaponry. The Tonkawa said he and his horse would sometimes ride out of a little hollow that had no name. They avoided that hollow like plague.

Many of the early whites in the area were of Celtic descent, and Celts are notoriously fey. They too avoided the hollow until, one morning in 1846, a rancher named McConnell, tracking wolves that preyed on his livestock, followed their trail into the hollow and almost at once rode up on the Spanish rider and black horse, in their ancient armor and harness.

McConnell, knowing he was seeing something that shouldn’t have been there, hightailed it for home. Shortly after his sighting, word came that Zachary Taylor and American troops had crossed the Rio Grande: the outbreak of the Mexican War.

Some thought the rider a ghost; others called him Lucifer himself, and thus, a nameless and long-dead Spaniard acquired the nickname of Devil Rider, and his little hollow became known as Devil’s Hollow.

Horse and rider were not seen again until April of 1861, when a man called Emmett Ringstaff spotted him. Ringstaff noted that the warrior carried two brass horse pistols and his armor bore an insignia: a crown suspended over a crouching lion.

A few days later, word came that Confederate troops in Charleston, South Carolina, had fired on the Federal garrison at Fort Sumter. The Civil War had begun.

Devil’s Hollow, as it happened, lay along a spur of the famed Chisholm Trail, along which cattlemen drove their herds to markets in Kansas, and eventually was renamed Chisholm Hollow, but its ghostly occupant retained his nickname of Devil Rider. Its appropriateness was proven in 1898, when he appeared to three different men, on three separate occasions, shortly before the outbreak of the tomfoolery we call the Spanish-American War.

The rider had paid no attention whatever, in 1846 and 1861, to McConnell or Ringstaff. In 1898, all three of the men who witnessed his passing claimed to have felt he was staring at them, with fiery hate in his eyes.

As we know, most of the men who signed up to fight in the Spanish-American War died in camp of disease before they ever saw battle. In the Devil Rider’s domain, though, legend has it that the hillmen experienced inexplicable drought and crop failures and cattle and horse deaths from no known disease during that four-month period.

Afterward, the Devil Rider went unseen for so long that one intrepid rancher, thinking him gone to the afterlife, tried to homestead Chisholm Hollow, investing every penny of his savings, only to lose everything when his farmstead burnt to the ground. No cause for the fire was ever found, and no one tried to settle in the canyon again.

The Devil Rider was next seen in January of 1917, by six youngsters who bravely rode into his hollow hunting deer. They were jeering at the rider’s reputation as a prognosticator of war–there were rumblings that the US would soon be entering that first dreadful conflict to earn the name of World War–when the rider and his horse rode noisily past.

The US officially entered World War I in April 1917, two months after formally severing diplomatic relations with the German empire. Of the six young men who had seen the Devil Rider, five would die on battlefields in France and Belgium.

On the afternoon of December 7, 1941, a hill family was returning from a church service by a road that took them past Chisholm Hollow. The driver was forced to slam on the brakes when he heard sounds like a horse galloping through the woods at the head of the hollow, coming toward the road as if to cross it. As he and his family watched in amazement, a man in old, old armor, on a huge black horse, rode out of the hollow and simply stopped in the middle of the road–before vanishing without a trace.

It was the first–and only–time the Devil Rider of Chisholm Hollow was ever seen outside the hollow proper.

Shaken–they knew the legend of the Devil Rider’s appearance before the outbreak of war–the family went home and turned on the radio–

to hear news of the attack on Pearl Harbor–marking the United States’ entry into the most horrific war the world has ever witnessed.

The story of the Devil Rider of Chisholm Hollow was told by Harold Preece in Visions of Ghost Armies: From the Files of Fate Magazine (2003). Preece’s account dates, from internal evidence, to about the years 1951-1952.

From what little else I have been able to find about the Devil Rider, that eerie appearance on December 7, 1941 was his last. There are no records of reports–that I can find–of his appearance before Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Iraq, or Afghanistan.

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The sun is shining, the grass is green,
The orange and palm trees sway
There’s never been such a day
In Beverly Hills, L.A.

But it’s December the twenty-fourth
And I am longing to be up North. . .

So opens that perennial Christmas classic “White Christmas”, written by Irving Berlin in 1942 and popularized by Bing Crosby in a film called Holiday Inn; years later, the song was revived in a film called White Christmas, in which it was performed as a memorable duet by Crosby and Rosemary Clooney.

For what it’s worth, though, white Christmases aren’t exactly the norm, even, apparently, “up North”. According to Peter Haining, the renowned British paranormal researcher and author, we owe dreams of a white Christmas to none other than our old friend Charles Dickens and his “Ghost of an Idea” A Christmas Carol, that imaginative tale of a miser’s reclamation in a snowy, foggy Victorian London.

In his preface to The Complete Ghost Stories of Charles Dickens (1982), Haining comments: . . .according to Professor Hubert Lamb of the climactic research unit at East Anglia University, snowy Christmases are actually very infrequent. . .Professor Lamb found the explanation for the belief during research into past weather records, which showed that for the first eight years of Dickens’s life there was a white Christmas every year with either snow or white hoarfrost (page 9).

It so happens that Dickens, born in 1812, came along at the tag end of the most recent period some call a Little Ice Age, a period of centuries during which weather patterns mimicked the great freezes that, in past ages, lasted for millenia. The last such began circa the year 1400. It was particularly severe in the late sixteenth century, when, it’s recorded, England’s Queen Elizabeth I took daily walks, during several memorable winters, on a River Thames frozen nearly rock solid.

Another geological phenomenon was also in effect in Dickens’s early years; in 1815, a gigantic volcanic eruption of Mount Tambora in the Dutch East Indies spread so much dust and ash in the atmosphere that much of the Northern Hemisphere experienced massive crop failures and unusual winter conditions (with much of New England and Canada in particular reporting snow as late as June in the following year) that 1816 is still remembered as “the year without a summer”.

Even so, Haining’s Professor Lamb points out that Christmas weather tends more toward sunny days breaking up more severe weather patterns, not the romantic snowy ones best observed from indoors, by a roaring fire, with hot chocolate and cookies and a good book and. . .

Ahem. Pardon me. I come from an area where white Christmases are rare–our more recent, in 2010, came forty-two years after its predecessor–

but I’ll dream of one nonetheless.

Specially when my man Hampson sings about one. 😉

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