By Imogene Turman © 1984
Issue: October, 1984
The early settlers of the Blue Ridge brought with them superstitions and tales to pass on to their children. As the tales passed on, they grew; sometimes the only way to control a houseful of children was to tell them scary things like, "Booger man will get you." My imagination had lots of terrible "Booger men" and bear tales could quench all desire to venture forth in the night.
Talking to some neighbors, I've found some tales passed down that were based on facts with, perhaps, a good bit of impressive telling, these stories made a dull night (without television or radio) tingle with goose bumps or cold chills going down the spine.
Told to me by Glen Worrell is this account his grandfather told. His grandfather was Thomas Jeff Willis and he lived at the foot of Willis Gap. He had crossed the mountain to court Elizabeth Ayers. At about ten o'clock pm, he began the trip home. It was dark with the moon shining slightly. He was going down a single lane road. It was narrow and the bushes gave off weird shadows to the young fellow.
He came to a draw bar, as he did, he glanced back. There arose a giant bear. He was big and black and the most frightening thing Jeff had ever seen. Jeff jumped the draw bar just as the bear got to it. Jeff let out running down that mountain like no one ever ran before. The bear was right behind. His folks had left the door unlocked for him, so Jeff grabbed it open and swung the bar in place as the bear hit the door. The bear pawed and growled. Jeff went to his room and the bear went to the outside of Jeff's room and beat and growled all night. When daylight finally got there, Jeff opened his window and the bear was gone. The men folks got dogs and traveled all the way to Bald Rock tracking the bear, but never did catch him. Bald Rock is below the Bluemont Church on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Folks who heard of the bear avoided the mountain road for a long time.
Another time, Jeff was up the mountain road and saw a man on the bank. The man was acting strange and trying to scare him. As the man came toward him, Jeff thought it was his brother Ellis. Jeff told him, "Stop or I'll Shoot." The man didn't stop so Jeff drew his gun and shot up in the air. When the shot rang out, the man disappeared in thin air. Jeff went home again scared terribly. When he got there, his brother Ellis was asleep in bed. Jeff woke him and asked him why he was trying to scare him. Ellis said he didn't know what Jeff was talking about. Three days later, Ellis took sick all of a sudden and died.
Glen Worrell's grandmother, Jennie Worrell, told of a peddler coming to her house. She had two or three little children playing about and all the men folks were gone. She told the peddler that she didn't have any money to buy anything, but he insisted on coming in and showing her some fine linen. She told him again she had no money. He pulled out a pistol this time. She grabbed one of the kids and ran out screaming. This frightened the peddler away.
Prestin Worrell told about passing the cemetery in the Gladesboro section late one night. He had been out selling horses and had taken a few "nips" to celebrate a good trade. As he approached the cemetery, he got real brave, stopped his horse, pulled out his pistol and shouted, "All yea evil arise!" Then he shot his pistol. A big bolt of fire came out of the cemetery and followed him for over a mile. His horse couldn't run fast enough to get home. These stories were told around the fireside after supper. The little children could add their imagination and get real scared.
Another tale was of a young man on horse back passing a cemetery late at night. He heard a baby crying. His horse was running fast but he could hear the crying just as loud for a good distance.
Another tale of a haunted place was on Laurel Fork Creek bridge, called Quaker Fork. Some older folks remember some of the facts. It seems a man by the name of Pete got killed. Some say during a quarrel at a poker game or after the game. A man met Pete on the bridge and hit him in the head with a quart bottle, knocking him in the river. The man then tried to hide Pete's body. He put him in a shallow grave in a sandy creek bank, but a big storm washed him partially out. The man came back and found Pete's hand sticking out. He then buried Pete in a hollow log. Then later, buried him again in a meadow near the creek. Folks say they saw Pete's ghost for many a year. One told of going by late at night. He was riding a good horse, but the horse got scared and tried to run. Something was pulling its tail and holding it back.
Again a rider saw a horse coming with a man riding it without a head. My mother, Nancy Thompson Jessup, remembers the tales. The older children told the little ones about "Old Pete." They were afraid to go out after dark, and if they did, one of the older ones would call out in the night very frightful sayings, "Old Pete will get you!"
Now cars go by and no one remembers "Old Pete", so he rests waiting for a lone rider on a horse on a dark night with the moon barely peeping out from behind a cloud - Who knows, maybe old Pete will rise again.