Generations of Memories
Heart of the Blue Ridge
By Steven D. Lefler © 2001
Online: January, 2001
Not only the depression but all the years between the two World Wars were tough for many Americans. Times were especially tough for the residents of the poor Appalachian region of the eastern United States. My parents were born and reared during that period of time in that geographic location; Pulaski and Wythe Counties.
Granny, on my mother's side, gave birth to eight kids in the mountains of Virginia. Her alcoholic husband provided little to nothing toward the family upkeep and died in an auto accident while most of the children were still young. Granny took in laundry and the older boys worked at whatever jobs they could find. Many times, the only food on the table was what was caught in the river or hunted in the woods. Finding a place to live was difficult as well. Run-down shacks were abundant and many people without much income simply moved when the owner began hounding them for the rent.
Back in those mountains, amid rumors of war, industrialization was just beginning to take hold and people flocked to the towns in hopes of landing a job in the mines, plants and mills. Roads were scraped along the tops of ridges and rows upon rows of houses sprung up "down over the bank" in the hollows.
Granny heard of one of those, "down over the bank" houses that was for rent, real cheap, so she scraped together the first month's rent and moved in all the kids and their meager belongings .She delayed telling them why the rent was so low -- it was because the house was haunted!
A man had been shot and killed by his wife, the story went, as the man climbed the stairs to the second floor. Apparently, he had gone to the kitchen for something in the middle of the night without lighting a lamp. As he tiptoed up the darkened stairs, his wife awoke and retrieved a pistol. As the dim form climbed the stairs she shot him dead
Not only were the bloodstains still on the stairs but no amount of scrubbing would remove them; Granny tried and tried. The reason no one would live in the house however, was not the tragic story nor the bloodstains. It was the reoccurring footsteps of the dead man that could be heard every night, just after midnight. The slow, methodical, "Thump, thump, thump," of a man ascending the stairs would echo through the house.
While the kids hid under home-made quilts on straw tick mattresses, Granny would creep to the head of the stairs and armed only with a coal-oil lamp, declare, "Who's there?" Never came a reply and the house would be silent for the rest of the night.
Not one to show fear, Granny confronted the ghost every night. She would lie awake, waiting for the footfalls and without fail, just after midnight, the ghost would climb the stairs. A few thumps would sound and then silence.
Granny waited downstairs one night to see if she could catch the ghost from another direction. Sure enough, just past midnight came the "thump, thump, thumping." But from downstairs it appeared to Granny the footfalls were coming from outside the house! She ran out on the stoop but all was quiet.
The next night at midnight Granny was ready. When the ghost began his nightly climb up the stairs she flung the front door open wide. Directly across the hollow she saw a man splitting kindling wood.
The next day, Granny visited the family in the dwelling across the hollow and learned the story. It seems the man of the house worked the evening shift at the local paint mill. His shift ended at midnight and he would arrive home a few minutes after that. Before entering his house he would pause at the woodpile by the back door and split a few pieces of kindling for the morning fire so he would not have to come back out in the cool morning air.
Granny had discovered the sound of footsteps in the haunted house. The "whack, whack, whack," of the old man's hatchet carried across the hollow in the frigid night air and echoed off the side of her house. To anyone inside the house it sounded just like footsteps.
Granny swore all the kids to secrecy so they could enjoy the reduced rent.