In Search of Coalfields Folklore

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The roots of many legends, long-forgotten folklore and scary tales are embedded deep in the mountains of WV. Superstitions steeped into generations of beliefs were accepted as the gospel and treated with respect. We’re searching for folks who can help us revive the authentic Coalfields tales of yesteryear that you grew up hearing from long ago. Let us know if you have had an unusual encounter with the likes of the Tommyknockers, Old King Coal, the Coalfields’ Ghost or the Spirit of the McDowell Mountains. We’re eager to hear your stories! To submit your tale, visit www.coaltownusa.org and locate the submission form near the bottom of the page. Help us preserve the local legends and folklore of Welch, WV for generations to come!

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The Spirit of McDowell

The Spirit of McDowell

Submitted by Leitabeth Wheeler

In Search of the Legends of the Coalfields' Folklore

 

I am not originally from the area, however, my husband’s people were spread out over McDowell County. I can’t tell you how many Christmas suppers we had sitting in his grandmaw’s kitchen, full as a tick on an old coonhound. Everyone would take their turns spinning yarns and swapping old wives tales. The stories varied slightly over the years, depending on which kinfolk was doing the telling.

I ‘spect the one that caught and held my attention centered around the glowing light they all said would appear just before midnight on New Year’s Eve. Legend had it if you saw the Spirit of McDowell before the strike of midnight and make a reasonable request, your wish would be granted within the year. Well, my husband, Jimmy and I had been trying to start a family for over 5 years without any luck. Jimmy’s dad (Pap) swore by the old tale, but we just laughed and went along for fun. Besides, if you think you can change a WV’s mind, you do believe in fairy tales!

December 31st, 1956, we stopped off at Jimmy’s new boss’ home to make an appearance before heading out to go over to his brother, Limon’s to ring in the New Year. Getting to Limon’s house was a chore. He lived smack dab in the middle of nowhere and if you wasn’t paying attention, you’d miss the turn off for his driveway. We missed the turn. Long story short, we ended up on a back county road that apparently was rarely traveled. I recalled Limon’s wife telling us, if you reached the railroad tracks, you went too far. Turn around. Jim slowed down as we began to cross over the tracks. In the distance, we could see a golden-ish light sweeping to and fro, as if someone was swinging an oil lantern. Jimmy whispered, “Well, I’ll swany-- would you look at that!!”

We got out of the old truck and stood rooted to the spot, mesmerized by the glowing light. “Make a wish” he urged, jabbing me with his elbow. Caught off guard, I blurted out, “I want to be a momma!” No sooner than the words were spoken, the light disappeared. We stood there, wondering if our minds had played a trick on us, straining our eyes—staring into the darkness, waiting, hoping. We got back in the truck. Jimmy looked down at his watch, it was just after midnight. I’ll never forget that New Year’s Eve. Was it a coincidence? Maybe. Was the Spirit of McDowell just an old wives’ tale? Don’t know. What I do know is, I’m an old wife and I’m here to tell you…it made a believer out of me. We were blessed with a set of twins later that year, a fine baby boy and… girl! Blessings to all in the New Year

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The Spirit of McDowell

Spirit Ride

Submitted by Walter Langdon

In Search of the Legends of the Coalfields' Folklore

 

The twenties we’re not user-friendly, but the people were. Folks around these parts worked from sunup until sundown. They took the Bible literally, "Love thy neighbor." A concept that my grandparents accepted as a fundamental law of the gospel and of human existence. When the pastor of our local congregation announced that a young girl had been orphaned in a nearby community and needed a home as she had no kinfolk, my grandparents opened their arms, hearts, and home to Lummie. Lummie was a deaf mute. She couldn’t hear, see, or speak. At least, not to humans. Things were different back in the 1920’s, especially in Appalachia. Folks made do with what they had and tended to their own.

In the late spring, my grandma had taken to her bed feeling poorly and wasn’t able to watch after Lummie. My grand-daddy and my daddy determine it would be best if they took her with them to take care of the morning chores. Even though my family knew Lummie was incapable of understanding them, they talked to her as if she could. My daddy introduced her to Charlie Horse, (Dad’s favorite), Sawhorse, (Grand-dad’s favorite) and several others. The last horse they avoided, White Lighting was a 3-year-old who had been abused by its former owner and he was still skittish of humans. His behavior wasn’t to be trusted as his personality was occasionally mean-spirited and unruly. Lummie also met Betty the old, milk cow, some mules, and a couple of the barn cats. Grand-daddy covered a bale of straw with an old quilt and sit Lummie down, telling her to stay put. He put an apple in her hand to keep her occupied while they tended the chickens and pigs. No more than 10 minutes had passed before they returned to the barn, Lummie was no longer sitting on the straw. A quick search of the barn made the hair stand up on the back of their necks, Lummie was sitting underneath a standing White Lighting in his stall.

It wasn’t long before Lummie managed to find her way down to the barn. She could be found in the stall with White Lighting, jabbering endlessly. No one knew what she was actually saying…except White Lighting. Highly unlikely, but completely true, the horse’s demeanor had changed from cantankerous and onery to patient and doting. He lovingly nuzzled Lummie, gently accepting her offerings of apples or carrots. Their friendship grew steadily for the next 9 years. My daddy said he knew Lummie longed to ride White Lighting, but the family felt it was too great a risk, insisting Lummie’s feet stay on the ground. Late summer, Lummie unexpectedly died in her sleep not long past her 19th year. White Lighting stamped his hooves, whinnied, and snickered with increasing anxiety for four days. On the fifth day, he was found dead in his stall. The family buried him behind the barn. A fortnight later, the family heard what they thought sounded like the horses or mules had gotten out of the barn. Dad and Grand-daddy hurried out to the barn. All of their stock was accounted for. There was nothing amiss. Episodes like this happened regularly for a good, long while. My daddy and his cousin were down in the pecan grove near the homestead. They were on their way back and had just crossed the creek when out of nowhere, they heard the unmistakable pounding of hooves bearing down almost on top of them. At the last instance, they veered off the rutted dirt road stumbling to safety. The rush of air whipped across their faces, rustling the knee-high weeds in the process. Stunned, they remained motionless listening to the sound of hooves splashing across the shallow creek bed.

The harvest moon was huge and swollen, lighting up the landside. But they neither one saw a thing as they ran all the way back to the house to tell my grand-daddy what they had experienced.

I grew up hearing that family tale. I didn’t think much of it. All of my immediate family had passed on by the early 1970’s. I had inherited the family homestead and went to make some necessary repairs in the late spring. That night I was awaken by the unmistakable sound of pounding hooves dangerously close to the house. I grabbed my shot gun and rushed out to the porch. Sitting. Waiting. Watching. Just as I had given up and was turning in for the night, the unmistakable sound of hooves burst out of nowhere, edging closer with a distinct intensity. My heart was pounding as I felt the night air swoosh by me! Rushing to my car, I headed down the lane, my senses on high alert. My eyes scanning back and forth each side of the lane, looking, searching, straining up ahead. And then – out of nowhere, it hit me full force and head on. My car came to a complete stop. I cut off the engine and sat staring into the darkened night. I knew exactly what Lummie had been trying to let the family know. Her spirit had been set free riding White Lighting for the rest of eternity.