For centuries, McDowell County’s people from all walks of life and backgrounds have worked, fought, married, started families and died to make this community what it is today. And with all of this rich history, McDowell has generated a considerable number of ghost stories, some of which are well known among longtime residents while others have never been told publicly before.
For the first time in recent memory, those ghost stories have been brought together in a single book. Historians and writers Rena M. Harp and Patti Smith Holda have recently published “Ghosts of McDowell County: Haunts and History since 1780.”
Harp established McDowell’s first paranormal research group Foothills Paranormal Investigators in 1998. She is the owner and creator of History Chics, a company of women focusing on the ancestry of residential and commercial structures (house and building historical research).
Holda works at the McDowell County Public Library in Marion and is in charge of the genealogy and local history room. She has served as both vice president and president of the McDowell County Historical Society. She is active in the local Pilot Club, is vice president of the Friends of the Mountain Gateway Museum board and is active in her church.
With this new 100-page book, these two women have brought their passion for local history and tales of supernatural into a single work.
“We put some of the history in it,” said Holda. “The history is a big part of the ghost stories.”
“We’ve been collecting the ghost stories for a long time,” said Harp.
Furthermore, the McDowell County Historical Society will host a ghost walk in downtown Marion on New Year’s Eve. The walks will depart every half hour from the front of Possibilities, located at 81 S. Main St. in Marion, until 11 p.m. and will concentrate on the Depot District. A suggested donation of $5 each is asked of participants.
Proceeds from this walk will go directly to the Historical Society, a nonprofit organization. The tour is weather-dependent, so inclement weather may result in the walk being canceled or rescheduled, according to a news release.
It is a good bet that many of the tales to be told during the ghost walk are inspired by the work of Harp and Holda. A few years ago, they held a similar ghost walk in the downtown during the Halloween season.
“We tried to tie the stories in with the ghost walk, both the upcoming and the previous one we’ve done,” said Harp.
“There’s some stories that some people may not be familiar with,” said Holda.
Their book has weird tales from the old folklore surrounding Mount Ida, Devil’s Ball Alley, Lake Tahoma and downtown Marion.
One chapter in the book contains reports of strange happenings at a home in Little Switzerland, the Gardin house, East McDowell Middle School and Historic Carson House. This chapter includes the results from the research by Harp’s Foothills Paranormal Investigators at these four locations. “These buildings were listed as having the highest amount of activity from a paranormal standpoint,” reads the book.
They also researched the truth about the history behind these hauntings. For example, many local people have told stories about the ghosts at East Middle School and that they are the spirits of children who were killed in a fire at an orphanage that stood there long before the school was built. As it turns out, the Elhanan Bible Training and Orphanage did stand at that location and it did burn to the ground. But that happened after the building ceased to be an orphanage and no one was killed in the blaze.
Another chapter focuses on other historic residences in McDowell that are reportedly haunted such as the Dysart house on Hankins Road, the Haney home in Glenwood, the Albertus Ledbetter House in Montford Cove and the McDowell House on U.S. 70. For example, the Haney home was owned by Confederate soldier Lewis Haney and his wife Peggy, who kept the farm going while her husband was away fighting in the War Between the States. In 1872, they built this white frame house and it has changed very little since then. A small family cemetery is located nearby and there are six Confederate soldiers buried there. Harp’s group did an investigation of this house and cemetery and took several photos, with the owner’s permission of course.
Harp said all of the paranormal investigators put new batteries inside their cameras, video recorders and audio recording equipment. But once they got inside the Haney house, their equipment failed to work. Every electronic device went dead. They left the old house and switched out their batteries. Two investigators went back into the house and were able to make audio recordings.
“They got sounds of music and dancing and chairs moving across the floor and there was no furniture inside that house,” said Harp.
They also captured a strange image in a photo of the family cemetery who they believe is the ghost of Lewis Haney.
“We captured a figure of a man in the cemetery and the significance for that was where he was standing was the gravesite of the first person who built the house,” said Harp.
Her group has done investigations about the many spirits said to haunt Historic Carson House. Many of these reports were previously written down by local historian Anne Swann.
Their book also has stories about ghosts that reportedly haunt such downtown buildings as The McDowell News, the McDowell County Courthouse, the Crooked Door Coffee House and the county library in Marion.
“There’s been employees who felt a presence and they turn around and there’s nothing there,” said Holda, who works at the library.
And employees of The McDowell News have reported hearing the sounds of people walking up the stairs to the second floor on their way to the newsroom only to find no one was coming.
The book has stories about a most unlikely haunted place in McDowell: The Lowe’s Home Improvement store on U.S. 70 West. Harp and Holda speculate that the reason behind this modern store being haunted is because it might have been built upon or near a Native American burial site.
There is also a chapter about Old Fort and the strange tale of a family there haunted by what a young son called “the glow man.”
In their book, Harp and Holda recognize the work of a newer group here in McDowell, M&D Paranormal and Cryptid Research. They also devoted a chapter to UFO sightings in McDowell and strange creatures believed to exist here, also called cryptids. After all, Marion is known worldwide for the WNC Bigfoot Festival and the work of our local group Bigfoot 911.
“Ghosts of McDowell County” can be found on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Ghosts-Mc Dowell-County-Haunts-History/dp/1709176628
The paperback version costs $9.89 and the electronic version costs $3.89.
Harp and Holda plan for this to be the first of other books that will focus on history.