One of our favourite historians, Joseph S. Hall, not only recorded bits of mountain speech and music, but he also documented a fair number of Smoky Mountain ghost stories. His 1970 article in the Tennessee Folklore Bulletin offers the following tips on what to do when encountering spectres in the Smokies.
For one, avoid the following places and circumstances, as these are common lurking places for ghosts, boogers, and other varieties of “ha’nts”: haunted churches, haunted houses, haunted schoolhouses, graveyards, and dark stretches of road (especially while transporting moonshine).
If you do have the misfortune of encountering a ghost, Hall’s informants recommend the following. “If you agree with them, you will be rewarded. But if you argue with them, the results will be fatal,” wrote Hall. In one anecdote, a group of people saw a ghost on one particularly dark night, and several foolishly tried to follow it. The uninformed who disagreed with the ghost “got killed. One old lady tried to follow him, treated him nice, agreed with him, and he led her to a big stump where there was a pot of gold…”
The more elaborate Smoky Mountain ghost stories often involve churches. In one tale, the town mayor and church deacons offer a stranger $500 to spend an entire night in an old dilapidated church that is thought to be haunted. “The windows are broken, cobwebs gather, and weird shapes are thought to be seen when moonlight shines through windows,” Hall wrote. The brave young stranger takes the elders up on their offer.
As the moon rises, spirits of departed brethren, some of them lacerated and bleeding, rise up and terrify the young man. They drift about over the pews, shriek, moan, and rattle chains. Finally, the man is unable to control his fear and breaks for the door, willing to forfeit the prize money for an escape from the old church. Heading for the door, he suddenly finds himself surrounded by a ring of howling skeletons from the graveyard. Gathering his wits, the man grabs a couple of the heavy wooden church collection bowls and pushes them in front of the jangling skeletons. “’Here, we’re going to take up a collection,’” says the man to the skeletons. The boney assailants nod and slowly fade away.
The next morning, when the man describes his night in the haunted church to the deacons and community leaders, one of the elders surmises that the haunting is related to the poor condition of the church. To put the spirits to rest, the church must be repaired. The offering bowls are passed throughout the town and the church is restored to its previous glory. Plus the stranger gets his $500.