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Inside Appalachia

Hauntings From The Civil War: A Snapshot of the Ghost Tours of Harpers Ferry, W.Va.



Rick Garland took over the Ghost Tours of Harpers Ferry 10 years ago. He holds the tour year-round and meets tourists on the steps of the historic St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church. Photo: Liz McCormick/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

This story is part of a Halloween episode of Inside Appalachia, which features ghost tales and legends from across Appalachia.

Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, in Jefferson County is well known for its American Civil War history. The town was the site of John Brown’s Raid, the Battle of Harpers Ferry, and the town changed hands from Union to Confederate several times. 

Harpers Ferry saw so much destruction during the war that many now say it’s a town home to ghosts and hauntings.

Up a series of steep, stone steps and just beyond a screeching gate is the entrance to the historic St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church in Harpers Ferry.

Built in 1833, it still holds mass on Sunday, and is open for special occasions like Christmas. But at night, and year-round, its courtyard is the meeting place for the Ghost Tours of Harpers Ferry – said to be the oldest ghost tour in America at nearly 50 years old.

On a recent night, about 50 people have gathered to attend the two-hour tour. There are parents with young children, older couples, and a handful of teenagers. Many tour attendees are from out of town, like Melanie Ray, from Baltimore, Maryland. Ray said she and her boyfriend were visiting the area and looking for something to do. 

“I love anything that has anything to do with history, and Harpers Ferry has a lot of pretty bad history, like a lot of bad things happened,” Ray said. 

That history is what makes Harpers Ferry a pretty cool backdrop for spooky tales, and tourists like Ray are intrigued by that. 

Not everyone believes in the stories, but some do. 

Rick Garland took over the Ghost Tours of Harpers Ferry 10 years ago. He’s a local historian and tour guide. During the day, he runs a four-hour historical tour in Harpers Ferry, but at night he tells tales of hauntings.

The Ghost Tours of Harpers Ferry was originally run by a woman named Shirley Dougherty, who started the tour in 1970. She has since passed away. Garland continues Dougherty’s legacy because her family asked him to, and because he loves history. Garland also believes in ghosts, but he has a sense of humor about it.

“Is there anybody here who does not believe in ghosts? What are you doing here? I’m only kidding,” Garland said to the laughing crowd.

Garland telling one of his ghost stories to a large crowd in Harpers Ferry, W.Va. Photo: Liz McCormick/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

With his lantern in hand, Garland takes the large group around the town, highlighting spots that are known for ghostly sightings. He encourages folks to take photos – just in case they might catch something paranormal.

Garland tells many ghost stories on the tour. One of them describes how in the 1980s, a man and his three children moved into an apartment in town, but every night, the father heard a crying baby in his bedroom. 

“A few minutes later, the crying sound started up for a third time,” Garland said to the crowd. “It was louder this time, and he’s getting very fed up with this. So, now [he] says louder, ‘I told you, you have to shut up,’ and the moment that got out of his mouth, he saw something flash across his bedroom.”

But when the father goes to check it out, there’s nothing there. Later, the crying starts again, but this time, when the father yells, there’s a crashing sound almost like an explosion of bricks.

Garland describes a possible explanation for the haunting. Apparently, a diary was discovered, written by a little girl named Anne, who lived in that building during the Battle of Harpers Ferry in 1862.

“Anne continues to write, ‘when the Confederates are bombing our town there’s a woman upstairs in this house on the top floor with a newborn baby, a little infant in her arms, rocking the baby back and forth,” Garland tells the crowd.

Garland said the diary entry describes how a cannonball smashed into the house killing the baby and severely injuring the mother. 

The crowd is silent.

A section of the town of Harpers Ferry, W.Va. as seen during a recent ghost tour. Photo: Liz McCormick/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

A lot of the ghost stories Garland tells are connected in some way to the Civil War. 

By the end of the tour, many who came out, chat with Garland, ask questions and share photos of what they captured, including one woman, Cindy Rhodes from Charlotte, North Carolina.

Rhodes and her husband travel all over the country to check out ghost tours like the one in Harpers Ferry. The history, for them, is the biggest draw. 

“That’s what they’re more fun for, you know what I mean?” Rhodes said. “There’s a ghost here and there, but they’re more fun for the history, I think.”

And for some who come out to tours like this one, like Brandon Schaefer of Baltimore, they like to be scared and to run into something spooky. 

“I like the haunting stuff, and I always hope to see a ghost, so that’s mainly why we came out here,” Schaefer said.

Being a tour guide is Garland’s full-time job, and though he does other historical tours, the ghost tour, is his favorite. 

“It’s great to see how this affects other people,” he noted. “So, if you can entertain them, whether it’s with the history part of it, or with the ghost tour part of it, or the spooky part of it, or with a joke, the fact is, that they want to be entertained; they came out to be entertained, and if you can do that for them, they feel good, you feel good, everybody has a good time.”

This article was originally published by West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

Inside Appalachia

Great, Great Granddaughter of ‘Devil Anse’ Hatfield Carrying on Family Traditions



Nancy Justus, the great, great granddaughter of “Devil Anse", and the owner of Hatfield & McCoy Moonshine in Gilbert, W.Va. Photo: Chuck Roberts/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Spring, summer and fall in Gilbert, West Virginia, in Mingo County, most days you can find a barrage of ATVs rolling through town. 

Most of the riders are visiting for an adventurous vacation. The asphalt road runs are usually a short trip from their cabins, or hotels to the woods onto the Hatfield and McCoy Trail systems. 

Chad Bishop is the master distiller in a nearby distillery. 

“You come down here at any given time and you’ll see twenty four-wheelers over here, five over there six, ya know,” Chad said. “Those people come in here to spend their money.”

To get there, you have to drive up a steep hillside to get to the Hatfield and McCoy Distillery. Most of the customers are ATV tourists. 

“When they come up my distillery if they want a bottle of my product they’re getting the best money can buy,” Chad said. 

Chad Bishop, master distiller at Hatfield & McCoy Moonshine. Photo: Chuck Roberts/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Chad takes a lot of pride in making moonshine. Technically it’s whiskey according to the Alcohol and Beverage Commission, but for Chad, the craft of brewing corn mash will always be moonshine. Chad said the recipe comes from the infamous William Anderson “Devil Anse” Hatfield himself. 

Chad married into the family. His mother-in-law is Nancy Justus, the great, great-granddaughter of “Devil Anse”. 

Nancy’s father worked in the coal mines. But the boom and bust cycle meant he was often out of work. 

“Everybody was poor. We didn’t know no better,” Nancy explained. “He had a tough life. Coal mining’s hard. It’s a hard life. We would have starved to death if it hadn’t been for bootlegging back in the 50s.”

Her daddy made moonshine with a radiator. She said today, it would take a lot longer if they had to make moonshine that way.

But the moonshine tradition goes back even before the 50s, according to Nancy’s mom, Billie Hatfield; often people call her ‘Granny Hatfield’. 

Billie Hatfield. Photo: Chuck Roberts/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

“Back when I was 20 years old, we got married and we moved to Ben Creek a little hole in the ground; one way in one way out,” Granny Hatfield said. “To make extra money, we made moonshine and sold it. We hid it when he’d bring it out of the mountains, I would mix it in a bathtub. And I got pretty good on my 90 proof and all of that. Back then we made 90 proof and 100 proof. You had to watch the feds all of the time because they were all the time after us.” 

Today, the family business is legit, a registered, tax-paying business that helps them make a living and stay in West Virginia. 

In addition to the distillery, Nancy Justus also runs a small lodging company that rents vacation cabins and hotel rooms to tourists. She doesn’t mind sharing her family’s story with visitors. 

“I enjoy talking to them,” Nancy said. “I talk to so many people, take so many pictures. I’m not famous or anything, but they always a picture.”

Nancy said she feels like she’s reclaiming her family’s name through her businesses, and by telling these stories. Even though the family wasn’t consulted before construction of the trail system that uses their name, both Chad and Nancy said the Hatfield and McCoy Trail system has been great for business.

Still, running a business that depends on tourists isn’t profitable year-round. 

“There’s only seven months of business,” Nancy said. “It’s dead for five months and it’s hard to come back when you come back in March, first of April, because you had to spend all your money for the winter. That’s the only downfall, you know. It’s so hard.”

Photo: Chuck Roberts/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Just recently, Nancy’s moonshine company won a long battle with producers in other states, including Missouri and California, who were trying to use the name for their own brands of liquor. 

“I got what I wanted. I want my name,” Nancy said. “I don’t want anybody to have my name that’s not the real people. It’s not fair.”          

Nancy and her company won the lawsuit. Now they get to keep the name, Hatfield and McCoy Moonshine, to label their liquor. Chad said it’s good for tourism too. Along with the Hatfield and McCoy Country Museum in Williamson, it’s just one more way to bring another layer of authentic heritage to share with visitors.    

“You can come here and go to a museum, and you can come here and watch whiskey being made the mountains you know, just like they did 150 years ago,” Chad said. “So yeah. I mean, they use the name but I think if anybody’s got the right to use it, it should be them.”

After all, the craft and recipe for this liquor were developed and preserved in the backwoods of the West Virginia hills. So the only way for it to be authentic is to keep the name. 

“We don’t really play off of the name but we want what we want people to know is here we stick true to tradition,” Chad said. “We’re from the mountains, we make whiskey in the mountains. We do it all in the mountains.”

Reclaiming their name for their business is also about taking back the narrative that has been told over the years, said Nancy. Ever since the feud, reports have traditionally focused on the fights and anger among the families. 

“I could write a book on our family,” Nancy said. “It was Hatfields. The curse was handed down there’s a lot of temperament. They have a lot of problems with forgiving. They can’t forgive. It’s sad.”

Family photos of the William Anderson Devil Anse Hatfield hang on the wall of Nancy Hatfield’s house. Nancy is Davil Anse’s great, great-granddaughter. Photo: Chuck Roberts/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

While she admits that most of her family members have a bit of a temper, she’s quick to point out that there’s more to her family. 

“Hatfields are great people. My daddy would have given you the shirt off his back. I loved my daddy,” Nancy said. 

“I was his sidekick and anything he told me to do, I’d do it. And there was things I did that I probably shouldn’t have done. I should have been killed. He bought me race cars. I raced them. What was I going to do with Corvettes? I raced them. Camaroes. Daddy taught me all of that.”

This story is part of an episode of Inside Appalachia that explores tourism in southern West Virginia and the lasting impacts the Hatfield and McCoy feud has had on the region’s identity. It was originally published by West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

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Inside Appalachia

‘Blood Creek’ Tells Mine Wars Story From Woman’s Perspective



Author Kimberly Collins. Photo: Courtesy Image
Photo: Courtesy Image

In her new novel, “Blood Creek”, author Kimberly Collins writes about the strikes that gripped the southern West Virginia coalfields in the early 20th Century from the perspective of the women who lived through them.

“Blood Creek” is the first in the Mingo Chronicles series. It starts with the strike at Paint Creek and Cabin Creek in 1912. Collins used real characters from history in her books, several of whom she is related to. 

“The story starts with a character named Ellie, and Ellie was a real person,” Collins told West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s Eric Douglas in an interview. “The overarching theme of the book is the mine wars and the thread that’s kind of woven through the entire book is the relationship between Ellie, her sister and her cousin,” she said. “So it’s a book about relationships and just the fighting human spirit getting through some pretty pretty dark, violent times in southern West Virginia.” 

Collins said the idea for the story came about when a cousin told her stories about her own great-grandmother she had never heard. 

Author Kimberly Collins. Photo: Courtesy Image

“I just thought it was important to tell the women’s stories because coal is a man’s world. And the women really played a huge part in it, but I don’t think that that story is told enough,” she said. 

“Blood Creek” is about the 1912 coal mine strike in Paint Creek. Collins said she began writing about the 1920 mine wars in Matewan, but stumbled across a story about the real-life Ellie and knew she had to write it into a book. The Matewan Massacre will be the focus of the second book in the “Mingo Chronicles” series. 

Collins is from Matewan, although she now lives in Tennessee. She said the research she did for the book has opened her eyes to her own history. 

“I realized that my heritage, my Appalachian heritage, is pretty amazing. I learned so much about the people of Appalachia and southern West Virginia, and that they were hardworking and intelligent, and smart and clever, and really fighting for their rights,” Collins said. “All those things that came before me have made me who I am today.”

This story is part of an episode of Inside Appalachia that explores tourism in southern West Virginia and the lasting impacts the Hatfield and McCoy feud has had on the region’s identity. It was originally published by West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

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Inside Appalachia

Mountain Lions, Bison & Scares, Oh My! W.Va. State Wildlife Center Serves Up Family-friendly Spooks



Pumpkin Head greets visitors during the West Virginia State Wildlife Center's ninth annual Spooky Night Tours. Photo: Brittany Patterson/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On a recent Friday in October, hundreds of children and their families are excitedly milling about the West Virginia State Wildlife Center

Clutching flashlights, glow sticks and steaming cups of hot chocolate, visitors have come to the state-run zoological center — which houses wildlife native and introduced to West Virginia  — for the ninth annual Spooky Night Tours. 

This story is part of a Halloween episode of Inside Appalachia, which features ghost tales and legends from across Appalachia.

While many enjoy the scare factor and spooky monsters, ghouls and ghosts associated with Halloween, heart-pounding scares are not for everyone.

Before taking the evening tour, visitors to Spooky Night Tours can take a hayride. Photo: Brittany Patterson/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

“We are honored to provide a family-friendly Halloween event,” said Judy Channell, secretary for the state wildlife center and organizer of the Spooky Night Tours. “We’re just spooky. We don’t do anything really bloody or gory or anything like that.”

Some of the decorations on the trail. Photo: Brittany Patterson/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

The event began almost a decade ago – inspired by the nocturnal nature of most of the center’s creatures. 

“The initial premise was … the animals are nocturnal and they’re actually kind of more active [at night],” Channell said. “And so it was just going to be interesting to walk through the woods with a mountain lion and wolves and black bears and everything, and we just built on it every year.”

These days, Channell and others at the center begin thinking up new Halloween-themed tableaus months in advance. 

“Usually in the spring, we really sit down and try to think about, ‘What are we going to do? What are we going to do different?’” Channell said. “And then usually in July and August, we go around and start talking about the placement.”

The 1.25-mile paved trail that winds through the center is decorated with different spooky motifs, mostly funny, including a graveyard and giant dancing spider.

Decorations along the trail at the West Virginia State Wildlife Center. Photo: Brittany Patterson/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

For the cost of admission — $4 for adults and $2 for kids — visitors can partake in all of the evening’s events, including an open-air hayride through the wildlife center and visiting a spooky maze. 

Jayden Straley-Smith, 9 years old, is vibrating with excitement as he waits to get on the next hayride. He is unequivocal that the Spooky Night Tours are not too scary. 

“Nope,” he said. “Not scary at all.” 

Outside the maze — a tarp-covered building located past a herd of grazing elk —  a cobweb-covered headstone warns visitors: Enter at your own risk. Spooky skeletons hang from the walls and orange fairy lights cast a ghoulish glow. 

A ghoul hangs inside the maze. Photo: Brittany Patterson/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Buckhannon resident Adrienne Tucker and her family are standing outside the maze. She jokes that her kids have been through it dozens of times and cannot get enough. 

Tucker said she enjoys the Spooky Night Tours because it is not heavy on the horror.  

“It’s just good simple fun,” she said. “Not too scary.”

The highlight of the center’s Halloween-themed festivities begins when the sun goes down.

As night falls, excitement mounts. In small groups, families are unleashed onto the trail to interact with the spooky decorations and center’s animal exhibits. One volunteer actor, dressed as a fortune teller, predicts, “You will be very tired when you get to the end of the trail.” 

Wolves are one of many creatures at the West Virginia State Wildlife Center. Photo: Brittany Patterson/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

The highlight for many are the animals. The kids are especially impressed by three mountain lions, one of which is standing right up against the chain-link fence.

“Those are huge!” exclaims one excited child. 

The kids stalk past the huge cats, waving their glow sticks and flashlights. 

To help keep the scare factor low, many of the actors participating in the tour are kids. At a newly-installed staged scene, which is supposed to be Area 51, a crashed UFO is shrouded in green, glowing lights. Gavin Marsh, 11 years old, is dressed head to toe in white plastic, as he is playing a hazmat worker on cleanup duty.

One of his brothers is dressed in a suit — he is playing a government worker. Another brother is dressed as an invisible alien; even though he is really in plain sight, the group is supposed to imagine the government workers cannot see him.

Tucker Marsh, 8, and his brother, Gavin Marsh, 11, play an alien and hazmat worker at the center’s Area 51 site. Photo: Brittany Patterson/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

And while none of the actors jump out or grab people, some may induce a bit of a fright. During one particularly dark stretch of trail, one actor, face painted white like an evil clown, clicks on his flashlight and says “boo.”

After the tour, attendee Krystal Bevans recalls her experience. 

“Very exciting, very good. Very, very nice decorations,” she said. “We had a good time as always. It’s very worth the trip to come to it if you’ve never been.”

This story is part of an upcoming Halloween episode of Inside Appalachia, which features ghost tales and legends from across Appalachia. It was originally published by West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

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