The Gatlinburg Witch

On a recent trip to the Smoky Mountains, I spent a couple of nights in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. I’m very familiar with the area as I have vacationed there many times; on this trip, though, I learned a little bit of the town’s obscure and dark history.

The Smoky Mountains and Gatlinburg are a Mecca for tourists. Only Las Vegas tops the Gatlinburg area in the number of weddings performed each year. In fact, my wife and I were married in Gatlinburg a little over a decade ago. Walking down the streets, or worse, trying to drive through town, it’s hard to imagine a time when Gatlinburg was a sleepy logging town. However, Gatlinburg was once a quiet little logging community known as White Oak Flats. There are some dark tales—and of course, ghosts—from back in this time, perhaps the most chilling is that of the Gatlinburg Witch.

The ghost of the Gatlinburg Witch has been spotted many times—and is still thought to be seen from time to time—in and around Gatlinburg, particularly near the White Oak Flats Cemetery.

The Gatlinburg Witch is described as a woman in her mid-20s to mid-30s with blonde hair and a light complexion. She wears a black cloak made from feathers with the hood pulled over her head. Some have claimed to see her carrying a stone knife.

The Gatlinburg Witch is said to be a “nesting witch.” A nesting witch cuts their own flesh and a creature then incubates inside the wound. In the case of the Gatlinburg Witch, birds grow inside of her until she cuts herself and they fly out of the wound. Some believe she controls the birds of the area. The following letter was written by Samuel Brown, an area resident, in the early-1800s. Brown was turkey hunting when he encountered the witch:

Dear Jeremiah,

It seems I owe your father an apology. When he came back from the Smokies muttering those tales about a horrible witch, I calld him mad. Yet here I stand, haunted by that same witch that he spake of all those years ago.

White Oak Flats is a small town my friend, and we all must pich in so it may survive. I was out huntin in the mountains around town when I saw the witch. I was tracking a turkey, biggest I ever seen, when I suddinly stumbled upon a spring where a young maiden was bathein. She didnot seem to notice me, and I quikly hid myself behind a bush.

The maid had fair skin and her hair was the color of the sun. I am ashamed to admit my reasons for staying ther were lechrous, for she wore no furs or textiles. The turkey I was tracking sat on the edge of the spring, next to a cloak of black fethers that must belong to the girl.

She sat in the spring for some time and then finaly stood, and I beheld her glisening, bautyfull form. It shames me to admit how entransed I was, but I am but a man and before me was a goddess.

The maid waded to the edge where her cloak was and pulled a knife from the folds. Before my terrifide eyes, she traced the blade along her skin, cutting a smooth line across her left brest. The cut widened on it’s own and I could only watch in horrifide silence as a bird climbed out and flew into the sky.

She cut more openings across her body and from each emerjed a bird. When she had completed the grizzly ritual, the woman, who I was sertain must be a witch, lay back in the spring and let her blood pore out and stain the waters red. She began to hum and had a peacefull look on her face.

I could stand it no more and I forgot about the turkey and ran. I ran all the way back to town. I prayed that what I had seen was a falshood or some madness brought by exostion, but alas it was not.

For there she is on the edge of the forest, wrapped in her fetherd cloak and masked in a bird’s skull, keeping silent vijil on me. And evry bird in the sky and on trees looks at me, and I know that soon they shall come for me.

Farewell, my old friend. I fear this may be the last leter I ever write.

Sinseerly,

Samuel

When I went to the White Oak Flats Cemetery on my trip to the Smokies, I did not see any sign of the witch, although we did have some ghostly encounters in the creepy cemetery. However, a local tour guide was recently sent a picture of what looked to be the apparition of a woman wearing a black cloak just below the cemetery. There has also been a rash of “scratchings” of ghost hunters in the area. Several people have suffered deep scratches—in a pattern that looked as if it came from a large bird—in the same area that the photograph was taken.

Slender Man—An Urban Legend Come to Life?

When I was working on my latest book, in which I chronicle many mysterious creatures and unusual phenomena in the state of West Virginia, during the course of my research, I was led to what I believed was nothing more than a creepy “internet thing”—Slender Man. Chances are, you may have heard of Slender Man; he is a recent creation and he has made the news several times over the last few years. Soon, he will have his own HBO documentary.

Slender Man began as an internet meme in the forums of the Something Awful webpage (https://forums.somethingawful.com/). Slender Man is the brainchild of Eric Knudsen who created him in a photo shop contest in 2009.

Slender Man quickly went viral. I remember shortly after hearing about Slender Man, from my kids, my son dressed as him for Halloween. He wore my black suit, a white shirt, a tie, and a white “morph suit” underneath. The morph suit gave my son a featureless white face which looked quite creepy in the dark. His costume was pretty convincing—the “real” Slender Man wears a suit and has a pale face void of features. His most notable trait, though, are his arms. They are disproportionately long, almost like tentacles which hand down low beside his skinny body.

Slender Man’s backstory is an eerie one. The lone figure haunts the shadows and hangs out in forests waiting to abduct children. He has incredible mental abilities—he is able to teleport himself and also to “get into” the minds of certain people to use them as proxies to commit evil deeds. Coming within close proximity to Slender Man can invoke extreme fear and paranoia. To see him means death.

He isn’t Real, Though, Right?

Though Slender Man was clearly created recently, there are some who believe he is real. The nation was shocked in 2014 when two young girls stabbed a classmate 19 times to please Slender Man. He has also been blamed for other attacks and suicides.

It would be easy to write off the Slender Man driven attacks as the work of mentally disturbed individuals and leave it at that. Their evil deeds are a product of their madness and have nothing to do with a new urban legend. It may not be that simple.

People have actually began seeing Slender Man. West Virginia is among the places that he has supposedly been spotted, particularly around Parkersburg and New Richmond. I was reading posts in an internet forum and read of a person who had recently moved to Kanawha County. She was shocked at how many locals believed in Slender Man.

How did we get from a creepy internet meme in 2009, to stabbings in 2014, to sightings today?

It has been suggested that Slender Man is a manifestation of our collective fears. As a society, we called Slender Man into existence with our fear and our dark thoughts.

We made Slender Man.

In the same way that group prayer is said to be extra effective in healing and bringing about peace, the negative thoughts and dark energy of a large group can have the same effect in bringing forth evil, darkness, and unwanted manifestations. With this in mind, with the state of things in our country—terrorism, division, social ills, the ever-increasing divide between the “have” and “have nots”—one has to wonder what will be manifested in the days to come.

The Ahuizotl

The Ahuizotl is the legendary water monster of Aztec folklore once thought to live in lakes and rivers around Tenochtitlan, Mexico. Its name means “thorny one of the water” or “spiny aquatic thing.” The Ahuizotl is a creature that was firmly established in the legends of the Aztecs. The animal is mentioned in the Florentine Codex, a manuscript compiled in the 16th century describing aspects of life before the arrival of the Spanish.

This strange beast is similar in appearance to a small dog with monkey-like hands. The most unique feature of the animal is a long, slender tail with a human-like hand of the end. Using its unusual tail, the beast would snag its prey—humans—and drag them to a watery demise. The Ahuizotl feasted upon its victims; it was particularly fond of eating the eyeballs, teeth, and fingernails of its human prey. Several days after becoming a fatality of the water beast, the victim’s corpse would wash ashore with missing nails, teeth, and eyeballs.

Some have described the Ahuizotl as some sort of guardian of the water. The beast would snatch unsuspecting victims who were in the wrong place at the wrong time—those who ventured too close to the edge of the water. However, this malevolent being went beyond guardianship of the waters; it actually lured victims to the water with cries—cries that mimicked that of a human baby. The creature is also said to have engaged in attacks on boats with helpless fisherman inside.

It was believed that people who died by drowning were taken to the lovely, earthly paradise known as Tlalocan—the home of the water god Tlaloc, his wife, Chalchiuhtlicue, and his helpers, the Tlaloque. Only the priests of the Tlaloque were authorized to touch or remove the body of someone who had been killed by the Ahuizotl. The body was considered sacred to the Aztecs.

What were the legends of the Ahuizotl based on? How did such a fierce animal find its way into the folklore of the Aztecs? Was the creature loosely based on some sort of known animal? The otter is the only animal that comes to mind; otters, however, do not seem capable of producing such legends. Could there have been a creature, now extinct, that gave rise to the stories?

To read more about creatures like the Ahuizotl, consider picking up a copy of my book, Water Monsters South of the Border.

The Bunnyman

Halloween is over, but I’d still like to take a look at an urban legend from northern Virginia—the Bunnyman.

The Legend

The most famous telling of the Bunnyman story—which has made its rounds on the internet and social media in recent years— goes something like this:

In 1904, inmates from an insane asylum in Clifton, Virginia were being transferred to Lorton Prison. During the transfer process, one of the transports crashed killing the driver and most of the inmates. Ten of the prisoners escaped; all were found except for one—Douglas J. Grifon who would go on to become the infamous Bunnyman.

While Grifon was on the loose, local residents began seeing skinned, partially eaten rabbits hanging from trees along the railroad tracks near the Colchester Overpass (Bunnyman Bridge). During a search of the area, the remains of Marcus Wallster—also an escaped inmate—were found. Wallster’s corpse was mutilated in a manner similar to the rabbits.

Grifon, who was originally institutionalized for murdering his family on Easter Sunday, was located by police at the Colchester Overpass. Before he could be apprehended, he was hit by an oncoming train. Police on the scene reported hearing Grifon’s laughter after being killed.

The Bunnyman legend has survived through the decades. The Bunnyman is blamed for everything from mutilated cats to the murder of children. Unfortunately for ghost story enthusiasts, the legend is full of holes.

To being with, there was never an insane asylum in Clifton. Secondly, Lorton Prison was not constructed until 1910. Third, Lorton Prison is used to house inmates from Washington, D.C., not Fairfax County, Virginia. There are other inconsistencies we could examine, but the three mentioned here will suffice.

A Grain of Truth

Like most urban legends, there is a kernel of truth behind the Bunnyman story, albeit a small one.

In October 1970, a deranged young man dressed in a rabbit costume began threatening people with an axe. With the Halloween season approaching, a crazed rabbit-man went on a vendetta against perceived “trespassers.”

On October 22, 1970, the Washington Post reported the Bunnyman’s first appearance. Air Force cadet Robert Bennett and his fiancé were sitting in his car after midnight when a man dressed in a white bunny costume emerged from the bushes. He accused the couple of trespassing and threw a hatchet threw the car’s windshield and scurried off into the woods. Luckily, the pair were not harmed by the attack.

Newspaper outlets reported a second Bunnyman encounter on October 31, 1970. This time, an axe-wielding man in a rabbit costume was chopping at the roof supports of a house under construction. A private security guard approached the disturbed rabbit-man; he was accused of trespassing and the Bunnyman threaded to chop off his head if he came any closer. The bunny retreated into the woods as the guard returned to his vehicle and retrieved his firearm.

The Bunnyman was never apprehended by the police; this undoubtedly helped the legend to grow. From a strange man dressed in a rabbit costume—probably upset over rapid housing development—the story morphed into a criminally insane serial killer from the early 1900s.

Today, the Colchester Overpass—Bunnyman Bridge—is an attraction for road trippers and paranormal enthusiasts. If you decide to visit, beware—not of the Bunnyman, but of police who set up checkpoints during the Halloween season and turn away nonresidents.

Further Reading

https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/library/vr/bunny/bunnyprint.htm#

Thomas

Stop me if you’ve heard the story of Thomas “the winged cat” before. Feel free to flip to the next section; it won’t hurt my feelings. If you haven’t heard the tale, it is a fun story about a cat with wings—that ended up in court. 

In 1959, 15 year old Doug Shelton’s dog treed a cat while hunting. Doug climbed the tree and caught the cat and took it home with him. Doug named the cat Thomas; it was later revealed the cat was a female. Thomas had growths on her back that looked like wings. 

Word of Doug’s winged cat spread through the community and eventually the nation. Doug and Thomas were invited to New York City where they appeared on television.  

 

 Figure 1: The Raleigh Register printed this picture of Thomas in their June 5, 1959, issue. 

Back home in Pineville, West Virginia, Doug was charging 10¢ to see his cat. According to an article in the Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Doug raked in over $2,000 from eager visitors. 

Whenever money is concerned, drama is sure to follow. 

It did. 

A lady named Mary Hicks claimed that Thomas was actually her cat Mitzi. According to her story, Mitzi fled after Hicks administered ear drops and was later found by Doug Shelton. Despite Hicks’ claims, the Shelton family refused to give her the cat. 

Mary Hicks sued the Sheltons. She demanded the return of the cat or compensation—in the amount of $279. 

A local magistrate awarded custody of the cat to Mrs. Hicks. However, upon appeal, the story took a twist. 

The Shelton family brought Thomas to court; she did not have wings. Mrs. Hicks conceded that the cat was not Mitzi. Apparently, the cat had shed its “wings.” As evidence, the Sheltons had a shoe box filled with clumps of fur.  

The jury awarded Mary Hicks $1.