Ghosts of West Virginia is two books in one. The first part is a personal account of the various paranormal occurrences the author has experienced both in his home and on a number of ghost hunts. The second part is a Paranormal Field Guide for aspiring ghost hunters. It is a full index of all the known haunted places in West Virginia and where to find them. The book also features an in-depth look at Point Pleasant, the city which seems to sit at the heart of the supernatural activity in the Appalachian region. Ghosts of West Virginia is a frightening and captivating read for anyone interested in the paranormal.
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I didn’t believe in ghosts until I moved to West Virginia. Before that, I thought of ghost stories as little more than entertainment—mysterious and creepy stories with no real basis in fact. Being scared is fun. I guess that’s because it’s a visceral experience that briefly overpowers the mundane world in which we carry out our day-to-day routine. The adrenaline that fear produces is a jolt that reminds us we’re alive.
I had a teacher in grade school—third grade I think it was—who used to tell us her ghost stories now and then in lieu of the normal curriculum. This was in Miami, where I grew up. I can’t recall her name now, but I remember she was a short black woman who wore distinctly African jewelry. For the purpose of the story, I’ll call her Mrs. Smith. Of all the stories she told, one still stands out.
When Mrs. Smith was a little girl, about the same age as me and my classmates, her mother sent her up to the attic to collect something that belonged to her late grandmother. She went up and found the box that contained the item she was sent to retrieve. When she turned to leave, she heard a low voice speak her name. She spun around, and beside an old rocking chair stood her grandma. Mrs. Smith said that she could see straight through her at first, but she soon solidified, appearing as real as a living person. The old woman smiled at her and reached out her hand. The little girl froze. Her grandmother took a step forward, and then another. As the ghost advanced forward she slowly shrank, becoming shorter with each step. Her knees and ankles moved closer to each other; her eyes inched closer together and nearer her nose. Her lips thinned out and disappeared completely. They managed to say her granddaughter’s name once more before they vanished. Finally, the frozen shock of seeing this passed, and the little girl ran from the attic screaming. By the time she made it to her mother’s arms she was crying hysterically, blurting out what she had seen between sobs and heavy breaths. Once the story was told, her mother consoled her.
“It was just your imagination,” her mother said. “Sometimes when people get scared they see things that aren’t really there.”
This infuriated the little girl. She insisted it wasn’t her imagination and she had no reason to be scared before she saw the ghost. Mrs. Smith went on to say that to that day, her mother still believed it was her imagination.
“I know I didn’t imagine it,” Mrs. Smith declared. “I am well aware of what I saw. I remember it like it was yesterday.”
I still find that story creepy after all these years. It has even worked its way into my dreams once or twice.
My grandmother, who all the kids called Nana, also believed in ghosts. When I was nine my aunt Anita died. It hit my Mom and Nana pretty hard. Nana used to have dreams about Anita that she believed was her daughter contacting her from “the other side.” She used to say that she would often feel Anita around her and smell her perfume. Nana died four years later, and ever since I occasionally smell her perfume when I am at home and the house is silent.
I lived in South Florida until I was 22. My friend Brenda Nowlin had moved to Milton, West Virginia, the year before, and her parents said I was welcome to move in with them if I wanted to. At first, I was hesitant to break my ties with the state where I grew up, but eventually the idea of going somewhere new became intriguing, so in late 1995 I took a Greyhound to WV. I live in Huntington, WV, now, which sits on the Ohio River across from Chesapeake, OH. This is considered to be one of the most haunted regions in America. These lands have seen two major wars: the Civil War and The American Revolution. A massive number of people died on these lands and likely still haunt them. About a forty-five minute drive from here is Point Pleasant, known largely as the city where the first sightings of the Mothman occurred. From 1966 to the devastating collapse of the Silver Bridge in 1967, the Mothman had been sighted by a generous portion of the city, generating as much interest in the strange creature as Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster. I’ve heard Point Pleasant referred to as the “City of Monsters.” I have been there several times, and I can tell you that it has its share of ghosts, too. More on that later.
Huntington is an old city. It was called Holderby’s Landing when Collis P. Huntington, president of the C & O Railroad, began building the railroad here. In February of 1871, Holderby’s Landing was renamed Huntington. In 1875, the Bank of Huntington was robbed by Jesse James and his gang, who rode away from the bank 20,000 dollars richer. That bank still stands (it’s a computer store now) and can be found in Heritage Village across from Harris Riverfront Park.
There are many old buildings in the city, specifically downtown, most of which were built during the first two decades of the twentieth century. The Huntington Downtown Historic District—a six-block area in the heart of downtown—was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. Many other places, mostly churches and government buildings, are also on the list. Many of these buildings have history, like the land itself.
All places with history have their own ties to the past. Generations pass and leave a little of themselves behind. Sometimes what is left behind is just a name on a plaque or a statue of some significant person. Sometimes it is the person himself.