Monday, October 24, 2005

Haunted Pocahontas County: Droop Mountain Battlefield, Part 3

house with ghost at the window (small image)

In 2000, I took this picture of the east end of my house, the pear tree, and the cat. I used color print film, and I scanned this print to make a jpeg file. When I looked at the image using my computer, I was surprised to see a figure standing in the full-length window (indicated by the arrow). If you're curious, see this larger picture. There was no one else at home, and the figure is definitely not my reflection. There are quite a few photographs with "unexplained" bright spots, hazy shapes, and clouds, which some interpret as material manifestations of spiritual presence. I think the lady in my window looks more substantial than most of these photos.

I'm not prepared to argue that the figure is "really" a ghostly manifestation. As I child, I was tormented by the faces I saw looking out at me from wallpaper, woodgrain, and shadows from the coal stove. The human mind is predisposed to recognize faces, and will interpret faces where none are present. I don't know what's going on here, but I keep showing people the lady who appeared in my window. They see her too.

My home is on the ridge of Droop Mountain bombarded by the Yankees on November 6, 1863. It's not adjacent to the battlefield park, but previous residents have found minnie balls in what is now my front yard. Thus, my ghostly photograph can claim some connection to "The Ghosts of Droop Mountain." (Terry Lowry, Last Sleep: The Battle of Droop Mountain November 6, 1863) I think several of the people Lowry quotes have a reaction similar to mine. They seem puzzled, skeptical, curious. Edgar Walton said of an apparition he encountered in the 1920's, "I never did believe in ghosts and still don't but we saw something. It was in the form of a man but without a head, and it was drifting along." Further,

The headless ghost-soldier story arose again in 1977 when Mrs. Clenston Delaney, daughter of Edgar Walton, along with her husband and sister, spotted a headless, ghost-like figure on the same spot as her father....She said it took place one evening while cutting wood near the battlefield, when they "saw an apparition that left them frightened and shaking." The headless ghost, clad in a gray uniform, floated past her making a moaning sound. Mrs. Delaney declared, "It was very odd. I can't explain it. But all three of us saw it."
This is a story I've heard from several different people, but all of them describe a figure with the face shot off, not headless. Several park superintendents and caretakers have been troubled by strange, inexplicable noises in the park and in the residences. Again and again, those reporting the incidents avow they do not believe in ghosts, "but--" they say, they heard or saw something.

We don't know what we heard or saw, but we wish we knew. As a scientist, I learned early on that for every question we can answer, there are a host that we'll never know about. That doesn't stop us from talking about our unexplained encounters, or showing around the lady looking out my window.

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