Digging Up Story Bones

Recently I started looking into an old legend. You can read that post here. I ended up side tracked. I still intend to investigate further but right now I am temporarily distracted by the story of my family.

My daughter had to write a paper about something the happened in our family’s past that was relevant to history. So I told her an old family story that had been told to me. Then I began to wonder. What year did that happen anyway?

So I looked up my great-grandfather on line to see when he died and discover his first name wasn’t what I thought it was. He didn’t go by his first name. His parents were listed and I found out that my great-great-grandfather was named Napoleon. (Not that one.) That was intriguing enough that I dug deeper.

Before I realized it I had unburied bones and skeletons from the family closet left and right. One many times great grandsire was apparently a bit of a womanizer, judging by how he traded in wives. Another many times great grandame like one particular family so much that she picked a brother and just kept going down the list whenever she lost one.

It made me think about how much family history is lost. While reading up on local stories for my vampire legend, I came across tales I recalled hearing from my grandparents when I was a child. Now I am considering writing a book of tales myself. Rather than the usual way I go about making thing out of whole cloth, I will tell the tales I heard growing up.

I can put into print the story of how my uncle cut the tale off of my great-aunt’s cat. Or how my cousin used to chase me around our grandparents yard with the foot of a chicken, while the adults plucked the rest of the bird on the porch steps. Maybe even how my dad found a baby ground hog and brought it home one day. My mom had to feed it with a baby bottle until it got big enough for carrots and things.

There are a lot of stories. I bet my cousins have a few too. Maybe even some of the same ones from a different perspective.

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Chasing Tall Tales

A week ago my mom bought a booklet of local ghost stories a thrift store for a quarter. Just twenty-two pages long, bound with staples and orange card stock, it really doesn’t look like much. However, the first story in this book has been driving me to distraction. Short enough to be considered flash fiction, the story is only two paragraphs long and is a reprint of something that appeared in a local paper nearly 20 years ago.

Roughly it states that, while working on widening a rural road, a road crew dug up a body of an adult woman. She was buried in the middle of the road with a wooded stake through her heart. Both the stake and the body had been petrified.

The lack of information immediately intrigued my curiosity. I am well aware that this a toothless gifwork of fiction. Sort of a local legend. It’s the kind of thing my older cousins used to make up to scare me when we took walks in the woods near my grandparents house. However, whatever it is inside that makes me a writer started whispering, “What if?”

It is plausible that a woman could have been killed and buried in an unmarked grave. Depending on when she was buried, maybe there wasn’t a road there at the time. Or maybe it was the only convenient spot. The story wouldn’t leave me alone. It claimed to have happened less than thirty minutes away, so I began digging. (Figuratively. I am pretty sure I would be writing this on the walls of the local jail if I actually tried digging up the road.)

Armed with just the name of the road I searched and found out that they did widen the road back in 1917. I also discover there has been precedence set for the petrification of human remains, if under the right conditions. The part of the road were the story claims the woman was buried runs close to the Hiwassee river. This is important because not only would the soil need the right minerals but it would also need the right amount of moisture.

In 1867 there was a great flood that decimated the area. It took out bridges and caused a train wreck where many died. There are even claims that the streets of Chattanooga were so flooded, that a man living on Lookout Mountain watched bodies float down them.

background-313572_1280So if the mythical woman had been killed and buried before the flood, then it is even plausible that she could have been petrified. If she existed. But if so, what happened to the body? Why was she buried in the road? Did whomever it was that killed her think they were slaying a vampire or a witch?

These are questions I don’t have answers to yet. I did find a similar story in a book called The Granny Curse and Other legends from East Tennessee by Randy Russell and Janet Barnett. It is about a chair haunted by the ghost of a vampire. (I didn’t know vampires could have ghosts but stranger things have become local legends.)

I am still investigating. Some people will probably laugh at me for chasing ghost stories and say I am on a snipe hunt or a wild goose chase. Just because it may not turn out to be true, doesn’t mean it isn’t teaching me a lot about the past. I had no knowledge of the flood of 1867 or of body petrification until now. I am sure it will end up being useful at some point, even if it is only in fiction.