BOOK REVIEW: “Mysterious Tales of Western North Carolina” is a fun read about supernatural

by Oct 1, 2020A&E, OPINIONS





My friends on social media have been using the phrase consistently lately. We are in the “month of Halloween.” And I guess it is true for many folks. Decorating, dressing up, and partying are as common through the October month as it is for the month in December for Christmas. 

We all enjoy the mysterious, exotic, and scary things, although some of us like those things from a distance. Nothing like sitting down to a good book or a scary movie. In fact, I am thinking of inviting my good friend Mariah over to watch Stephen King’s “IT”. You see, Mariah has a pretty bad clown-phobia and it is more fun to watch her react to a clown than to watch the clown. 

I recently received an evaluation copy of a book titled “Mysterious Tales of Western North Carolina” by Sherman Carmichael (The History Press, 2020, Charleston, SC). It is a collection of myths, legends, and news articles. Stories with a bizarre or strange twist – from real life mysterious deaths to legends of the Cherokee people and mountains. Each story is just a page or two, so there are seventy stories to enjoy and ponder. 

Carmichael explains in the forward that he used materials that he had acquired for other projects over many years. In “Mysterious Tales of Western North Carolina”, the author researched material for newspapers, books, and interviews with people in our area. He adds his commentary on his thoughts of the legitimacy of the stories, albeit tongue-in-cheek at times. 

These are not necessarily bedtimes stories for the kids. The tone for many of the stories is forensic, like an investigative journalist might report. Some are just oddities, like the story of the “moon-eyed people” or the tale of the “Ulagu” taken from Cherokee lore. 

Others are more supernatural, recounting the Dillsboro Vampire or the Macon County Bigfoot. Behind each tale is a person or two who purports that their encounters with mysterious beings is real and either they witnessed it or someone they trust had seen it. The story of the Dillsboro Vampire, for example, dates to the late 18th century. A doctor and his family immigrate to the little town and immediately strange deaths start to occur among his patients. “One day in the fall, the minister’s wife entered their children’s room. She said she saw a dark figure hovering above her young daughter’s bed. The mother screamed and rushed to the daughter, only to find her dead. When Dr Alfort examined their daughter, the only signs were two puncture marks on the girl’s neck and small drops of blood on the pillow near her neck.”

The great thing about short stories is their ability to be recalled and recounted for friends and family. As a culture, our Tribe reveres storytellers. They are the legend keepers. Part of the appeal of the stories in our history is the mystic. Some stories are created to explain the yet-to-be-explained in our cultures. In our myths and legends, we have mystical animals and plants that explain how the earth was created, why a bear doesn’t have a tail, and the origin of yellowjackets – stories documented and recorded, passed from family to family from before written languages were available. 

Included in this book is a story titled “The Mysterious Judaculla Rock”, referencing the Cherokee “slant-eyed giant Tsul ‘Kalu.” The Judaculla Rock is up on Caney Fork in Jackson County and legend has it that the “very ugly and hairy bodied” giant created the 1,548 markings that you will see if you travel to the resting place of the Rock in Caney Fork. 

Carmichael’s assembly of stories of ghosts and other mysterious beings is a fun read for those interested in the unusual, mysterious, and the supernatural. I recommend that you pick up a copy for your “Halloween month” reading. The great thing about the scary creatures in these tales is that, unlike the tourists, they are from around here.