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The Telltale Lilac Bush and Other West Virginia Ghost Tales

The Telltale Lilac Bush and Other West Virginia Ghost Tales

Ruth Ann Musick
Copyright Date: 1965
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    The Telltale Lilac Bush and Other West Virginia Ghost Tales
    Book Description:

    " West Virginia boasts an unusually rich heritage of ghost tales. Originally West Virginians told these hundred stories not for idle amusement but to report supernatural experiences that defied ordinary human explanation. From jealous rivals and ghostly children to murdered kinsmen and omens of death, these tales reflect the inner lives -- the hopes, beliefs, and fears -- of a people. Like all folklore, these tales reveal much of the history of the region: its isolation and violence, the passions and bloodshed of the Civil War era, the hardships of miners and railroad laborers, and the lingering vitality of Old World traditions.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-2827-6
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xviii)

    Anyone who has ever lived in West Virginia, or even traveled through the state, can easily see what an ideal place it would be for ghosts. It is an unending sequence of hills and valleys, with a backdrop of other mountains in the distance. Over all these mountains and valleys is a wilderness of shrubbery and trees so that genuinely lonesome places exist in almost all sections of the state. Hundreds or even thousands of ghosts could gather nightly on West Virginia’s hills or sigh from the treetops, and few living souls would know the difference.

    But West Virginia has...

  4. 1 Jealous Rivals
    (pp. 1-10)

    Although I have included only seven fairly short tales in this section, I have a number of love-triangle ghosts. As I think over the tales I have, and the ones I know about, there seem to be far more situations where two men fall in love with the same woman than where the roles are reversed. Since the love triangle as found here always involves a slight or an injustice, there usually is an element of malevolence in the ghosts of these tales, and they end tragically. Literary examples of triangle situations rarely contain ghosts, and they favor the situation...

  5. 2 Wives Who Return
    (pp. 11-24)

    Most ghost wives were in life mistreated, sometimes murdered, women, and their return is usually prompted by a desire to revenge themselves upon their former spouses. Two of the stories here, as well as others included in different sections, have examples of this kind of ghost. A third story is more a reenactment, as though the wife were conscious that she had in a way deserved punishment and she is merely repeating the circumstances of her death. Another story contains a kindly ghost; although the woman suffered to the point of ultimate despair, yet her manifestation guides her husband to...

  6. 3 Ghostly Children
    (pp. 25-33)

    It is hard to believe that so many children have been murdered or abused to the point of death without anyone to help them. Yet the greater part of the stories of ghost children I have collected depict such circumstances.

    Naturally, these little ghosts come back in anger—to protest—although most of my adult ghosts are happy, even after violent deaths. Perhaps comparatively few children have died, except through neglect or murder, and nobody can blame a murdered child for being unhappy. Even so, this murder of children—and judging by my collection as a whole, the victims seem...

  7. 4 Murdered Kinsmen
    (pp. 34-39)

    None of the victims of these unnatural murders come back with good intentions, but rather with ill will in their hearts for their relative murderers. Who can blame them? Murdering one’s own flesh and blood is traditionally one of the most repugnant crimes, and a father who kills his own son for drinking up all the wine deserves just what he got. Brothers seem to be particularly murderous of each other in West Virginia, but for that matter “fraticide punished” has been a popular literary theme, at least since the twelfth century.

    Mr. Peck had beaten his son to death,...

  8. 5 Omens of Death
    (pp. 40-47)

    There is an old superstition that white animals are omens of death, and three of the stories in this section are representative of this belief. The most frequently used animal is a white horse. Perhaps the prominence of the horse in this connection goes back to the common depiction of death on a white horse, a notable example appearing in Revelation in the Bible. Vance Randolph inOzark Superstitionsalso has a story illustrating the white horse theme.

    From the stories it is not always easy to tell whether these are spectral creatures or whether they are actual animals. The...

  9. 6 Deadly Visions
    (pp. 48-56)

    Death warnings, usually in the form of dreams or sudden visions of a person who is ill or absent, are particularly interesting, since there can be little doubt of the sincerity of the teller of such experiences. Such experiences have been reported down through the ages and retold by poets including Chaucer and Shakespeare.

    Many people have reported death knocks and dream warnings, including Dr. Helen C. Creighton in her introduction toBluenose Ghosts.I, too, have had a number of dream warnings, including dreams of telegrams whose unusual wording was repeated exactly some time later in real telegrams. Two...

  10. 7 Headless Ghosts
    (pp. 57-61)

    The headless ghost is undoubtedly one of the most popular figures in ghost stories, judging by the number of times he appears. In almost every collection of tales there will be one or more headless ghosts. This particular kind of ghost also illustrates the problem of arrangement that faces the collector. Actually, there are thirteen headless ghosts in this book—nine more than the four included in this section—but most of them seemed to go more naturally in some other category.

    Perhaps the best known literary example is the headless horseman of Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”...

  11. 8 Hidden Money
    (pp. 62-69)

    Considering all the ghosts that return, or at least make themselves visible, for the sole purpose of pointing out hidden wealth, it seems that ghosts should be less feared and more appreciated. These money-minded ghosts go to a lot of trouble to help some living human being to a fortune, and they get very little for their pains. Perhaps it is as if they had the money in trust and cannot rest until they have fulfilled the trust by passing it along to someone who can use it.

    The return of a spirit to reveal hidden treasure is one of...

  12. 9 Haunted Places
    (pp. 70-86)

    Considered in one way, stories of haunted houses and places are the most numerous of ghost stories, for one may think of any place where a ghost appears as being haunted. In the stories given here the existence of the haunting itself seemed more important than other elements of the tales. In “The Floating Coffin,” for example, the main point is that a particular portion of a road is haunted, and in “The Old Burnt House” there are a variety of events related by the haunting of one particular house.

    All collectors of ghost tales include haunted house stories, but...

  13. 10 Negro Slaves
    (pp. 87-92)

    It may be that the tales in this group represent a category that is slowly disappearing, since the institution which created it no longer exists. Or it may be that these unfortunate souls are so bitter that their spirits may wander for a long time yet. I had thought there were few such stories left, although I realized that in the days of slavery and immediately afterward there must have been many of them, but I keep getting new ones.

    The ghosts of these tales, except for the glowing eyes of Kettle Run and possibly the saddle ghost, seem prompted...

  14. 11 Murdered Peddlers
    (pp. 93-102)

    West Virginia is unusually rich in tales of murdered peddlers and in the ghosts of these unfortunate men. Though only four selections are included here, I have collected more stories in this category than in any other.

    Traveling alone with all his goods on his back through miles and miles of hill-and-valley wilderness and being one of few persons in the countryside with a supply of ready money, the peddler offered a ready victim to men’s avarice. It was not always in the most isolated regions, though, that he was murdered; many were reportedly killed in the vicinity of Fairmont....

  15. 12 Mine Ghosts
    (pp. 103-119)

    There have been hundreds of mine accidents in West Virginia, with undoubtedly many more victims—nearly four hundred were killed in one accident alone—and the dark passageways of the coal mines are indeed likely places for ghosts and visitations. Perhaps it is no wonder then that there are so many wandering ghosts of miners. By and large they are friendly souls—neither violent nor malevolent—like Big John and Jeremy Walker, who come back to see how things are getting along and to lend a helping hand when needed. Sometimes there is an element of protest—one man wants...

  16. 13 Railroad Ghosts
    (pp. 120-125)

    Most of the railroad ghosts go back fifty or more years when new tracks were being laid and bridges and tunnels built and before modern safety devices and methods of operation were used. In those days accidents on the railroad were common and no doubt figured largely in the talk when railroadmen got together.

    In West Virginia with its many hills the laying of track required numerous tunnels and cuts, and many men were killed in their excavation. These dark and lonesome spots with their memories of sudden death were especially suitable settings for mysterious happenings.

    My great-great-grandfather, Mr. Wilburn,...

  17. 14 Animals and Birds
    (pp. 126-143)

    The bird and animal ghosts here are not human spirits who have returned in another form but are manifestations of actual creatures. There are possible exceptions; the mysterious sound of the nursing sow may be associated with the baby’s death, and the appearance of the black cat, since nothing is known of its background in the story, may also have some human association.

    A notable element in four of these stories is retribution. In three of the stories the creatures return to exact terrible payment for abuse they had suffered at the hands of men. In “The Phantom Dog” the...

  18. 15 Weird Creatures
    (pp. 144-149)

    The creatures in these stories are difficult to identify or explain. Unlike ordinary ghosts, which have some kind of rationale, creatures seem to have no connection with the real world. They sometimes resemble real animals, but are never quite like them, and frequently they are seen as fearful and destructive, though the human beings that they attack always manage to escape somehow. Nothing apparently affects them, not even silver bullets. The very mystery about these creatures may be the reason for their appeal.

    “Old Wall-Eyes,” in Vance Randolph’sThe Devil’s Pretty Daughter,represents a slightly different type of creature story....

  19. 16 Immigrant Ghosts
    (pp. 150-162)

    West virginia, with the many diverse nationalities brought in by mining, is rich in the number of European ghost tales which may be found there. The five tales included here are a selection from a much larger number I have collected and are presented as typical examples. One feature that will be noted immediately is that all of these tales derive from central and southern Europe, areas which have contributed the greater proportion of the European population of the state.

    One of the interesting things about these European tales are the national beliefs that are shown in them. For example,...

  20. Notes
    (pp. 163-186)
  21. Bibliography
    (pp. 187-189)