We sent our intrepid wordsmith, Dee Gross, out into the trenches of the internet to seek out a few haunting tales to entertain bored guests at your next Halloween get together. Dive-in to the spooky lore and pocket some phantasmal literature to save yourself from the awkward and unwanted, ill-fated and destitute party talk. Get festive with us as we embrace the season of the witch.
If you're socially challenged like me, Halloween sends a thrill of fear up your spin, and not in the fun way. Instead, your head spins, thinking about how to avoid being racist or sexist in your pursuit of costume glory.
What fills my heart with true terror is the prospect of small talk. There is nothing quite so dreaded to the socially anxious as filling the void of conversation and desperately trying to avoid awkward silences. So, here are some interesting tales you can use to keep the conversation going.
The Bell Witch
The Bell Witch is a classic rite of passage story. The story of the Bell Witch centers around John Bell, a successful farmer who lived in Robertson County, Tennessee in the early 1800s. The terrifying tale begins when Bell notices a strange creature lurking around his farm. He takes a shot, misses, and the creature gets away. From that night on, his family is plagued by strange attacks. Some accounts say the house was filled with strange noises; everything from scratching, to a ghostly voice of a woman. Friends, neighbors, and in some accounts, Andrew Jackson come to visit the Bell House, and they were all frightened away by the relentless attacks of the Bell Witch.
This devious spector also claimed responsibility for a bizarre illness that John Bell suffered since his encounter with the beast. According to the story, the Bell Witch took pleasure in tormenting him during his affliction, finally poisoning him one December morning as he lay unconscious after suffering a number of violent seizures. People who have visited the farm in Adams, Tennessee claim to still hear strange noises like that of children playing and a ghostly female voice, even to this day.
If you want to add a bit of panache to the story, there is a game aspect of the Bell Witch. Should you choose to tempt fate, take your audience to a mirror, turn off the lights, and repeat, “Who’s afraid of the Bell Witch?” three times. As I learned in sleepovers from my teenage years so long ago, she will appear in the mirror after the third repetition. I was never brave enough to try it, but if you wish to tempt fate, by all means give this a whirl.
Check out this A&E special on the Bell Witch. Full episodes can be found here.
The Haunted Crawford House
If you are looking for a haunting conversation with a happy ending, you can tell the tale of the Crawford House. According to The Banner, Mary and Eugene Crawford moved into their house in Franklin in the early 1900s, when Mary sensed something was a bit off in their new home. She felt as if someone was staring at her across the room. When she looked, she saw a man dressed in Victorian-era clothing, a black suit, a stiff shirt with a high collar, and a black top hat. Naturally, she was quite startled. The man made several reappearances, and was even joined by three elegant ladies decked out in Victorian finery. After her initial shock faded, Crawford became quite use to their presence and said,
“I have never been afraid since then. The only frightening thing they have done is rattle chains. But generally, I really like having them around.”
So, Crawford got to have a house filled with spectral guests and the ghosts got to keep haunting their the house on Berry Circle.
Mary Crawford peers into one of her home's ornate mirrors where the Victorian man and three women would appear. Photo by Greg Bailey for the Nashville Banner, October 1982.
The Headless Women of Barrow Hill
If you need a spooky story, you can regale your listeners with the tale of The Headless Women of Barrow Hill. The story was actually published in a local newspaper near the beginning of the 20th Century. A reporter from The Daily American recounted the tale of a headless woman. He arrived at Barrow Hill to see seventeen men gathered around to witness the phantasm. J.H. Meadors, a resident of the neighborhood at the time of the haunting, depicts her as follows,
(She is) 5 ½ feet, wore a dress of some dark material and in passing turned neither to the right nor left, but seemed to glide over the ground, not making the slightest noise. The weird creature is said to have no head.
What makes Meadors' tale so interesting is that several other witnesses corroborated his story. One stormy night, Meadors even claimed to hear a woman screaming at the top of her lungs. The reporter did not get to see this terrifying ghost with his own eyes, but Meadors and his friends remained convinced as to her existence.
Three Days Late, Daily American, April 5, 1884.
If you are feeling especially curious or brave, you could always visit Barrow Hill to see if the headless woman haunts it still, or you can stay safe in the comfort of your party where awkward small talk with strangers is your greatest danger. Choose wisely, dear friends.
The Cherokee Legend of Spearfinger
One of the coolest stories you’ve never heard is the Cherokee Legend of Spearfinger. The lore originated near the border of Tennessee and North Carolina. According to legend, Spearfinger is a fierce being made entirely of stone. It is said, when she moves, it sounds like thunder because she crushes the rocks underfoot. Her voice would echo down the mountains, causing flocks of birds and whole Cherokee villages to flee. Though her stone appearance is a fearsome thing to behold, nothing is quite so frightening as her namesake.
Photo by Stephen Jason / Twenty20.
Spearfinger gets her name from the obsidian pike that protrudes from the left hand on her forefinger. She uses this spear to stab her victims through the heart, reach through their body, and steal their liver. The victim would return home completely unaware of their impending demise. Days later, they would die suddenly. Besides being a terrifying creature made of stone with a spear protruding from her hand, she can shapeshift into family members of her child victims. Her typical form is a little old lady, because who would ever suspect her of being a liver-eating monster.
For your viewing pleasure, here's totally weird and totally cute 3rd grade production of the Cherokee Tale of Spearfinger.
An award-winning student production of the Cherokee legend of Spearfinger. Produced by the third grade class at Sequoyah schools. This video won first place in the Oklahoma Native American Youth Fair and is heading to competition at the Santa Fe Art Market. April 7, 2014.
Halloween can be a scary time, especially for the socially awkward. If you are like me, no haunted house or horror film is quite as terrifying as conversing with my fellow human beings. So, arm yourself with information. When those ghoulish pauses come, use these tales to fill the silence and dazzle. Even if you have a few too many spirits, you can be entertaining in a "Drunk History" sort-of way. Take these stories, commit them to memory, and good luck on your peopling this spooky holiday.