Haints from the Hollow

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Columnist Joe Stephens explores the haunted legends of Campbell County

 Today is All Hallows’ Eve here in the Cumberlands. Before the influx of northerners, who came to the area for wartime work at Oak Ridge, there was no treat — as in Trick or Treat — on Halloween, but plenty of tricks. The next morning, hardly a privy would be left standing in some neighborhoods. More often than not, the privies were unoccupied at the time of their tipping. 

For obvious reasons, most outdoor toilets were located some distance from the house. Ben took things a few steps further. 

His was across the road from his house. Back when folks would walk to get to where they were going much more than most people do now, it is quite likely that some passing pedestrians used Ben’s privy in much the same way that we use the rest areas, placed along the interstate for our convenience, today.

Sugar Hollow has long been associated with haints. Perhaps that is why on one Halloween night, many years ago, a small group of young folks wandered out of the hollow in search of mischief-making opportunities. From a distance, they saw Ben cross the road. They waited until he had time to get situated inside his privy, and then they tipped it. It fell on the door side trapping Ben inside his own toilet. The perpetrators, of what must have seemed to Ben to have been a dastardly deed, hid in the brush to see what would happen next. 

Apparently, Ben had not told his wife and son where he was going, because for the youth hiding in the brush the wait turned out to be a long one. Eventually Ben’s wife came outside, calling, “Ben Honey, Ben Honey; where are you?” 

Because Ben was turned over in an outbuilding across the road, even more time passed before she entered the range where they could hear each other. 

With the help of their son, Ben’s wife managed to turn the privy over and rescue him from his distress. Ben was, by the way, a long-time Campbell County educator. 

It is quite likely that some of the mischievous youth, at some point, passed through his classroom. 

Sugar Hollow’s association with haints may originate with an incident that occurred in the spring of 1826. 

On a return trip from Jacksboro to the Baker Iron Works, George Baker’s horse reared and bolted through the woods, dashing Baker’s brains out against a large oak tree, just across the divide between Sweeten Spring and Sugar hollows. 

Thus the legend of the headless horseman that rides the divide.

Another legend, associated with the divide between the hollows, is that of Aunt Polly Peak who is said to walk the road on rainy nights. Aunt Polly died of burns suffered after her clothing caught on fire and became snagged on a rail fence. 

Understandably, her natural response was to take off running.  

Hopefully most people today know the best response, if one’s clothing should catch fire, is to stop, drop and roll. 

The road into the hollow drops down a steep hill with a sharp horseshoe curve near the bottom. 

The hill itself was the scene of a gruesome death in which a man was decapitated by the iron tire of a runaway wagon. Many years later, a young girl named Mazie saw a man walking near the bottom of the hill without a head. As time went on, Mazie married and had a family of her own. Years later, while walking down the same hill, her son heard a runaway team of horses charging down the hill behind him, pulling a wagon. 

He was able to get out of their path, but both the team of horses and the wagon disappeared after having passed. 

On another occasion, Mazie’s brother in-law Baxter was walking down the same hill, on a still night, when he heard a large tree fall crashing to the ground. The next day he brought Mazie’s husband back to help him remove the tree. The men were unable to find any indication that a tree had fallen.

Another night, Mazie’s uncle, Squire Elic, was walking down the same hill when he came upon a ball of fire. He kicked it all the way down the hollow, to where he turned off the road to go to his home,  before it disappeared.

Just beyond the curve, as the road flattens out on the hollow floor, the Sarah Heatherly house was widely known to be haunted. After their own home burned, Mazie’s mother moved her family into the Sarah Heatherly house. A peddler was thought to have been murdered nearby. 

Years later a man appeared to Mazie’s brother George and led him to his grave in the Polly Hollow. Afterward, George took his nephews Robert and Kenneth to see the grave. 

While Mazie’s mother’s family was living in the Sarah Heatherly House, a mysterious light would appear and move around the house. Mazie’s mother would quote from the Scriptures, and the light would stop. 

Once, when someone shot at the light, the elements lit up. When the house was vacant, a figure could be seen through the windows at times. Children would run past the house if it was necessary for them to go that way at night. As darkness fell one evening, a stranger appeared to Mazie’s brother George with a message. 












The stranger told George not to share the message with anyone and then disappeared. 

Eventually Mazie’s mother built a home just up the hill from her old home that had burned. Mazie and her husband also built a home nearby, which also burned. Within the immediate vicinity homes belonging to three of Mazie’s siblings burned. One sister died in a house fire. 

Spread over a time-span of a little more than 50 years, so many house fires, within such a small area, seems unlikely to be have been due to coincidence.

Farther down the hollow the Hoover Hole, a sinkhole — where  George Hoover hung himself — is said to be haunted. TVA re-interment records list the year of his death as 1867.  Hoover, who was black, was most likely a slave in 1860, the last time that the census was taken before his death. 

His name is not on the 1860 census. 

In a cove set back in a ridge, near the mouth of the hollow, open graves, emptied by a federal agency in the 1930s, pocket the landscape of a long-neglected public burial ground. As has often been said, TVA raised the dead and scattered the living.

Possibly the most ghastly of mountain haints is the grave robber — a ghoulish creature resembling a hyena. 

Sometimes the men in Sugar Hollow would use their dogs to run the grave robber. 

Once it was observed to have disappeared into a bluff. Perhaps, the varmint-like haint, which Mazie’s half brother Elic kicked off his shoes while attempting to fight off, was the mysterious ghoul. 

Some believe that the grave houses, sometimes seen in cemeteries throughout the mountain south, were intended to protect the dead from grave robbers. 

Reports of hauntings have continued over the years. In 1942, after falling out over a potato crop, two men agreed to meet at 4 a.m., on the hill next to the site of the Old Sugar Hollow Church. 

In a modern-day duel of sorts, they shot each other. One died on the way to hospital. Afterward, when it rained, blood would allegedly foam up in the middle of the road and against the bank where one of the men lay. 

On rainy days, children would go out of their way to avoid that stretch of road on their way home from school. 

While out riding around, Mazie’s nephew Kenneth and his future wife, Ethel, spotted a human figure covered in black crossing the road near the old Squire Elic place. After crossing the road, it simply disappeared.

Descendants of the Vikings, whom settled on the outcroppings of Scotland hundreds of years ago -— the people of the Cumberlands —  are a mystical people, not easily perturbed by that which cannot be explained. 


Writer’s Note: This week’s column exemplifies why it is important to write down the local lore while your sources are still living. This week’s column has been years in the making. Special thanks to my many sources including my mother the late Nadine Heatherly Stephens, Trula Morton, the late James Morton and the late Kenneth Irwin.