Cold wind rattles the colorful fall leaves as mist drifts into the hollows like the smoke that it is akin to here in these East Tennessee hills. It blankets the fields that have already been burned gold by the sun and made brittle by the year’s first frost. Harvest time is over and corn shocks and carved pumpkins placed in yards mean one thing; it is almost Halloween. It is the time here in East Tennessee when the ghosts roam and the haunted hollows beckon; the witching hour is near.
In this region, once settled by the Irish and the Scotts, the legends and stories are thick, as thick as the pride that runs through Southern veins. And the stories and oral traditions of telling them are as old as the mountains themselves.
Janice Brackett and her twin sister Janet Shulley have continued the tradition by recounting the haunting occurrences experienced by them when they were just children.
“These stories are based from actual events that happened while we were growing up,” Brackett said as the rain poured down outside her house on a dreary Tuesday, October night.
Brackett and Shulley grew up in the haunted hollows near the Indian River area in the 1970s. They were raised there from the time they were small until they were old enough to go out on their own as adults.
“We just lived in nowhere out in the boonies. I was surprised that anyone anywhere knew where we were,” Brackett said. She and Janet had to walk for miles to get anywhere because like many other Appalachian families; they were poor and did not own a car.
“We were just surrounded by woods and pastureland everywhere,” Brackett said.
The haunted house that the family lived in was a small cottage type house with four rooms, but it wasn’t just their house that was haunted, it was the whole area.
“There were so many different occurrences in that little house; Janice and I would be in bed and sometimes, something would actually pull us out of bed by the feet at night,” Shulley said.
“I was always too scared to take my head out from under the covers, but Janet was braver than me; she looked one time,” Brackett chimed in laughing nervously at the memory.
“All I saw was this big black thing with glowing red eyes,” Shulley said, the shiver evident in her voice.
The women said something would come into their little cottage house and bounce on the bed up into the loft above.
“You could see the bed dip where it bounced and you could hear it land up in the loft, but we never could see it,” Shulley said.
Some of the scariest times experienced by the young girls were along the haunted path that they had to walk to get to school.
“We had to walk three or four miles just to get to school and we were usually so scared that we ran the whole way,” Shulley said.
“Yes we boogied it down that path to school, and not just when we were little, but even up when we were teenagers, we were still scared,” Brackett said, laughing a little.
The girls would see all kinds of things on the path, from shadowy figures, to what looked like hanging bodies in the trees that would disappear when they looked at them.
“Sometimes, when we would be running, it would feel like something was trying to grab you from behind, and then other times something would come up behind and touch one of us, but when we looked, there was nothing there,” Shulley said.
There was another haunted house about a mile from the small cottage that the sisters grew up in that they called the ‘old house’ because it was very old and run down.
“That was the spookiest old place, remember Janet,” Brackett asked her sister.
“A foggy mist always seemed to hang around the house,” Shulley said. The sisters said the place was always haunted and scary as long as they can remember.
“You could hear Indian war drums and all kinds of weird crazy noises when walking along the path to the ‘old house’,” Shulley said. The haunting activity increased in the area after two murders allegedly occurred there while the girls were growing up.
“We were young so it’s hard to remember, but one guy got shot; something to do with making moonshine, and the other murder happened later when some lady cut this guy’s throat out there. After the murders, it was rumored that the walls of the house would bleed,” Shulley said.
“The whole place was just weird and spooky and we spent most of our childhood growing up scared,” Brackett said.
“Yeah, I was pretty much scared my whole life there; I always felt like I was running from something,” Shulley agreed.
Both women agreed that while it was always an odd place with weird occurrences and happenings, things always got worse in the fall.
“It was always the weirdest when autumn was coming; when winter was on the way,” Shulley said quietly.
“One time in our house I saw what looked like a gray Civil War soldier pass right through the wall, he didn’t use the door, just came right through the wall,” Shulley said. The sisters said they often saw people in gray clothes in the house and in the woods in the area. They also saw white objects or figures as well.
“It was just a lot of weird stuff all the time. The bed would shake for no reason; my brother slept with a gun he was so scared,” Shulley said. The whole family experienced haunting occurrences while living there; but their parents were poor and had little choice but to learn to live with the unexplained occurrences.
“Sometimes there ain’t no reason things happen, they just do and you just live with it and go on,” Shulley said somberly.
“Most of the time we went to bed scared and we got up scared, but it was always worse at night,” she added.
She said they could always tell when something was in the room with them, even if they couldn’t see it.
“You’d know because it would get deathly quiet in the room and then you’d start hearing stuff that wasn’t there I always wanted to play the radio as loud as I could. I didn’t want to hear anything but that radio,” Shulley said laughing.
Brackett recalled sleeping in the living room one time and seeing a shadowy black figure go to the pot bellied stove, light a cigarette and then come over and sit in the chair right beside the couch where she was.
“Of course by that point I was so scared I passed out,” Brackett said with a smile.
From war drums, to piano music, screaming, crying and even laughter, and strange sounds abounded in the haunted hollows of Indian River. Visions of gray shadowy figures, black things with glowing red eyes and many other haunting activities made up the bulk of Brackett and Shulley’s childhood. And though these occurred many years ago, and the houses have long since succumbed to the decay of time, the memories still haunt both women.
“I wouldn’t go back there and live for anything in the world. I wouldn’t even camp there overnight for $5 million; I still have nightmares of it,” Shulley said seriously.
Many things in this world remain unexplained and as Shulley said, sometimes things “just happen.”
“You’d just have to call it haunted wouldn’t you Janice, there’s nothing else to call it, just haunted,” Shulley said as the rain continued to drip down the outside of Brackett’s living room window.