Editor’s note: The tales relayed in this story have become part of local folklore through the years. They are meant for entertainment purposes and should not be taken as factual accounts.
Some parts of history never sleep.
Saturday night, local artist Allan Miller led a ghost tours through downtown LaFollette to prove that. For such a small area, downtown has seen more than its fair share of murders and mayhem.
Nobody knows why a day of fishing ended in the shootout between two businessmen at the Cumberland Hotel in 1903.
The men, Smith and Jarnigan, whose first names have been lost through the years, returned to their Tennessee Avenue businesses after a day of fishing. Smith owned a saloon where present day Community Trust Bank is on Tennessee Avenue.
“It was nothing but saloons. Imagine Tombstone or any of those wild, Wild West movies. That’s what LaFollette was in the early 1900s,” Miller said.
The bank’s drive through was once the locale for Smith’s bar. Across the street, the Cumberland Hotel occupied land where the LaFollette post office stands today.
“They came down here to break up their catch. Reports said that they were all just drunk,” Miller said.
Jarnigan punched Smith in the face and he fell to the ground.
“Smith pulls out a gun. Jarnigan runs back to the saloon he owns,” Miller said.
Smith gathers three of his sons, Jarnigan gets his own weapon and they begin a shootout from their own sides of Tennessee Avenue.
“It’s just a big gun fight,” Miller said.
The police were called to the scene. Jarnigan was dead on the front steps of his hotel. Smith was mortally wounded lying nearby.
“As one of Smith’s sons was arrested, the police officer is escorting him down the street with his hands up and for some reason the police officer pulls out his gun and shoots him in the back of the head and he dies on the sidewalk,” Miller said.
Body Count: 3
In 1946, drama continued down Tennessee Avenue at the site of the Goins’ Restaurant, across the street from Katie’s. Then, a man named Stanford owned the restaurant. That end of Tennessee Avenue was also the scene for an alleged shoot out.
“It may still be considered the deadliest and bloodiest gunfight in history,” Miller said.
A man and his friends reportedly decided to shoot into the businesses lining the street.
“The Stanfords decide they weren’t going to have any more of this and they went to the police,” Miller said.
The police advised the family to go home and allow them to take care of the situation, but the men instead returned to the restauraunt.
“The Stanfords were just armed for a war,” Miller said with excitement in his voice.
The police arrived on the scene and found five of the Stanfords armed, two with pistols.
“In the end, everyone is about dead. The patrolmen are dead. All the Stanfords are dead,” Miller said with wide eyes.
A LaFollette Press article from June 13, 1946 says seven guns were used in the shoot out. Four men, including an officer, died in the fight.
Even today, passersby may see divets in the brick on the front of the restauraunt are more than just erosion.
They’re bullet holes.
Body count: 4
LaFollette isn’t just the site of murders and gun fights, a murder was allegedly plotted inside the Royal Lunch restaurant.
The United Mine Workers Association was holding its presidential election in 1969. The two candidates were Jock Yablonski and Tony Boyle
“During that, Boyle basically hired a group of hitmen to kill Yablonski and his entire family with shotguns in their home while they slept,” Miller said.
The murderers were allegedly LaFollette and Lake City residents.
“Some of them met in the Royal Lunch here in the back room to discuss the murder. They also met in the Lyon’s parking lot,” Miller said.
The men were paid $5,000 to go to Pennsylvania and break into the Yablonski residence and kill them all.
The events surrounding the Yablonski murders were immortalized in a book and then in a movie, An Act of Vengeance.
Today, there is a wide alley between the Ridgeview and Royal Lunch buildings. At one time, a large building owned by an Italian man, William Rhegetti, filled the space.
“Rhegetti decided to get out of financial trouble and use the insurance money, he was going to blow up his building,” Miller said.
In those days, dynamite was readily available, and the building was soon packed full and blown to bits. The explosion was so big that Shelby’s Warehouse as well as the LaFollette Press building were both damaged, Miller said.
Sadly, a woman and her children had been living on the second floor of the building. While the children survived, the woman, Prudie Rutherford, perished in the blast.
“This corner is haunted by a pretty lady,” Miller said. “A lot of people who walk down through here or drive say they see a pretty lady.”
He believes the original word “Prudie” likely morphed into “pretty” because of local dialect through the years.
“Prudie and pretty sound very similar,” he explained.
Body count: 1
Shifty eyes and shadowy forms
The LaFollette House, officially named Glenn Oaks, stands under massive trees on Indiana Avenue. Currently empty, the home was built by the LaFollette brothers, Grant and Harvey. Over the years it’s served as an apartment building and a bed and breakfast.
“When it was a bed and breakfast, the people who lived here had a little girl,” Miller said.
Legend has it the little girl would ask visitors to come upstairs and watch her porcelain doll’s eyes change colors.
This isn’t the only strange happening at the home. A woman once occupied part of the house in return for taking care of the bed and breakfast. Typically she dealt with windows opening on their own, that all changed one night.
“She was in her room reading a book. She hears the front door open. Someone comes in.”
The woman hears someone come up the narrow stairs to the third floor.
“She looks out and thinks maybe the house is just creaking because I don’t see anything,” Miller said.
“The way she described it is something blocked out the light, so she knew someone was in the house, and before she could call 911, whatever it was came through her door, over her on her bed, and out the window,” he said
“She did move out after that.”
The C.W. Morris building next door to Lindsay’s Furniture was once the scene of a suicide.
Or was it?
In 1930, Mars hadn’t heard from tenant Charles Crawford in several days. Finally, he was forced to climb up the front of his building and into Crawford’s second floor apartment.
“He found Charles Crawford lying there with both wrists slit and razor blades still in his hands, in a pool of his own blood.”
Was it suicide due to financial trouble or murder staged to look like suicide? A determination could not be made. According to a newspaper article, the deceased man left a note asking that a telegram be sent to Ray Crawford in West Virginia.
A reply was never received
Body count: 1
When Big Creek was still Indian River, an earthen dam helped to hold the water back. The dam was a popular place for two children to play. Their fun was short lived.
“Two guys brutally murdered and hacked them to death and threw them in the river,” Miller said was the legend.
The men were put in jail and never gave a reason for their crimes.
Body count: 2
On Saturday the lights were on and people were home at the house that sits on the corner of Beech Street and Indiana Avenue. Known as the Biddy Johnson house, the dwelling is the site of a literal ax murder.
“The story goes that Ms. Johnson was exceptionally jealous of her son’s wife, to the point that it drove her insane and they actually put her in a house,” Miller said. “Ms. Johnson, in a fit of rage because her son bought his wife a fur coat, while her daughter-in-law slept with her newborn child, took an axe and hacked her into pieces.”
When police arrived on the scene, they found Johnson covered in blood next to her mutilated daughter-in-law.
She was rocking the unharmed baby.
Body count: 1
For more creepy tales and sordid stories, tours will leave Seargeant Park at 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The cost is $5 per person.