Tales of Kentucky Ghosts is, in a way, the type of ghost story book that folklore presses rarely publish anymore. All of the tales are oral ghost narratives collected from ordinary residents of western Kentucky. In the introduction, William Lynwood Montell, Professor Emeritus of Folk Studies at Western Kentucky University, says that he began gathering stories for this book in 2007 from individuals and from college and university archives in more than seventy counties across Kentucky. The transcriptions of these stories are, for the most part, word-by-word reproductions of the oral versions, although the dialect appears to have been edited in places. The stories are organized into ten chapters, according to their dominant themes: “Cemetery Ghosts”; “Return of Family Members as Ghosts; Haunted Houses and Public Buildings”; “Civil War Ghosts”; “Roadside Ghosts and Odd Phenomena”; “Headless Ghosts”; “Animal Ghosts and Animal Tales”; “Ghostly Lights and Screams”; “Strange Sounds, Lights, and Unexplained Events”; and “Legends and Folktales.” The length of these stories varies, from only two or three sentences to three pages. Many of the titles of the narratives refer to the motifs that are embedded therein (e.g., “Young Lovers Killed” and “Lights in Graveyard”). The collection dates of these tales range from 1936 to 2008. With the exception of “Ghostly Noises and Secret Tunnels” (p. 203), these are unpolished stories, told with the kind of narrative flair that one expects to find in oral ghost tales. [End Page 341]
Most of the stories included in this volume feature the types of motifs that are commonly found in oral ghost narratives. Montell has included stories of “Sham Ghosts” such as “Not a Ghost but a Rat” (p. 114); stories dealing with ghostlore (i.e., folk beliefs regarding ways to deter ghosts), such as “A Dream or Reality” (p. 57); and stories of the return of dead relatives to comfort the living, such as “Loving Grandmother Returns” (p. 23); stories of college ghosts, such as “Ghost of Van Meter Auditorium” (p. 158); stories of people who spend the night in a haunted house on a bet, such as “Noises in House” (p. 140). Only a few tales deal with historically haunted places, such as “Haunted Hospitals” (p. 54), which is about one of the most famous historic sites in the United States, Waverly Hills Tuberculosis Sanitarium. Tales of Kentucky Ghosts also contains relatively new versions of an old type of ghost story, the legend trip. In these stories, young people test the validity of ghost legends by visiting haunted places. Montell includes stories that update this old practice by including information on paranormal investigations that use electronic ghost-hunting equipment. Stories like “Dark Figure in a Cemetery” (p. 5) have obviously been influenced by popular television programs such as Ghost Hunters.
The only special feature in Tales of Kentucky Ghosts is the index. Instead of indicating the page numbers where the names of people and places can be found, Montell’s index organizes the titles of his stories according to the counties in which they were collected. This type of index is especially useful for folklorists and for non-academics who are interested in exploring the types of ghost tales associated with specific parts of the state.
Tales of Kentucky Ghosts holds a unique place in the folklore-oriented collections of oral ghost tales. Like W. K. McNeil’s Ghost Stories from the American South (August House, 1985), Alan Brown’s Shadows and Cypress (University Press of Mississippi, 2000), and Montell’s own Ghosts along the Cumberland: Deathlore in the Kentucky Foothills (University of Tennessee Press, 1987), Tales of Kentucky Ghosts includes the name of the storyteller, the name of the person who collected the story, the location where the story originated, the year in which the story was collected, and, in many cases, the archives in which the story was deposited. Unlike these other books, Tales of Kentucky Ghosts does not provide any additional personal information on the storyteller. An even more glaring omission is Montell’s decision not to include...