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The Telltale Lilac Bush and Other West Virginia Ghost Tales

Ruth Musick

Publication Year: 2010

" West Virginia boasts an unusually rich heritage of ghost tales. Originally West Virginians told these hundred stories not for idle amusement but to report supernatural experiences that defied ordinary human explanation. From jealous rivals and ghostly children to murdered kinsmen and omens of death, these tales reflect the inner lives—the hopes, beliefs, and fears—of a people. Like all folklore, these tales reveal much of the history of the region: its isolation and violence, the passions and bloodshed of the Civil War era, the hardships of miners and railroad laborers, and the lingering vitality of Old World traditions.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky


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pp. vii-x

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pp. xi-xviii

Anyone who has ever lived in West Virginia, or even traveled through the state, can easily see what an ideal place it would be for ghosts. It is an unending sequence of hills and valleys, with a backdrop of other mountains in the distance. Over all these mountains and ...

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1. Jealous Rivals

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pp. 1-10

Although I have included only seven fairly short tales in this section, I have a number of love-triangle ghosts. As I think over the tales I have, and the ones I know about, there seem to be far more situations where two men fall in love with the same woman than where the roles are ...

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2. Wives Who Return

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pp. 11-24

Most ghost wives were in life mistreated, sometimes murdered, women, and their return is usually prompted by a desire to revenge themselves upon their former spouses. Two of the stories here, as well as others included in different sections, have examples of this kind ...

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3. Ghostly Children

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pp. 25-33

It is hard to believe that so many children have been murdered or abused to the point of death without anyone to help them. Yet the greater part of the stories of ghost children I have collected depict such circumstances. Naturally, these little ghosts come back in anger—to ...

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4. Murdered Kinsmen

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pp. 34-39

None of the victims of these unnatural murders come back with good intentions, but rather with ill will in their hearts for their relative murderers. Who can blame them? Murdering one's own flesh and blood is traditionally one of the most repugnant crimes, and a ...

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5. Omens of Death

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pp. 40-47

There is an old superstition that white animals are omens of death, and three of the stories in this section are representative of this belief. The most frequently used animal is a white horse. Perhaps the prominence of the horse in this connection goes back to the common depiction ...

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6. Deadly Visions

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pp. 48-56

Death warnings, usually in the form of dreams or sudden visions of a person who is ill or absent, are particularly interesting, since there can be little doubt of the sincerity of the teller of such experiences. Such experiences have been reported down through the ages ...

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7. Headless Ghosts

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pp. 57-61

The headless ghost is undoubtedly one of the most popular figures in ghost stories, judging by the number of times he appears. In almost every collection of tales there will be one or more headless ghosts. This particular kind of ghost also illustrates the problem of arrangement ...

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8. Hidden Money

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pp. 62-69

Considering all the ghosts that return, or at least make themselves visible, for the sole purpose of pointing out hidden wealth, it seems that ghosts should be less feared and more appreciated. These money-minded ghosts go to a lot of trouble to help some living human being to a ...

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9. Haunted Places

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pp. 70-86

Considered in one way, stories of haunted houses and places are the most numerous of ghost stories, for one may think of any place where a ghost appears as being haunted. In the stories given here the existence of the haunting itself seemed more important than other elements ...

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10. Negro Slaves

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pp. 87-92

It may be that the tales in this group represent a category that is slowly disappearing, since the institution which created it no longer exists. Or it may be that these unfortunate souls are so bitter that their spirits may wander for a long time yet. I had thought there were few such ...

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11. Murdered Peddlers

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pp. 93-102

West Virginia is unusually rich in tales of murdered peddlers and in the ghosts of these unfortunate men. Though only four selections are included here, I have collected more stories in this category than in any other. Traveling alone with all his goods on his back through ...

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12. Mine Ghosts

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pp. 103-119

There have been hundreds of mine accidents in West Virginia, with undoubtedly many more victims-nearly four hundred were killed in one accident alone-and the dark passageways of the coal mines are indeed likely places for ghosts and visitations. Perhaps it is no wonder then ...

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13. Railroad Ghosts

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pp. 120-125

Most of the railroad ghosts go back fifty or more years when new tracks were being laid and bridges and tunnels built and before modern safety devices and methods of operation were used. In those days accidents on the railroad were common and no doubt figured largely in the ...

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14. Animals and Birds

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pp. 126-143

The bird and animal ghosts here are not human spirits who have returned in another form but are manifestations of actual creatures. There are possible exceptions; the mysterious sound of the nursing sow may be associated with the baby's death, and the appearance of the black

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15. Weird Creatures

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pp. 144-149

The creatures in these stories are difficult to identify or explain. Unlike ordinary ghosts, which have some kind of rationale, creatures seem to have no connection with the real world. They sometimes resemble real animals, but are never quite like them, and frequently they are seen ...

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16. Immigrant Ghosts

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pp. 150-161

West Virginia, with the many diverse nationalities brought in by mining, is rich in the number of European ghost tales which may be found there. The five tales included here are a selection from a much larger number I have collected and are presented as typical ...


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pp. 163-185


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pp. 187-189

E-ISBN-13: 9780813128276
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813101361

Page Count: 208
Publication Year: 2010