Catching up with the spirits of the Swannanoa Valley

Fred McCormick
Black Mountain News

The strangest thing happened to Carol Tyson in her home in the Dougherty Heights Historic District in Black Mountain, something she attributes to "Aunt Jane."

A bookshelf in the 1912 house built by Joe Tyson's great-uncle - Aunt Jane's husband - has always been among Carol's favorite features. That's where she stored a Bible loaned to her by a childhood friend that, to her husband's displeasure, she was in no hurry to return.

The morning after he fussed at her about it, "I walked into the hall and found my friend's Bible lying on the floor," she said in a recent interview.

It was as if Aunt Janet was reminding her to return her friend's Bible, she said. 

Strange things happen not only during Halloween but all year in Black Mountain, according to Pepper Parris, who in 2012 started Black Mountain Ghost Tours, a walking tour that cruises potentially haunted locations in town. She'll restart her business in the spring.

An old picture of Black Mountain's former town hall shows a form that Pepper Parris believes looks similar to a spirit known to local business owners as "Maybelline."

It's not unusual for owners of businesses along Cherry Street downtown to say they hear footsteps above their businesses "when there should be nobody above them," Parris said. Unexplained noises aren't proof of anything, she acknowledges. But they're spooky.

Owners of one local business talk about "Maybelline," who Parris believes could be the spirit of a woman who fell to her death years ago. As Parris describes her, she's a slim shape in what appears to be a long, flowing black dress.

"It's almost a black, shadow-like image," she said. "They've had weird things happen there (in the business), like keys will go missing and show up in the women's bathroom."

While doing research for her tour, Parris found a photo that includes a black, shadowy figure in front of the former town hall, which is now Swannanoa Valley Museum.  

Pal, a white German Shepherd owned by Bub Tyson, is seen here in a yard along Dougherty Street.

And then there's Pal, a dog owned by Joe Tyson's grandfather, Bub Tyson. 

Regularly, Bub's son (and Joe Tyson's father) would send Pal, a big, white German Shepherd, to the store with a grocery list tied to his collar. The store was on the corner of State Street and Montreat Road, Carol Tyson said.

"Pal would run through the field to the store and return with a bag full of merchandise in his mouth," she said, recounting a story that's part of the Tyson family lore.

Though Pal died well over 50 years ago, Parris said she's heard accounts of people along the dog's route seeing him making his regular trip to town. 

Bill Alexander holds a picture of the Alexander Inn in Swannanoa, where he recalls a spooky story about a regular guest.

Bill Alexander is a local historian whose ancestors settled in Swannanoa more than two centuries ago. His family has lived in the Alexander Inn in Swannanoa since 1820. Alexander's grandmother, Carrie Davidson Alexander, ran the inn from 1918-1949. In 1938, the year Bill Alexander's parents married, something happened that his family has never been able to explain.

Many Septembers while his grandmother ran the inn, a man that Bill Alexander's mother called "Judge Cockrill" would stay there with his family. By 1938 the judge, in declining health and with no remaining family members, made his annual trip from Gainesville, Florida. He'd had a stroke and took his meals in his room, rarely leaving except to sit on the porch, Alexander said.

The judge became too ill to make the trip home, so a relative came to get him. Alexander's dad and uncle helped him pack up his belongings and get him in the car, Alexander said. The bed was stripped and the room was closed for the season. But in the following weeks, workers regularly complained of hearing noises coming from the room. 

"My grandmother had my dad go in the room with her to check," Alexander said. "Nobody was there, but the sheets were back on the bed. There was a human form where someone had been laying on the bed. And Judge Cockrill's shaving gear and some of his clothes were in the closet."

The judge, the family later learned, had died just days after returning to Florida. "Did his spirit come back to the mountains? It's all speculation," Alexander said. "But something happened."