December 5, 2007

The Ghost of McGuffy's Ridge

-written by: DEBRA

The following story was written by one of our guests that stayed at McGuffey’s Ridge. Please feel free to share your stories about your own experiences….

The Ghost of McGuffy's Ridge
In the 1840’s, in the old rural town of Gerton, North Carolina there lived a group of people that came to settle the woods of McGuffey’s Ridge. The 47 men, women and children who came to this area traveled in old wagons with meager belongings to start a new life in the woods. They built their homes out of trees, and a series of ramshackle log cabins dotted the pristine landscape. Food was hunted or grown, washing done in old rusted tubs and a worn washboard, and children were warned to be careful and not play far away from the community. Life was hard back then, but the people were cheerful and happy with their daily lot in life. Some winters it was harder than others, but for most of the early years of the new settlement, the people were able to trap game for their food and have plenty for themselves and their families. For the most part, other than the ghost, they had simple happy lives.

The children knew only too well not to stray far into the bear and wolf filled woods, for when Gerton was first settled two children disappeared and were never found. The settlers were sure that bears had claimed the children, but others were sure it was the Ghost of McGuffey’s Ridge. The story of the ghost started long before the children disappeared. Since the small settlement began, it had been plagued with odd happenings. Sometimes it was as simple as a copper pot disappearing, sometimes more. At night, the settlers swore they could hear the voice of the ghost whispering to them through the dark trees, but during the day they heard nothing. The younger folks scoffed at the notion of a ghost, but the older folks shook their heads and swore under their breath that the ghost was there to plague and bother them to the end of their days. And, they swore, the ghost took the two children early in the year of 1842. The oldest members of the settlement remembered days and nights of searching the heavily wooded areas, spanning out for miles in each direction. At night, they searched by lantern, calling and calling, but never found any trace of the children. The story had been recorded in an old family Bible from that time, and current owners of the Bible still had the account.

As the years passed the legend was talked about but as time went on, most people didn’t remember too much about the Ghost of McGuffey’s Ridge. A lot of the old cabins that had been built by the settlers had long since disappeared, but one or two of them were still standing. How old they looked against the cold snows that would come, and even though people used the cabins for summer vacations they were very rustic and old fashioned. In winter, they usually were standing alone, looking lonely against the trees for miles around.

New owners had built on to the cabins in later years, adding electricity and plumbing, but the old floors were still there, uneven and sloping to one side. The old trees that made the house were hard as a rock, and they had been sealed in many ways, from both the inside and the outside. Inside the cabins, the old fireplaces were still the same …sturdy and made of local rocks. They had old mantels made of hand carved wood, and in one of the cabins, the initials of a former owner could still be seen, carved deep in the woodwork, with the date next to it, 1942. Many visitors to the cabins often wondered about the people that had built the original cabins, and what their lives were like in the woods back then. How they hunted for their food, and grew vegetables for their gardens. How they canned food for the winter, and how they washed their clothes in big tubs with homemade soap. Yes, many a good story was told around the old fireplaces by young people having a good vacation. Every now and then someone would bring up the story of the Ghost of McGuffey’s Ridge and sometimes the visitors would try and scare each other with the tale. At night, the courage of the visitors would sometimes fail them, sitting around the campfires they would build to toast marshmallows and have fun … because they would hear a strange whispering in the trees, and although they would strain to hear which direction the noises were coming, they could never figure it out. So, they would make jokes and laugh about the noises and tease each other and laugh. But, deep down, each visitor would have that feeling that something was out there. Maybe it was the old cabin, maybe it was being all alone on the Ridge and maybe it was plain old superstition, but they thought to themselves, could there really be a ghost?

In the spring of 2007, a librarian from New Jersey came to the Ridge with her husband and family. Mrs. K as she was known, was thrilled to see the old cabin that she had rented! It was more than she expected …a real old fashioned log cabin. What a change from the busy somewhat crowded life of home! Mrs. K and her family were going to spend 10 great days in the cabin and explore the woods, and all the shops and attractions that North Carolina had to offer. What a great start, she thought. A real old fashioned, antique log cabin!!!

After unpacking, Mrs. K. looked through the entire cabin. The old mantel intrigued her, whose initials were on there?! And, look at the date, 1842!!! She really loved the old logs that were the cabin’s walls, they were practically polished smooth as silk with all the wear on them. Outside, they were rough and thick and smelled really good, because when you got up near the cabin you could smell the old wood! There was an old shed on the property that had an old rusty wagon in it, and also way in the corner, some piles of old wood. When she looked through the woodpile, she came across a smooth old wash board! She couldn’t believe how old it looked and how smooth it was! It must have washed so many sheets and clothes during its day, she thought. The old fireplace was just so beautiful she couldn’t help but have her husband build a nice fire in it, and sit in front of it. It was a bit cold outside due to a cold snap, so it felt nice and warm and she sat in front of the old stone fireplace for the rest of the night and thought about the times when people used it to cook over and also for heating the entire cabin. Those days must have been a lot of work, she thought! As she sat there looking into the fire, she thought to herself how hard it must have been to carry and put together so many stones for the fireplace. Each stone was different and uneven. Some of the stones had little pieces of glitter in them and others were smooth as if they have been hauled out of a stream. The fireplace was really pretty to look at. After a long day, Mrs. K and the family started to get ready for bedtime. The old bedrooms had beds made out of cut logs and headboards that were carved with little flowers on them. They were just beautiful, and covered with big cozy homemade quilts. Everyone said goodnight and went to sleep.

Deep into the night, Mrs. K. woke up. Not remembering where she was, she looked around then remembered she was in the old cabin in McGuffey’s Ridge. She settled back down into the fluffy bed, and started to drift off to sleep when she heard the noise. What was that, she thought, it sounded like someone whispering. Who was up and what were they saying? Mrs. K. listened very hard but the sound had stopped. Must have been the wind she thought and she went back to sleep.

The next morning everyone was up for a good old-fashioned breakfast. Mrs. K made homemade pancakes and hot coffee for everyone. After a nice morning, everyone was ready to explore the old woods!! Mrs. K and her family walked deep into the old woods, for miles. It was a nice cool spring day, the type of day that you could wear a warm sweater and feel great. The sun was out and on everyone’s faces and the leaves were still on the ground. The whole area smelled of that good dirt smell, the type of smell that is a cross between cut grass and planted flowers. It was a fun hike. Past a huge grove of old trees they decided to rest and have lunch. They picked a big old oak tree and spread out a nice picnic lunch for everyone to enjoy. Mrs. K leaned back against the old oak tree to rest for awhile. When she went to get up, she yelled ouch!!! Everyone asked what was the matter and she showed how a few stands of her hair had gotten caught on the bark of the tree! This tree pulled out my hair! She said laughing! When she reached over to pull the strand of hair off the tree she said “Hey … look at this … and the others came over. What is it, they asked? She told them to look closely and as the family came around the tree they saw that someone had cut some type of picture into the tree. She brushed away some of the dirt that had been encrusted into the cut mark and they all looked closely.

Look!! Someone did a little picture on this tree … there are two little stick people and an eagle with its wings over them!!! I wonder what it means? Everyone looked at the picture and tried to figure it out but no one had any idea. Mrs. K’s husband took a photo of the odd carving and after a few more hours of hiking, they were ready to turn back to the log cabin. Time to go home and start dinner, Mrs. K announced to the group! She glanced up and all of a sudden was starting at the bark of another tree! Look, another picture! Everyone gathered around and this time, the picture showed the two stick figures of people riding on the back of the eagle! Next to it was a teepee! Whatever do these pictures mean, though Mrs. K. After looking for awhile at the carving, they took a photo of the second tree picture and started the long hike back to the old log cabin. By the time they got back, it was dark and they were all tired, so they went in, had supper and decided to sit around the old fireplace and play games. The fire that they built in the old fireplace felt really good on the second night because they were tired and the heat of the fire warmed their legs. After all that hiking, they were soon ready to call it a night and go to bed.

The next day was spent looking in all the old shops in the area, beautiful handmade dolls and teddy bears, homemade jams and homemade quilts. The entire family had a fun day and Mrs. K bought lots of maple candies to bring to all her children back at the school in New Jersey. She was sure they would like to taste some homemade candy when she returned. That night, the family again built a nice fire in the fireplace and sat around. Mrs. K was staring at the old fireplace and started to count the stones to see how many it had taken to build the fireplace. At one point, she noticed a really pretty stone, and there were no other ones like it in the fireplace … and she got up to touch the stone and see it closely, and as she leaned over, she slipped and fell against the front of the fireplace! Be careful!! Everyone yelled at the same time, afraid that she would get a burn!! But, Mrs. K had already grabbed onto the mantel and while holding on to that, hit the pretty stone with her other hand. What happened then shocked everyone! The stone turned completely sideways! It had just pivoted around and was standing straight out! What is that? What happened? Everyone ran up to the fireplace and looked at what they thought was a broken stone, but in fact, there was a small space in the area where the stone had moved. Mrs. K, being the brave one, put her hand in and felt around … she then removed an old parchment! Look at this! Someone put a letter in here, what is this? What she thought was an old parchment were actually several pages written in an old fashioned handwriting. She carefully took the pages out and put them on the pine kitchen table. Who did this? Look at how old this paper is … it’s almost crumbling! Mrs. K carefully pulled the pages apart and started to read outloud.

In the year of our Lord, October 1842, our family grieves for the loss of our children Sarah and Jacob. May God comfort and protect them. The saga continued with the story of this family who settled in the cabin in those early years and how one day, two of the children disappeared. How the family searched with other settlers for days but did not find them and how they hoped they were sheltered by someone and well and safe.

Mrs. K could not believe what she saw! An old document buried in a fireplace with such a story! The next day, she went to the local library and showed the town librarian her fantastic find. Old Mrs. Porter, who had been in charge of the library for over 50 years could not believe what she saw. She told Mrs. K of the rumors of the lost children and the ghost of McGuffey’s Ridge! And to think, Mrs. K and her family were in the actual cabin of the family involved. They asked Mrs. K if she would donate the parchment for their historical documents department and Mrs. K gladly gave the document to the library for safekeeping.

Mrs. K could not get the story out of her mind! What a fantastic tale! She wondered about the children and started to think about her own investigation into the puzzle of the Ghost of McGuffey’s Ridge. What could she do to find out what happened???The next day, Mrs. K and her family went off exploring the area and visited an old Cherokee Indian Reservation. She bought some beautiful handmade crafts and saw many interesting Native American handmade carvings. As she was browsing around some of the stands of crafts she heard a curious sound, as if someone was whispering!!! She looked up and saw many interesting wood carvings hanging from a big stand. An old Indian gentleman was selling his carvings and she walked over. She had heard that sound before, what was it???? When she got closer, she noticed the whispering was stronger and stronger. It made a lovely sound, like a combination of a musical note and whispering of the wind. She spoke to the old Indian and asked him about his crafts. “These are beautiful and I think I have heard this sound before”, she said. “What are they”? These are “Wood Whisperers” he said. My grandfather taught me how to carve them. In the old days, Indians would hang them in the trees to send a message. See how this one is carved? The sun and the moon indicated a new day and underneath this one, is a symbol for a baby. The Wood Whisperer is telling anyone who sees it that our tribe has a new life. Many of these were hung in the old woods to tell messages in those days to anyone passing by. They were used to communicate great news over a great distance for a long time. It holds bits and pieces of our tribal history over the years. Mrs. K was fascinated with the story!! She had heard that sound in McGuffey’s Ridge, somewhere near the cabin! She told the old Indian she had heard the sound of a Wood Whisperer and he said “If that is so, it must be very old, as the way of our tribe now is modern and the young members do not make these crafts very often”. Look to the trees and you will see the Whisperer, he said. Bring it back to me and I will tell you the message. Mrs. K could not believe her ears! She told her family the news from the old Indian and they all rushed back to the cabin, determined to find the old Wood Whisperer. That day they searched and searched but found nothing. Later that evening, she listened carefully and all was quiet. Finally, they all went to bed.
The next morning, very early, Mrs. K got up and went out into the woods. She listened but again heard nothing. After breakfast the entire family decided to see if they could once again locate the sound of the old Wood Whisperer. After many hours, they could not find anything. Mrs. K then had an idea … she would go back to the reservation and ask the old Indian to come to McGuffey’s Ridge. She hoped he would come and help them find the Wood Whisperer, so after traveling to the reservation and explaining to the old man her goal, he said he would come to the Ridge. He told Mrs. K and her family that his Indian name was Dancing Bear and his tribe was very old. They had settled in the woods in the area many hundreds of years ago and the old tribe had lived in peace in the area for all this time, even after the white man had come. They had not let the white man know they were there, fearing trouble, but had stayed at a distance. Mrs. K told Dancing Bear she wanted to find the old Wood Whisperer, and find out its message. She was very excited about this old piece of history. Dancing Bear set out into the woods with Mrs. K and her family. Many miles, often tilting his head and hearing something, but Mrs. K didn’t hear one thing. No one spoke for many hours, until Mrs. K heard the whispering! She said, “Dancing Bear, this is the sound I am telling you about”, Dancing Bear smiled … he had been hearing the sound for many miles. Yes, we are almost there. A few minutes later, Dancing Bear stopped at a tree, and reached up to a branch. He pulled down a wood carving that was tied on by a beaded rope. The beads were beautiful and many colors. Here is the Wood Whisperer, he said … everyone looked at the beautiful carving, weathered from many years in the tree. A huge eagle with wings outstretched over two stick figures of people, and next to the figures, the carving of an Indian! Everyone looked at the carving in amazement, “What is the message” asked Mrs. K.

Dancing Bear looked again at the old carving. The eagle is a symbol of our tribe. The two figures are that of children, and the eagle is covering the children. The Indian standing next to the children is a guardian. This story is telling us that two children were found by a member of our tribe who became their guardian and protected them. I remember my great grandfather telling us stories of our tribe and two children they found in the woods, they were very young and couldn’t protect themselves. They were found sleeping under a great oak tree and were hungry and cold. I thought this was legend, but this is a Wood Whisperer and they always tell the truth about events in our tribes. According to my great grandfather, the Indian guardian took the children to safety and put signs out in the woods for the people of the children. These signs were to tell that he had the children and they were safe. The children grew up to be strong and happy and brave and lived with the tribe, the girl child became a Princess of the Tribe and the boy child a great chief. All this was the legend of the Golden Children. Now I see it is true!

At this time the family remembered the photos they had taken of the strange tree carvings and showed them to Dancing Bear. Yes, he said, the Indians would sometimes put messages on the trees to tell a story in those days. They were trying to send a message about the children. They wanted the settlers to understand they had been found and were safe.

Mrs. K could not believe what she had heard. The story of the Ghost of McGuffey’s Ridge was solved! The Wood Whisperer was the Ghost!!! The settlers had heard the sound but did not understand what was being told to them. They did not know the language of the Indians and therefore thought it was the sound of a Ghost. The mystery of the missing children was also solved! They had been lost and alone and the Indians took them in and gave them a happy life. They were too young to say where they had come from and loved the Indians. They had grown up to be members of the old Tribe! Mrs. K could not wait to bring the Wood Whisperer back to the library and tell the history to the town! And, she could not wait to get back he her home in New Jersey to tell her students the story of the Ghost of McGuffey’s Ridge!!!!