“Back in 1916, a great flood happened here. The local legend is that the water rose up all the way to the point where you could only see the tip of the steeple of All Soul's Church. Some of the people who had been trapped in the floodwaters found refuge by trying to cling onto the steeple at the top. Well, after the first few hours, people started getting tired. Some of the families who were up there, just out of fatigue, had to decide which one of their children to let go into the flood waters. Not a single person survived.
“Supposedly, people hear thumping noises and see strange shadows around the top of the steeple to this day.”
— Chris Sorrells, Haunted Biltmore tour
Take a stroll through the Christmas-light-lined streets of Biltmore Village, and you'll get your fair share of history. But alongside the tales of the Vanderbilts and the Roaring 20s, there are the stories that people don't like to talk about as much:the stories of eerie noises and ghostly shadows, of poltergeists and the mysterious kangaroo-like creature seen hopping through the cobblestone sidewalks in 1981.
Stories of real-life characters like William Dudley Pelley, the well-known Nazi sympathizer and dabbling occultist, who in the 1930s used the Biltmore-Oteen Bank building as the headquarters for his fascist propaganda and as an alleged meeting place for seances and other bizarre rituals.
And they're more than just whispered rumors.
“All of our stories are very well researched," says Chris Sorrells, owner and operator of Haunted Biltmore. Sorrells, with help from local author and ghost hunter Joshua P. Warren, created the tour a year and a half ago as an offshoot to Warren's popular downtown tour, Haunted Asheville.
Sorrells estimates that he spent more than six months scouring the internet and digging though old newspapers and records at the local libraries to track down the historical facts surrounding Biltmore Village. That's not to mention the hours he spent interviewing current and former employees of the area.
"We wanted to make sure that there was some kind of truth related to these local legends," he says. "What I like is that we take real history, real historical events that have been proven and written down, and we integrate and weave that in with the verbal folklore and the local stories of what people have experienced and heard over the years."
And people have been seeing and hearing some strange stuff.
Take the Olde World Christmas Shoppe. The cute gift store, nestled inside one of the original century-old cottages, seems to be home to its own holiday spirit. For years, employees there say they've heard phantom footsteps and doors slamming when no one else was around. But the pinnacle of all the weird activity occurred in 2004, when an employee gathering supplies from a back closet suddenly turned around and saw something that made her hair stand on end.
"It was this amorphous, person-looking thing, with empty black eye sockets, just staring at her," Sorrells, who interviewed her along with the entire staff a few years ago, says. "It didn't move, it didn't say anything, nothing. Finally, she screamed and ran out of the building."
She never came back.
Odd activity is still being reported to this day. In fact, the day Xpress stopped by, an employee named Andria told us of an unusual event that happened just the night before.
“We were running the vacuum cleaner upstairs on one side of the room," she says, "and all of a sudden a plate came out of the rack and went flying across the room and broke.”
It's another spooky tale that Sorrells can add to his growing collection. And who knows? Years from now, people in the area might still be whispering about that creepy Christmas Shoppe spirit.
"It's cool in that sense of storytelling," Sorrells says, "when you go and talk to people and they'll say, 'My great-great-grandad said that this happened.' A lot of these stories come down, word-of-mouth, from generation to generation. So documenting these things and telling it to other people, that's what helps keep these stories alive."
Even when those stories are about the dead.
— Miles Britton is an Asheville-based freelance writer. Learn more about Haunted Biltmore tours at hauntedbiltmore.com.