Asheville Archives: Ghost stories from the city’s past

LET YOUR IMAGINATION RUN WILD: We explore a pair of paranormal events in this week's Archives. Unfortunately, finding photos of ghosts is rather difficult. So we opted for this image of four blurry, faceless, unidentified men. There's something ghostly about them, don't you agree? Photo courtesy of the North Carolina Collection, Pack Memorial Library, Asheville

In the spirit of this week’s issue, we examine a pair of ghost tales from Asheville’s past.

‘With the aid of an axe’

On March 3, 1910, police arrested one Walter Walker for possession of a concealed weapon. In the following day’s paper, The Asheville Citizen reported on the unusual case.

According to the article, Walker was detained the previous night after an officer found him on the verge of breaking into the Salvation Army’s meetinghouse “unceremoniously with the aid of an axe.”

Walker claimed he had reason to believe a ghost, who had allegedly been writing threatening letters to widows in the community, resided inside the building.

However, when police further searched Walker, they discovered a pair of brass knuckles on his person in addition to the axe. This, the paper explained, was used as “evidence that he had prepared for an encounter with something more material than ghosts.”

An article published in the March 5 edition of The Asheville Gazette News suggests Walker suffered some form of mental illness. While in custody, the paper reported, he violently destroyed his jail cell.

“Just what is to be done with Walker has not been determined,” the article continued. “His people have been notified, however, and it is expected that he will be removed shortly to an asylum or sanitarium.”

No subsequent reports appear about Walker’s case.

The Thing

Exactly seven years later, on March 3, 1917, The Asheville Citizen ran another story about a paranormal event.

“There is one Asheville business man — and his wife — who insists that he saw a ghost walking along a city street the other morning,” the paper wrote. “He waves aside all offered explanations having to do with light refractions and says there’s no use trying to explain his ghost away.”

According to the unidentified businessman, his wife awakened him in the early morning, “at that time when man’s slumber most nearly resembles death itself and [when] most souls pass into eternity.” His frightened wife pointed outside where a large luminous shape floated down the street.

“The Thing, call it a ghost if you will, was not more than thirty feet from where I stood watching,” the man said. Moving swiftly and silently, the figure cast no shadow and disappeared once it neared the streetlight.

“To deny that I saw The Thing would be only to deny evidence of my senses,” the man continued. “While I am a plain man, having nothing to do with those questions the learned debate, still I know The Thing was not flesh and blood.”

A doctor was summoned to administer “some quieting draught” to the man’s reportedly hysterical wife. Once she was asleep, the doctor asked the man for the exact time of the sighting. Sparing no suspense, the unnamed businessman concluded his account with the following plot twist:

“‘The clock in the hall was striking the quarter when my wife roused me,’ I replied [to the doctor]. ‘Why?’

Slowly drawing on his gloves as he prepared to leave he said no more for an instant. Then he turned and looked me squarely in the eye.

‘I was at a home not far from here this morning where a soul passed to eternity at thirteen minutes past the hour. I wonder if your clock and my watch agree?’

Taking his gold timepiece from his pocket he turned and glanced at the big hall clock whose musical chimes were even then proclaiming the hour. Leaning over I looked at the white dial. To a second the clock and the physician’s watch were in accord. Neither of us spoke a word, then, in a minute I heard the purring of his car’s engine. I walked slowly back to where my wife was sleeping quietly, and sat me down by her bedside.”

Editor’s note: Spelling and punctuation are preserved from the original documents.

 

 

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About Thomas Calder
Thomas Calder received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program. His writing has appeared in Gulf Coast, the Miracle Monocle and elsewhere. His debut novel, The Wind Under the Door, comes out on March 23, 2021.

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