Why We Wrote This Book
Our desire to write this book goes beyond pure commercialism, although quite honestly, some thoughts of commercialism did enter into our decision. Ghosts are creatures of the dusk and shadows. They hover around the edge of reality and then, like a pebble dropped into our cosmic pond, they send ripples through our existence. They are common to every culture and are as real to some people as the land that they live on. They are an integral part of the local or even national history and culture as any battle, election or natural disaster.
This has presented a problem for historians. How do you treat tales on entities whose existence blinks off and on like fireflies on a warm June night? Most historians ignore the paranormal or if they choose to treat the subject, they handle it in a dismissive way or with humor and ridicule. The few historians who have chosen to treat ghosts, have been heavily criticized by their peers.
Folklorists on the other hand, collect every ghost story they can find and go to great lengths to preserve them, and for this, we were very grateful. But most folklorists view tales of ghostly encounters as primitive literature and aren’t interested in the veracity of the tale. They are interested in the source of the stories and expend much energy dividing them up into motifs and gleefully pointing out that the local tales of headless horsemen had its roots in ancient Egypt. Thus the story is taken out of context and its real significance is blurred all out of proportion. Folklorists aren’t too careful about names, dates and exact locations and we considered it great victory when verify one of these stories.
Since ghosts are rejected by most “proper” historians and relegated to mere primitive fiction by folklorists, we decided that we needed to create our own discipline that we christened, parahistory. Parahistory is the study of paranormal events (events not in the range of normal experience or explicable by science) in a particular area, and their relation to other historical events in that area. Parahistory is hidden history, not hidden by people who experience the event and believe in it, or by some weird conspiracy or occult force, but by historians who dismiss it, and folklorists who reduce it to quaintness.
These stories, legends, myths and events are important to a people and their culture. They represent the very heart and soul of a people. If you really want to understand what makes a West Virginian tick, you have to read and understand these beliefs. And it really doesn’t matter whether these things really happened or not. If enough people really believe something took place, then that belief has the same force as fact. In examining parahistory, you examine the very nature of reality. When these beliefs die out, then something goes out of the heart of a culture. It’s transmogrified into something totally different, and often, something not very interesting or attractive.
So one of the reasons we wrote this book was to perform a bit of parahistorical preservation on West Virginia. We want to save these bits and pieces not only for the West Virginians but for the nation as well. By making this a guidebook, we hope to be able to involve you the effort as well. Its one thing to be reading ghostly tales by the comfort of your fire, but a totally different experience to be standing where the Flatwoods Monster appeared or staring up at the window where John Brown’s shade, allegedly appears. (And if your are lucky, maybe he he’ll be peering out just for you! If he does, be sure to contact us on this web site.)
Not only do we cover the para part of parahistory, we try to cover the history part wherever it’s applicable. We try to put the stories in their historical context. It does little good to tell the tales of the spooks that haunt Droop Mountain if you know nothing about the battle. If you go to Droop Mountain, not only can you learn what went on there historically, and if you see a troop of Yankee cavalry drive on by and disappear into the side of the mountain, you won’t be surprised.