3 Strange Smoky Mountain Tales You Probably Heard From Your Grandparents

(photo of an abandoned Chimney at Elkmont by James Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

Whether it be the spooky abandoned logging town of Elkmont or tales about Lucy of Roaring Fork, these bizarre Smoky Mountain Tales are are passed down from generation to generation by locals (photo of an abandoned Chimney at Elkmont by James Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

Regardless of whether or not these tales are to be believed, they continue to be passed down from one generation to the next

As someone who grew up slightly obsessed with ghostly phenomena, I spent much of my youth chasing ghost stories in the mountains. From the supposedly dark rituals at God’s Pocket in Blount County to the rumors of a ghastly glowing tombstone, I so very much want the scary stories of the mountains to be true. 

The people of the mountains grew up on folk stories of haints and phantoms and dark spirits like goblins. In the days before being goth was cool, they told fables and parables and handed down family lore. Were the stories true or just the old-time version of people who liked scary stories? 

A young woman’s spirit reportedly roams the woods in Roaring Fork (photo by John Gullion/TheSmokies.com)

1. The Ghost of Roaring Fork

This is a variation of the old Dew Drop Inn story that’s been told for generations in one form or another. A young man, new to the Roaring Fork community above Gatlinburg makes his homestead. One dark, cold and moonless night, he encounters a young woman shivering along the road. Smitten and chivalrous, he gives her a horseback ride to her home. But she dismounts early, saying her family wouldn’t want to see them together. She hurries off through the darkness to the woods so she can arrive without arousing any suspicions. He sees her every so often. Always when they are both alone and at night. It’s the same scenario, an escort home and an early dismount so as not to anger father. 

Finally, the man decides he wants to approach things from a more socially acceptable pathway. He wants to talk to the father about a courtship. But when he starts asking around no one knows the girl or her family. When he describes the place where she leaves him, he’s told no one has lived there for years. Not since that family died in a massive fire a decade or more earlier. Dumbstruck, he goes to the former homestead where little remains except the small family graveyard and the tombstone.   

a buiding yet to be restored at elkmont
Elkmont is full of history and features cabins that are being restored (photo by James Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

2. The Haunted Town of Elkmont

One of the strange facts about the Smokies is that in the years before the park, it became a destination for some of the nation’s wealthy elite. Not quite the Vanderbilts of Biltmore elite, but still very elite. There’s Louis Voorhies, the Cincinnati businessman and inventor, who created a massive and slightly bizarre estate not far from Mt. LeConte. 

There’s also Elkmont, a logging community that morphed into an elite vacation destination. Welcome to the Wonderland Park Hotel – a resort built in 1912 – that overlooked the town. A group of Knoxville businessmen bought it in 1919 and established the Wonderland Club, a social destination where the East Tennessee wealthy could gather. It’s all very Overlook Hotel from “The Shining.” I don’t want to imagine what kind of Roaring ’20s shenanigans were going on there, but I promise you it wasn’t just doing the Charleston. 

Today some of the remnants remain, others have been fixed up by the NPS for camping and others have been allowed to return to nature. Over the years, several Elkmont visitors have reported feeling a profound chill upon entering certain buildings. In the Wonderland Hotel, some have even reported hearing strange noises and feeling like they were being watched.

Can I personally tell you a story about a specific ghost up there wandering around? No. But I defy you to spend much time up at the Ghost Town and not start thinking about a little “Redrum.”

a creepy woman in the woods holding a heart and with spear shaped finger on her hand with a raven on her shoulder looking at the camera
Legend says that Spearfinger was a shapeshifter who would often appear to children in the guise of an old woman. She had a spear for a hand, which she would hide under her robes (AI-generated image)

3. The Legend of Spearfinger

What if I told you all the stories about ghosts and Bigfoot and Wild Men – mountain cannibals – were connected to an older, darker spirit that’s been roaming the mountains longer than Europeans have been in North America? 

Meet Spearfinger, a Cherokee shape-shifting legend who likes the taste of human liver. Spearfinger – so named because her right forefinger resembles an obsidian knife – cuts the throat of her victims, often children who strayed too far from their parents. She’s a witch who can change forms to a kind old woman. She has a voice that echoes through the mountains calling out for children to come meet her. 

What do you do if you run into Spearfinger in the mountains? Pray that Stone Man, her mortal enemy shows up and you can slip away while they’re distracted. But don’t hang around. Even if Stone Man wins, the reason they’re enemies is because they hunt the same food. Livers. Your liver. Get out of there.  

The tradition of ghost stories in the mountains goes deep into the recesses of time. Fables and folklore get handed down from one generation to the next. From a young age, grandchildren would sit at their elders’ knees and learn about ghosts and goblins that punish bad children. They learn it’s safer to stay close to home and not go exploring in the wild woods. But for all the stories we know, it’s often the ones we don’t that bring the biggest scare. That voice that runs up the back of your neck or the sound that comes dancing from the shadows. 

Sometimes it’s as if the mountains themselves come alive just to continue the tradition. 

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