The year was 1989.
At the time, I was an eighth-grader at Bachelor Middle School in Bloomington, Indiana.
It was my first year at the school. We’d moved to Bloomington that year from a much smaller Indiana town, but I made friends fairly easily. We moved a lot when I was a kid.
Bloomington is a college town, a little freer with big ideas. So, they would try different things out in the school system, such as new teaching techniques and unique ideas on how to get us to learn.
That’s how I ended up in a class called “Critical Thinking”.
The idea, in retrospect, was that instead of teaching us things, they would teach us how to think. And then we would be able to teach ourselves once we got out into the real world.
I’ve frankly spent most of my life thinking that class was a little too hippie-dippie.
In recent days, I think we all should have been taking such a class every year of our academic lives. The world needs some critical thinking, stat.
Anyway, the teacher was a fairly young guy. I don’t remember much of anything from his class except for one day when he told us a ghost story.
I don’t know why he told a ghost story in Critical Thinking class. Maybe he wanted one of us to stand up and say, “Sir, I have carefully considered your thrilling mystic tale and, having applied the Critical Thinking concepts we have learned in this very class, I can safely say that it is complete and utter horse hockey.”
We didn’t do that. Indeed, we ate the ghost story up. If you’re wondering, it involved a late-night visit to the remote Hamer Cemetery and a zombie-esque chase through a thunderstorm back to the car. I’m sure you’ll be shocked to hear this, but the car wouldn’t start.
It was a pretty run-of-the-mill ghost story, with a lot of what the kids today call “tropes”.
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Ghost stories of the Smoky Mountains
As an area rich in historic buildings and a vast wilderness, it’s no surprise that there are more than a few tales of hauntings around the Great Smoky Mountains.
There are slightly spooky tales that involve glowing orbs at Cades Cove graveyards and the more disturbing legend of a Cherokee spirit Spearfinger who eats children’s livers.
You may have heard about the little girl who appears at LeConte Lodge at exactly 3:33 am, or famously, Lydia’s spirit who haunts the Greenbrier staircase after seeking revenge for being left at the altar.
But if you’re in the mood for a good ghost story, Lucy of Roaring Fork is one of the best ones in the Smokies of East Tennessee.
The Lucy tale is very similar to one from an old short story we read in school about a young traveler who met a beautiful girl at the Dew Drop Inn. I won’t tell you how disturbingly long it took for me to get that joke. Of course, the traveler and the girl hit it off.
He offers her a ride home during which she acts strangely. Afterward, he realizes she left her coat behind.
When he returns to the house, an old woman answers the door. When he explains the girl left her coat, the old woman says that the girl had passed 30 years ago. Then, we all get goosebumps and turn to the Ray Bradbury story on the next page.
The tale of Lucy on Roaring Fork
This brings us to our story, which follows a similar outline. It begins this way:
Back in the days before the national park, the children of Ogles and Bales and Clabos came up from White Oak Flats – which later became Gatlinburg – and made their homesteads in places like the Roaring Fork community.
Not surprisingly, Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is named after Roaring Fork, one of the larger and faster-flowing mountain streams in the park.
Well, among the Ephraims and Jaspers and Gilberts in the early days, was a girl named Lucy. Lucy was a pretty thing, smart and well-liked. She was sure to be a fine wife for the lucky neighbor boy who was chosen to be her match.
Read Also: Haunted places in the Smoky Mountains: Ghost stories from Gatlinburg
Then tragedy struck
Tragedy struck, however, when the family’s cabin caught fire on a cold, winter night in the early 1900s. Lucy was unable to escape. It was brutal. She passed in a way that tethers a spirit to this world.
A young man named Foster arrived in the community not long after that. He was said to be handsome and well-liked. A hard worker and well-educated, he was considering a career in the pulpit. Many a father had an eye on him. Among their daughters, he was considered quite a catch.
One night, on the way home, Foster met a young girl he’d never seen before. She was shoeless, cold and alone. He threw his coat over her shoulders and gave her a ride on the back of his horse.
She was coy. She wouldn’t tell him her name and she never let him ride all the way up to the cabin.
“Pa wouldn’t understand,” she’d say, before running off into the night.
This happened a few times before the young man had feelings. He told the girl he’d like to speak to her father.
But he could never get her to budge. Finally, she told him her first name and again ran off into the night.
At last, he inquired with the neighbors. He learned the girl he described had died many years before. Her family had left the community never to return.
The ‘real’ reason Roaring Fork closes for the winter
The people of Roaring Fork are long since gone – both in the physical and spiritual sense. The only hint of their lives in the wilderness are the cabins and barns that are maintained by the park service, empty shells, husks of the lives that used to be.
For most of the year, people drive through the community on the Roaring Fork Motor Trail. They visit the cabins, walk along the trails and see the sights that once belonged to the Ogles and Bales and Cables and Lucy.
Roaring Fork Motor Trail is closed in winter. Of course, most people assume that it’s because of the weather. That’s certainly what the National Park Service wants you to believe.
But now, you and I know differently.
A lonely young woman Lucy whose spirit is tethered to the community of Roaring Fork comes back in the winter, looking for a kind young man who used to give her rides on his horse.
Do you have any ghost stories about the Great Smoky Mountains National Park? Let us know in the comments.