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West Virginia's Spectral Heritage

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West Virginia Ghost & Monster Authors
 
The following authors have served West Virginia well.  It was through their research and personal investment that many of West Virginia's stories of ghosts & monsters were saved from oblivion.  As academics, we stand in awe of their accomplishment - and as West Virginians, we are better for their efforts.

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Dr. Ruth Ann Musick

 

Ruth Ann Musick (1897-1974)

 

Ruth Ann Musick, a folklorist, fiction writer, dramatist, and poet, was born in Kirksville, Missouri, on September 17, 1897. Her parents were farmers who lived and worked on a five-acre farm outside the town. Ruth Ann was her parents' only daughter, sandwiched between two brothers. Appreciation of the fine arts was a family trait - Ruth Ann's father was a devoted reader, her uncle was a professional writer, her brother Archie was an artist, and her other brother Ace became a commercial printer.

 

Ruth Ann was a sensitive child, one who became a vegetarian at the age of eight after watching the butchering of farm livestock for sale. She began writing at an early age and one her first literary award, sponsored by the local newspaper, at the age of twelve for a short Christmas story, "St. Nicholas."

 

She attended Kirksville State Teacher's College (now North Missouri State University) where she wrote a college news column for the Kirksville Daily Express. She received her Bachelors of Science in Education degree from Kirksville State and then continued her education at the State University of Iowa. She graduated with a Master of Science in mathematics in 1928 and a Doctor of Philosophy in English in 1943. During those years, Musick taught both English and mathematics at the high school and college level. She began her college teaching career at Iowa's William Penn College in 1942; two years later she became a member of the faculty of Iowa Wesleyan College. In 1946 she moved to West Virginia to accept a teaching position at Fairmont State College where she continued to teach until her retirement in May 1967.

 

Dr. Musick had become interested in folklore and the preservation of tradition culture, including songs and stories, while in Missouri. She prepared a collection of family folk songs, many of them originating in England and Scotland, and preserved through oral tradition that was recognized the American Folklore Society. After her move to West Virginia, Dr. Musick became interested in the folklore of the Appalachians. In 1948 she began a folklore course at Fairmont State College.

 

She worked collecting folklore, publishing her first collection, Ballads, Folk Songs, and Folk Tales from West Virginia in 1960. Five years later the University of Kentucky Press published The Tell-tale Lilac Bush and Other West Virginia Ghost Stories, a collection of stories and legends that still chills and thrills West Virginia readers. Her next collection focused on mountain legends that had come to the state from Europe - Green Hills of Magic, West Virginia Folk Tales from Europe (1970). This work earned the first literary award to be given by the West Virginia Library Association (1972). Her final folklore collection, Coffin Hollow, was posthumously published in 1977. She also published and presented numerous papers on folklore. She also published numerous poems and short stories in various periodical publications.

 

Ruth Ann Musick died in 1974. Her manuscripts are housed in the library that bears her name at Fairmont State College.

 

Ruth Ann Musick
-The Telltale Lilac Bush
-Coffin Hollow
-The Green Hills of Magic and Other Stories

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Newspaperman Jim Comstock

Jim Comstock (Feb. 25, 1911 - May 22, 1996)
 
Newspaperman James "Jim" Comstock is most famous for his humorous and politically charged newspaper, The West Virginia Hillbilly, which he published from his press at Richwood, WV.  Although his work included other subjects besides ghosts and monsters from WV, Mr. Comstock needs to be recognized as one of the first West Virginians to collect and rescue our heritage from the mists of time.  Among the first stories he recorded in his newspaper was that of John Henry's ghost, the mysterious curing powers of the Greenbrier White Sulphur Springs, and that of the Braxton County Monster.  In addition, he is to be applauded for his work in rescuing the homeplace of Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize winning author Pearl S. Buck from oblivion.  Mr. Comstock is buried in Mountain View Cemetery in Richwood, WV.  His work, however, continues to inspire.  For more information on Jim Comstock, visit this site.
 
 

Dennis Deitz (1917-2003)
 
Dennis Deitz is an inspiration to collectors of West Virginia ghost stories.  Although he wrote 14 books about the people, history and culture of West Virginia, his most famous story is that of The Greenbrier Ghost.  This story involves a young woman who falls in love with a disreputable man, is murdered by him, and later returns as a ghost in order to bring him to justice.  Thank you, Mr. Deitz, for saving this wonderful story from oblivion!
 
Dennis Deitz was born in 1917 in Greenbrier County, WV. He worked at Union Carbide early in his life, but after his brother suffered a stroke he began collecting the family's stories.  

In order to preserve his brother's wonderful storytelling, Deitz began writing his brother's stories down in books.  These were family tales that had been handed down for generations, and Deitz published them in a series of books titled Mountain Memories I-V.  These books recall a time in early West Virginia history before the advent of highways, telephones, and the internet.

Dennis Deitz's works:

Mountain Memories  Volumes I, II, III, IV, & V

The Greenbrier Ghost  Volumes I, II, & III

The Little Spooner that Wouldn't Spoon (children's book)

 

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Fortean & UFOlogist author John Keel

John Keel (1930-2009  )

John Alva Keel was born on March 25, 1930.  He is a Fortean author and professional journalist currently residing in New York, New York.  

Keel's first published story was in a magician's magazine at the age of 12. He later moved to Greenwich Village and wrote for various magazines.  

Keel is a ufologist that brought the world much research about UFOs, aliens, and most famously, Mothman.  It was Keel's second book, UFOs: Operation Trojan Horse (1970), that alerted the general public that many aspects of contemporary UFO reports, including humanoid encounters, often paralleled certain ancient folklore and religious encounters. Keel also argues that there is a direct relationship between UFOs and psychic phenomena. He does not call himself a ufologist and prefers the term Fortean which encompasses a wide range of paranormal subjects.

In 1976, Keel published The Mothman Prophecies, an account of his 1966-1967 investigation of sightings of the Mothman, a strange winged creature reported in and around Point Pleasant, West Virginia.  Those sightings sadly culminated in the collapse of the Silver Bridge between Point Pleasant, WV, and Kanaugha, OH on December 15, 1967.  46 people were killed.

 

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Dr. Patrick Gainer

Dr. Patrick Ward Gainer (1904-1981)
 
Gainer was born in Parkersburg, WV, but grew up in rural Gilmer County, WV.  He is best known for his work with WV folk ballads, child ballads, and the WV Folk Festival which he helped organize in 1950.  This festival is still celebrated today.  His work, Witches, Ghosts, and Signs: Folklore of the Southern Appalachian Mountains (Seneca Books, 1975) is a key text regarding WV ghosts, monsters, and magic traditions inherent to the state's culture.  For more information, visit the West Virginia Regional History Collection.
 
 

Susanna "Granny Sue" Holstein
 
West Virginia Storyteller, puppeteer, and author Susanna "Granny Sue" Holstein hails from Sandyville, WV in Jackson County.  She has written many books about life in the mountains, including Granny's Ghost Stories.  Learn more about Susanna Holstein by reading her blog.

James Gay Jones
 
A former professor of history at Glenville State College in Glenville, WV, James Jones has written many books about ghosts in West Virginia.  These include: A Wayfaring Sin-Eater and Other Tales of Appalachia (1983), The Haunted Valley and More Folk Tales of Appalachia (1979), Appalachian Ghost Stories and Other Tales (1975), and More Appalachian Fok Stories (1993). 
 
 

Jo Ann Dadisman
 
A life-long West Virginian and professor of English at West Virginia University, Jo Ann Dadisman is also a professional storyteller in her spare time.  In addition to other works, Dadisman has written, Raising the Spirits: An Appalachian Sampler of Stories to Be Told (2004).  For more information on Jo Ann Dadisman, visit her storytelling page at WVSG.

Gerald C. Milnes
 
In addition to a WV author, Milnes is also the folk arts coordinator of the Augusta Heritage Center at Davis & Elkins College in Elkins, WV.  He is the editor of many books and the author of Signs, Cures, & Witchery: German Appalachian Folklore.  This book details the early Germanic settlers of WV and their occult beliefs.

Susan Sheppard
 
West Virginia resident and author, Susan Sheppard is a well-known paranormal researcher and psychic medium.  In addition to maintaining the Parkersburg Ghost Tours, Sheppard has also written many books including, Cry of the Banshee, which is a collection of West Virginia ghost stories.  For more on Susan Sheppard, please visit Haunted Parkersburg.

Bob Teets
 
Teets is an author and UFOlogist from the mountains of West Virginia.  His seminal work, West Virginia UFOs: Close Encounters in the Mountain State, is hailed as an important cornerstone of UFO investigations in the state. 

A listing of other West Virginia & Appalachian books about the supernatural, ghosts, and monsters can be found on this website: