Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 28, 2013
GOLD HILL – A shot rings out in the July night, and a young bride’s would-be husband falls dead … only to rise again and haunt her.
A monster stalks the gold miner who cut off its tail.
A girl’s dream of finding a handsome prince goes horribly wrong when the frog she kisses becomes a monster.
Those stories, and more, drew crowds to the historic village at Gold Hill on Saturday.
Before sundown, crowds gathered to buy tickets. Guides led them along the gravel paths of the town to the shops and yards to six different storytellers.
By the light of kerosene lanterns, those storytellers shared their tales – some based on history, others created just for the event.
Sandy Hickman, one of the organizers, said the Gold Hill Merchants Association sponsors the event.
This fourth annual Village Ghost Walk is a separate event from the one held each October at Gold Hill Park, Hickman said.
While that event is geared more toward hunting for alleged paranormal activity, the Village Ghost Walk is a mini storytelling festival.
Hickman said the goal is raising funds to “spread the word about what’s here” in Gold Hill.
The merchants there are trying to gain visibility, she said, and are currently working with the Rowan County Convention & Visitors Bureau to promote themselves.
There have been challenges. The downtown restaurant has closed and is currently being sold, Hickman said.
A sign announces that a nearby stained glass shop is also closing.
Hickman said the Village Ghost Walk not only brings new people to Gold Hill, but the proceeds from ticket sales help generate funds for promotions.
The ghost stories ranged from the silly to the serious, with a little bit of fright.
Local author Nancy Brewer penned the story of a hillbilly “shotgun wedding” where an unhappy father shoots his daughter’s runaway bridegroom, who then returns to claim revenge.
“We just thought it would be funny to do just a humorous kind of ghost skit,” Brewer said.
She said this is her second year at the Village Ghost Walk. “We do lots of living histories here, but not in comical characters.”
Lennie Cooper, who runs River Pines Gifts and Crafts with wife Ann, said he had already seen some visitors who had been to the previous year’s event.
“We have a blast doing it,” Cooper said. In the wedding skit, he played the country preacher, clad in overalls and black necktie.
Although Cooper said he was glad to support his fellow merchants, “We do this more for the fun of it, to be honest,” he said.
Elsewhere, former Gold Hill shop owner Jane Jarrett tells the story of the Pond Monster, a favorite from last year’s Ghost Walk that was revived for 2013.
The tale tells how a young girl didn’t want to marry a miner, wanting instead to meet a prince.
She goes to the pond and kisses a big, ugly frog, hoping to transform him.
Instead, a monster emerges and kills her.
“So, on a night like this, when the clouds are dark,” Jane Jarrett said, as real frogs croaked loudly in the background, “you might see the monster.”
And, covered in moss and green leaves, the Pond Monster appears behind the crowd.
It’s Rick Jarrett, Jane’s husband.
“We live a mile up the road,” Rick said, his monster mask removed. Jane formerly operated Jane’s Thangs downtown.
Although the shop is gone, the Jarretts still live nearby and said they’re glad to support the Ghost Walk.
“This is just a really, really unique community. You really do go back in time,” Jane Jarrett said.
Ben Callahan, a retired police chief from Carrboro now living in Gold Hill, told one of the town’s better-known true stories: the tale of how Joe Newman, a mining engineer, died in a dynamite blast.
Some said it was suicide, Callahan said, but others believed his brother – con man Walter George Newman – was the one who planted the bomb.
A few years later, Walter George Newman’s two mansions burned to the ground on the same night in 1903, Callahan said.
And, after the surviving Newman died penniless in New York City in 1918, some visitors to Gold Hill reported seeing a disembodied ghost near one of the old mine shafts – floating with his arms and legs disconnected, as if blown apart..
When they ran back to town, Callahan said, “the people … told them, ‘That’s just Old Joe. He’s guarding the mine shaft from the other spirit in town.’”
Callahan said he graduated from Catawba with a history degree before going into law enforcement.
He said he’s glad to be a part of bringing local history back to life.
Back at the hillbilly wedding, the bride Essie is being married off hastily to a new groom after her former fiance’s untimely death.
Homer, the undertaker, takes a swig from a little brown jug before offering it to her. “This’ll take the edge off,” he says, eliciting laughter.
Moments later, the ghost of her old love, Jesse, rises and lurches back out toward the wedding party.
“They’re not real,” said Dominik Semple, age 6, when asked if he believed in ghosts. “They’re just people dressed up.”
A short time later, he watched as the Pond Monster appeared, grinning as the mossy man ran after one of the tour guides.
Was Dominik fooled?
“Nope!” he said. “I could see that it was a costume.”
Kylie Mangione, 11, said it reminded her of the TV show “Duck Dynasty.”
But whether or not people ran off in fear, organizers said they were glad to see people running toward Gold Hill.
Out at his shop, metalworker Fred Kessler told a story of a murderous monster bent on getting payback for his missing tail.
It’s a tale that Kessler, 70, said his father – a West Virginia coal miner – had told him “since I was almost too young to remember.”
He said he’s pleased with
the turnout over the four years of the Ghost Walk, as visitors return in the light of day to see the town again.
“We really do see a response,” Kessler said.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.