It’s that time of year again, when we embrace all the cobwebs, adorn our homes with skeletons and decorative gourds, and channel our inner granny witches. That’s right, the spooky season is upon us, and in celebration we thought we’d tell you about some Halloween-appropriate Southern men, women and monsters. The South is known for its many storytelling traditions, as well as its inherent spookiness, so it’s no surprise that the two should combine into some scary folktales and stories. Scout’s been bookmarking spooky Southern tales for the past couple months (thanks, Lore!) just to bring them to you in this most ghoulish of holiday seasons. The four creatures that follow are all purported to be real by some party or another. We may be skeptical, but where’s the fun in that? So put on this playlist, paint the ceiling of your porch blue, turn down the lights, and settle in for some good old-fashioned ghost stories.
Rawhead and Bloody Bones: Many Southern ghost stories and folklore come from African traditions and culture, but while some connect this particular tale to the Gullah culture, it’s more likely a story brought over from England and adopted by multiple local cultures. Rawhead and Bloody Bones are both bogeyman figures meant to put fear into children and induce good behavior. Whatever the origins, Rawhead, a skull stripped of skin, and his companion Bloody Bones, a headless skeleton, prowl the night looking for misbehaved children. Sometimes they’re said to live near water, sometimes in dark dank cupboards under stairs or sinks.
The story dates back as far as the early 1500s and is mentioned in sermons, stories and nursery rhymes: Rawhead and Bloody Bones / Steals Naughty Children from their Homes/Takes them to his dirty den/ And they are never seen again. Seems like good motivation for good behavior. also, fun fact: The monsters are the subject of a song by the post-punk band Siouxsie and the Banshees.
Fouke Monster: Also known as the Southern Sasquatch, the Fouke Monster is the most well-established of the many Southern cryptid (aka a creature whose actual existence is not yet proven) hominids. Somewhere between seven and ten feet tall and weighing between 300 and 800 pounds, the monster was first spotted in the early 1970s. It runs with an arm-swinging gallop and has bright red eyes the size of silver dollars. In 1971, the monster apparently attacked Bobby and Elizabeth Ford in their new Arkansas home. The creature was then allegedly spotted crossing a nearby highway, and supposed footprints were found at a nearby filling station. Sightings died down in the later part of the decade, but the monster resurfaced in the late 90s and sightings continue to occur.
The Fouke Monster is just one of many Bigfoot-like creatures that roam the American South. In Fort Worth, Texas, there’s the Lake Worth Monster. Described as a “fishy goat-man” in a 1969 local headline, the creature is supposedly half-man, half-goat and covered in scales. South Carolina has the Lizard Man of Scape Ore Swamp, and Louisiana has the seven-foot-tall, web-toed Honey Island Swamp Monster.
The Bell Witch: In the early 19th century, the Bell family of Adams, Tennessee, a small town just a ten-minute drive from the Kentucky border, claimed to be haunted and cursed by a poltergeist named Kate. The inciting incident was an encounter with a chimerical animal with the body of a dog and the head of rabbit. For days after this event, the Bell family’s nights were disrupted by pounding on the exterior of their home, the source of which could never be found. Eventually, the banging and clanging started coming from inside the house (dun dun dun…). Scratching on walls and slamming doors were accompanied by strange whispers and objects moving of their own accord.
The Bell’s youngest daughter, Betsy, was a particular target of the spirit. She was said to have been slapped and had her hair pulled by the specter. The whispers grew into discernible voices singing hymns and quoting scripture. Stories of the Bell Witch spread so far that future president Andrew Jackson came to investigate. One of his men was apparently badly beaten, and they all fled the Bell homestead. The ghost-witch focused her intentions increasingly on the Bell family patriarch, tormenting him into ill health and eventually poisoning him, making this particular ghost one of the only ones to actually kill someone. The whole story is incredible…and probably almost entirely fabricated by Martin Van Buren Ingram, who penned an account 45 years after the so-called haunting, based solely on a diary written by Bell’s son nearly 30 years after the fact. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Richmond Vampire: In Richmond, Virginia’s Hollywood Cemetery there sits the mausoleum of one William Wortham Pool. Pool lived a fairly standard life, died at the age of 80, and was interred with his wife in the aforementioned mausoleum. After his death, though, that’s when the rumors started. Folks started saying that the W.W. Pool mausoleum was the home of a vampire. In 1925, a railroad tunnel collapsed nearby, trapping members of a repair crew inside. As rescuers tried to free the trapped men, a ghastly, bloody creature emerged from the rubble and ran toward the cemetery and into the Pool Mausoleum. Though people followed, no one could find it, and no one saw it leave the tomb. A rumor started that Pool was a vampire, and that it was W.W. himself who had been spotted that tragic night. The cemetery is very close to Virginia Commonwealth University, and the vampire rumors spread quickly among the students; the Pools’ bodies eventually had to be moved due to repeated vandalism.
However, the actual story of the 1925 cave-in didn’t need any vampires, ghouls, or other creatures to make it creepy. In truth, the man fleeing the rubble was Benjamin Mosby, who died shortly afterwards in a nearby hospital. A scary sight to be sure, but not necessarily hair-raising…except that when the townspeople eventually went back to unearth the rest of the collapse’s victims, they found only one corpse, leaving at least two laborers unaccounted for. The tunnel was boarded up, and they never recovered the rest of the bodies.