Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie or other critters.

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt (novel set in Franklin County, VA), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), Miracle of the Concrete Jesus & Other Stories, and several Kindle ebooks.

Friday, March 21, 2008

My Favorite Ghost Writer

L.B. Taylor is known for his “Ghosts of Virginia” series. I have several volumes and wish I owned more. He's not only a good writer, he's also a self-publishing phenomenon and a good storyteller. I'd heard him speak a few years ago at the Franklin County Historical Society; when I heard he was returning on Sunday, March 16, I made plans to be there.

In fact, I went early to chat with him before the meeting. We'd both been at the 2007 Hanover bookfest, but I hadn't gotten a chance to talk to him then. I was surprised and delighted that he remembered I lived near Hainted Holler.

Although he's famous for writing about Virginia ghosts, Taylor says he’s never seen one. Speaking to Franklin County Historical Society members and several guests on Sunday, March 16, he related numerous ghost stories and showed slides of apparition photos that many folks had sent him. Apparently, a lot of folks send him photos. Here's one, taken in Manassas' Battlefield, near where a hospital once was:

Taylor, who has “spent twenty-five years chasing ghosts over the state of Virginia,” started writing ghost books when a New York publisher commissioned him to write a book about haunted houses.

“After I’d done the book, I had plenty of material left over,” he said. Those leftovers led him to self-publish twelve volumes in his “Ghosts of Virginia” series, as well as several books about ghosts in particular regions.

His first book, “The Ghosts of Williamsburg,” is now in its 22nd printing. His New York publisher had told him that regional books didn’t sell well, so Taylor decided to self-publish if a Williamsburg gift shop would agree to carry his book. It did, and the rest is history.

While his stories cover all regions of the Commonwealth, some have connections to the Franklin County/Bedford County area. Volume III of “Ghosts of Virginia” contains stories of ghosts from Rocky Mount—the Blue Lady at the Grove, owned by Keister and Ibby Greer, and “Uncle Peter” Saunders at The Farm, owned by Dr. Amos. Both are featured stops on the Historical Society’s annual ghost tours. Volume IX mentions the Baptist Church at Union Creek. Taylor also did some research at Ferrum’s Blue Ridge Institute.

One of his favorite area stories is the “Hound of the Blue Ridge” story that originated in the late 1600’s. It seems a big black ghost dog walked back and forth all night at a mountain pass in Bedford County. People came from all over to see it. The dog always vanished at morning Finally a woman arrived from England in search of her husband, who was supposed to send for her when he’d established a home—but she’d not heard from him. That night, the dog appeared, ran to the woman who recognized him, and got her to follow him. At a particular place, the dog vanished. Men dug there and unearthed the remains of a large dog and a man. The man wore a signet ring, which the woman recognized as her husband’s. The ghost dog never appeared again.

Taylor noted that “people have argued for four or five thousand years if ghosts exist or not.” It’s even difficult to define what a ghost is. Some think ghosts are people who died tragically or traumatically.”

Taylor added that some think ghosts had “left something undone on earth.” He mentioned that another person had defined a ghost as “someone who died and missed the bus.”

He gave examples of things people associated with ghosts: sounds such as footsteps or furniture being moved, smells such as perfume or tobacco, and sights such as the apparition photos that people send him. (I've never seen a ghost, but I smelled Margaret Hale's heavy floral perfume when I was at the Grove a couple of years ago.)

“Most of what people perceive as ghosts can be explained by rational or scientific means. Still, there’s that one percent or less that to me are inexplicable.”

One of the inexplicable cases was a collection of pictures sent to him by an Alexandria woman whose son had died from leukemia. Several pictures she had taken with five different cameras—two Polaroid and three 35mm—contained strange arrowhead shapes. Were they a message from her son?

“I’m not sure anyone really knows what they are,” said Taylor. No one from the audience offered an explanation.

He noted that many people with digital cameras are getting lots of shots of orbs. (I'm one. I got a couple of orb photos on last October's ghost tour.) While some believe the orbs are spirits, Taylor is skeptical. He also doesn’t like the way movies and TV portray ghosts as evil entities. “Ghosts are 99.9% benign and harmless.”

Even though he has never seen a ghost, Taylor has been scared. In his early years of ghost-hunting, he once visited a house in Bowling Green where numerous manifestations of hauntings had occurred. Arriving in the dark, he got out of his car to feel something thump against his chest. At first he thought it was a ghost; then he learned it was only the homeowner’s large but friendly black Labrador.

Besides telling several of the more popular—and inexplicable—stories from his books, Taylor also told a number of humorous “ghost” stories, including one that happened many years ago at a humble log cabin in Henry County. “Grandma” died one night and her son was too poor to have the body attended by an undertaker. The body was placed on a table near the fireplace and covered by a sheet. Soon friends came in to pay their respects. As they sat around chatting, the sheet fluttered and the old woman woke up. No doubt puzzled why she was on the table and why so many people were there, she nevertheless spoke to the person nearest her. “Sure is cold out tonight, ain’t it?” she said.

Although Taylor has written forty-five ghost books and still collects stories, now he wants the stories to be unusual or of historic interest—not just the run-of-the-mill footsteps on the stairs.

“At first, people were reluctant to tell their stories,” he said. “They’re much more open today—they come more willingly.”

L.B. Taylor, his illustrator Brenda Goens, and animal communicator Karen Wrigley.

Volume XII in “The Ghosts of Virginia” was published last November and includes some tales from the Historical Society’s Ghost Tour. Naturally, I bought a copy.

After the meeting, my Lake Writer buddy Karen Wrigley, a friend of hers, and I paid a visit to the town cemetery, where some graves date back to the 1700s.

No, we didn't "see" anything. At least not anything out of the ordinary, darn it!


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Anonymous Ibby said...

Becky, this is a terrific account of what L.B. Taylor writes about, and of the interest in ghosts in Franklin County.

I will always remember the day at The Grove when Karen identified Margaret Hale (our Blue Lady ghost) and you then took a photo that had a blue orb in it, right where she was standing. Ooooooh....

The photos you add to your comments are great and should attract readers to our area. I read your blog daily, to find out about things in this area and conferences you attend.

Good work!

10:45 AM  
Blogger Amy Hanek said...

I enjoyed meeting Mr. Taylor very much too! What a great opportunity it was. I just wish I would have had time to stay longer.

I didn't know Karen was there. I have talked with her on the phone and online, but never met her. I would have loved to have met her face to face!

5:48 PM  
Blogger Amy Tate said...

Becky that is the most detailed ghost photo I've EVER seen. Just looking at it gave me chills. Shannon and I vacation down at Emerald Isle, NC and last year we visited the town's oldest cemetery that dates back to the 1700s. The gravestones are beautiful and it was creepy. Shannon bought a picture of the ocean at Halloween, and there is a perfect "ghost ship" image floating a top of the water. It hangs in his office, next time your over this way I'll show it to you. Great post! I look forward to hearing more from you about this!!!!

5:54 PM  

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