Tales of the supernatural have pervaded every culture across the globe, because as humans, we have a fascination with the mysteries of death and what lies beyond. Though the supernatural is often met with skepticism, a good ghost story still causes you to take an extra look around the corner or get a little nervous when walking through a graveyard. Ghost stories do more than just scare you—they force you to question your own reality. But where do these stories come from? Thanks to the American south’s vibrant tradition in storytelling, southern lore is fraught with tales of long-dead relatives, vengeful haints, and mischievous spirits.
William Lynwood Montell’s Tales of Kentucky Ghosts, now available in paperback, combines more than 270 stories collected from across the state. He combed through university archives and interviewed countless individuals to provide a comprehensive look at regional legend and lore. Although designed primarily to frighten and entertain readers, the stories are also valuable in preserving traditional beliefs and practices, as many have been passed down for generations. While conducting his research for this collection, he visited over seventy Kentucky counties, providing readers with a broad look at storytelling across the Bluegrass. When viewed as a whole, readers can see both the common trends present in the stories as well as their regional differences.
The stories range from scary to comical and come from all corners of the state. Clyde Childers of Lawrence County tells the tale of a murdered woman whose spirit possesses the power to change the course of a river, and Brandon Pierce of Bracken County recounts the story of a grandmother who was murdered by a group of children and now haunts a tunnel. On a more lighthearted note, Ralph Morris tells the story of his sister-in-law’s encounter with a “foot-tickling” ghost, and Danny R. Clark of Allen County describes his cousin’s experience with an elderly-looking spirit with an affinity for hats.
Montell’s extensive research has provided readers with a comprehensive look at Kentucky legend and the state’s rich oral history, presenting a rapid-fire sampling of some the best ghost stories the Commonwealth has to offer. Tales of Kentucky Ghosts is sure to both entertain and chill its readers while also allowing them to consider their own supernatural heritage.
Here’s an excerpt from Tales of Kentucky Ghosts:
“Girl’s Ghost” – Jefferson County
There was a man that went to a party and met a girl who was quite pale. He danced with her and found out she was quite cold. He then gave her his coat and took her home and kissed her. He forgot that he gave her his coat, so he went back the next day and asked where she was.
Her mother said her daughter had been dead for a few years. He then told her mother that he had given the girl his coat. The mother told him that he would find his coat on her grave.
He went to the graveyard and did find his coat on the girl’s grave. Her mother said that her daughter’s ghost always ventures around on her birthday.
Told by Jan Waddel to David Rivers, December 1969. Courtesy of Folklife Archives at Kentucky Library, Western Kentucky University