By Paula R. Stiles
Kinney, Pamela K. Haunted Virginia: Legends, Myths and True Tales. Atglen (PA): Schiffer Publishing, Ltd., 2009. 256 pp. $1499. ISBN: 978-0-7643-3281-4.
On this last day of Paranormal Week (All Soul’s Day), we review one more collection of regional legends. Haunted Virginia is a collection of spooky tales about the state of Virginia. There are 48 stories (or themes, as some chapters include more than one story if those are mere anecdotes), as well as a foreward, introduction, conclusion, bibliography, and index (indices make me happy, they do). Stories are arranged thematically rather than chronologically or (apparently) by county or region, though some themes bleed into several chapters (witches, for example, have their own chapter, but also appear in tales like those of the Wampus Cat). Unlike some books, this collection focuses as much on tales of monsters as of ghosts. There are the aforementioned Wampus Cat, werewolves, vampires, devil monkeys (yes, monkeys), the Mothman and the Bunnyman, among others. In fact, quite a lot of the myths and legends are devoted to monsters, both supernatural and cryptozoological. Each section covers a specific subject (or even a single legend if it’s long enough). Many of the chapters are only two pages long, so the book is a quick read despite being fairly long.
Some of these legends aren’t very old at all (the Bunnyman and the Mothman, for example), while others are centuries old (Pocahontas). Some of them (as with the section on the ponies of Assateague) aren’t supernatural in either origin nor content. There is even a chapter on urban legends (think poodle in a microwave).
Some chapters are devoted to specific people (like George Washington) while others are about groups (African-Americans, Native Americans) and still others are about time periods (the Civil War, for fairly obvious reasons). And, of course, there is a section on witches. New England wasn’t the only place in the 13 Colonies that had witch trials or paranoia. Stories about the Devil in different forms also crop up. The Devil may have gone down to Georgia according to Charlie Daniels, but according to Kinney’s sources, he’s more wont to hang around Virginia.
You get your usual collection of haunted houses, inns, paintings, and such. There’s an interesting and creepy chapter early on about fireballs and orbs. Haunted roads are also very common. Quite a few lovelorn young ladies show up in houses or graveyards (some of them coming back all the way from England to haunt in Virginia). The wealth of ghost stories may have something to do with the varied and extensive European history of Virginia. Not that Native Americans in the area didn’t have their own mythologies and stories (some of them recounted in the book), but many of them simply don’t survive – or do so only in a version distorted by later European storytellers.
The history also influences the general nature of the legends and where they occur, of course. For example, you get a fair number of haunted battlefields because Virginia was a major field of operations during the Civil War. Perhaps more surprisingly (though only if you don’t know how far back Virginia history goes), there are quite a few stories dating to the Revolutionary War era. Many of these involve feuds or lost love – or treasure. The Revolutionary War divided families as much as the Civil War did, if not more so. Many Loyalists left for England, either voluntarily or under duress, and this has led to legends of couples and families seeking each other in death after being separated in life.
Some of these stories are really thin and lacking in detail. I would have liked to have got more background information on where and whom they came from. On the other hand, the inclusion of the vaguer, lesser-known stories did increase the variety of material and liven things up a lot by not retelling just the same old chestnuts . And being honest about the lack of detail is better for other researchers, even if it can be a fairly unsatisfying read for a casual audience.
There are photos throughout the book, most of them apparently from Kinney’s own collection. She also appears to have visited the sites herself (and recounts a few supernatural experiences of her own). One photo (of a grave of a husband and wife) even debunks a legend that a tree divides them in death. Kinney doesn’t shrink from telling a good tale, but if she finds historical or eyewitness evidence that debunks it, she includes that, too.
The range of stories reflects the widespread geography of Virginia. The state may not be as large as some western states, but it encompasses both mountains and seashore, as well as some large and venerable cities. It’s an extensive collection, more so than a lot of other ghost books. Check it out and dig in for those long, spooky winter nights.