Appalachian Urban Legends: The Scary Truth?

By: JoAnn Snavely

This fall, I will be attending Appalachian State University in Boone, NC. Nestled within the beautiful Appalachian mountains, it seems like the perfect place to be. Or is it?

Recently, I’ve come to find myself acquainted with the scary stories and urban lore hidden under Appalachia’s pristine exterior. Although it may be too late to revoke my enrollment and save myself, I figured I could save a few innocent souls from the seemingly treacherous past of these hills.. 

This week, I decided to put my best conspiracy theory goggles on and investigate whether or not all of the scary stories behind Appalachian lore are just scary stories we tell in the dark, or reasons we shouldn’t go out in the dark.

Let me preface this by explaining that many of these theories are simply that: theories. Very few (if any) are rooted in the truth. I am not a professional and these are simply my opinions on the urban legends. Also, I love Appalachian State, for it is a great school (Roll Neers’). 

The “Ghost Train” of Bostian Bridge

This specific story is one I am quite familiar with. Growing up, I found that my parents took different approaches to bedtime stories. For my mom, it was fairy tales about happy little children whereas my dad would scare us to sleep. I grew up hearing my father read excerpts from a book about the ghosts and hauntings in North Carolina, and this one always scared me the most. 

In the summer of 1891, a train loaded up with a route set to Asheville. Around 3:00 am, the train approached the Bostian Bridge in Statesville, NC where the train plummeted into a nearby creek. 22 passengers were declared dead due to drowning and the cause of the wreck is still unknown. 

As the legend goes, exactly 50 years later (to the day), a woman waited alongside a road parallel to the Bostian Bridge due to car troubles. Before leaving that afternoon, she heard train whistles and is said to have witnessed the train rushing through the trees before plummeting into the same creek that it did 50 years prior.

This story doesn’t end there though; almost 70 years later, the story was still prevalent and the unsolved nature of this mystery inclined a few amateur ghost hunters to explore the bridge. At 3:00 am, around the same time as the original ghost sighting, a train approached the Bostian Bridge. With the hunters believing the train was the aforementioned ghost train, they stayed on the tracks before quite literally being hit by a real train, out of the 12 hunters, 1 died, and 2 were injured.


It is very obvious that the train accident itself did occur. But, it is unclear if what occurred 50 years later did. I, however, was raised by a true ghost believer, so I believe that there is a high chance that the woman did encounter a ghost train. Obviously, the 2010 tragedy certainly occurred, and I think this is a blaring reminder that if you are not a trained professional, please do not go and investigate in places you can die, especially without thoroughly researching beforehand. Surely that death and those injuries could have been avoided if the ghost hunters simply searched train schedules before heading out to go ghost hunting.

The Bell Witch Haunting

The Bell Witch Hauntings began when John Bell, his wife Lucy Bell, and their children moved from North Carolina to present-day Adams, Tennessee. One gruesome day in 1817, John Bell would discover a horrifying animal that was said to have the body of a dog with the head of a rabbit. From there, the Bell family would find themselves the victims of strange “hauntings”. The family claimed to hear knocking outside of their home–at all hours of the night–and whenever the Bell family attempted to investigate, they came up empty-handed. 

Whatever entity was haunting them shortly began to harass the family inside their home, as the Bell children found their covers and pillows being yanked and thrown at them with no explanation. Eventually, the hauntings were taken to a new extreme when the Bell Witch seemingly developed a voice. The family began hearing faint whispering from what seemed to be an older lady. 

Eventually, The Bell’s daughter would receive the brunt of the hauntings as she began to find her hair pulled, body harmed, and wet fingerprints lingering after the hauntings. After the Bell family shared the hauntings with their neighbor James Johnston, the Bell Witch would finally strike someone outside of the beloved Bell family. The Bell witch haunted Mr. Johnston upon arrival and continued to haunt other visitors– including Andrew Jackson’s “entourage”.

Three years after the hauntings began, John Bell took his final breath, and the Bell Witch left shortly after. The witch was said to have returned multiple times after then and even today you can visit the supposed Bell Witch cave in Adams, Tennessee where it is said you can find remnants of the Bell Witch’s hauntings. 

This haunting was also the inspiration for multiple different horror films and television productions like The Blair Witch Project, Bell Witch Haunting, and multiple other books, episodic installments, and more. 


I think this story may have been rooted in truth. Maybe there were a few supernatural sightings that occurred in the early 1800s; in fact, I will go as far as to say that I believe most things leading up to John Bell’s death occurred. I do not think the repeat hauntings occurred, and am quite skeptical that the current-day lore is true. Perhaps I just need to check the Bell Witch cave out and witness her hauntings for myself.


Now, moving upwards towards West Virginia, you will find the home for the original Mothman sightings. In November of 1966, an article on the Point Pleasant Register was published with the title “Couples See Man-Sized Bird … Creature … Something”. This article depicted a spotting of a man-sized bird that was seen at a local park. On a double date, Roger and Linda Scarberry, and Steve and Mary Mallette stumbled upon a creature with glowing red eyes, the ‘creature’ was also described as a slender, muscular man, who was around 7-feet tall with white wings. The couple fled from the scene immediately before being reportedly attacked by the bird-like creature and chased outside of Point Pleasant. 

Following the initial sighting, there were multiple other sightings reported across multiple different sources in the Point Pleasant area.

The name ‘Mothman’ stemmed from the Batman villain, Killer Moth, who had a similar description and was depicted with similar characteristics.

Since then, the Mothman has been connected to military bases, UFO’s, and other things. Many sightings still occur to this day with over 55 sightings reported in 2017.


I don’t know, maybe the Mothman will come and get me or something scary, but I’m not a huge UFO believer. I think the idea that the Mothman was formed in some sort of military experiment gone wrong justfeels more like the killer clown scares in 2017; it’s just the result of mass hysteria. So, in short, I do think the Mothman urban legend is simply a legend, but it will surely keep a kid from misbehaving.

The Flatwoods Monster

The Flatwoods Monster has been haunting good ol’ West Virginia since 1952. This would occur when brothers Edward and Fred May and their friend Tommy Hyer witnessed a bright, unidentified object fly through the sky before landing on a local farmland. The three boys teamed up with Kathleen May to search for the aforementioned UFO. Instead of being the first-ever people to witness aliens, they were witnesses to a tall man-like figure with a round, red face who wore a pointed hood. There were multiple other sightings of the Flatwoods Monster, and it said that he still haunts West Virginia to this day.


I think this legend reads eerily similar to that of Mothman, and ironically, they occurred around the same time in the same state. There has also been a good bit of research done confirming that the bright UFO the boys “witnessed” in 1952 was likely a meteor, and that the “monster” was just a barn owl. So not only has it been debunked, but it just doesn’t feel like the most realistic of the other urban legends. Although, if it is true, I was never a doubter. I am so scared of extraterrestrial life.

The Man, the Myth, the Legend: Bigfoot

I’m not really gonna go in-depth about the beloved mountain lurker Bigfoot. Over the past few decades, sightings of a fuzzy bear-like creature have been spotted in the woods of the Appalachian Mountains. He is one of the most iconic stories behind the Appalachian mountains. With his popularity, Bigfoot has been hotly debated over the years with strong arguments on both sides. Bigfoot is also one of the few urban legends in which there is “photographic” evidence of his existence.


Who knows, maybe Bigfoot is a bear. Maybe he is just a figment of a few mountain people drunk off of moonshine’s imagination. However, I personally choose to acknowledge Bigfoot as fact. Maybe it’s because I believe in urban legends, but most of it is because in my heart I really want that fuzzy monster to be real. So, yes, I believe in Bigfoot, and no, I will not be accepting further questions.

Appalachian Superstitions

Now that we know a few of the horrifying urban legends that have happened in the Appalachian Mountains, let’s talk about some classic Appalachian superstitions that are prevalent so you can keep yourself safe from the many scary facts and fictions of the area.

  1. Never close a knife you didn’t open, or you’ll have bad luck for 7 years.
  2. Keep a penny in your washer.
  3. Don’t wash clothes on New Year’s Day or you will wash a family member out.
  4. Don’t walk under a ladder. If you find yourself under one, don’t turn around–back up.
  5. Don’t let anyone sweep under your feet.
  6. If a bad storm is coming, put a 2-edged axe into a stump facing the storm to ensure the storm goes around you.
  7. Don’t cut your baby’s hair before their first birthday.
  8. Don’t let a pregnant woman see a dead person or the baby will have a birthmark.
  9. Hold your breath when you pass a cemetery, or you’ll be the next to die.
  10. If you’re walking with someone you have to go on the same side of a post or obstacle, or it will break your friendship.
  11. Never leave a rocking chair rocking, or you will invite spirits.

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