The haunting season is upon us, and for those of you who love tales of mystery, scary points of interest, and hauntingly historic places, Haywood County is the place for you. While many destinations have their own spooky tales, Haywood County has several curious tales of its own that are sure you pique your interest. And you never know where these tales may take you – perhaps enjoying local brew in the company of a mysterious legend, coming face to face with the Judaculla, or on a late night stroll among the final resting place of some of Haywood County’s most historic residents. Photo above – Stephanie Williamson
The Tale of the Boojum
It is that time of year again – where the days get darker and the mountains become just a bit more eerie with each passing sunset. Halloween is coming soon, and if you’ve followed our blog for a while, you know there is one Haywood County tall tale we share every year: The Legend of the Boojum. You may have heard this name more frequently, thanks to Waynesville’s popular craft microbrewery, Boojum Brewing. The brewery was named after our favorite local legend, the Boojum. So without further ado, I give you the story of our own mystic mountain creature…
Have you ever hiked deep into the North Carolina Smokies and gotten the distinct feeling that something was watching you? And were you certain you saw something out of the corner of your eye, only to find it was just the rustling of dead leaves on a tree? But wait: was it only the leaves…or was it something else? These old mountains hold a story that very few know of and even fewer have witnessed: The Legend of Boojum. Since the Halloween season is here and many of you are making plans to venture deep into the North Carolina Smokies for one last Fall hike, it’s only fitting that I share this piece of Haywood County folklore with you.
We’ve all heard of Bigfoot sightings throughout the United States and seen the supposed pictures and video footage, but little did you know that we have a similar being roaming about the Balsam Mountains of Haywood County. One might say the Boojum is similar to the Abominable Snowman of the Himalayans or the Wampas Cat in the swamps of Eastern North Carolina. But Boojum is a unique creature of his own and Haywood County is his home. Though no one has actually gotten close enough to clearly describe him, its said he is around eight feet tall and mixture of both man and beast. He has thick, shaggy gray hair and a human like face, but is by no means handsome. He is mostly seen from afar on rocky mountain cliffs or outcroppings when twilight falls, and can sometimes be heard moaning deep in the woods near hiking trails. As previously mentioned, Boojum’s home is said to be in the Balsam Mountains, a range that adjoins the Blue Ridge Mountains in southwestern Haywood County. Most folks recognize the Balsams by the notable peaks of Cold Mountain, Shining Rock, Richland Balsam, and Black Balsam Knob. While I don’t recommend going on a quest to find Boojum as he may be be quite frightening to stumble upon, he is apparently harmless unless threatened.
Boojum is best known by his two great loves: a fondness of pretty girls and his desire for the precious gemstones found throughout Western North Carolina, like rubies, amethysts, emeralds, and sapphires. It is said that in the early 1900’s, it was not uncommon for women bathing in secluded mountain streams to find they were being watched by Boojum from beneath the camouflage of mountain laurels or rhododendron bushes. The startled women would quickly grab their belongings and run away. This often conjured up an angry pack of men from the surrounding area to hunt the Boojum down, but never was he caught. He most surely retreated to one of his many hidden caves in the Balsams, where he lived and hoarded his collection of gemstones.
Though it is rare for anyone to find his caves, he has created a unique way of protecting his jewels by storing them at the bottom of stone jugs. He then fills the jugs with”pert’nin juice,” or what is most commonly known as moonshine. Even if a gem seeker should happen to find one of his many jugs, no self-respecting mountaineer would dare waste this coveted liquid by pouring it on the ground. They would drink the contents until empty, which would then be followed by a long, deep sleep. Boojum would return in the meantime and retrieve his gems, leaving the thief with nothing but a splitting headache when he awoke.
Now, it is also said that Boojum was not as lonely of a soul as many thought him to be. There is the story of Boojum peering down at a beautiful local girl named Annie while she was bathing in a mountain stream, but she did not run away when she noticed him watching her. Rather than taking off, she looked into his sad eyes and was instantly drawn to him. She immediately fell in love and to her family’s dismay, chose a life with Boojum among the caves of the Balsams. Though the two loved each other deeply, Boojum could not put aside his love for precious gemstones and would often leave Annie for extended periods of time in search of jewels. Lonely Annie would often search the woods for Boojum by hollering out a sound that is described as a mixture of a wild animal screech and the hoot of an owl. Boojum would often return the call and they would continue to follow each others’ sounds until they were reunited. It is said that this hooting sound is where the old mountain term “Hootenanny” came from, which is used to describe a party or social gathering.
The legend of Boojum is no doubt a mysterious piece of Haywood County folklore, but is it only a story? To this day, there are still tales of a tall shaggy creature roaming the Balsam Mountains. So could it be that Annie and Boojum had children? We may never know, but next time you are deep in the woods of Haywood County and hear a screech you can’t quite describe or you feel an eerie sense when taking a dip in a local stream, you may just be in the presence of the Boojum. And remember, don’t drink the pert’nin juice!
Credits: Oral stories and tales from Canton and Camp Hope; “Boojum, North Carolina’s Bigfoot”, North Carolina Ghost Stories and Legends; “Bigfoot of the Balsams”, Mountain Ghost Stories and Curious Tales of Western North Carolina, by Randy Russell and Janet Barnette. “Boojum of the Plott Balsams” by John Parris.
Visit the Scariest Sounding Points on the Blue Ridge Parkway
They may sound scary, but don’t let the names fool you. Located within just a few miles of each other on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Haywood County, Devil’s Courthouse and Graveyard Fields are anything but a spooky experience.
Located at milepost 422, Devils Courthouse is believed to take its name from both its sinister rock formations and the legend that the devil held court in the cave that lies beneath the rock. Local Cherokee lore believes the cave is the private chamber of the slant-eyed giant, Judaculla. A short, 200-minute uphill hike will take you to the overlook summit at 5,720 feet, where you will find some of the most long-range scenic views on the parkway, including views of South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee.
Located just north at milepost 418 is Graveyard Fields, which is surrounded by much speculation on how its name came to be. One belief is it developed from a tremendous windstorm that uprooted the spruce forest that left behind stumps that gave the area the appearance of a graveyard. Another theory believes that logging in the early 20th century left tree stumps resembling gravestones. However, due to massive forest fires in the last century, the stumps were destroyed and the soil scorched enough to render it sterile. Despite this, it remains one of the most popular hiking areas on the parkway due to easily accessible waterfall features and incredible flora and fauna, including abundant blackberry, gooseberry and blueberry bushes throughout. Check out our Blue Ridge Parkway page for help planning your trip.
Haywood’s Historic Cemeteries
It’s no secret that Haywood County is rich in homegrown mountain history. Established in 1808, the county has a history story over 200 years in the making. The area is home to generations of families that settled the area and planted ties that still exist today. Many visitors are drawn to the area just to explore its deep rooted history, but there are some particular places that are often overlooked on their quest for knowledge: the historic cemeteries of Haywood County. Though the area has many notable final resting places, there are three in particular that have quite a story to tell: Bethel Cemetery, Greenhill Cemetery, and Locust Fields Cemetery.
Established 1854, the site is located on a sprawling hill within the Bethel community, which lies at the foot of Cold Mountain between Canton and Waynesville. While it is the final resting place for many generations of Haywood County, the most famous grave-site is often the most overlooked, due to the unmarked grave. William Pinkney Inman, better known as “Inman”, was the inspiration for Charles Frazier’s novel, Cold Mountain, which was later made into a major motion picture starring actor Jude Law as Inman. His simple resting place can be found a top the hill but due to the lack of a headstone, the location is identified only by the gravestones of his parents, Joshua and Polly Inman. His burial site is said to be the unmarked area located in front of his parents. This area is also the final resting place of Inman’s fellow soldier and friend, Johnny Swanger. It is said that he is buried right next to Inman, so it’s difficult to designate where each man lies. In 1864, they were both shot down together on Big Stomp Mountain by the Home Guard as deserters of the Civil War. Inman’s father retrieved their bodies and had them buried in Bethel Cemetery. Unfortunately, due to their deserter status, they did not receive the same burial honors as other soldiers of the Confederacy. This site is one of many that has been researched and included on the self-guided Cold Mountain Heritage Tour sponsored by the Bethel Rural Community Organization. For more information visit www.bethelrural.org.
Located just off of South Main Street in downtown Waynesville, this peaceful section of wooded area and rolling hills is the final resting place to some of Haywood County’s most notable citizens. The founder of Waynesville and revolutionary war hero, Colonel James Robert Love, is buried atop the highest hill. Colonel Love donated the land Waynesville was founded on and named it after his commanding officer in the war, General “Mad” Anthony Wayne. Not far from Colonel Love is the grave-site of William Holland Thomas, who was not only the first and only white chief of the Cherokee Indians, but the founder of Thomas’s Legion, the only North Carolina Legion during the Civil War. This has earned the cemetery a spot on the North Carolina Civil Wars Trail and is designated by an informational post at the cemetery entrance.
Thomas’s Legion consisted of both Cherokee and local mountaineers known as “highlanders,” which earned the legion the notorious nickname of the “Highlander Rangers.” The Legion fought in Tennessee, Virginia, and Kentucky and many served in the final engagements of the war in North Carolina that took place in Waynesville and Asheville. Also buried in this cemetery is Atlas Jennings Allen, bugler for General Robert E. Lee, five US Senators and Congressmen, and President John F. Kennedy’s personal chauffeur, William Greer, who was behind the wheel of the limousine the day of Kennedy’s deadly assassination.
Locust Field Cemetery
The cemetery was established 1803, when Locust Field Baptist Church was first built, making it one of the first churches established west of Asheville. The cemetery sits quietly on a plot of rolling hills across from the Canton Public Library and just a short stroll from downtown Canton. Locust Fields is also featured as a point of interest on the North Carolina Civil Wars Trail, which is designated by an informational post near one of the entrances. The cemetery and church served as a campground and rallying point throughout the war for Confederate soldiers. After the Confederacy lost control at the battle of Cumberland Gap in September 1863, hundreds of soldiers that were part of the 62nd NC Infantry escaped and set up refuge at Locust Fields. During the winter of 1864 – 1865, the cemetery became a Confederate encampment again for Colonel James Robert Love II (grandson of the founder of Waynesville, Colonel James Robert Love) and six companies of Thomas’s Legion. These soldiers took part in some of the last fights of the war in spring of 1865. Dozens of Confederate soldiers are buried in Locust Fields.