Photo by Corrine Baker – Original painting by Cordon Bell
The Legend 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 almost here 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 adieu, 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 as if 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 such as 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, do not 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.