Dispatches from Sleepy Hollow: A Case of the “Crocktober” Creeps
Gray clouds roll endlessly behind dismal looking mountain crags in the distance. The last colors of autumn cling to the skeletal trees overlooking a nearby swamp, and rain begins to fall across the dark landscape of the valley. In short, it’s a perfect setting for a dark and weary tale of woeful weirdness.
And yet, while the description I’ve given you here may indeed sound like something from a 1960s horror flick produced by the Hammer Films company, what I’ve detailed is really the otherwise beautiful valley just outside Gralien Manor, here at our Southern command in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains. Pepper the sky with a little rain, a nice, dark overcast of clouds, and a whistling wind skirting across the mountaintops, and we suddenly have a nice setting for a creepy Crocktober tale.
What, pray tell, is “Crocktober,” you might ask? It’s really quite simple: all month long, the Gralien gang and I have been celebrating the creepier aspects of existence, leading up to Halloween at the end of the month. So while we’re getting in the mood for getting our Creep on, I thought it might be prudent to break from the traditional UFO oriented blogging I provide for folks here at Mysterious Universe in favor of sharing some of my own favorite creepy stories with you, our dear readers.
When I was growing up, my younger brother and I were always very entertained by ghost stories our mother would tell us. Among them, there was one in particular that always fascinated us: the story of Helen’s Bridge, a strange old bridge that formed part of the remnant of an old road along the top of Beaucatcher Mountain, overlooking our hometown of Asheville, North Carolina. The old bridge had gotten it’s name from a peculiar story associated with the site; many claimed that the ghost of a woman still haunts the location to this very day.
The legend goes something like this: Helen had been a mistress of sorts to a wealthy man who had moved into the Asheville area named Phillip S. Henry, and now owned a beautiful castle home, nestled high above the town near the summit of Beaucatcher Mountain, known as Zealandia. Helen, while staying with Henry at the mansion, would often have her daughter along, who would run and play along the grounds, and enjoyed visiting with the horses kept in a stable near the center of the large residence.
As the story goes, Helen’s daughter had been visiting these stables when a fire broke out within. Against the stone walls of Zelandia castle, the fire managed to do little harm; but all within the stable itself was destroyed, including Helen’s poor daughter.
Distraught upon learning of her daughter’s death, Helen gathered a long length of rope, and committed suicide by hanging herself from the base of the bridge. Thus, the legend states that on cool, foggy evenings, one can sometimes see Helen’s spirit wandering along the winding mountain road near the infamous bridge. Tales of those passing by who have stopped to ask if she were in some kind of trouble are met only with a blank stare from the pensive apparition, along with a question: have you seen my daughter?
Like many urban legends of this sort, there are even games associated with the famous apparition: locals in the region will tell you that in order to make Helen’s spirit manifest, one need only to park their car directly under the bridge, and invoke the deceased spirit by chanting, “Helen come forth” three times. But interestingly, while every town has its variations on such legends, there are also a number of stories shared by credible witnesses that involve the allegedly haunted locale, describing strange, inexplicable occurrences at the lonely bridge.
Some time around 1976, Mitchell Buckner, a native of the Leicester area just beyond the Asheville city limits, claimed he had been driving over the mountain on (you guessed it) a dark, misty night. The moonlight was bright; almost bright enough to outshine his headlights, and Buckner had been driving the narrow, twisting road that leads from nearby Tunnel Road over the top of Beaucatcher Mountain. Just as he came around the curve that would set him directly beneath Helen’s Bridge, he began to get a strange feeling, but ignored it his odd premonition, and continued along anyway. Just as he rounded the corner, immediately as he passed under the famous bridge, the lights on his car went dead. “I couldn’t see a thing,” Buckner told me several decades after the incident. “I just steered along in the moonlight, hoping my lights would come back on.” By the time he had made his way down the opposite side of the mountain and back into town, the headlights came back on, as though now unaffected by the odd influence of whatever had been lingering near the bridge.
Could it be that there actually is a ghost at Helen’s Bridge? On the other hand, could it be instead that a legend was woven around the area, based on strange encounters folks had described having, much like Mitchell Buckner’s dark drive down Beaucatcher Mountain? Who knows what really might be occurring… but regardless, it makes for nice fodder for creepy tales to be told around the hallowed month of “Crocktober.”