Macabre Tales from Tyler County
SISTERSVILLE – Being that it’s that time of year again when the shadows grow longer, Tyler County has its own macabre and mysterious stories and legends.
Before we get rolling down this creepy path, credit is due to a trio of local historians for sharing these tales Eli Henthorn, Richard Neff and Gene Bell.
Where do we begin? Key up Vincent Price’s laugh from the music video “Thriller”.
Bell tells the disturbing though tragic tale that involves the death of a child in the late 1800s or early 1900s. A young boy succumbed to virus or disease, maybe tuberculosis, and was “buried?” as such in a family crypt somewhere by the border near Tyler and Pleasants counties. The parents were heartbroken, as any parent would be, so the boy was entombed in an air tight glass coffin inside the crypt so that he could be viewed by the family. Grief can be an all too powerful force, so the boy was embalmed and laid to rest much like when USSR leader Vladimir Lenin’s body was mummified so that it could be put on display in the Red Square Mausoleum.
The boy’s place in the family crypt was set up to resemble his own room when he was among the living. Perhaps the family adopted an Egyptian mindset as with the burial of a pharaoh where the deceased was laid to rest with all his worldly possessions so that he could play with them in the afterlife.
However, the parents may have had trouble accepting what happened, so the room was arranged not so much for the boy, but for them to visit and recall memories of him as they grieved. There was a rocking chair where his mom or dad may have sat on long sleepless nights wondering about the child’s mortality. In those days, people had more respect for the dead, so the crypt was open for many years. As time passed, curious children went inside the crypt and even played with the boy’s toys.
Bell said the crypt has long since disappeared and no one is even quite certain where it is located anymore.
Another tale of woe comes from a tragic fire that killed an entire family. The details behind how the fire started more than 70 years ago are murky. Due to oil or gas spill and a fire from the family’s stove, something triggered a big explosion one morning at a house in a valley long since forgotten. The family, which included a few children, died soon after the fire. The community came together to bury the family. Five tombstones rest side by side in a small cemetery that still exists deep in the woods.
Nearby, there is a long abandoned church perched on a hillside overlooking several fields.
Many places on the frontier had churches that have long since faded into dust. An icy wind rips through the church’s sanctuary on foggy mornings.
Bell said he attended many funerals there long ago. He recalled how the church’s main entrance had a set of doors that allowed parishioners to enter, view the body, and then exit from the other door. There is a small cemetery filled with tombstones that date from late 1800s. Some grave markers are more recent than others, but only when considering how time has no meaning to the dead.
Somewhere in that neck of the woods, a young couple is buried. Bell said when the wife died, her husband visited her grave daily for a year. When the first anniversary of her death rolled around, the man was so grief stricken that he committed suicide so he could be with his wife in the afterlife.
Hidden deep within the woods a ways past Friendly, there was a plantation and small village along the river, Henthorn and Neff said. Except for a few stone steps that open out into W.Va. 2, nothing remains of the manor home and the village has long since vanished. However, two separate cemeteries one for the family and the other for slaves remain deep in the brush and surrounded by trees such that these burial grounds will remain locked in time far from prying eyes.
Long before the pioneers, Native Americans lived in Tyler County. One of ancient America’s largest, and most mysterious earthworks was discovered by explorers and early settlers upon reaching Tyler County, according to Henthorn and Tyler Star News archives. The earthwork complex, which extended from Long Reach to Bens Run, is difficult to spot from ground level, but careful examination of aerial views still gives a hint of the extent of the massive complex. The length of this great enclosure’s interior surrounding wall was about 1.8 miles from the north end to the south end. The enclosure also had an outer wall oval measuring about 4.5 miles. The second or inner wall ran parallel to the outer wall oval and was 4.25 miles in length.
If one could take these earthen walls and straighten them out and attach them end to end, it would make a single earthen wall of at least 8.5 miles in length. The authors of the 1927 survey judged the height of one of the walls, or embankments of the fortification, could have been 10-to 12-feet high.
On that note, Tyler County was home to the Adena Indians – known for the grave mounds and relics.
Noted author Susan Doll said in the area around Little Sancho in the 1940s, there were some kids doing what kids used to do, which is search for indian artifacts, arrowheads and more. During their search, the boys came across a shadowy area when they felt a cold breeze. A mist that was as tall a person formed in front of the boys. The mist was drifting up and down, she said.
“The boys were shocked at first, so they decided to leave,” Doll said in an interview around fright time last year. “Maybe it was a manifestation that wanted to prevent them taking artifacts from an indian burial ground – a warning spirit.”
One last ghost story involves a Confederate officer who is buried in Williams Cemetery in Wetzel County.
The man’s name is Robert McEldowney, who was born and raised in New Martinsville, and educated at Marietta College, Doll said. Though West Virginia would eventually join the Union, McEldowney’s home was a part of Virginia when the Civil War broke out. Like many, McEldowney had a choice to make in a war that split not only the nation, but Virginia; he chose the Confederacy.
McEldowney was a captain in the Shriver Grays, which served with General Stonewall Jackson’s formidable forces. He fought in major battles in places such as Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, Doll said. McEldowney was wounded three times with his last injury occurring in 1864. That injury, she said, kept him from the fighting in the war’s final days.
McEldowney survived the war, Doll said, and went onto a career with the B&O Railroad and later as a lawyer in New Martinsville. In 1879, McEldowney took charge of the Wetzel Democrat, a forerunner of today’s Wetzel Chronicle. He was an active civic leader who served in the state legislature.
More than 35 years or so after the Civil War ended, McEldowney died in 1900 at the ripe old age of 63 from cancer of the tongue, according to the “History of Wetzel County.”
“Thus ended a life of usefulness, which was shortened by that dread affliction,” the book said.
People have reported seeing his ghost in the old cemetery for years. He wears period clothing, not his Confederate uniform.
“It is like he is lingering there – like he doesn’t want to go,” Doll said.