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Growing up out Proctor: UFOs and Ghosts

By Gary Eller - | Aug 4, 2021

All my life I have hoped to see a ghost, sasquatch, mothman, Flatwoods Monster, or unidentified flying object. I’ve never seen any of these things. Perhaps they don’t like to show themselves to a professional scientist. While West Virginia is a well-known hot spot for paranormal sightings, I don’t know of any good examples out Proctor. However, two bizarre events happened not far down river from Proctor, as discussed below. The stories seemed to call for songs to be written and performed by someone who grew up in the region, albeit long after the events occurred. And so, I wrote songs. We’ll dedicate them to the under-reported bizarre entities out Proctor.

The Sistersville Airship.

On the evening of April 19, 1897, a mysterious airship was sighted by many people over Sistersville, about twenty miles down Ohio River from Proctor. This was one of many similar sightings reported from California to Ohio in the spring of 1897. At the time, powered airships were unknown, which of course greatly added to the mystery. The Sistersville event was reported in newspapers as far away as New York City. Articles in Flying Saucer Review, UFO Encyclopedia, and four books describe the Sistersville phenomenon in detail. No good explanation of these sightings has ever been offered. My song alludes to one possible contributing factor (“I swear we weren’t drinkin’ that night in Sistersville….”).

Johnny Gambles Ghost. Gambles Run is located just east of Paden City on the Wetzel/Tyler county line, about ten miles downriver from Proctor. One of West Virginia’s most famous murder story, ghost story, and trial involving a namesake of this small creek resulted from events that occurred in the summer and fall of 1853. The story was reported at length in the St. Paul Globe (Minnesota) newspaper with differing details in John C. McEldowney’s History of Wetzel County (1901).

One evening in late summer of 1853, Johnny Gamble was returning to his home near Paden City with his friend Lem Mercer after a day of drinking in New Martinsville. Gamble was said to be carrying a substantial amount of money after selling some property. Mercer said that along the way he split off from Gamble to go to his own home. Gamble never arrived at his home and a search was enacted. Two weeks later, his body was found twenty miles downriver.

A few months later, after a corn husking that involved “kissing and cider drinking,” some boys had a contest to see who could travel the several miles to New Martinsville the fastest. The last to arrive was to buy a gallon of whiskey to share with the others. Near the place where Gamble and Mercer had separated several months before, John Hineman got separated from the other boys. There he encountered a robed entity who identified himself as Johnny Gamble’s spirit and named Lem Mercer as his assassin.

Mercer was brought to trial and pled not guilty for the murder of Gamble. In one account, the ghost, being the only eyewitness to the murder, was called to testify at the trial. When Gamble’s ghost failed to appear, he was held in contempt of court and the murder case was dismissed for lack of evidence.

What really happened back in 1853? We’ll leave it to the reader to ponder.