Friday, October 30, 2015

Arkansas History's Mysteries - Ghost Hollow

In northwestern Arkansas, near Fayetteville, there is a lonesome valley -- a hollow, or as some in the region call it, a “holler”.  The story goes that in the early 1850s a couple from Fort Smith decided to settle in the area after they married.  The area is steeped in the history of Arkansas.  A hill near the hollow is where the Native American Sequoyah invented the Cherokee alphabet.  According to the story, on the night of their wedding, the couple were settling into their new home, a modest log cabin.  The young woman walked over to the dying fire and stirred the coals hoping to warm herself in the late autumn evening.  As she poked at the fire, a spark leapt onto her wedding dressing and instantly ignited.  Horrified, and apparently forgetting the old “stop, drop, and roll” technique, she ran from the cabin off into the hollow.  The next morning, the young groom found his bride burned to a crisp.  Since this horrific accident, people have reported hearing the ghostly screams of the young bride echoing through the hollow, often on chilly fall nights.  For this reason, locals have referred to the valley as “Ghost Hollow.”

Despite its spooky name, Ghost Hollow has been a popular hiking spot for years.  Looking at old issues of the Fayetteville Democrat, one finds scores of reports of church youth groups, civic groups, and families traveling there for Sunday afternoon picnics.  That there might be anything dangerous about the area is never reported.  It seems that, although people have reported hearing the burning bride’s screams at night, locals seem to think of it as just a fun legend.  Despite its grim history, David Walker, prominent attorney and Whig politician, later built a house on the property.  Ida Knerr purchased the property in the 1950s and was well aware of the legends associated with the place, but she doubted that the stories were true.  She claimed that the story was invented by locals who used the area for gambling purposes.  In order to discourage outsiders from coming and catching them at their illicit games, the gamblers invented tales about ghosts.  Indeed, Fred Starr, a columnist for the Northwest Arkansas Times wrote on August 21, 1940, about the local legend, lumping the story of the burning bride with a legend of a headless bride, which had also been seen in the valley.  Starr wrote that one local resident of the area claimed that he was often awoke at night by the sound of horses galloping from people trying to flee the chase of malevolent specters.  Starr, however, doubted the existence of such spirits. 

As if the tale of the headless/burning bride was not enough, there is also a Confederate cemetery in the ravine, which has spawned its own legends.  The Northwest Arkansas Times reported on October 28, 1973, that an anonymous resident who lived near the cemetery reported seeing a statue of a soldier in the cemetery put down its sword during a heavy thunderstorm and cover itself from the deluge.  When the reporter became curious about the story, the Northwest Arkansas Times was lucky enough to receive a typed memo from a resident ghost from the area named ”Jacob”.  According to “Jacob,” he roams the area because he is curious about humans.  “This,” the newspaper reported, “is the penalty imposed on ghosts of the first order by the great ghost council.” 

It could be that our modern world is too sophisticated for ghosts.  Ghosts are no longer things necessarily to be feared.  They are trotted out at Halloween, and for most of us, forgotten until the same time the next year.  There is little mystery left in a world where science can explain so much.  Mr. Starr noted this as far back as 1940 when he wrote, “Our country has become more thickly settled with less territory for ghosts to stalk over.  Perhaps our automobiles are having something to do with the shortage of ghosts… There just doesn’t seem to be any place in the set up for a modern world for honest ghosts.”  Maybe that is so.  We are no longer so moved by such mystery.  But, maybe, just maybe, if one is lucky, one might stroll through a lonesome ravine on a cool October night and hear the faint cries of a burning specter as she runs through the valley.