Sunday, October 21, 2012

Stirrings at The Hut—Cherokee, North Carolina

Cherokee Historical Association Offices
(known as “The Hut”)
564 Tsali Boulevard
Cherokee, North Carolina

Eliza R. was only five when she had a terrible experience at the Mountainside Theatre. Her family had been picnicking at the picnic shelter below the theatre entrance and she and her cousins had ventured up into the massive and empty amphitheatre. They clung to the back of the theatre, under the shelter when something emitted a “god awful” scream near the stage below. Eliza recalled that it sounded like it may have come from an animal, though it sounded as if the animal was being tortured—the cry was filled with pain and anguish. She remarked that she could do nothing but cry, her feet rooted to the spot. A cousin had to carry her out of the theatre.

Years later, Eliza, now an employee of the Cherokee Historical Association, has rearranged her desk to avoid the spirits that stalk throughout the association’s offices. The desk in her office—located along the hall of offices on the second floor that parallels US 441 (known as Tsali Boulevard as it passes through Cherokee)—originally faced the door. Tiring of seeing things in the hallway, she rearranged her desk to face the wall. Of course, that hasn’t stifled the activity of the spirits; to her it just makes them less distracting.

The modern, grey building at the intersection of Tsali Boulevard and Drama Drive is the current home to the Cherokee Historical Association. Initially, the building was a small grass hut which served as a box office for the drama and the Oconaluftee Indian Village, both located just up the hill, thus the nickname, “The Hut.” The modern building replaced the hut in the 1970s and now houses offices for the association and possibly some spirits, too.

This unassuming building at the corner of Tsali Boulevard and
Drama Drive may house a number of spirits. Most activity occurs
on the second floor around the offices behind the four windows
on the left side of the building. Photo 2012 by Lewis Powell, IV,
all rights reserved.
 To deal with the voices and footsteps that echo through the building after hours, Philenia W. has a different coping mechanism: she turns on the TV in her office. That’s usually enough to drown out the sounds. Her office—on the other side of the second floor from Eliza’s and facing the Oconaluftee River—really only seems to be plagued by voices. She describes them as the voices of men, women and children, though their words are indistinguishable. Even more interesting, she also has heard the sounds of a penny whistle. While not a common instrument among the Cherokee, the penny whistle was commonly found among European settlers, traders and British soldiers who passed through the area in the 18th century. Philenia described the music being played on the penny whistle as European and not native.

It was not the cheerful piping of a penny whistle that Mike L. and his girlfriend heard in the 2nd floor conference room one evening. While working on college schoolwork, the couple was astonished to hear a guttural and raspy growling/moaning sound that last about 3 seconds emanate from the corner of the room near the window. The startled couple looked over towards the corner but could not determine a cause. Sometime later, Mike was taking an online test in his office with his girlfriend and the couple heard the same noise but just outside the office. His girlfriend looked at him and asked what they should do. Mike had to finish the test so they remained.

Around the same time, Mike and his girlfriend had the same dream the same night. In their dreams a man was standing at the foot of their beds. Both were terrified of the dark silhouetted figure and were frozen with fear. After laying there for a moment, both Mike and girlfriend discovered themselves sitting upright in bed fully awake. By this point the figure had vanished and they were in their respective bedrooms alone.

On Saturdays during the season, Mike will often work the box office by himself. During these days, alone at the secretary’s desk behind the box office window he’s often heard native flute music and the laughter of children in front of the elevator and in the stairwell next to it. Throughout the building he has felt the glare of spectral eyes watching him.

From his office, located just next door to Eliza’s, Mike has had a number of experiences. Just a couple days before I spoke to him, Mike heard footsteps in the hall around closing time. He was the only person present in the building, though he heard distinct footsteps walking down the hall and into Eliza’s office. Something shuffled things in her office and then it went quiet. Mike did not investigate. Like the employees, spirits also apparently like to gather at the office water cooler just outside of Mike’s office. Often, when he’s alone, he’ll hear the cooler bubble up as if it’s in use.

Of the employees in the office, it seems that Eliza experiences the bulk of the activity. She repeatedly hears voices in the early morning when she arrives and late in the afternoon after all have left. She also hears doors opening and closing when she’s alone. One afternoon, during lunch when everyone else was away, Eliza heard the sound of a child running down the hall yelling something. Moments later she heard the water cooler bubble. Assuming the child was a colleague’s son, she thought little of it until the colleague arrived back in the office. When Eliza asked where the colleague’s son was, the colleague replied that he was in school and had been there all day. One afternoon as she was leaving the office kitchen, located at the end of the hall, Eliza saw the same colleague disappearing around the corner at the other end of the hall. Hurrying to speak with her, Eliza was met with an empty hallway and the colleague sitting calmly at her desk.

Perhaps the most interesting occurrence happened in the kitchen. While on the way to a meeting in the conference room, Eliza passed the darkened office kitchen. The door was open and through the crack between the door and the hinges Eliza spied a woman sitting in the room. Eliza recalled that she had tightly curled hair and was simply staring ahead. She took a few steps down the hall and thought that maybe this was someone who was supposed to be at the meeting and had gotten lost. Backtracking, she glanced again through the crack between the door and hinges and she saw the woman still sitting there. Eliza stepped into the room to find no one there.

While speaking to a colleague just around the corner from her office just a couple weeks ago, Philenia heard an odd noise coming from her office. Looking through the doorway into her office she spied the adding machine scrolling paper by itself. When she stepped inside the door it stopped abruptly but returned to its mysterious scrolling when she stepped out again. Her colleague came down the hall to witness the scrolling as well and she stepped into the office and unplugged the machine.

The curious and playful spirits roaming the offices of the Cherokee Historical Association seem rather harmless, but they don’t make work any easier for the employees. While the intersection of Tsali Boulevard and Drama Drive has been an important intersection in Cherokee, that doesn’t adequately explain the presence of spirits in this unassuming structure. While the Oconaluftee Valley has been occupied for thousands of years by the Cherokee, no settlement was known on this precise site. Regardless, the persistent Spirit of the Cherokee lingers on.

Personal Interview with Eliza R., 27 September 2012.
Personal Interview with Mike L., 27 September 2012.
Personal Interview with Philenia W., 21 September 2012.
Personal Interview with Philenia W., 5 October 2012.

Monday, October 8, 2012

2012 Mountainside Theatre Ghost Walk and Haunted Village

Oconaluftee Indian Village
(just up the road from the theatre)
778 Drama Road
Cherokee, North Carolina

It was quite creepy taking a ghost tour of the place where I am currently living, especially driving back to my apartment after the tour and wondering if anything had been stirred up by the guests or the stories that were told. I got back to my room and called one of my best friends. While we were chatting I thought I heard a female voice, but I’ll attribute that to an overactive imagination. At least I hope.

Allow me, for a moment, to shamelessly plug this event that I’m involved with. If you’re a regular reader you’ll know that I’ve been working at the Oconaluftee Indian Village since the beginning of summer. The village will close for the season on the 20th, but will then reopen a few days later for the Haunted Village. The theatre ghost walk will be taking place ever Saturday night throughout the month of October in addition.

Quickly, the Haunted Village is a haunted tour of the village with staged frights and scares. I’ll be working this once the village closes. Please come check it out!

The ghost walk, however, is not staged and has the possibility of scaring you just as much.

The Mountainside Theatre is an open-air amphitheater built in the late 1940s for the outdoor historical drama, Unto These Hills, which opened July 1, 1950. The show has been running for 62 years and is expected to run for many years more. Renovations over the years have changed the face of the public areas of the theatre, though much of the backstage still exists in its original form. Up the hill from backstage is cast housing, consisting of a number of cabins, two large dormitories and a few other buildings. Cast housing is also included on the tour.

The tour begins at the village box office where you may purchase tickets for the Haunted Village ($10) and the Ghost Walk ($10, though you may pay $18 for a combination ticket). After a quick ride, you’ll gather at the entrance to the very dark amphitheater to begin the tour. The guides are members of the maintenance staff: gentlemen who have experienced much throughout the property. Personally, hearing the stories told by the people who have experienced these things rather than costumed actors, is far more compelling.

The stories at the theatre range from full bodied apparitions to weird sounds and lights in the now boarded up dressing rooms coming on by themselves. While walking past one of the men’s dressing rooms, we noticed that the light was on through the cracks in the door. The door was locked and no one would have had any reason to be the room recently. We were then told that the door to the same dressing had opened by itself twice during tours last year. The door was still locked when the maintenance men went to close it.

Devoid of people, the Boys' Dorm hallway is creepy enough
in the daylight. Visitors will traverse this hallway as part of the
2012 Ghost Walk. Photo 2012, by Lewis Powell IV, all rights
We moved up the hill towards cast housing. We were told of curtains in one of the cabins that were seen to move quite frequently and the story of one maintenance man encountering a very real bear one night. He was charged by the creature which fully bypassed him and appeared to be being chased by a “ball of fog.” The tour ended with a walk through the long hallway of the Boys’ Dorm. Here, over the years, actors have had a variety of experiences, myself included. We didn't experience anything, but it was creepy nonetheless.

The ghost walk is a fun experience on a cool night in the mountains. Once the Haunted Village opens on October 26th, I’m sure the two experiences will frighteningly complement each other.

The Mountainside Theatre Ghost Walk will continue every Saturday evening throughout October 8-10 PM. The Haunted Village opens on October 26th and will run through Halloween Night. Doors open at 7 PM. The Haunted Village will also feature actor Tony Todd, the Candyman in the thriller of the same name, who will be greeting visitors on Halloween Night.

Proceeds will go to support the Cherokee Historical Association.

For further information: