I stumbled across this article while searching for ghosts in back issues of The Anniston Star. Without the influence Mrs. Windham’s wonderful books, this blog would not exist. A friend who knew Mrs. Windham was supposed to have gives me an introduction to her in March 2011 when she came to LaGrange for the Azalea Storytelling Festival. Unfortunately poor health prevented her appearance at the festival and she passed away a few months later. As soon as I heard of her passing, I wrote a memorial.
Though she’s not present with us on this physical plain, her spirit and influence is still flitting like a bird reminding us of the ghosts around us.
The Anniston Star (Anniston, Alabama)
21 September 1975
Writer says that ghosts necessary for heritage
By Tom Gordon
Star Staff Writer
We need ghosts in order to keep our heritage, says Alabama’s own ghost-writer, Kathryn Tucker Windham.
Our heritage is a mixture of history, folklore, bits of good-natured nonsense and cold-hearted truth. Mrs. Windham, who lives in Selma with her ghost friend Jeffrey, says the heritage is being lost because persons are not taking the time to relax and enjoy life as they once did.
Speaking with intense enthusiasm, Mrs. Windham says that more and more Alabamians are growing up without having their lives enriched by tales and lessons once passed from generation to generation. This high-speed automated age has made it difficult and sometimes unnecessary for people to gather on front porches or in front of fireplaces to talk and learn from each other, she says.
“WE DON’T know who we are or what we are or where we come from,” she says. “We’re not talking about it the way we used to.”
The need to talk about and preserve our heritage, even that part which includes ghosts, was the message Mrs. Windham repeated several times Thursday in a short talk to a noon luncheon of the Anniston Kiwanis Club.
She has repeated it elsewhere—in schools, luncheons, newspaper interviews and on television and radio programs—and in four books of ghost stories she has written in the past few years. The first was “Thirteen Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey.” Other books have presented 13 ghost tales from Mississippi and Georgia, and elsewhere around the South.
MRS. WINDHAM, a former reporter for the Selma Times-Journal, spends a lot of her time tracking down ghost stories and other folklore. “All you’ve got to do is listen” she says, because tales are everywhere. She even comes across many interesting tidbits in her work as a community services coordinator for the Alabama-Tombigbee River Planning and Development Commission’s Area Agency on Aging.
She grew up in Thomasville, in South Alabama’s Clarke County, and her childhood was filled with the church homecomings, family reunions, tall-tale telling, romance and other features she says make the South unique, even today.
She doesn’t remember the first ghost story she was told, but she says she has had a latent interest in spirits and scary stories since her youth. Much of her early ghost learning, she says, came from Thurza, her family’s black cook.
THAT INTEREST was stirred she says, by “Jeffrey”—the name she uses for whoever or whatever it is that walks the floors, slams the doors and scares the cat in her Selma home.
Jeffrey and two ghost stories figured prominently in her Kiwanis Club talk. One story, about the “Jumbo light,” dealt with a man who lived in the now-dead Chilton County community of Jumbo. The man was killed by moonshiners he surprised in some woods one night while making his way home with the aid of a lantern.
LONG-TIME AREA residents still say they see a moving lantern near the old Jumbo community to this day, she says. A Times-Journal photographer traveled to the Jumbo area to take a picture of the phenomenon, she says, and became scared. He was even more started when the pictures he developed showed not only a swinging light moving along a road, but a pair of empty shoes moving along with it.
Whether a ghost tale is true or not matters little to Mrs. Windham. The tale teller’s feeling about the story is more important.
“I can’t get interested in the stories unless I feel they are true to the people who are telling them,” she says.