Nota Bene: My thoughts regularly return to my second home, Cherokee, NC and recently these wonderful memories have been jarred again. This is a freshly edited account from 2012 of some of my paranormal experiences in Unto These Hills Cast Housing, a place lovingly referred to as “The Hill,” and at the Oconaluftee Indian Village.
“To the Cherokee, the supernatural is just natural.” a Native friend said in and I think it succinctly sums up the attitude of the Cherokee towards the spirit world. They are simply blasé about it; it is just another facet of the world that exists around them. Overall, this world is very different from the world of Western thought where magic and superstition, in the name of science, are banished to the remote deserts of distasteful fiction. Working here among the Cherokee has been a challenge to how I think about the paranormal.
Since late May I have been working in Cherokee, North Carolina, at the heart of the Qualla Boundary Reservation, as a reenactor at the Oconaluftee Indian Village. The village is a recreation of a mid-18th century Cherokee village and is operated by the Cherokee Historical Association which also operates the outdoor historical drama Unto These Hills where I spent three glorious summers in college. While I’m working in the Village, I’m living in cast housing for the drama (known as “The Hill”). When I worked up here previously, I heard stories from the Mountainside Theatre and a few stories from The Hill, even having an experience of my own (which I discussed here). Returning some nine years later with a paranormal blog, I began asking for stories just after arrival and I’ve been bowled over as the stories have poured forth.
The Cherokee possess a deeply engrained spirituality and connection with nature. Certainly they are so much more open to the interactions between the living world and the spirit world and in inquiring about their experiences, their responses are often related in a mundane tone than those I would find elsewhere. From an early age, children here are warned by parents and elders about sgi-li or boogers and how they should not fear them. Children will be taught about the Yun-wi Tsuns-di or Little People, mischievous and protective beings that live all around. Their world is populated by wonderful, scary and magical creatures like the Nunne-hi, Uktena and the witch, Spearfinger, who steals children’s livers while they slumber. Truly the world of the Cherokee is a marvelous place of signs and omens, spirits and boogers, good and bad medicine. To truly appreciate the Cherokee universe, one must adjust their worldview and see it through very different eyes. These are also eyes that see spirits everywhere and not just in specific, “haunted” locations.
It’s unusual for me to have paranormal experiences. I’ve had a few throughout my life, but they are scattered and fairly rare. But since my arrival here in May, I’ve had a variety of unusual experiences; personal experiences that have, at times, even left me questioning my own sanity. Perhaps I’m too eager to experience things. After all, I’m fascinated by ghosts and I’m surrounded by people who have unusual experiences frequently. However, I do believe these experiences should be documented, thus adding to the plethora of information available on the weird world that we live in.
Only a couple weeks into my stay I had my first experience. Two of my fellow reenactors were hanging out on the lower porch of the Boys Dorm. Joining them, we discussed, joked and laughed about a number of things including ghosts. The hours stretched on and we found ourselves still chatting around three in the morning. Everyone else on The Hill appeared to be in bed. My two friends were sitting and I was standing at the top of the porch stairs with my back to them.
I felt a finger poke me in the middle of my back. It had definite pressure and it lasted for a moment just as someone would poke someone to get their attention. I immediately felt with my hand, in the event that it was an insect, but the pressure had been too much to be from that. There was nothing there and I turned to see if someone was standing behind me. The Hill was quiet and empty. Nothing else stirred. I mentioned it to my two companions, both of whom are Native American. Both simply raised their eyebrows and one addressed the spirit, “Thank you for letting us know you’re here. “Please, leave us alone.” he said calmly.
Until just a couple weeks ago that was my only experience on The Hill this summer. The drama had its final performance and most of the cast left fairly quickly to resume their normal lives. I’ll remain, with the other reenactors, until the Village closes. Only a few people were left and I was off to watch a movie with a few people in the day room of the Boys Dorm (on the opposite end of the building from where I was poked). While walking up the hill towards the building I hear the whinny of an Eastern Screech Owl (Megascops asio). Being a birder, usually I would have thought, “Eastern Screech Owl, very cool!” but being in Cherokee, the sound sent a shiver through me. The whinny of the owl is considered to be an omen of death to the Cherokee. In accordance with Cherokee tradition, I tied a knot in my shirt to acknowledge that I’d heard the “laugh of death” and I continued into the building.
While watching the movie I turned to one of the young ladies sitting near me. I had intended on saying something when I saw something white and vaguely human-shaped move past the window next to her. For a moment I watched to see if it would happen again and nothing happened. I waited also to see if someone else saw it. Alas, no one else saw anything; they were all intently watching the movie. I turned to the window behind me and looked towards the door expecting someone to enter, but there was nothing but darkness. After mentioning the incident and finding that no one had witnessed the figure but me, I stepped outside to see if anyone else was about on The Hill, nothing else stirred. Perhaps this was the same sgi-li or booger that I’d heard before entering the building.
Just last week I’d headed out with a native friend to see the Thomas Divide Lights, we saw them and spent the time discussing many of the haunted places in Cherokee. When she dropped me off back on The Hill, we spent some time talking in the parking lot, directly in front of the Boys Dorm porch where I’d been poked. As we stood talking, I began seeing a dark shape move back and forth across the porch. This was all in my peripheral vision. When I looked directly towards the porch, there was nothing there. I began to wonder if I was seeing the frames of my glasses but I was not sure. I asked my companion if she was seeing anything. “You mean the thing on the porch?” she replied.
“Yep, there’s something up there. I keep seeing it out of the corner of my eye.” And she was not wearing glasses. Nothing else was stirring.
In the Village there seems to be a good deal of activity that’s being witnessed by employees, myself included. Just last week during my lunch break I decided to lie down and close my eyes on the porch just off the costume shop. Twice I heard the definite sounds of footsteps on the porch. Raising my head, the footsteps ceased. These were definite footsteps from a hard soled shoe on the deck. I was alone on the porch.
Within the Village I spend most of my time in one of the cabins. Interestingly, this seems to be the cabin that has been the subject of numerous stories. One afternoon while returning to the cabin with some firewood I glanced up to see a figure enter the cabin. Usually, it’s not uncommon to find tourists or other employees in or around my cabin when I return. I sped up my pace to greet the visitor, but arrived to find the cabin empty. (I detailed this experience with photographs here.)
The beds in the cabin are sometimes too inviting and I may nap when there’s no one around. While napping one afternoon I was awakened by the sound of a man’s voice speaking in Cherokee. Before opening my eyes, I imagined a small Cherokee man standing in the corner, though I could not understand what he was saying. I raised my head and no one was in the cabin. Getting up, I looked outside and even looked behind the cabin and no one was around. Nearby, nothing else stirred.
My parents came up for a visit about a week before the drama ended. We saw the show together and I walked them to their car afterwards. They had parked in front of the Village visitor’s center and as we approached I saw a shadowy form move under the breezeway between the gift shop and the box office, an area that is not well lit. The figure passed behind a column and I fully expected to see someone emerge into the light on the opposite side of the column. No one did. My parents saw nothing, but I walked over to see if someone was walking around. Not a soul was there.
A native friend suggested that perhaps I may have become more sensitive as I have spent more time in the mountains. Or perhaps all of this is simply the product of an over-eager imagination. All I can say is that these things happened and I have no immediate explanation for them. Perhaps the spirits really are getting personal.