Friday, October 25, 2019

Black Mountain's Headless Annie



BLACK MOUNTAIN'S HEADLESS ANNIE
by
Jennifer McDaniels

It was just a coon hunting trip. Some of my distant relatives (I prefer not to publicly say their names because what happened to them was bone-chilling and disturbing, not to mention they fear being scoffed) ......these distant relatives of mine decided to go coon hunting on Big Black Mountain one August night when the air was thick with humidity and ghostly mist. I was just a child in the mid 80's, and I remember sitting in the back of my Daddy's blue Chevy truck as my distant family (all men) were taking inventory of their equipment for the all-night excursion upon the state's highest peak.

They tried to talk my Daddy into joining them, and although he was an avid coon hunter himself, something just "didn't set right" with him. He told the men "I don't reckon I want to be up on that mountain in the middle of the night." Once they were satisfied they had all the equipment they needed, they piled in their truck and sped up KY 522 toward the Tri-Cities where Big Black Mountain towers over the old coal mining towns of Lynch and Benham, as well as Cumberland, which was more of a municipality for commerce.

I went on to bed that night, saying my prayers for the poor, defenseless coons (that's just the kind of child I was) and never gave the hunting trip another thought. In fact, it wasn't until months later that I overheard another family member relay to my mother the events of that horrific night experienced by my coon-hunting distant relatives upon Big Black Mountain.

 "These guys are full of adventure and mischief, but you know they wouldn't tell a bold-face lie." I overheard my kinfolk telling my mom. "And you know nothing scares them. They have hunted in the most rugged parts of these mountains, and camped out for days in the middle of nowhere, and they just don't get spooked! But something spooked them that night.....spooked them so bad that when they came home for breakfast, they were all white as bed sheets, and they wouldn't say a word!"

He went on to tell my mother that, after breakfast, one of them walked out on the front porch and lit a cigarette. He said he joined him and asked him what was wrong. He replied "I'm never going up on that mountain again.....NEVER!" (There were a few more expletives interjected in his response.)

When asked why, he said "We saw something, and no, it wasn't a bear, or a dear, or any kind of wild animal. It was white.....all in white! We were cutting through a ridge about 3,000 feet up. It was foggy, I'll give you that. But it wasn't fog we saw, either. It was brighter than the fog. It cut through the fog. We stood there with our guns, not sure what was going on, and the brightness appeared all around us, and for a sticky, summer night, it got awfully cold. I started shaking. I always heard that strange things happen up on that mountain, but I didn't know what the hell was going on.We all felt like we needed to get out of there, and out of there quick, so we ran like jack rabbits up the mountain side to where the truck was parked on the side of the road." He told my other kinfolk that he got behind the wheel, and laid rubber to the road, navigating the horseshoe curves at a reckless speed.

After rounding one curve, he saw something standing in the middle of the highway and slammed on his breaks, skidding to the side of the road where it dropped off thousands of feet to the valleys below. Looking over their shoulders and through the back window, they searched for any sign of the mysterious object they almost hit, but they saw nothing. Then, like an explosive crack of thunder that split the night's eerie silence into, the body of a teenager, or young woman, hopped up on the hood of their truck, and her fists began banging on the windshield. "She made the most God-awful shrieks and screams," it was told my kinfollk had said, hands shaking as he lifted his cigarette to his tremblibg lips.

"I saw blood splattering on the windshield. When I looked up to see where the blood was coming from, I saw nothing! She had no damn head!" And then he said no more. In fact, none of the men who went on that bizarre coon hunting trip would ever speak of it again. I had heard that later in life, one of them started telling his grandchildren about it, but the rest wanted to forget it. All I know of the rest of the story is that he slammed the pedal to the floor of his truck and hightailed it off the mountain. The headless woman in a glowing, white gown covered in blood tumbled off the hood of their truck and down an embankment. None of these men ever crossed KY 160 over Big Black Mountain again. Deep down, they knew what they saw.....all of them had heard the stories....the rumors.....of a headless woman who walks the remote highway and hills of Big Black Mountain. They had once scoffed at the stories, too. Not no more..........

Big Black Mountain has long been a mysterious force. Whether it's because of its unique ecosystem or interesting history, Big Black Mountain has always been the centerpiece for unexplained happenings, and plenty of lore and mystique. While it is uncertain as to how Kentucky's highest peak in elevation got its name, some historians and researchers have told me that it's because there is an unnatural darkness in its dense forest lands. It's also been said to have gotten its name because the massive mountain casts heavy, black shadows over the historic coal mining towns of Lynch and Benham. And there are those who say Big Black got its name because of the many years of mining taking place on the mountain, where "black diamonds" have been extracted from its mass since the 1800s. KY 160 East of Lynch and West of Appalachia crosses the mountain. The summit is reached by a narrow road that turns off to the right (coming from Lynch or to the left, if coming from Appalachia) at the Kentucky-Virginia line (the gap that is the highest part of KY 160) and leads past an FAA radar dome.


There is a one-lane dirt road to the left not far past the radar dome that leads to the summit. The summit is marked with an abandoned metal fire lookout tower (the cab and wooden steps are missing from the tower). There are also multiple radio towers along with transmitter buildings around the summit and a National Geodetic Survey benchmark is located on a large rock over the hill to the left of the fire tower. This benchmark is 6 feet below the highest point.The FAA Radar dome is nearby, but below the summit. Trees on both sides of the radar dome have been cleared, so views of other mountains are visible. On a clear day the Great Smoky Mountains on the Tennessee and North Carolina border are visible. Big Black Mountain's history is intimately tied to the coal mining of the surrounding region. Lynch, Kentucky was once one of the largest coal mining towns in the nation.

Besides the rare environmental intrigue of the mountain, it's also known for bloody murders and strange disappearances, perhaps because of its remote terrain. A regional newspaper article written in 1908 had a headline that read "The Mysteries of Black Mountain Baffle Close Scrutiny.” The sub-headline read: “Score of Victims Have Disappeared.” The sub-headline read: “The Somber Recesses of the Forest and the Silent People Who Inhabit Them Tell No Tales - Clue to Victims’ Fate an Ever-Deepening Mystery.”

A quote from the 1908 newspaper article is as follows...... “The most fascinating spot on the border between Virginia and Kentucky is coming to be the most shunned by tourists. Within less than half a century it has claimed a score of victims who have ridden into the deep ravines of Black Mountain in Wise County, Va. And Southeast, Kentucky never to return. The old mountain, with its somber frowning front, has locked up the secret of the manner of their disappearance and eternity alone can unfold the mystery. The region is inhabited by men who are a law unto themselves. They have been born and bred in silent places and with few words. They will vouchsafe no explanation of any disappearance and no man who has attempted to test fate and visit the region has ridden back to tell the tale of what they saw."

A Virginia Creeper outdoor magazine even referred to Big Black Mountain as "Appalachia's Bermuda Triangle" because of decades of strange disappearances and other oddities. No precise records of Big Black Mountain's events exist due to its remoteness. The earliest known disappearance occurred years before the Civil War. Two men searched for a herd of cattle that disappeared on the mountain. They figured they would save time if they split up to search.They agreed to return to their starting point by a specific time. One man climbed the North side of the hill, while the other took the South. They couldn’t find any sign of the cattle. The first man to return waited for hours. There was no sign of his fellow searcher.

He searched for him, called his name, and tried to locate his trail. He couldn’t find anything. He looked on his own until night and returned to the village. The next morning, a group of men set out to look for the lost man, but no trace of him was ever found. The missing cattle were gone, as well.
Just after the Civil War, a group of “government men” came in to search the mountain for illegal moonshine stills. The entire group vanished. The government sent another team to find those lost, but there was no trace of them. Later disappearances were blamed on feudists or moonshiners, but disappearances were common before that era.

The Wentz disappearance, and the subsequent mystery, first drew attention to the phenomena in 1903. Thomas Gearhardt, a wealthy insurance man, also disappeared near the same spot in 1904. Several stories published later implied he had adequate reason for faking his own death, but like many stories concerning Wentz, none could be substantiated.

Harvey Wood was a notable Bristol merchant who vanished in 1906. He purchased his train ticket in Big Stone Gap, but had to travel to Pennington Gap to catch the train. He disappeared in the same area as Wentz.

Walter Kent, sometimes called Harry E. Kent or Walter Kemp, was a Civil Engineer in 1907. The Pennsylvania native was only going to pay his laundress and told friends he’d be back well before suppertime. He never returned. His body was never recovered.

Thomas F. Kelly was a coalmine superintendent when he disappeared in 1908. He was last seen near Big Stone Gap. Kelly was only supposed to be out for a few hours, but never returned. He lived in Appalachia and left his home to look at some coal property. No trace of him, nor his remains, was ever found.

R.T. Potter, Superintendent for Big Stone Gap’s waterworks, went missing in 1911. He would have remained missing were it not for a series of rains causing the Powell River to surge. His body surfaced in the river six weeks later. The cause of death was never established, nor was it decided if he committed suicide, fell from a bridge, or was murdered.

Big Black Mountain has seen multiple murders for a variety of reasons. An unnamed Jane Doe was found near the road in 1920. She was shot in the head, the heart, and her corpse was nude. The locals investigated and discovered she’d last been seen a few days earlier in Arno, Virginia. She was in the company of a shady lady named Mary Sturgill.

Eventually, the authorities learned Jane Doe carried a good amount of money. They believed Sturgill coaxed her to take a “short-cut” across the mountain, where she then murdered the girl and stole her valuables. In a bizarre twist, witnesses saw Sturgill in the next town, wearing the dead woman’s clothes.

Martin Harris' body was found in 1921 at the bottom of a cliff. It was believed he’d been robbed. He was said to be carrying $250, but there wasn’t any money on his body. Strangely, Harris was armed, but his revolver hadn’t been fired. He also still had his watch and several rings.

There have been even more disappearances in recent times, as well as peculiar aviation reports, and bizarre mining accidents. Bloody coalmine union strikes are said to be another aspect of Big Black Mountain's dark history. That's where the legend of Headless Annie comes into the picture. Although my kin do not talk about their Headless Annie encounter, there are hundreds who do. It has been said by virtually an untold number of people who cross Big Black Mountain that they have seen a young woman.....some say 16 years of age, and some say younger
....who is dressed in a white gown, and who does not possess a head.....walking along the highway. There are an untold number of stories from people who swear the apparition is very aggressive, and tries to get in the vehicle with you to take your head. And there are also countless reports from people who swear up and down that Headless Annie appeared in the backseats of their vehicles, only to disappear as fast as she appeared. No matter the story, they all shared a common theme, and that is a HEADLESS woman haunts the landscape of Big Black Mountain.

The gruesome legend of Headless Annie has its beginnings in a coal town in the shadows of Black Mountain. What allegedly took place was one of the worst killings ever, according to local lore. This spooky tale revolves around a young girl who was brutally murdered on Big Black Mountain as a tragic result of the unionization efforts taking place in the early 1900s.

When protesting broke out because of low pay and dangerous working conditions, things quickly took a turn for the worse when some of the bossmen began killing miners rallying for unionization.

One such union leader, his wife and his daughter, met heinous fates because of his convictions. Industry bossmen and their hired gun thugs soon learned about the union organization efforts of Annie's father. They wanted to make an example of him. This was done so that others would fall in line, obeying anything and everything that the coal operators said to do. Late one night, Annie, her father and her mother, were taken from their beds and forcibly dragged out into the woods. The gun thugs were demented and demonic. They first forced Annie to watch her father have his legs cut off.

Afterward, they strung up the remains of her father upon a meat hook, which they had tied up high above on a nearby tree. From this, her father would bleed to death much like a pig being slaughtered.

Next, Annie had to watch as her mother was raped, then meet the same fate of her fathers'.

Poor Annie met a gruesome, violent death, too. The gun thugs held her down and then chopped off her head with an axe. The hired gun thugs then flung her body off of a cliff, which ran alongside the roadway. Annie would then lay there for days while wild animals would feast upon her body. The gun thugs who killed this family were never found and brought to justice. It was also said that authorities could not link the crime to the coal operators.

There is another legend surrounding the Ghost of Headless Annie. Some say she was a victim of a terrible car crash occurring in the 1940s on Big Black Mountain. Because of its height, narrow two-lane road, and unpredictable weather conditions.....as well as a sinisterness that can not be explained....there have been many vehicle crashes on Big Black Mountain. The debris of hundreds of wrecked cars and trucks can be found in the deep valleys and crevices of the mountain, covered in tangled weeds and forgotten by time. All the passengers in Annie's vehicle were said not to have survived, and Annie was even said to have been decapitated. Her vehicle was reported to have skidded off the highway, and plummeted hundreds of feet below. The woman....who is supposed to be around 20 years old....walks the highway and hills of Big Black Mountain looking for her head.

Whether Annie is the 12-year-old girl gruesomely murdered by hired gun thugs, or the 20-year-old victim of a terrible vehicle crash, many people have seen something on Big Black Mountain.....something entirely unexplainable, frightening, disturbing......HEADLESS !

An acquaintance of mine said about 15 years ago he was crossing Big Black Mountain into Virginia, and the snow was pouring down. He was scared enough because of the slippery conditions, but then all of the sudden he saw a woman in a torn, white gown walking along side of the road. He thought she had to be freezing and needing help, so he pulled up alongside her. The woman walked in front of his vehicle, and just stood there at the hood of his car. He couldn't see too well because the snow was coming down so hard. Something told him not to get out of his car.....that the entity standing before him was perhaps not human. And then.....his car engine died. He tried to start it back up, but it was completely dead. He started to panic, and reached for his cell phone. The entity in front of him then slowly walked away, disappearing into the forest. He tried his car again, and this time it started. He sped up the mountain, and as he rounded a curve, he saw her standing on a hillside with an unearthly glow.....and she didn't have a head ! He is convinced that he saw Headless Annie.
Have you ?

~JM~


This is a guest post by Jennifer McDaniels. Jennifer is journalist, marketing and public relations specialist. She is also a News Correspondent & Marketing Manager for WFXY Foxy Radio and currently holds several degrees in communications and journalism.






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