Friday, April 18, 2014

A Phantom Procession in Marion County

Samuel Linn's Cabin, from Pleasant Valley website
There are a LOT of ghost stories from the Marion County area around Vinegar Hill!

It was a tough decision to pick which one to focus on for today's blog, but I was particularly struck with an old tale that was first recorded around 1959 and then made its print debut within the pages of Ruth Ann Musick's The Telltale Lilac Bush.  The tale was re-hashed in A Guide to Haunted West Virginia, with some added details, yet unfortunately, this is one story that is still largely unverified.  I've taken this wonderful piece of local folklore and tried to add as much historical documentation as possible to bring it to life.

This is the tale of how Kettle's Run got its name.

Around the time of the Civil War, a log cabin in Benton's Ferry was used as a stop on the Underground Railroad.  The home, known as "The Log", was said to be about a half a mile up from where the old Benton's Ferry Bridge crossed the river, right near the base of Vinegar Hill.  Abolitionists brought escaping slaves to the cabin to await safe passage across the river and onward north to freedom.  However, one evening, raiders were waiting.

A dozen slaves were murdered and their decapitated heads were thrown into a large kettle, which was then placed by the river's edge as a warning to the family who owned The Log.  The family, however, refused to let the threat scare them into submission, and in an act of defiance, took the kettle containing the grisly remains across the river and gave them a Christian burial in the Linn Cemetery.

According to the folklore, the slaves never found rest.  Twelve pairs of glowing lights, said to be the eyes of the slaves searching for freedom...and their heads...were observed by the people of Benton's Ferry leaving Linn Cemetery in a row.  The lights were seen crossing the river, then proceeding up the road toward Vinegar Hill.  A mournful chant was said to accompany the phantom procession.
Linn Cemetery by Gia Hays

What is interesting is that the lights, although described as very bright, could only been seen from a certain window in The Log.  At the original time of the story's publication, it was noted that this house WAS still standing, yet certain renovations had changed the placement of the window, thus putting a halt to anymore sightings of the ghostly lights.

So, is there any truth to this story?

I haven't been able to verify a ton, but I did find some interesting details.  Although the names Kettle Run and Copper Hollow (the road past Linn Cemetery) are no longer in use, there's definitely some historical precedence that lends at least a little to the folklore.

Samuel Linn was born in Hampshire County in 1789.  It 1835, he and his wife Anza moved to the area around Benton's Ferry.  Before the Benton's Ferry bridge was built, a man named Asa Bee established a ferry across the river at this location, linking to the community of Kingmont.  It went through a number of operators before the Benton family took over, so when the post office was established in 1836, the area was called Benton's Ferry.

That same year, Samuel Linn finished building his log cabin, and he and his wife settled in and raised their nine children in the new home.  Samuel Linn unfortunately passed away in 1852 and was buried on a section of the family's land.  Anza had specifically picked out a nice location by a pine tree to lay her husband to rest.  Samuel is considered the first burial in the newly established Linn Cemetery, which is still a thriving burial ground today, yet that might not be entirely accurate.  Samuel was buried in August--but Thomas Westley was buried the same year in MAY.

Samuel Linn tombstone by Jeff Custer

In any event, the cemetery and former homestead of the Linn family are now incorporated into the city of Pleasant Valley.  In 1995, the smaller communities of Benton's Ferry, Kingmont, Millersville and Pleasant Valley incorporated into one larger municipality.  And, according to that municipality's website, Samuel Linn's cabin is still standing and is owned by Robert Ice.

I can't guarantee that Samuel's cabin is the same cabin known in the story as The Log, nor can I verify that the family in the story is the Linns, and not another local family. Luckily, one of the owners of Samuel Linn's cabin contacted me in July 2014 to clear up the confusion.  Although some believe that Samuel Linn's cabin IS the same as The Log mentioned in the story, evidence would suggest otherwise!  Samuel Linn's cabin is located on the same side of the river as the cemetery that bears his name and his body. In fact, only about 300 feet separate the home from the burial ground.  In the story, the heads were found at a cabin near the base of Vinegar Hill and taken ACROSS THE RIVER to be buried at the Linn Cemetery.  Apparently, this other cabin also still stands today, and thus according to the folklore, would have been the cabin where the slaves' heads were left.  I haven't yet found out who the other family was...perhaps it was even the family of one of Samuel's children...but if I do, I'll be sure to update!

Links and Sources
Linn Cemetery on Find-a-Grave
Pleasant Valley History
Linn Genealogy
A Guide to Haunted West Virginia by Walter Gavenda and Michael Shoemaker
The Telltale Lilac Bush by Ruth Ann Musick

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