NEARLY 40 years ago the Calhoun County correspondent of the Cincinnati Enquirer prepared the following account of Calhoun’s most prominent ghost, which the Enquirer printed. Interested persons saved clippings, with the result that the story has reappeared recently in various weekly papers in that section of the state. It combines all the elements of a good ghost story and contains about every characteristic ghosts are known to possess, and reads as follows:
Grantsville, Calhoun County, W. Va., March 24, 1886.–The following history of the haunted house, situated on the bank of Little Kanawha river, about three miles from this place, is presented to the scientist for explanation. The skeptical reader is frankly and honestly referred to any one of the persons named herein for verification of their share of the history. Although it is one of the strangest and most unaccountable stories written on this subject within a quarter of a century, every detail is well authenticated. A solution of the mysteries connected with this history will be received with gratitude and pleasure by hundreds of the respectable and honest citizens of Calhoun County, Ritchie County and Wirt County. But to the history:
About three miles from the county seat of Calhoun County there resided, and still resides, Mr. Collins Betts, a farmer, who is well known throughout this section of the country. His house is a one-story, rambling affair, close to the banks of the stream and but a short distance from the highway. But for the reputation of the house it would be a frequent stopping place for the wayfaring; as it is, there are now but few men, in a country famed for its nervy and physical giants who would dare to stop over night at Bett’s house.
The reputation of the house as being haunted was acquired some years since. By some – many in fact – it is ascribed to the disappearance of a peddler in the neighborhood and never to be heard of more. It is whisperingly surmised by the most cautious that the peddler was known to have had over $1,000 in his possession at the time; and was probably murdered in the vicinity. Others say his horse had been left and no one ever came for it. Be this as it may, from that time forward Collins’ house has borne the reputation of being haunted.
Among the first who tested the truth of these rumors was a Methodist minister – Rev. Wayne Kennedy – who was well known throughout the state; a nervy, courageous man, who was never accused of a particle of cowardice. The reverend gentleman stopped at Betts’ one night when belated, and willingly took the haunted chamber as his bedroom. About 12 or 1 o’clock the preacher felt something heavy bearing down upon his chest. The sensation of smothering awoke him. When he had collected his senses he declared that he saw something like a big black dog sitting upon his body in the bed. He said that it was with the greatest difficulty he was enabled to throw off the incubus and release himself from the deadly pressure.
In the morning the preacher left, but before doing so he told Betts’ that he was not a particle superstitious, but that he would not stay in the house another night for the whole farm. The ghost or phantom appeared in different forms and was not confined to the house, but has been seen as far away as the top of the mountain opposite the house.
One night James Wolverton and his son, a boy about 18 years of age, were on their way home, driving an ox- team. When almost at the top of the hill Wolverton declares he heard the tramping of hundreds of horses, and the rattling as of so many sabers in their scabbards and upon looking back saw what he thought a troop of cavalry riding at t gallop upon him. His oxen saw him also, and became frightened, and ran off down the mountain. Wolverton said that just as he thought they would rider over him he threw up his hands and exclaimed, “My God, men, don’t ride over me!” He declares that the mystic cavalry disappeared instantaneously just as he cried to them to stop. Mr. Wolverton and his boy have always adhered to this story, and as they are men of probity, nobody questions but they saw something.
Now comes another still stranger story: John Betts, brother of Collins, came to Calhoun from Colorado on a visit to his brother. He was a large muscular, rough-speaking man, and when he heard these stories he laughed at them and sneered at his brother and everybody who had the temerity to tell him of the rumors. He declared his intention of sleeping in the room where the phantom was often seen. One night he went into his room as a hale, hearty man as one would see in a month’s travel. In the morning he was found lying upon his back perfectly helpless.
He said that sometime during the night he felt some heavy weight upon is breast. He undertook to throw it off, but was unable to do so, and suffered torment until daylight, when the oppression ceased but he had lost the use of his limbs. Mr. Betts has never entirely recovered.
A man named Haverest slept there one night. He says he heard the rattle of chairs upon the floor. Nothing can induce him to try it again.
A strange feature of most of the cases is that the victims seem, although perfectly conscious, deprived of power to resist the incubus, and suffer torment for hours.
Many people profess to believe that it is the effect of some sort of gas which arises from the earth and is inhaled, but others disbelieve in the gas theory. All would like to have it explained.
Captain Hayhurst, a visitor also from Calhoun, stopped with Betts. What appeared to be a headless man rose before Hayhurst’s vision in the middle of the night and frightened the gallant captain so badly that, as he says, he “wouldn’t stay another night in the house for the entire farm.”
Henry Elliott met with a fate somewhat similar to John Betts. He slept in this room and was nearly smothered to death by something he took to be a large black animal. Elliott has been an invalid ever since.
I had a conversation about the haunted house with Mr. Henry Newman, a prominent timber man about 60 years of age. Mr. Newman is not the least superstitious, but he fails to explain the mystery. He said he had heard the stories often, but didn’t pay any attention to them. One night, however, he stopped at Betts’ and was asked if he objected to sleeping in the haunted chamber. He said he did not. Mr. Newman’s story is that he went to bed, but being very wakeful he lay still and mused until about 12 o’clock. About that time something commenced clawing the bed-clothing off his person. He said he threw himself up in the bed, expecting to catch a cat or some such animal, but there was nothing there. A second and third time the act was repeated but he could not see anything. He left the next morning, and says he does not want any more of it. Young Hosey a nephew of Betts, who resides on a farm several miles distant, says he had occasion one night to pass the haunted house on his way home. Just about half way up the hill, some strange apparition appeared and frightened the horse so badly that it ran off down the hill through the brush. It could not be found until the next morning. This is another instance when the phantom or whatever it was, was perceptible to both man and animal.
John Jenkins, a well-known citizen of Ritchie, is reported to have stopped there one night. What John saw does not clearly appear, but whatever it was it frightened him so badly that he got out of the room as quickly as possible, ran to the stable, saddled his horse and left in a gallop. He never could be induced to go back.
It is claimed that the sound as of persons whispering can be heard in the room, and at the windows. A sound as of water dropping into a tin vessel is often heard, though no such article is about.
The family of Betts himself do not seem to be less annoyed than other people. The women say they hear all sorts of odd sounds as of water dropping, whispering and the sound of the fall of some heavy body.
Two nieces of Betts, stopped over night at his residence some time ago. One of them was overcome by the fear of some peculiar shape and ran out of the room followed by the other. Neither can be induced to go into it again. They say they saw horrible phantoms, but could not describe them.
A sister of Betts, in a conversation about the house, said there was something mysterious connected with the house which she couldn’t explain. According to the lady’s story the house has never been haunted or in any way different from others until after the death of an old woman named Riddle. Since than the place seemed the abode of some restless phantom.
It is no trouble to find people by the dozen in Calhoun who have heard and had some queer experience with the Betts house. Such men as Captain George Downs, whose word can not be disputed, declare they have seen the phantom of a headless man or some other headless sight. To be stripped of bed clothing in the middle of the night, without any tangible means, was not uncommon. In fact, the reputation of the place appears to be widespread, and no one seems to be rash enough, after such experiences as the above cited, to test the matter or find the solution of the mystery.
Your correspondent had often heard of the haunted house of Collins Betts, and determined finally to learn all he could about the mystery. He has interviewed dozens of respectable people, and all of them, though disclaiming any superstition, seem thoroughly mystified. Everyone who ever stayed there over night has heard or seen something strange or horrible. I have no doubt but that some one will yet be able to explain this mystery, but until then the haunted house of Collins Betts will be the notoriety of Calhoun County, W. Va.