For most people interested in the paranormal, there was a defining moment in their lives—a moment when everything they believed was thrown off-kilter in light of an unexplainable experience. For me, that moment occurred in the early morning hours of a December day in 1993.
My husband, Ira, and I were living in Chapel Hill while he attended UNC School of Law and I worked as an editor at a nearby independent press. On this particular winter night I awoke to find my husband had cocooned himself in our comforter—again!—leaving me nothing but sheet. I was cold, and I was irritated. (It was a good thing we were newlyweds or he would have gotten an earful right then and there!) I sat up and saw Ira’s grandmother, Julie Woerner, standing at the foot of our bed. She was smiling down at his sleeping form with a look of pure love.
For some reason, this didn’t strike me as the least bit odd. Not once did I think, Hey, aren’t you in Florida recovering from your surgery? Instead I did a huffy breath and said, “He always steals the covers!” Then I grabbed a corner of the blanket, spread it evenly over both of us, and went back to sleep. She was still standing there when I closed my eyes.
(Yes, for those of you following along at home, I met my brush with the paranormal by whining about bedding. Yup.)
The next day we learned that Grandma Woerner had suffered a post-operative stroke that had left her unresponsive. Forty-eight hours later she died without ever regaining consciousness, surrounded by her husband and her Florida family. To this day I believe Grandma spent her last few hours visiting those she loved. I also believe spirits can and do walk this world.
Since that time I’ve heard many stories of a similar nature. Uncle John stops by in his army uniform shortly before word arrives of his death. A woman hears her sister say her name at the same time as her sister’s fatal car accident. In fact, I’ve heard so many of these stories I wonder why we call these experiences para-normal. They seem pretty normal, especially in the South. (“You might be a Southerner if you cook your cornbread in a cast iron skillet and have seen a ghost!”)
While searching for a topic for a Halloween column, I thought about my experience with Grandma Woerner. Why not go on a ghost hunt? I knew one of my Facebook friends, Tony Huff, spearheaded a group called Cold Mountain Paranormal Society. I’d even attended one of their meetings last year while doing some research for a fiction project. I knew property owners called them to come investigate possible hauntings. Would they let me tag along? I gave Tony a call.
During the course of our conversation, I learned that Tony’s “defining moment” happened in December 2009. He and his girlfriend had recently moved in together and decided to take the girlfriend’s upholstered chair—inherited from grandma—from the living room to the basement in order to make room for a Christmas tree. A few days later Ruff was moving quickly through the basement when, as he puts it, “I passed an old lady sitting there in the chair. She had white hair, a plaid dress, an apron.” He laughs. “You know, I probably took about 10 paces before it suddenly struck me what I’d seen. I turned around right quick, and she was gone.” When he described the woman to his girlfriend, she said it sounded just like her grandmother. She retrieved an old family photo from storage, showed it to Ruff and, sure enough—it was the same woman he had seen in the chair.
Ruff started Cold Mountain Paranormal Society soon after, and since that time the group has investigated over 35 different sites, most at the owner’s behest. “In fact,” Tony said, “We’ve got an appointment to go out to an old general store in Sandy Mush. Why don’t you come along?”
After making sure he wasn’t kidding about a place called Sandy Mush (seriously?), I agreed. Hot diggity. My first ghost hunt.
To be continued . . .
[Insert creepy music here.]
Angela Dove is an award-winning columnist and author of the true crime book No Room for Doubt: A True Story of the Reverberations of Murder (Penguin Group, 2009). She welcomes your stories of the not-so-paranormal at www.AngelaDove.com