You may have heard that “You’ll never leave Harlan alive” but there are some chilling stories that suggest that some of Harlan County’s residents never left even after they died. Here are a few Harlan County ghost stories to keep you up at night…
Red Dog Road
The Legend: In the 1930s, the coal miners lived along Red Dog Road and walked back and forth to work. For generations, locals have told the tale of a miner who suspected his wife of being unfaithful. In a jealous rage, he murdered a fellow coal miner that he accused of being with his wife. It was the wrong man and now the restless spirit of the wrongfully murdered man wanders the mountainside looking for his killer. Witnesses report seeing a light moving through the forest as though it were the mining light on a coal miner’s hard hat.
The Reality: While the legend of the coal miner can’t be proven, Red Dog Road become central to a real life mystery in 1969. A young woman was found murdered in the mountains of Harlan County. No one could identify her and she was buried in a cemetery high on Red Dog Road where she remained under a marker reading “Unidentified” for almost 50 years. In 2016, her body was exhumed and DNA identified her as Sonja Kaye Blair-Adams. While the mystery of her identity is solved, her killer has never been captured and her case remains open. You can read more here.
The Legend: In the 1930s, coal mining was dangerous business. Not only were miners threatened by roof falls, bad air, and underground risks but they were also threatened with violence if they took steps to unionize. The companies went to extreme lengths to keep the union out of the mines and hired men to carry out gruesome attacks on miners who dared to defy them. One such miner who tried to organize a union met a fate worse than death when he was forced to watch his wife and young daughter, Annie, murdered in front of him before being killed himself. Travelers crossing Black Mountain have reported seeing Annie along the roadway. Sometimes she is headless. At other times, she is holding her head in her hands. Some have seen her standing alongside the road while others say she has chased their vehicles as they drove, sometimes even jumping onto their cars.
The Reality: The areas that set the scene for this story are now areas of significant tourism in Harlan County. Visitors can learn more about life in the coal camps and the struggle to unionize on a tour of the newly refurbished Portal 31 Underground Mine Exhibit. After the tour, take a drive to the top of Black Mountain along the Dragonslayer Hwy 160 where motorcycle enthusiasts are warned about the deep curves and black bear population but seldom warned of the presence of the ghost of a young girl.
The Harlan County Courthouse
The Legend: The Harlan County Courthouse was a convenient site for justice as prisoners were housed on the top floor and trials were held one floor below. Manzo Shepherd was one of those prisoners and his trial drew over 300 people who wanted to see him answer for his crimes. Manzo was accused of joining with two accomplices to murder a taxi driver at the top of Black Mountain. The case was a dramatic one but no one could predict that it would take a shocking turn when the victim’s nephew pulled out a pistol and shot Manzo in the courtroom. Manzo’s unremorseful spirit continues to haunt the courtroom where he was shot. Paranormal investigators regularly make contact with him where he communicates everything except an apology for his heinous crimes. In addition to his presence, the spirits of other inmates who spent time in the jail are said to remain at the site.
The Reality: The Harlan County Courthouse continues to function as a government building with monthly fiscal court meetings being held in the same courtroom where Manzo was shot. The paranormal investigators and historians with Bloody Harlan Tours lead ghost tours throughout downtown Harlan including the haunted courthouse. Their tours operate year round but are especially popular during the season leading up to Halloween. You can join them for a free tour on October 21st as part of the Downtown Harlan Vintage Fall Festival or on October 27 as part of the Harlan County Jeep Fest.
-In a historic downtown, every building has a purpose it previously served before becoming what we see today. 108 N. Main Street was once a hardware store with a funeral parlor located on the upper floors. Many believe that the funeral parlor’s clients may still be lingering in the store. The current owners report hearing footsteps and noises in areas where there are no people. They also report items being moved. The activity has been so notable that paranormal investigators have confirmed their reports and added even more information with the use of EVPs. The EVPs indicate multiple spirits in the building.
The Reality: Sassy Trash is a popular store selling vintage and handmade items. The owners converted the upper floors of the shop into an apartment. The results of the paranormal investigation are documented in a production called Bazaar Encounters. You can visit the shop Wednesday-Saturday with new arrivals hitting the shelves every week. When you go to the counter to make your purchases, avoid ringing the service bell. The spirits say they hate the sound.
The Ghost of Highway 38
The Legend: Travelers on Highway 38 between Harlan and Evarts have been reporting sightings of a ghostly woman in white for 80 years. According to locals, she is most likely to appear on a dark and rainy night in the Coxton area. She also typically favors men over women. While a glimpse of a specter on a dark highway would be enough to frighten anyone, the woman’s next move is truly terrifying. After being spotted on the road, she appears in the backseat of the vehicle with the startled driver. This isn’t just your run of the mill urban legend of a ghostly hitchhiker. Reputable community members, including law enforcement, have reported the woman. In addition, her sudden appearance has scared some so thoroughly that they quit their jobs to avoid making deliveries or driving buses along this route.
The Reality: Highway 38 connects Harlan to Evarts and each year thousands of tourists traveling to the Black Mountain Off Road Adventure Area are completely unaware that they are driving through a haunted stretch of road. In recent years, paranormal investigators have focused on a grisly ax murder that left a young newlywed bride dead at the hands of her groom. Is this is the intersection where true crime meets paranormal legend? Read more about the murder of Marguerite Craig here.
Our mountains are full of mystery. We hope this spooky season, you take time to explore the sites and the unseen!