Haunted Asheville - Part 1
When the Buncombe County School Board decided to build a new high school in 1973, the site they picked was the County Home Cemetery, also called the Potter's Field or Pauper's Cemetery, as it was an actual paupers' cemetery of mostly unmarked graves. This was the final home to criminals, orphans, tuberculosis patients, homeless transients, and others that had slipped through society's cracks. A contractor was hired to unearth the graves and move them but had woefully underestimated the number of people who people had been buried there, believing there to be around 200 when in fact the number range over 1000.
The grounds were a confusing mass of jumbled and nameless remains. Many anonymous observers claimed there was very little care taken in the excavation, and bodies were laid in rows in the open, despite potential health hazards to the teachers and students who were occasionally allowed to visit the site. Some corpses that were pulled up had nothing but blankets wrapped around them. The contractors dumped the unidentified remains — most of which were badly decomposed — into little wooden boxes, many only three feet long.
These stories, and more, were confirmed by county officials and other anonymous teachers had seen these atrocities take place. Some local students even broke on to the grounds at night, playing pranks with the skulls they found, placing them upon the cemetery fence posts. The remains were re-interred on a hillside behind West Buncombe Elementary School, just across the road, under military-style rows of identical white crosses.
It is believed by many locals that the carelessness of the handling of the bodies led to spirits becoming restless. Thus, the ground that was disturbed, now the site of Erwin High, had become haunted. Custodians and teachers have reported elevators changing floors by themselves, trashcans being moved inexplicably around, the sound of boots plodding through the hall, pictures jumping off classroom walls, doors slamming with no one around, VCR's ejecting tapes, and more. It was a common story from the overnight janitors say that they would think kids were trying to break into the building, as they would hear chattering and talking in the hallways. One teacher said a projector flew off the table when they started talking about ghosts.
In 2016, Buncombe County spent about $15,000 to clean up the current cemetery, removing trees and brush, and erected a six-foot fence around the perimeter. They also installed a white wooden sign at the entrance that explains the history. However, when the original contractors had run out of money to move the corpses, they simply stopped. The School Superintendent of the time had said the contractor had moved 604 graves, but an estimated 250-300 graves at the old site would not be moved, and still remain in unmarked graves to this day.
Chicken Alley is a small, narrow walkway found in downtown Asheville. The name is derived from the a family-run poultry processing plant that once ruled the block, and loose chickens used to congregate here in the city's early days. Today, the main chicken here is a large mural by local artist Molly Musk. Yet, while the mural adds a bit of color and levity, something much darker is said to lurk in this alley.
Dr. Jamie Smith was a prominent physician who practiced in Asheville at the end of the nineteenth century. Dr. Smith was also known for his odd attire: wearing a wide-brimmed, black fedora hat and a long, duster-style coat. He also carried his medicine bag and a cane with a silver pommel on it everywhere he went.
Dr. Smith was also a lover of having a good time. Asheville was a rougher city in those days as men who worked in the logging camps would flood the town on weekends looking for a drink and some company. There was enough money from visiting tourists to keep the bars and parlors open late. Dr. Smith loved every minute of it and several reports were that the majority of his practice came treating the various social diseases that were the constant companions of the city's good times.
In 1902, Dr. Smith walked in to a bar called Broadway's Tavern, which was located on Chicken Alley. He was said to have unknowingly stumbled into the middle of a vicious bar brawl. He tried to break it up but was stabbed in the heart by one of the men in the fight, dying instantly. The murderer was never caught and Broadway's Tavern burned to the ground one year after the fatal stabbing.
Since that night, people have reported seeing a strange figure walking in the alley late in the evenings usually between Carolina Lane and Woodfin Street in a short alley. He's said to be a shadowy man, wearing a long coat and a wide-brimmed black hat. He also carries an old-fashioned physician's bag and a cane with a silver head. People claim to have heard the tip of the cane tapping as he walks along the pavement.
The mysterious entity has been seen for over 100 years, and throughout that time the figure's appearance has been described with remarkable consistency. The locals are divided as to the reason his spirit returns to the spot where he met his end. Some say he is still trying to stop the fight, others say that he still just wants a drink.
In 1835, two 24-year-old men —James Snead and James Henry of Tennessee— were to be strung up for stealing a horse from a man named Elsberry Holcombe. Snead and Henry had pretended to be strangers, betting each other a bottle of liquor in a game of cards. They then engaged Holcombe, who couldn’t and wouldn’t play, as Holcombe testified; but Henry made himself Holcombe’s proxy and bet Holcombe’s mare—and lost. Holcombe said he yielded when Snead brandished a knife.
The two men rode off and Holcombe went to Asheville and reported the crime. Local men and police pursued Snead and Henry, who were caught in bed nine miles west of Asheville, despite having given people they’d met fictitious names and false information. They were tried and convicted about two weeks before the date of execution.
When the two were sentenced to be hanged, it is said that over a thousand people showed up. Crowds of people came into Asheville by foot, horse, and carriage, some traveling for days to attend. People arrived the night before and celebrated with singing and dancing. The next day the two were brought from their holding cells at the courthouse jail. They were put on a cart and made to sit on their own future coffins as they were paraded down Broadway Avenue towards the gallows. The corner of Merrimon and Broadway Avenues in Asheville was the site of frequent town hangings during the 19th century.
Snead and Henry were led up the scaffolding, as two reverends delivered sermons and the congregation sang a hymn singing, “There is a Fountain filled with blood...Sinners plunged beneath the flood lose all their guilty stains.” After being brought up to the platform, the accused were given the opportunity to address the crowd. James Sneed said, yes, he cheated at cards; yes, he cheated on his girlfriend; but he claimed never to have stolen a horse and he defied his accusers to say otherwise. James Henry spoke and said they had not stolen Elsberry Holcombe’s horse; he pleaded that Holcombe willingly handed the bridle over to him as he and Sneed played. The man who had accused both James’ said, “No, I did not.” and walked away sulkily.
Black caps were placed over the condemned men’s heads, the signal was given, and the double trap doors triggered opened. However, they did not fall clear down, but only part of the way, trying to gain purchase with an awful scrabbling with their feet on the diagonal boards. Finally, there was a loud noise, the door opened fully, and yet again the fall was not great enough to snap their necks. Thus, Snead and Henry took several minutes to strangle to death.