Droop Mountain Battlefield riddled with restless spirits
The battles of the Civil War left a deep impression on the United States as native sons fought against one another for their side’s cause. As the dust settled, and survivors returned home to pick up where their lives left off, they left behind more than fallen soldiers and spent bullets.
The energy and spirits of their fallen brothers were left behind to relive their deaths or to wander the battlefield, unaware they had passed.
Droop Mountain Battlefield is home to many restless spirits – those who are still fighting the battle or those who cannot find their way home.
For Superintendent Mike Smith, who has been at his post at the state park for 28 years, the ghosts are nothing more than tales – only because he’s never had his own experience.
“I’ve never seen anything, but many, many people have stories,” Smith said. “They absolutely swear something happened or they heard something. I can’t argue with them because I wasn’t there, I didn’t see it.”
Smith may not have experienced the ghosts, but he is the keeper of the stories because visitors are often sharing their experiences with him.
One such experience Smith didn’t know about until he read a letter to the editor in The Pocahontas Times.
“One night, I’d forgotten the flags,” he said. “I’d been busy all day. I was out doing my night rounds, later than normal and I didn’t get back home until after 11:30, quarter to 12, something like that.”
Smith was just about to retire for the evening when he remembered the flags were still flying.
“When I went out to get the flag, a car was coming around the curve there and just as I reached up to get ahold of the chains to bring the flag down, the car’s lights shined across me,” he recalled. “I went on, folded the flags, put them away and never thought anything more of it, until about a week later, a letter to the editor came out in The Pocahontas Times from some folks in Ohio who said they had been traveling through Droop Mountain Battlefield at the stroke of midnight and saw a Confederate soldier, in full uniform, saluting the flag. I’m sure it was those folks who saw me taking the flags down that night and they thought for sure I was a Confederate soldier.”
Smith said several former park superintendents have collected their own ghost stories. He recalled the story from Napoleon “Nap” Holbrook’s son, Alan, who has never forgotten his time living at Droop, thanks to one summer day helping his dad around the park.
“When Nap died, I went to his funeral and I asked [Alan] about this story so he told me what happened,” Smith said. “He’d been out one day with his dad, driving around the park, gathering garbage and cleaning the picnic areas. Alan was just a little kid. He had a little toy car and he was playing with it inside the park truck. They got back here and parked in front of the house and Nap went inside. Alan stayed in the truck, playing with his little toy car.
“He said while he was playing, he heard some horses out there next to the flagpole, just galloping, tromping along and looked up and thought that was weird,” Smith continued. “There was nothing there, but he thought for sure he heard it. He went back to playing, running his little car over the door handle. He said all at once, he heard a horse come clattering up on the pavement, right by the truck, plain as day, and he’s looking out the window, there’s nothing there, and he’s kind of getting creeped out.
“He said all at one, a horse blew right in his face. He could feel the slobbers,” Smith said. “He said it blowed the hair right up off his forehead and just scared the poor kid to death. He went to screaming and crying and, of course, everybody runs out to see what’s the matter and there’s nothing there. Nap said it was about three or four days before they could get him to come down the front steps without crying.”
Sixty years later, Holbrook shared the story as if it had happened days before instead of years.
“He said that they moved away not long after that, just a few weeks later. Nap got a job at another park. [Alan] said he was never so glad to leave a place in his life,” Smith recalled. “He had never been back to Droop Mountain and was never coming back and still, 60 years later, he said sometimes he would wake up in the middle of the night and his heart would be pounding and he’d be covered with sweat and out of breath, having the dream of that horse blowing in his face. So, whatever it was, it stayed with him his whole life.”
Smith said these are just a sample of the stories he hears from visitors.
“[I hear] similar stories of people seeing horses, soldiers leaning against trees, sounds, people yelling ‘halt’ or any number of things,” he said. “I don’t discount them, I’m just not the right kind of guy, I’m just not sensitive to it I guess.”
Smith said the stories of ghost sightings have attracted haunting enthusiasts and paranormal “hunters.”
“It adds a lot of interest to the park,” he said. “We do get quite a few paranormal groups here with their recorders and cameras. They’ll bring in photos of these glowing orbs, green and blue and yellow and white. They’re in the photo but I don’t see them when I walk around at night. You never know what you might see.”
Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org