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'Haunts of the Blue Ridge' includes eerie tales of local people, places
Thursday, October 21, 2010
By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer
Spending a warm summer night at the Reynolds Homestead in Critz last year was an experience that Joe Tennis never will forget.
Tennis, of Abingdon, is an author and a features writer for the Bristol Herald Courier. His account of spending a night at the homestead, the former home of the late tobacco magnate R.J. Reynolds, is in his new book, "Haunts of Virginia's Blue Ridge Highlands."�
He was at the homestead to give a speech on a Sunday, and he needed a place to sleep.
Yet from the moment he arrived about 11 p.m. Saturday, Tennis had an eerie feeling. The longer he lingered, the more intense the feeling became. It was enough to make him flee and try to find comfort in a hotel room.
After he could not find affordable lodging in the Martinsville area, Tennis returned to the homestead and spent the night in an upstairs apartment. He did not stay in the bedroom where he sensed the presence of a spirit. He stayed in the kitchen where there was, for some reason, a couch.
Despite seeing and feeling some strange things in the apartment, "I was never scared to be in the kitchen," he said.
Tennis said during his overnight stay at the homestead, he never sensed his life was in danger. In fact, after the sun came up on Sunday, he took a nap in the bedroom and had no problems.
"I didn't see a person" during the visit, he recalled. But at times "I had an extremely powerful sense something else was there. It was crippling; it was mind-numbing."�
"Whatever spirit was there didn't particularly like visitors," he said.
Later during his visit, Tennis found out from staff at the homestead that other people who had stayed there had reported having eerie sensations.
He said he might feel comfortable staying there again, but not alone.
"I feel at home at the Reynolds Homestead. I feel haunted by the Reynolds Homestead," Tennis mused.
"Boy, what a quote!" he gently laughed after reflecting on his comment.
Tennis' book contains 36 stories of haunted places and buildings in Southwest Virginia.
One story is about the late judge Malcolm Hugh MacBryde Jr., who was known for his sternness and the stiff sentences he gave criminals at the old Henry County courthouse in Martinsville. Some people think the courthouse is haunted by his ghost.
Three stories are from Patrick County. Along with Tennis' experiences at the Reynolds Homestead, there are tales of the "whiskey man" at the Mountain Rose Inn in Woolwine and what some think might be an angel inhabiting the Poor Farmers Farmhouse in Meadows of Dan.
The Martinsville and Patrick County stories are near the end of the book. Tennis relates the tales starting in the far southwest part of the state and progresses eastward.
Each of the tales take up no more than a few pages in the 110-page book. Tennis said he wanted to make the book easily readable and something that people could pick up from time to time at their leisure and read quickly.
He said he wants readers to feel like they are taking a journey through the southwestern part of the state.
But spooky stories are "like chocolate," he added. "You don't want to eat (or read, in this case) too many at one time."�
Nevertheless, Tennis does not consider the book to be one that horrifies a reader. He said he does not recall using the word "horror" in the book.
He emphasized that he is not a ghost hunter, although he enjoys ghost stories. A history enthusiast, he said he wanted to present the stories in his book in a way that connects with and highlights Southwest Virginia history.
Some of the book's other tales involve the Mountain Lake Resort Hotel in Giles County, where part of the movie "Dirty Dancing" was filmed; Emory & Henry College in Washington County; the historic Martha Washington Inn in Abingdon; the Cave at Cumberland Gap; and Roanoke College in Salem.
Tennis had planned to focus the book on places in the New River Valley, but as he talked to more and more people, "I kept hearing more and more tales" from there and elsewhere, and he decided to expand the book's scope.
Although he interviewed a lot of people, he found it challenging to get some of them to talk.
"A lot of people are very hesitant at first to say anything" about haunted places, Tennis said. "They don't want you to think they're crazy. It's an emotional thing for people to talk about."�
Also, many people in Martinsville helped with the project, including
like Paul and Pat Ross of the Bassett Historical Center; Virginia King, president of the Martinsville-Henry County Historical Society; and Debbie Hall, who is involved in the historical society.
Based on his experience at the Reynolds Homestead and talking with others about their experiences, Tennis said he believes in apparitions.
When people encounter them, it is like a religious experience in some ways because "it changes their lives," he said, admitting that he went through "a real soul-searching" after his night at the homestead.
From 10 a.m. until noon Saturday, he will be at Binding Time Cafe on Spruce Street in Martinsville to sign copies of "Haunts of Virginia's Blue Ridge Highlands."�
Copies of the book also can be obtained by calling The History Press at (866) 457-5791 or going online at amazon.com.
Tennis can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.