Old Hell’s cabin was located in Pocahontas, Virginia. This town sits in Tazewell County. There’s an area around Pocahontas called Sinking Creek and once, a log cabin there was known simply as, “Old Hell’s Cabin.”
“Old Hell,” was the nickname of Philip Hellingham. He was an old bachelor who spent decades in the 3-room log cabin. He lived to be around 65 or 68, but he didn’t enjoy an ordinary life. He was considered strange, even diabolical, for most of those decades. He was a tall individual, and his matching gray eyes and hair only added to his mystery for those in the community.
Rumors regularly traveled about Hell’s nefarious dealings with the devil. Some even went so far as to declare he’d made a pact with Old Scratch, but no one could say why he did it. Rumors also said he came from a wealthy North Carolina family and had obtained a notable education during his youth.
In the 1880s, one brave reporter hiked the Virginia hills. He was on the lookout for an unforgettable story. He found it in Sinking Creek. He came to a saloon and ordered a drink. While he enjoyed his beverage, he heard a number of the locals telling stories about Old Hell. He listened quietly until he couldn’t be silent.
One man, who claimed to be a neighbor, said he hadn’t visited Old Hell in half a decade. He tried to spend the night with the old man and was frightened away by diabolical disturbances. He said the night proceeded normally, until he tried to go to sleep. He first heard whispers and dismissed it as the wind. He felt uneasy and began to check the room. He looked for cracks or drafts, but the room was airtight. The whispers became groans and he grew afraid. When the groans became screams, he fled the house. He knew there was no natural reason for the sounds.
He said he traveled a few hundred yards and turned, unsure about leaving Old Hell alone there. He froze when he noticed lights dancing around the top of Old Hell’s house and smelled burning sulfur. He swore he would never visit the cabin again.
Another man at the table claimed he’d passed by Old Hell’s house one night and found a bizarre creature outside his cabin. It looked like a cow, but had massive horns of flames.
The reporter didn’t really believe the men, but knew it would make an interesting tale, nonetheless. He immediately hiked to Hell’s cabin. Had he only been a few hours later, the outcome would have been far different.
Hellingham was near death by the time the reporter arrived. He requested a glass of water and the reporter complied. Old Hell confessed that, because of the rumors, no one would check on him and no one would help him. He felt an urgent need to clarify what had happened in his life. He didn’t want to be remembered as being in league with the devil.
Hellingham confessed that up until the last decade, he’d been the most successful moonshiner in Tennessee. He’d operated his still, inside his house, and none of his neighbors ever suspected the truth behind his secrecy.
He helped the reporter discover the secret room where he made his product. The room was invisible from the outside and skillfully constructed over a mountain stream. He’d allowed the rumors to continue when he was young, because he wanted privacy. Most of his neighbors had a bad habit of dropping in at their convenience, and not his, so he needed to prevent their visits altogether.
He admitted that when he first moved into the cabin, the noises scared even him. It became so frightening he thought he would move. He gathered his composure and explored the home to see where the noises originated. He found most of the sound arising from the water flowing beneath the cabin and the remainder was from the wind across his chimney.
That gave him an idea.
He rigged his house to be as noisy as possible to keep prying eyes away. He created a system of pipes that carried the sound beneath the floor in the cabin’s guest room. He had a type of wiring that he ran across the pipes. During a storm, the pipes had a natural reaction and gave off a white-blue light.
The reporter told him the story from the man at the bar. Hellingham admitted the St. Elmo’s fire on his roof that night was pure luck.
After another hour, it was time. Hellingham laid down on his bed and instructed the reporter to write some letters. He had some letters in his trunk and wanted the reporter to contact his loved ones.
After the old man passed, the reporter found some of the rumors to be accurate inside the trunk. Hellingham was a native of North Carolina. He came from a reputable family and enjoyed the comforts of a fine education and security. Unfortunately, he felt the need to gamble. Hellingham was playing cards with a childhood friend when a fight broke out. He ended up killing his friend over the game. He fled the state after that.
Time would not be kind to his cabin, either. About a year after his story was told, lightening hit his mysterious cabin and it burned to the ground. Even when the cabin was gone, locals claimed the land remained cursed.