Appalachian Gothic

Tales of the paranormal from the Appalachian Mountains.

Old Scratch in Stanley Valley

A famous haunting once occurred in the Stanley Valley area of Hawkins County, Tennessee. The Ford family dealt with a spirit that could read, write, and had a sense of humor. Unlike the Bell family a century earlier, the Ford family wasn’t particularly traumatized, although the haunting lasted over two decades.

The Ford family lived in their cabin for years before any activity started. No known event triggered the haunting. Their life was as typical as their neighbors, until one day in the winter of 1917. The family heard a sound they likened to a guinea fowl somewhere in the house. The random noises continued for months. They were unsettled, but otherwise unaffected. Sometime later, the sound changed, and then sounded like walnuts falling from the ceiling onto the wooden floors.

Sounds of falling objects didn’t stop. A while later, the sound morphed into something that sounded like a whole ham hitting the floor. The noises remained random, but frequent. Eventually, the scratching activity emerged, which is what the entity became famous for. The scratching appeared and disappeared for no reason. The family checked the home for vermin and small animals, but found none.

The Ford “witch” enjoyed scratching so much that it performed the feat for nearly two decades. The family eventually grew accustomed to its presence. No one ever found a point of origin, or a reason for the sounds, but they never hurt anyone. When Russ, Ford’s son, reached his teens, the haunting again changed.

By 1932, the scratching confined itself to Russ’s room and seemed most active when he was in bed. The spirit grew so skillful the family could communicate with it. They used a system of one scratch for “yes” and two for “no.” Russ’s father became so curious that he laid beside his son on the bed during the activity. The spirit grew angry, and yanked his hair until he stood back up.

A steady stream of spectators visited the Ford house to watch the phenomenon. A mysterious Knoxville man, known only as “Koger,” brought a writing slate to test the spirit. To perform the test, the family tied Russ’s limbs to the bedposts to ensure he couldn’t write.

Koger slipped the slate under the covers, just atop Russ’s stomach. He asked the entity questions and a few minutes later, the slate was uncovered. The spirit left a written message. The spirit had wonderful penmanship. Some accounts state its first word was “Hello,” while others say the playful spirit wrote, “Boo!”

During the sessions of questioning, the spirit clawed around Russ’s bed. It was asked to draw a self-portrait, so it drew a devil with a pitchfork. A man named “Pleas” Jenkins came to serenade the spirit. He sang a number of gospel hymns, but the spirit didn’t like them. It returned a cacophonous chorus that nearly drowned the music out. The spirit’s disposition changed with time and it grew to keep rhythm with any music through knocks.

One neighbor, Mrs. Ben Rogler, attempted to trick the spirit. She asked her husband to write a check before she visited the Ford household, but not to tell her the amount. He had to write it and seal it in an envelope so she couldn’t see it. She arrived at the Ford household and asked the spirit how much the check was written for. The spirit answered with ten knocks. Rogler opened the envelope and found her husband had written it for ten dollars.

Eventually, the spirit talked about the murder of Jack Howard. It claimed to be the ghost of Howard, who was murdered in a Virginia cave by John Black. The spirit said Howard had carried $4,000 in cash on the day of his murder. He wanted someone to recover his remains and give him a decent burial. As a reward, he would reveal the location of the money.

A short while later Russ, Dave, and Henry Ford, left to visit Virginia. They were accompanied by neighbor Joe Whittaker. The men took an empty pine box for the remains. When they stepped off the train in Virginia, Russ watched a white phantom hand point the way. The men followed the hand as it showed which direction they needed to go. They hiked for 10 miles before they reached the cave. They explored it, but the journey was fruitless. They didn’t find any remains or any treasure.

This left a number of questions that remain unanswered today. How did the men find the cave, with no paths or trails and thick underbrush? Did John Black find Howard’s wealth after the murder? Did someone else bury the remains?


Many tales are connected to Ford’s spirit, but aren’t confirmed or supported. Several rumors suggest Tom Ford stole several windows from a nearby church for a new addition to his cabin, prior to the paranormal events. This is not supported by documentation.

Recent accounts also have the events happening primarily in 1917, with no reference to the haunt actually lasting 20 years longer.

Another variation states when the men returned from Virginia, Mrs. Ford held a letter that stated their eldest son was killed overseas. A $4,000 check was attached. This is fiction. World War II did not begin until 1941 and World War I ended in 1918. Hawkins County has several records of men named Ford, who fought in World War I, but none died in battle.

An outlaw named John Hill used “John Black” as an alias. The outlaw was a North Carolina native, but authorities caught up with him in Knoxville, Tennessee. The crime was a Virginia murder committed in 1906. Was Howard one of his victims? The ghost or spirit eventually faded from the spotlight and ceased its activity. Tom Ford’s cabin is no longer standing.


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