Just about every family and bloodline
have a ghost in the closet. Mine was known as The Greenbrier Ghost or The
Ghost of Little Sewell Mountain and the incident occurred in late 1897. It
is one of the most famous ghost stories in our country's history. The
respectable American Society for Psychical Research investigated the case.
It was the first time that a ghost figured in the judicial process. It is
the only ghost that has its own highway marker. Not far on the Midland
Highway where that road intersects with Interstate 64 at Sam Black Church
the marker gives a concise summary of the case. Mary Heaster was a distant
cousin of my mother. She had the reputation of a God fearing, honest
woman, so her word carried weight. Her daughter Zona had recently married
Trout Shue, a newcomer to the area about whom little was known. So when
Shue arrived at Mary Heaster's home on Little Sewell Mountain with her
daughter's carefully wrapped body, Mary was horrified and suspicious. She
had never trusted Shue. The coroner ruled that Zona's death was due to
childbirth, although she was not pregnant. That inexplicable ruling was
never explained as far as I could ascertain.
Not long after Zona's interment, Mary Heaster began telling her neighbors
that her daughter's spirit had returned four times and told her she had
been murdered by Shue. That her husband got angry because she had prepared
no fruit for his lunch and had broken her neck.
Zona's father never reported any supernatural visits, but a mother and
child had a greater rapport than a father and child, so many believed,
since they were connected in the womb.
Mary began pestering the prosecuting attorney until he had her daughter's
body exhumed. Her neck had indeed been broken so the prosecutor brought a
charge of murder against Shue. The judge instructed the jury to disregard
the supernatural aspects of the case. But that is easier said than done.
It became apparent that jurors were very impressed by Mary's insistence
that her daughter's visits were real and not dreams, as the defense lawyer
suggested. "I don't dream when I'm awake," Mary stated emphatically.
The jury found Shue guilty and he was sentenced to the state penitentiary
where he died of pneumonia a couple of years later.
I looked up a transcript of the trial in the archives of the Greenbrier
Independent newspaper in Lewisburg. I wrote an article on the case and
sold it to a magazine called Exploring the Unknown. There was also an
article published about the case in Fate Magazine, a publication still
existing to which I sold six or seven articles. I have seen at least two
books on the Greenbrier Ghost and there may be others. One attempted to
debunk Mary Heaster's tale. But it is impossible to disprove the existence
of ghosts. Because you have never seen one doesn't prove no one else
hasn't. Or will in the future. In the diary that Christopher Columbus kept
of his journey to the New World. he casually mentions that some of his men
saw a unicorn. Were there unicorns on this continent or anywhere else in
the world? You can't prove they never existed. So with the Greenbrier
Ghost. Was Mary Heaster lying or dreaming or imagining?
Was this really a story of justice from the grave? Apparently a jury of
twelve thought so.
If you are ever driving by Sam Black Church, stop and read the highway