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Sep 08

Beyond Lydia: Lesser-known Haunts of Guilford County and Vicinity, Part 1 – by Larry Cates

Posted on September 8, 2023 at 2:06 PM by Tamara Vaughan

Originally posted on October 11, 2022

Since I began my library career in High Point some 15 years ago, scarcely a Halloween season has passed without someone inquiring to look at our file on the local “hitchhiker” specter of the now-abandoned Jamestown Underpass—that diaphanous diva of roadside revenants, Lydia. 

Ah, Lydia. How much ink has been spilled trying to decipher your identity, discover the circumstances of your death, locate the bereft family with which you long to be reunited? Yet few of these inquisitive souls seem to be aware that Lydia has sisters in virtually every major American metropolitan area—all with different names but essentially the same story. 

From Chicago’s Resurrection Mary to the Niles Canyon Ghost of California to Mother Cabrini in Kingston, New York, Lydia is just one of a legion of spirits hoping to catch a ride home but never quite attaining the goal. There is nothing particularly unique or local about her. Perhaps she never existed at all. Her legend might have taken flight from other versions in other places—meant as morality tales to caution young urban partygoers with ready access to spirits and automobiles. A dangerous combination, indeed.

 

cement underpass with red and green coveringThe old Greensboro-High Point Road underpass in Jamestown doesn’t seem so scary now that it has been incorporated into the town’s Main Street sidewalk project. It was from this spot Lydia, the Jamestown Hitchhiker, was seen decades ago. Lydia’s story has spurred much speculation, research, publication, and television coverage. Another thought-provoking theory about her can be heard in this podcast: http://epitaphpod.com/2019/01/08/the-girl-at-the-underpass/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-girl-at-the-underpass . Stop in the Heritage Research Center at the High Point Public Library to learn more about Lydia and other area spectral apparitions, tall tales, and spooky stories.

 

Unfortunately, Lydia has eclipsed and obscured many other local spirits who should enjoy greater name-recognition. Their stories are more unique and specific. Perhaps they’ve escaped your notice. Here’s your invitation to make their acquaintance. And, if perchance you should meet one of them as you traverse some darkened alley or shade-dappled forest glade, you’ll be able to attach a name and an explanation to the terror they inspire.

They give chase
Did you know Guilford County has its own version of the Headless Horseman, except there were two of them? After the Battle of Guilford Courthouse in 1781, two English cavalrymen were found dead in the woods north of the battlefield. A tree had just overturned there in some violent storm. Instead of giving these men a proper burial, locals decided to take the easy route. They trimmed the tree down to its trunk, threw the bodies into the pit beneath the root stock, then tipped the entire mass back into the pit to cover them. A road later passed by the spot, and it was said that the two improperly-buried “light horse” could be seen galloping along that stretch in the moonlight astride white steeds. All who passed did so in fear and trembling of being pursued. In fact, two elderly people — a basket peddler named Bluford and a root doctor named Molly Dodson — once mistook one another for a spectral horseman on a late night passage home along that route. Their encounter nearly came to a fatal conclusion as each determined to stand their ground. (“I ain’t afraid of no ghost!”) But in this case, they both nearly became one.

The plundered corpse
In the skirmish at Ballinger’s Crossroads near New Garden Meeting House in March 1781, just before the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, a small band of Americans met Cornwallis’s cavalry in a minor dust-up. A local man named Hunt and his son were crouching under cover of a hedge, hoping to see a battle from a safe vantage when they found an adjoining field suddenly inundated with British cavalrymen. Hunt fled, but his son, excited by the danger, decided to remain. A young Scottish bugler sounded the charge for the hussars to cut off the American retreat with a flanking movement, but he was shot down by the son who thought the blast was sounded in derision at his father’s rapid retreat. The British abandoned their charge, fearing a whole enemy regiment must be concealed in the nearby brush. The bugler was interred where he fell. By 1840, Revolutionary War relics had become quite a craze, and a group of local schoolboys who knew the location of the grave decided to dig it up. They recovered 100 brass buttons, the silver lace from the bugler’s cap and belt, and the brass spur-plates on his boots. A dozen of the buttons were sent to General Nathaniel Greene’s daughter. A ghastly desecration worthy of a ghostly curse.

The haunted homestead
In 1870, a local, anonymous author wrote an account for the Greensboro Patriot of his uncle’s long-abandoned farm and the spectral happenings that drove the owners away. When but 17 years old, the author’s father had resided with his brother and sister-in-law to help with the hard labor of clearing their land. Often at night, they would hear the raucous screechings of a cat fight in the vicinity of the cabin, though they kept no cats. When they emerged to investigate, they found neither felines nor any fur or blood. As the sister-in-law rose one morning to milk the cows, she glanced out into the far fields and noticed something that resembled a sheep among the furrows. They had no sheep in that field, and the fences were good. She called the two men to help her interpret this vision, and as they approached, they saw that the thing had imperceptibly moved to the opposite side of the field. It took on the appearance of a pale human-like figure with long, stringy hair and beard. As the father approached, he captured the gaze of the entity which held him transfixed as its form slowly dissipated and sank into a mound of earth at that spot. Thenceforward, nothing would grow at that location. Shaken by this vision, the family moved out as soon as they could. And when the father returned years later on a misty morning to revisit the place, he traversed the overgrown lane, saw the dilapidated house, roof collapsed, frame punctured by a tree, everything covered in vegetation but that single spot in the field as bare as though it had been sown with salt.

More little-known spooky tales of this locality from the late 19th Century and early 20th follow in our next post. Click here to read part 2


Contributed by Larry W. Cates. Larry is a Reference Librarian at the Heritage Research Center of the High Point Public Library where he specializes in family and local history. Contact him at 336.883.3637 or larry.cates@highpointnc.gov

 

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