Haunting Views

“Nah, there’s nothing to be scared of in there,” she told them. Her crooked, bone-thin finger pointed toward Daisy Town, the group’s ultimate destination.

It was easy to see that her reflection in glass had once undoubtedly inspired poets. Flowing in gray waves down her ever-so-slightly twisted back, her hair evoked memories of raven’s wings. Her cheekbones stood as high as the Alps atop two identically sunken valleys cascading toward her strong jawline. The years had left marks; unflinchingly, she displayed them all.

“That place over there is old, lots older than those houses, but it isn’t weighed down by anything frightful,” she told them.

The stories they’d heard about this place and its former inhabitants, though, seemed to paint a different, more sinister picture, and they were too intriguing to ignore. As autumn succeeded in stealing a few more seconds of precious sunlight from each day, the desire to look for Elkmont’s ghostly past grew stronger. On a dare, the group of friends set out to capture images – the stranger, the better – they hoped. They agreed to get started late on an October afternoon, just before nightfall wrapped in its bitter cold embrace around this ancient place.

As a five-some, the ambitious photographers – giddy with anticipation and full of intrigue – felt safety lie in their numbers. Until, that is, their chance encounter with the old lady dressed in layers of bleak muslin and Victorian-style button-up boots.  The message she broadcasted to those who would listen should have felt reassuring, but for some unexplainable reason it caused a tightening in each of their throats.

“Is she for real?” Kristina asked as they walked away. Unsure of how to respond, they turned back to get another look at her, weathered and puckered like a dried-apple doll, but she had vanished. A collective chill ran down their spines.

Kristina Plaas Photo

Kristina Plaas Photography

Kristina’s lens focused first on the rusted twists of metal used to both decorate and secure a screen door. Like wisps of smoke from a campfire, the mesmerizing metal for a moment captured her attention and threatened not to let go.

Kristina Plaas Photo

Kristina Plaas Photography

When she managed to break the spell, something pulled at each thread of her blouse, urging her inside. Without knowing why, her mind instantly wondered about the scenes various cooks had witnessed outside these panes of glass. Had they been joyful and carefree, or had some visions raised the hairs on their arms?

Athalia Howell Photo Red Barn

Athalia Howell Photography


Across the way, Athalia used the last rays of daylight to focus her lens on a cabin window. It would be two days later – after she’d awaken from what some would describe as a catatonic state – that she would look closer and wonder what she’d captured in the lower right pane.

Athalia Howell Photo Screen Window

Athalia Howell Photography

Then Athalia inched as close as she dared to another window. Just before darkness fell and she left her conscious body for some 48 hours, she imagined someone – or something – fighting to get out through the broken screen.


Warren Bielenberg Photo Red Windows

Warren Bielenberg Photography


Unaware that something dark had befallen Athalia, Warren discovered a trio of blood red windows that fascinated him as much as they disturbed him. Their crimson outlines screamed silently the introduction to a sad story from the distant past.


Warren Bielenberg Photo House with Path

Warren Bielenberg Photography

Needing desperately to find a place pulsing with a deeper feeling of security, Warren followed a stone path to an isolated structure. Hoping a family from the past had enjoyed summers full of delight and joy here, he was compelled to snap his shutter before the light disappeared.

Allison Bate Photo Green House

Allison Bate Photography


With less courage than her companions, Allison refused to stray too far from Rod. She, more than the others, had taken to heart the dreadful stories they’d heard about this place. Deeper down in the bones, she knew as soon as they had arrived in Daisy Town that something was watching them move around the cabins. Only with Rod’s assurance did she face her growing fear and find the strength to move slowly toward the cabin door.

Rod Barr Photo Rust

Rod Barr Photography

If Allison wanted him to stay close, Rod would oblige. Taking two small steps to the right he found an unusual, rusted object hanging by what appeared to be nothing more than spider webs. What must it have looked like and what was its intended use when it was new, he wondered.

Allison Bate Photo Paint Bucket

Allison Bate Photography

As the shadows grew longer, Allison nearly tripped over a discarded bucket lying among the leaf litter. Surely it once held paint; now, however, neither she nor Rod could make out its oozing contents.

Warren Bielenberg Photo Wood Texture

Warren Bielenberg Photography

Meanwhile, Warren, too, tripped on something poking from beneath a pile of dead leaves. He hit the ground with a weary thump. Just after assuring himself nothing was broken, including his camera, a screeching sound coming from above caused his eyes to jerk reflexively upward. “What was that?” he asked. He hoped his lens could see what he could not in the dying light.

Allison bate Photo Wooden Door

Allison Bate Photography

The last thing Allison wanted when the sun set was to find herself inside one of the 100-year-old structures at sunset. “No way,” she emphatically told Rod. “That’s the mistake everyone makes in the horror movies.”

“Come on,” he said. “We’re in Daisy Town, not the Bates Motel. What could go wrong?”

Kristina Plaas Photo

Kristina Plaas Photography

Stepping over the threshold, the pair instantly lost their grip on reality when the solid wood floor transformed into a watery window…

Rod Barr Photo

Rod Barr Photography 

… the ceiling distorted into swirls of chaos and confusion…

Rod Barr Photo

Rod Barr Photography

 

… and the wood grain on the cabin’s walls elongated unnaturally and glowed iridescent indigo. Time appeared to stand still.

Warren Bielenberg Photo

Warren Bielenberg Photography

 

To this day, no one can swear to what happened next. What is known is that Rod was never seen again; his disappearance was mourned and debated for years by his friends and family. Allison, however, left her last earthly image in the cabin’s antique glass window. From time to time, when the moon rises in exactly the same position, her shadowy figure can be seen searching for her lost companion.

 

On autumn evenings in the years since the group of five was mysteriously reduced to three, others have ventured into Daisy Town in search of the Ghost of Elkmont. While her soft wails are sometimes heard floating through the forest canopy, her waves of raven hair and soulful eyes are rarely seen. Except when she appears to strangers and shares this misguided message: “Nah, there’s nothing to be scared of in there.”

 

The End

 

The Real Story – During his September 2018 residency in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, artist Rod Barr invited volunteer and staff photographers to join his mission of “Looking Within the View.” They set out to photograph images typically overlooked and unnoticed by visitors to the national park.

 

The five photographers met on September 25 in Elkmont’s historic Daisy Town to look for hidden beauty among the many interesting objects found on, in and near the restored houses. The resulting photographs illustrate the range of sights that can be experienced by visitors who take time to look beyond the typical views.

 

Photography planned an important part in the creation of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. As described by Rose Houk in Pictures for a Park, when advocates for preserv­ing the Great Smoky Mountains as a national park needed support for their battle, they turned to photographers like Jim Thompson and George Masa for help. Their gorgeous landscape photographs helped convince officials that the Smokies rivaled any scen­ery in the West and were worthy of national park status. Pictures for a Park includes incredible, large-format images captured by Carlos Campbell, Doris Ulman, Ansel Adams, George Grant and many others. Published by Great Smoky Mountains Association, all sales support the national park.

 

Disclaimer – No photographers were harmed in the development of this fictional story inspired by All Hallows Eve. Our thanks go to each of them for capturing the images that inspired this story. They were and still are:

Rod Barr, Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s 2018 Artist-in-Residence, a Volunteers-In-Park program

Allison Bate, Americorps Intern, Resource Education

Warren Bielenberg, Cades Cove Information Assistant and Resource Educator 

Athalia Howell, Little River Visitor Patrol Team

Kristina Plaas, Clingmans Dome Information Assistant

Click HERE to learn more about the Artist-in-Residence program in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Click HERE to learn more about the Elkmont Renovation Project and the work to restore Daisy Town.

 


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