Explored: October 25, 2010 by Lindsey Harlan and Sara Farmer
In small towns, stories spread like wildfire, and when those stories carry a wicked or spooky twist, it is not shocking that those creepy tales become legends. Our corner of the world is no different. While we like to think of our area as a little slice of paradise, with all the Native American and Civil War history in this region, not to mention the unpopular relocation of many residents during the creation of Land Between The Lakes, it is no surprise that a few eye-brow raising stories have been spun over the years. If you add to these historical events the legend of the Beast of LBL, the Phantom Trucker, the "Vampire Hotel" and the countless cemeteries tucked within these hills, LBL can become a haven for the creepy and weird.
In a recent conversation, several stories were told that created a buzz to investigate these unexplained things more thoroughly. Our first account is one that could be easily explained if our source wasn't so convincing in its telling. In the summer of 2009, our friend was traveling a country road late at night to her parents' home when a light began to follow her. "It looked just like a motorcycle light," she recalls. "One second it would be right behind my car, almost on my bumper, and another second it would be a mile back. Then it would be on my bumper again and then simply disappear."
The phenomenon continued for about ten miles before our source was able to receive a cell phone signal and call her father, who agreed to meet her in the yard with his gun. "As I rounded the curve to my parents' house, the light was right behind my car. I was scared whoever it was, or whatever it was, would follow me into the driveway. But when I pulled into the yard and looked, nothing was there. It was dead silence."
That story didn't take place in LBL but certainly sets the scene for what happened a few months later in October of 2009. Our source and her friend were traveling on 68-80 late one evening heading west. About midway through the park, an eerily similar light appeared, as did the overwhelming sense of urgency to get out of Land Between The Lakes. "I didn't want to say anything because no one, except my dad, believed me the first time. I also knew if she freaked out, I would too. But she sensed my fear and asked me what was wrong, so I told her. But it was so strange -as soon as we crossed the bridge, the creepy feeling I'd experienced disappeared. So did the light."
While our source's friend claims to have only seen the light on straight stretches, indicating a car's lights had disappeared when the two girls were going around a curve, our source is adamant about the lights being otherworldly. Further testament to her story: "The next day I went to work and was still a little unnerved by what had happened to us. I began to tell a coworker about the strangest thing that had happened to me in LBL, when he interrupted me and asked, 'Did a strange light follow you?' When I confirmed my response with our story, he looked at me with a very grave look on his face. 'It's the Phantom Trucker. I've seen it too.'"
While the stories of the Phantom Trucker seem to differ between being focused on 68-80 and the Trace, the premise is the same: a truck driver was allegedly killed in an accident and now his ghostly truck follows patrons through the Land Between The Lakes late at night, but disappears before leaving park. Have you seen the lights?
Our second story comes from a very trustworthy source, a man familiar with this area and its folklore. Having disregarded all the scary stories, he had camped in this area many times and was unconcerned with what might be hiding in the shadows. On this particular night his opinion changed. He and his friends decided to camp on the northeast side of Land Between The Lakes on the bank of Lake Barkley.
He and his wife pitched their tent up on a hill, while his friends made camp on the shore about 30 feet below. As night fell and darkness came over the campground, our source began to feel an overwhelming sense of dread and an urgency to move his tent. He describes this experience as though someone was watching him, or at least that he wasn't alone. A very sensible and logical man, he couldn't shake this feeling of fright and found it absolutely necessary to relocate his make-shift dwelling.
Some may brush off these feelings as par for the course while back-country camping. After all, being completely outside of your element can put anyone on edge, but the stories don't end with this one. Our source tells us that his friends returned to the same location sometime later and built a campfire. "These are God-fearing, church-going people. I don't think they'd be as scared about this story if they didn't fully believe what had happened was real," he says.
During this campfire, all three at once became overwhelmed by a very sinister sensation and one even began to cry. The others turned to look into the darkness and saw a face peering back at them. As quickly as they could, they left the area and they never went back.
After hearing these stories, it only made sense that we investigate these claims, and after discussing our options, we decided that we'd return to the "haunted" location and spend the night. Prior to our excursion, we did a little research on what we might find during our upcoming night in the park.
Well-known to those who frequent the area are the stories of the Beast of LBL. Everyone seems to know someone, who knows someone who has seen it - but firsthand accounts seem to be scarce. As far back as the Native American settlers, tales have been told of a wolf-like dog-man creature that walks on two legs. Legend has it that this ferocious creature would terrorize farm animals and leave them annihilated in barnyards as terrified farmers watched from behind the curtains.
There is also a sad rumor circulating that in the 1980s a whole family of campers was violently eaten at a campground, but the government and powers-that-be supposedly chose not to tell the story for fear it would ruin the upcoming tourist season. Ridiculous stories such as these seem to riddle every tourism-based town and appear to be told simply as fodder for scaring vacationers unfamiliar with the truth. Regardless of whether or not this beast exists, the stories are enough to make your hair stand on end and question howls in the night.
Our national recreation area also contains an abandoned structure known as the "Vampire Hotel," which many believe was the meeting grounds of the Murray, Kentucky-based "Vampire Clan," which was led by Roderick Ferrell. Ferrell claimed to be a 500-year-old Vampire called "Vesago" and murdered a couple in Florida before being captured and sent to prison. While we believe the association of Ferrell and the "Vampire Hotel" is just a rumor, it still adds a macabre undertone to the history of the grounds.
Being an area uninhabited by humans, Land Between The Lakes is obviously home to creepy noises and red eyes in the dark. While these can be explained away by the numerous animals that dwell within our forest, some say LBL is also home to strange omens and the paranormal. It is said that if you see a group of white-tailed deer, you should go the opposite direction, as they are warning you of danger.
Some say Civil War soldiers haunt these grounds as do former slaves who are angry about the injustices dealt to them. Others tell tales of those whose graves were flooded in an effort to make our great lakes. They say this unkind history has bred a negative energy that lurks within the woods.
Knowing we might experience the unexplainable, we set out for a night, joking that we hoped we would not be eaten by bears. Bears do not inhabit this area and deep down, we all hoped ghosts didn't either. Our source for the disturbing camping stories led us directly to the location of their fear: their campsite.
Upon entering this area, things seemed positively normal - birds were singing, the breeze was blowing and the sun was reflecting off the little inlet in front of us. One would say this is the perfect location for a night outdoors. After our guide retold his peculiar stories and left us in the woods, we set up camp and began to explore.
We ventured into an area that is normally covered in several feet of water, but was settling into its winter pool. We found the dirt surface inundated with animal tracks and footprints. Since it had been a while since we'd had any precipitation, the footprints had turned almost concrete-like in the mud. Then we saw the biggest footprint we'd ever seen.
As someone with large feet, I'd say this print was huge. It was several inches longer than my own foot, and had a large big toe that jutted out to the side. Was it just a prank previous campers had created, leaving an eerie print in the mud or was big foot alive and well in LBL?
Next we went in search of a cemetery that was supposed to be at the top of the nearby hill, or as I would like to call it - a mountain. It was, without a doubt, the steepest hill I've ever climbed. I was hoping a ghost would be hanging out waiting for us when we got there, just for all our effort, but we never located the cemetery. All we found was the remnants of an old home place, but it left little to be concerned about.
We did hear a strange buzzing noise that stopped us in our tracks, but a friend pointed out that the strange noise was mosquitoes, and they were flying above us. Looking up into the sky we saw bats flying around, eating our dear insect friends. I admit, hearing an unidentified noise on a ghost hunt was a bit uncomfortable. It seems the mind can create whatever it wants to, when your adrenaline is already pumping.
The sun began to set on us as we made our way back down the steep embankment. With the canopy of trees thickening and night falling in, it was nearly dark by the time we reached the bottom of the hill. One of the girls in the group pointed into the woods and said, "Is that a chair?"
Another group member stepped off the path into the woods to investigate what appeared to be a pop-up camping chair, hiding in the shadows, overlooking the lake. A few seconds later we heard, "Guys, don't move. Stay right where you are." We huddled together all thinking what he was thinking: He'd just found a dead body. He crept closer; we huddled closer whispering among ourselves trying to stay calm.
With our campsite within sight, my first reaction was thinking I'd have to come back the next day for my tent, because there was no way I was spending a second in the woods where a dead body had been. The moments were tense. We waited.
Suddenly our friend began to laugh. At first we thought he'd been playing a joke on us but it turns out, he'd really been as scared as we'd been - only instead of finding the corpse he thought he saw, he found a camping chair that had been modified into a portable toilet. Previous campers had left us their gift. We all laughed at the absurdity of what our imaginations had produced and our own ability to scare ourselves silly.
The night came without incident. We made s'mores, talked about life and stoked the fire. Occasionally strange noises would cause us to shine a flashlight into the darkness, but no ghosts ever materialized to identify themselves. At one point, members of the party began to discuss a possible trip to other strange locations within LBL, but not everyone was comfortable with that idea, so we remained around the fire, hoping (or not hoping) something scary would happen.
Around 1 A.M., the dogs we'd brought with us began to act funny. One began to bark and growl, and the other sat by my side, ears perked up looking into the woods on our right. She sat completely still, her chest trembling. Her uneasiness made me uneasy. The dogs calmed down after a few minutes, and I began to snap pictures of the darkness around us. Nothing showed up on my camera at the site, but further investigation looking at negatives revealed several orbs within the view.
Some may say orbs are merely dust or bugs, but I present the following argument: It was incredibly dusty that evening. It's not rained in quite some time and everything had a dirty film across it. If it was so dusty, then why did each snapshot only have 1-5 orbs in it?
Shouldn't there have been millions? As for bugs, these photos were snapped late in the night, on a night when it was very cold (the temperatures bordering on freezing). I don't recall ever swatting a bug away from me, and in the photos in question, they are all centralized in one location - not flying around in random spots like bugs would. I find the whole thing questionable. Would a professional ghost hunter debunk this? They could, but I believe, given the elements in nature that night, there is no logical way to explain the lack of dust particles and the cluster of orbs in my photographs.
Finally the time came for us to all go to bed. We agreed it was far too cold for ghosts to be out anyway. As the campers got quiet, a coworker and I listened to the night. Every few minutes we'd nudge each other and whisper, "What was that?" It almost became funny as the time passed: a buck rubbing his antlers on a tree, a bob cat crying in the night, a hawk, a coyote.
We'd identify the unknown noise, and then one would say, "I'm glad we identified that sound." Even the strangest noises sounded comforting when you could identify what was making it. That is, until we heard a pterodactyl. Until the day I die, I will insist that the spine-chilling, scream slash screech slash roar we heard was a dinosaur and not something otherworldly. You may now commence spreading the legend of "The Pterodactyl in LBL."
The night began to fade to dawn and we were resting soundly in our tent, knowing we'd made it through the night without being scared to death by something supernatural. There was a peaceful calm on Lake Barkley, the sun beginning to rise and with the snores of friends filling the air, I achieved what normally eludes me while camping - a deep, deep sleep. Then the strangest thing happened. The ground trembled and something thundered past our tent and through our campsite. We all jolted awake from our false sense of security. I ended up in tornado drill position with my hands on my head, thinking we were about to die. We were all breathless, blinking at each other in the morning. The culprit: a very thirsty deer.
All said and done, I wish I'd been braver on our camping trip and really investigated the paranormal claims of Land Between The Lakes, but that's easy to say now that I'm out of the woods. Was our campsite haunted? I honestly don't know. Having camped in Land Between The Lakes over a dozen times, I have to say it's a wonderful place. I have never felt scared or threatened.
Sure, there are noises that are unexplained, but I do not think evil loiters behind every tree. I do believe, however, with such a rich history anything is possible, and if something paranormal is there, and wants to be seen, it will let you know, but some things simply don't need to be stirred up. What rests beyond the woods and in the dark shadows is anyone's guess, but if you go looking for it, you may find something you didn't want to find - or it may find you.