“We pride ourselves on the fact that we don’t tell anything fictitious or made up in these tours. We’re not just storyteller —we’re historians.” — Stacey Allen McGee
The Smoky Mountains are renowned for their picturesque vistas and scenic views, but there’s another side of the region steeped in mystery and intrigue.
Each year, Stacey Allen McGee, a ghost hunter, shows thousands of visitors this other side of the mountains. Through his company Appalachian GhostWalks, McGee leads 12 ghostly tours in small Appalachian towns dotting Tennessee and Virginia. Known as the first western frontier of the United States, the region served as the gateway for thousands of pioneers making their way across the Appalachian Mountains in search of greener pastures.
“We are a very haunted place because everybody from Maine to Florida was coming here first on their way West,” McGee says.
The area has been home to Cherokee villages, European settlers and Civil War battles, and according to McGee, there are plenty who have never left.
It’s a fact McGee knows from firsthand experience. He and his team have trained with parapsychologists and psychics around the country and have single-handedly located and confirmed most of the haunted sites on the tours.
“We only tour authentically haunted places, so we have lots of interesting things that happen on our tours,” McGee says. “It’s not unheard of for guests to be touched by unseen hands.”
One of the most popular tours is the Little Chicago Ghost Walk in Johnson City, Tenn. After a 40-minute ghost hunting instruction session that kicks off the tour, guests are transported back to the 1930s, a time when the legendary Al Capone ran the Appalachian wing of his bootlegging operation in Johnson City. Capone and his henchmen dug tunnels under the town to carry the illegal alcohol.
The tour takes guests through the current television station building, where a mysterious presence has been heard walking the halls late at night, and also goes by the former John Sevier hotel, the site of many tragic deaths and at least one suicide. Guests learn the truth about the mass murder that occurred during Capone’s reign, a fact that resurfaced recently during McGee’s team’s investigation of a downtown building. A few lucky patrons may even catch a glimpse of the ghosts of children who wander the downtown historic district. The tour takes about three hours to complete.
Another popular Appalachian GhostWalks adventure takes guests to Erwin, Tenn., home to one of the first English settlements west of the Appalachians. The tour starts off at the Unicoi County Heritage Museum, located in a turn-of-the-century parlor home. Guests learn about the five families that formerly occupied the residence. McGee and his team have some amazing results from investigations there. The tour continues to the site of the Civil War battle at Redbank, where 4,000 men fought to their death. As night falls, a lantern leads guests to the site of an old Cherokee Indian village that was unearthed during the construction of Interstate 26. A tour guide reveals the spooky and tragic history that accompanies some of the uncovered artifacts.
As evidenced, along with mystery, each tour comes with a big dose of local history. That makes it stand apart from other ghost tours, says McGee.
“We pride ourselves on the fact that we don’t tell anything fictitious or made up in these tours,” McGee says. “We’re not just storytellers—we’re historians.”
Appalachian GhostWalks is unique among ghost tours in other ways, too. McGee was raised in a Pentecostal household, and his Christian background provided him with a positive view of the afterlife. It’s a message he tries to convey through his tours.
“The primary thing I want people to understand is that we’re not the type of tour that jumps out from the bushes to scare you,” McGee says. “The goal of our tour is to give people the warm fuzzies about the afterlife and to let people know not to be afraid of ghosts.”
In McGee’s view, spirits were once average people that led mostly normal lives—and they’re nothing to be scared of.
“The strong evidence is that these are people just like your aunts, your uncles, who for whatever reason, have not chosen to go into the light,” McGee says. “That doesn’t mean they’re evil—they’ve just made a choice to stay close to a level of existence.”
McGee hopes the tours help to change guests’ perspectives of ghosts.
“With all of our tours, our goal is to replace the fear that people have of ghosts with a feeling of compassion and understanding for wandering souls,” he says.
Appalachian GhostWalks offers tours in towns throughout Tennessee and Virginia, as well as a variety of packages that combine the tours with local attractions. For more information, check out www.appalachianghostwalks.com or call 423.743.WALK. Be sure to check out the company’s newest attraction, the Paranormal Mysteries Museum, opening in June 2010 in downtown Johnson City, Tenn.