History and Haunted Places
On a sultry summer night, Pepper led a group of eight in the dark, telling ghost stories drenched in historical fact. The tour winds past the Grove Arcade, S and B Cafeteria, and Battery Park Hotel. She has walked these streets since she first learned to walk, and her parents and grandparents before her. Pepper’s been listening to Asheville ghost stories since she was old enough to talk.
“When I was four years old, my father looked from his office window and saw apparitions on Haywood Street,” Pepper said. “He saw veterans from all branches of the service, smoking cigarettes. He told my mother that he witnessed them vanishing, one by one, in the early morning fog.”
She tells of a child lost and never found, a city father leaping form a tall building, and a mass murder in the city streets. Near one church, the scent of roses lingers, although no roses can be found there now. One building housing a book-selling business used to be the site of some strange sightings, and the building actually had an exorcism to get rid of the energies. Another has been heavy with paranormal activity, windows opening and closing, stomping in the halls, and no business there has thrived since 1974.
“Let’s go to church,” she says, as she leads the group down Church Street. “More than 1100 bodies got dug up here, in my grandmother’s time. They couldn’t bury people here anymore, and the bodies got dug up.”
In reality, the bodies were dug up due to unsanitary conditions created by a very unhealthy fly problem in downtown Asheville that escalated dramatically in about 1904, as a result of decades of pine box burials in eight church cemeteries. So an ordinance was introduced by Dr. Lewis McCormick. Dr. McCormick also introduced a marketing campaign during this called “Swat the Fly” where Asheville’s children were paid to swat and kill flies.
Asheville has 24 vortexes, she says, or places where energy and ley lines converge. One building has been featured on America’s Most Haunted Places.
“I share the ghost stories that have been handed down here,” Pepper said. “All of the stories also have to be rooted in actual historical events. I research every story to ensure accuracy. All good ghost stories need a smack of reality for them – things that really happen, people who exist.”
The city’s reputation matters deeply to Pepper. In addition to running her own ghost tours and historical tours, Pepper works for Blue Ridge Mountain Hosts, ncblueridge.com, a 26-year-old organization that promotes tourism and travel. She also managed the creation of the Chamber of Commerce guide book in Black Mountain.
“I own and operate Ghosthunters of Asheville and Black Mountain, running daytime walking history tours and nighttime walking ghost tours in BOTH downtowns,” Pepper said.
She loves to help people have fun, and she’s an expert at enjoying and savoring pleasures. On her rare days off, she likes to enjoy life. Her husband suffered from a traumatic brain injury, and his recovery has been a journey for the couple, so they grab their fun when they can. Earlier this summer, she and her husband went to the Poconos to stay in a house built in the 1750s and to see the Outlaws and Blackberry Smoke with a big group of buddies.
“We had this big old van, like any bunch of hippies going to a music festival in any time,” she said. “but now we have all the electronics we need, plus a TV inside it.”
Her travels have taken her to her father’s homeland, in Ireland, where she explored many a haunted castle. She worked with a mission group, the Corrymeela Community, developing community workshops that bordered Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods in Belfast.
“I worked in a castle on coast of Northern Island ain Ballycastle, and it was a time of troubles,” Pepper said. “Our goal was to take war-weary families and make a retreat center with community workshops on borders. We brought children together for arts and crafts, music and friendship to help them grow up without the hard religious bias of that time. I experienced my first ghost tours in castles over there.”
Sometimes folks are out for a good scare. Pepper brings along her laptop to show photos of orbs and more, and she encourages people to take photos and share them with her. She gets calls of all kinds, and has led story circles around campfires and for special events.
“We have fun, and there’s always people who don’t believe and people who do,” Pepper said. “If you feel ghosts, people might tell you that you’re crazy, but I give validity and credibility to the experiences. Many people in many spiritual traditions have experienced connections to things unseen.”