The mysterious Bermuda Triangle has puzzled researchers and history buffs for centuries. Many people are surprised to learn the Appalachians also have areas known for strange events, disappearances, and other oddities. The Black Mountain range, on the Virginia-Kentucky border, is one such area.
No precise record of the Black Mountain events exists due to its remoteness. The area has been known for disappearances and strange events for nearly two centuries. This is a chronicle of available information.
The earliest known disappearance occurred years before the Civil War. Two men searched for a herd of cattle that disappeared on the mountain. They figured they would save time if they split up to search.
They agreed to return to their starting point by a specific time. One man climbed the north side of the hill, while the other took the south. They couldn’t find any sign of the cattle. The first man to return waited for hours. There was no sign of his fellow searcher.
He searched for him, called his name, and tried to locate his trail. He couldn’t find anything. He looked on his own until night and returned to the village. The next morning, a group of men set out to look for the lost man, but no trace of him was ever found. The missing cattle were gone, as well.
Just after the Civil War, a group of “government men” came in to search the mountain for illegal moonshine stills. The entire group vanished. The government sent another team to find those lost, but there was no trace of them. Later disappearances were blamed on feudists or moonshiners, but disappearances were common before that era.
The Wentz disappearance, and the subsequent mystery, first drew attention to the phenomena in 1903. Thomas Gearhardt, a wealthy insurance man, also disappeared near the same spot in 1904. Several stories published later implied he had adequate reason for faking his own death, but like many stories concerning Wentz, none could be substantiated.
Harvey Wood was a notable Bristol merchant who vanished in 1906. He purchased his train ticket in Big Stone Gap, but had to travel to Pennington Gap to catch the train. He disappeared in the same area as Wentz.
Walter Kent, sometimes called Harry E. Kent or Walter Kemp, was a Civil Engineer in 1907. The Pennsylvania native was only going to pay his laundress and told friends he’d be back well before suppertime. He never returned. His body was never recovered.
Thomas F. Kelly was a coalmine superintendent when he disappeared, in 1908. He was last seen near Big Stone Gap. Kelly was only supposed to be out for a few hours, but never returned. He lived in Appalachia and left his home to look at some coal property. No trace of him, or his remains, was ever found.
R.T. Potter, Superintendent for Big Stone Gap’s waterworks, went missing in 1911. He would have remained missing were it not for a series of rains causing the Powell River to surge. His body surfaced in the river six weeks later. The cause of death was never established, nor was it decided if he committed suicide, fell from a bridge, or was murdered.
The Black Mountains have seen multiple murders for a variety of reasons. An unnamed Jane Doe was found near the road in 1920. She was shot in the head, the heart, and her corpse was nude. The locals investigated and discovered she’d last been seen a few days earlier in Arno, Virginia. She was in the company of a shady lady named Mary Sturgill.
Eventually, the authorities learned Jane Doe carried a good amount of money. They believed Sturgill coaxed her to take a “short-cut” across the mountain, where she then murdered the girl and stole her valuables. In a bizarre twist, witnesses saw Sturgill in the next town, wearing the dead woman’s clothes.
Martin Harris’s body was found in 1921, at the bottom of a cliff. It was believed he’d been robbed. He was said to be carrying $250, but there wasn’t any money on his body. Strangely, Harris was armed, but his revolver hadn’t been fired. He also still had his watch and several rings.
As recently as the 1990s, people have been reported missing after hiking into these hills. The oddities didn’t stop with disappearances and murders. Bloody coalmine union strikes are theorized to be another aspect of the mountain’s unusual influence. Many resulted in multiple fatalities.
Accidents are another common aspect of life around Black Mountain. In 2005, a boulder that was moved during the mine’s operation became dislodged. It careened down a hill and crashed into a home. It killed a 3-year-old. One mineworker was killed in 2013 when a coal pillar unexpectedly burst.
Several airplane crashes have occurred on Black Mountain. A Navy airplane, believed to be a Grumman Hellcat, crashed on the mountain in 1949. The authorities supposed the plane sheared off a tree before it crashed. The pilot was killed instantly. His name was never released. Crashes continued through 2004, when an airplane crashed and killed all six people onboard.
In just over two centuries, this area has seen more than its share of tragedy. Is it a product of happenstance, or is there something more at work upon Black Mountain?