There was a famous haunting in the Stanley Valley portion of Hawkins County, Tennessee. The Ford family once dealt with a spirit that could read, write, and had a sense of humor. Unlike the Bell family of Adams, Tennessee, the Ford family wasn’t as traumatized even though the haunting lasted for over two decades.
The Ford family lived in a cabin in the Stanley Valley area of Hawkins County. Their life was just as typical as those around them until one day in the winter of 1917. They heard a sound they likened to guinea fowl, with the mild calls and wing flapping. This continued for months and the family was unsettled, but otherwise unaffected. Sometime later, the sound changed and they heard something like walnuts roll down the walls and hit the wooden floor. Again, the family was disquieted, but not alarmed.
The falling objects didn’t stop. A while later, the sound morphed into something that sounded like a whole ham hitting the floor. The noise was random, but frequent. Eventually, it lead to scratching, which is what the entity would become famous for. The scratching appeared and disappeared for no reason. The family checked the home for vermin and small animals, but none was found.
The Ford “witch” liked scratching noises, which that was the last manifestation it would perform for nearly two decades. The family eventually grew familiar with the mysterious scratches. No one found a point of origin, or a reason for the sounds, but no one was hurt by it. When Russ, Tom Ford’s son, reached his teens, the haunting changed.
By 1932, the scratching had moved to Russ’s room and seemed most active when he was in bed. They became so focused, the family found out they could communicate with it. They used a system of one scratch for “yes” and two for “no.” Russ’s father became so curious he laid on the bed with his son during the spiritual activity. The spirit yanked his hair until he stood back up.
Visitors came to the Ford house to see the spectacle. A strange Knoxville man, known only as “Koger,” arrived with a writing slate to test the spirit. To perform the test, the family tied Russ’s limbs to the bedposts to ensure there was no dubious movement. Koger slipped the slate under the covers, just atop Russ’s stomach. He asked the entity questions and a few minutes later, the slate was uncovered. The spirit had left a written message. The spirit was also said to have wonderful penmanship. Some accounts state the first word was, “Hello.” Others say the spirit wrote, “Boo!”
During the periods of questioning, the spirit could be heard clawing around Russ’s bed. It was asked to draw a picture of itself and it drew a devil with a pitchfork. A man named “Pleas” Jenkins came to serenade the spirit. He sang a number of gospel hymns, but the spirit didn’t like them. It returned a cacophonous chorus that nearly drowned the music out. The spirit’s disposition changed with time and it grew to keep rhythm with any music through its knocks.
One neighbor, Mrs. Ben Rogler, attempted to trick the spirit. She asked her husband to write a check before she visited the Ford household, but not to tell her the amount. He had to write it and seal it in an envelope so she couldn’t see it. She arrived at the Ford household and asked the spirit how much the check was written for. The spirit answered with ten knocks. Rogler opened the envelope and found her husband had written it for ten dollars.
Eventually, the spirit asked about the murder of Jack Howard. It claimed to be the ghost of Howard, who’d been murdered in a Virginia cave by a man named John Black. The spirit said Howard had carried $4,000 in cash on the day of his murder. It wanted someone to recover its remains and give it a decent burial. As a reward, it would reveal the location of the money.
A short while later, Russ, Dave, and Henry Ford left to visit Virginia. They were accompanied by neighbor Joe Whittaker. The men took an empty pine box for the remains. When they stepped off the train in Virginia, Russ watched a white phantom hand point the way. The men followed the hand as it pointed out which direction they needed to move towards. They hiked for about 10 miles before reaching the cave. They explored it, but the journey was fruitless. They didn’t find any remains or any treasure.
This left a number of questions that remain unanswered today. How did the men find the cave? There were no paths and trails, only thick underbrush. Did John Black actually find Howard’s wealth after the murder? Did someone else bury the remains? One outlaw named John Hill used “John Black” as an alias. He was originally from North Carolina, but arrested for a Virginia murder in Knoxville, Tennessee, in 1906. Was Howard one of his victims?
The ghost eventually faded from the spotlight and ceased its activity. Tom Ford’s cabin is no longer standing, but the event receives an occasional mention.
There’s a number of other tales connected to Ford’s spirit, but they aren’t confirmed or supported. First, it’s rumored that prior to the events that transpired in the house, Tom Ford stole several windows that had been leaning against the Plum Grove Baptist Church for a new addition to his cabin. There is no record of the theft.
Recent accounts also have the events happening primarily in 1917, with no reference to the haunt lasting 20 years longer.
Another tale that stems from the event is that when the men returned from their expedition in Virginia, Mrs. Ford held a letter that stated their eldest son was killed overseas. There was a check for $4,000 attached to the letter. This is pure fiction. World War II did not begin until 1941 and World War I ended in 1918. Families did not get checks of that amount for their sacrifice. There are records that several Hawkins County men named Ford fought in World War I, but none was killed in battle.