Spine-Tingling With A Twang: Great Alabama Ghost Stories There's nothing like a good ghost story on Halloween — and some of the best tales were told by the late storyteller and NPR commentator Kathryn Tucker Windham.
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Spine-Tingling With A Twang: Great Alabama Ghost Stories

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Spine-Tingling With A Twang: Great Alabama Ghost Stories

Spine-Tingling With A Twang: Great Alabama Ghost Stories

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

There's nothing like a good ghost story on Halloween. And the late Alabama storyteller Kathryn Tucker Windham had a lot of them.

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KATHRYN TUCKER WINDHAM: I collect ghost stories. Now the nice thing about ghost stories is that you don't have to believe in ghosts to enjoy hearing a good ghost story.

CORNISH: Windham used to appear on this program. And this year, a commemorative edition of her 1969 book "13 Alabama Ghosts And Jeffrey" was released. NPR's Debbie Elliott has the haunting details.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Kathryn Tucker Windham's ghost stories stand out because they're really folklore, based on legends that have been passed down for generations by Alabama families, like the story of hole that wont stay filled as told by Windham on this recording provided by her family.

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WINDHAM: It marks the place where a man named Bill Sketoe was hanged back in 1864 - a long time ago.

ELLIOTT: Sketoe was a Confederate soldier who left the battlefield to care for his ailing wife. A local posse hung him from an oak tree for desertion, but didn't string him high enough. So they dug a hole under his feet to make him hang.

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WINDHAM: And that hole that marked his hanging place is still there. You can fill it up with dirt or trash and you come back later and it's swept out clean. The people who live in that area say that Bill Sketoe's ghost keeps that hole swept out clean.

ELLIOTT: Windham also tells of the "Ghost Of The Angry Architect," the "Crying Spirit At The Well" and the "Return Of The Ruined Banker" in her book "13 Alabama Ghosts And Jeffrey." Jeffrey is the reason Windham started telling ghost stories. He moved into her Selma house in the mid-1960s on a day that Windham was making cookies with her daughter, Dilcy.

DILCY WINDHAM HILLEY: And we were ready to plop down the cookie dough on the wax paper and all of a sudden we heard the most what I can only describe as unearthly sounds coming from the living room.

ELLIOTT: Dilcy Windham Hilley says when they went to investigate, all was quiet and nothing was out of place. Her mother figured it was a squirrel in the fireplace. But the episodes continued.

HILLEY: There would be loud clumping of footsteps down the hall. There would be rearranging of furniture. And I'm not talking about just a chest of drawers sliding across the wall. This was honest to God interior decorating.

ELLIOTT: Windham later wrote a song about the family ghost.

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WINDHAM: (Singing) Nobody's scared of Jeffrey. Nobody shivers with fright.

ELLIOTT: Windham's ghost stories were not necessarily scary but more eerie tales that revealed something about the history and people of a place. And if you did find yourself a little spooked, no worries. She had a remedy.

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WINDHAM: If you will just put your shoes under the edge of your bed and point one toe under the bed and one toe out, you'll be safe all night long. You won't be afraid. Nothing will happen to you. You can just go right to sleep and just sleep as peacefully as anything.

ELLIOTT: Kathryn Tucker Windham passed away in 2011. She's not been known to haunt anyone. But Jeffrey still lives in the family house in Selma. Debbie Elliott, NPR News.

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