Ghost story of an Alabama “hollar” haunted by a farmer ghost searching for his missing son. Written by Irran Butler.
FROM THE AUTHOR: Here’s a short story I like. I live on Lookout Mountain, about a mile from Daisy Gap here in Etowah County, Alabama and Owl’s Hollow is just the other side of the ridge of the mountain. This story has been passed around in my family ever since I can remember. Hope you enjoy it.
Owl’s Hollow is a sparsely populated and peaceful location nestled at the foot of Lookout Mountain, in North Alabama. Running for about twenty miles along the southeastern edge of the mountain, the hollow rests between Lookout Mountain and Shinbone Ridge. It’s width spans the better part of a mile and in my opinion is large for a “hollar” as I have always known a hollar. It is officially known as Owl’s Valley and appears as such on most maps. Few people outside the local area have any knowledge of the hollow and even fewer know of “Abel’s Light”.
Since I was a young man I have heard the story of Abel’s Light and have ventured many times to witness this tiny yellow spectral light among the trees in the area of the old Abel farm near Turkeytown. The farmhouse and barn existed throughout my childhood but finally succumbed to the relentless advance of the years and disappeared into the earth from which it sprang so many years ago.
The light can be viewed from the road that stretches the length of the hollow in only one place. It can be seen only in the coldest of months when the leaves have fallen and it disappears gradually as the trees put on new leaves in the spring. The area has overgrown with so many trees and undergrowth that, even as many times as I have been there, I have trouble locating the only vantage point from which the light can be seen. It has been several years since I last saw the light and I wonder if it endures without being witnessed.
The story behind the light goes like this:
In the early part of the 1900s, Owl’s Hollow was, of course, even more sparsely populated than it is today. Large tracts of pastureland and hardwood forest covered the floor of the hollow, accommodating only a few homesteads connected by narrow rutted roads. One family living here was the Abel family. Mr. and Mrs. Abel had three children, the youngest of which was a son named Henry. Henry was four years old when, one bitter-cold December evening, he disappeared. The weather was so cold that the urgency of finding the lad was of immediate and overriding concern for every family member. A frantic search in the area near their home by the family failed to turn up little Henry. Word went out to the neighbors for miles around and they eagerly joined the search for young Henry. All through that first night, searchers came and went from the Abel house. Having a cup of hot coffee and warming by the fire recharged the searchers. They doggedly returned to the task at hand in the bitter cold darkness. The search continued the next day, but there was no sign of the young lad; no tracks, no scent trail for the hounds; no nothing.
Three days after Henry disappeared the general consensus among the searchers was that he was likely dead of exposure and might never be found. Henry’s father could not accept this as the fate of his son and never stopped searching. He would leave home in the mornings and come in only when he was so hungry and exhausted he couldn’t continue. Grief stricken to the very brink of madness, Henry’s father lived a tortured existence and the entire family felt his suffering. The work around the farm was beginning to pile up in his absence as he searched on. Even though the other family members were doing double duty to maintain a normal existence, the work still piled up. On occasion a neighbor would come by and help Mr. Abel with his endless search or with the farm work. Henry’s father searched even at night carrying a kerosene lantern as he rode on horseback over the same roads he had covered a hundred times before. A thousand times, he called Henry’s name as he rode. This went on for months to no good conclusion.
Finally Henry’s father did not return from his search one night in mid-March. His horse came home and was discovered the next morning in the hallway of the barn. Henry’s older brother began a search for his father and within an hour located his body hanging by his neck from a forked limb in a blackjack oak just off one of the roads that he had searched so many times. He had apparently accidentally hanged himself in the dark when he rode the horse under the limb. His still-burning lantern was in his hand and his eyes were wide open. One would think his search was finally ended, with this horrible event.
That was a long time ago and since that time there have been many sightings of a dim yellow light amongst the trees during the coldest months of winter. Two explanations offered by locals are said to explain this tiny spectral light that is viewed from the road on higher ground. One part puts forth that the light is Henry’s father riding his ghostly mount carrying the lantern as he slowly moves through the woods. The hoof beats of the horse can be heard on especially quiet nights, punctuated by a man’s voice calling the name “Henry”. This chilling display is visible from mid-December until the middle of the month of March when Mr. Abel was overtaken by his most unusual death. The second part of the story is that the lantern can be seen, but not moving. This part asserts that the light is Henry’s dad holding on to the lantern as he hangs in the blackjack oak. As the trees begin to put on their leaves this light becomes harder to see with each passing day and finally disappears completely under the new canopy of green leaves, until the next December. Both parts are equally chilling and which part one observes depends on the month in which the observation occurs.
I have witnessed this ghostly light on a number of occasions; I have heard the hoof beats; I have heard a distant, desperate voice calling Henry’s name. It’s real… and it’s there to see in the cold winter months. I can’t help but wonder about what I’ve seen…and I have questions.
If Henry’s father’s spirit lingers in an unfulfilled and seemingly endless quest; Can little Henry’s spirit linger somewhere out there in the cold, inescapable clutches of a dark winter night? Is it possible that they will ever find each other? Why do I feel both saddened and exhilarated by my sighting of Mr. Abel’s light? … How would you feel?