Day 188: Ozark Ghost Tales: Headless Ghosts



From Vance Randolph’s “Ozark Magic and Folklore”:

“Much has been written about the ‘headless ghost of Nickerson Ridge,’ but I have been unable to get much information beyond that published by my old friend Otto Ernest Rayburn, the author of ‘Ozark Country’. It appears that Tomp Turner, who lives near Kimberling Bridge on White River, in the southern part of Stone county, Missouri, is not a superstitious man. He did not believe the headless ghost story until about 1915, when he saw the thing himself. Highway 13 follows the old Wilderness Road, where the headless specter had been reported by the settlers in pioneer days. One night Tomp was riding south on the highway, when his horse suddenly became very nervous. He saw the figure of a headless man approaching slowly not walking, but gliding along as if on roller skates. When the thing came within thirty steps, Tomp’s horse became unmanageable and bolted into the brush. Tomp finally forced it back into the road again, some fifty feet beyond, but the ghost was nowhere in sight. And, as Tomp himself remarked, he didn’t go back to look for it. Several other people have caught glimpses of the thing in recent years. On wet nights it is said that the ghost keeps to the brush along the roadside, and groans and cries are heard from among the bushes. It seems that the headless ghost is never seen or heard except on a particular stretch of road, not more than two or three hundred yards in length. I met Tomp Turner myself at his home in July, 1932, when Otto Ernest Rayburn and I went down White River. It was Rayburn who told me the story in the first place, and he has never been able to find any legend or history of a murder at this place which might explain the apparition.

“Another headless ghost has been seen in Morgan county, Missouri, since the Civil War. Some claim that it was on the job even before the War, as early as 1850. John A. Hannay, formerly of Versailles, Missouri, says that he saw this ghost sitting on top of a strawstack in the moonlight. It was plainly headless, but was called ‘Old Raw Head’ by the natives. When Mr. Hannay saw the thing it was about forty yards distant, but as he approached the ghost slid down the opposite side of the stack and was gone. Hannay’s grandparents had seen the same specter many years before, according to the family tradition; they were riding along a country road, and this headless thing ran right between their horses, frightening the lady almost into hysterics. Some people claim to have heard ‘Old Raw Head’ scream and even pronounce words distinctly, but I have never been able to find out just what the headless specter said. Some people have thought that it must be the ghost of someone who was murdered in the vicinity. Mr. Hannay says that there were plenty of cold-blooded murders committed here in the years following the Civil War, and that he knows the names of many people involved in these killings; however, he thinks that it is best not to mention these people now, because their relatives and descendants are still living in Morgan county.

“Some farmers tell of a headless ghost in St. Francois county, Missouri, at a house on Back Creek, near Highway 61 south of Farmington. This ghost appears at upstairs windows of the old house and rattles chains to frighten campers and tourists away. They say that a family named Griffin once lived there, and that the Griffins used to give semipublic dances in the building. One night there was a big fight, and a fiddler cut off Johnny Griffin’s head with his bowie knife. Griffin was short of stature, while the ghost appears very tall even without his head. Nevertheless, many people believe that the headless specter is the ghost of Johnny Griffin, doomed to haunt forever the scene of his decapitation.”

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