The house was a fading Grande Dame of Southern ante-bellum country architecture, framed by a sullen gray sky, amid the local loblolly pines and tulip poplars. Matching upstairs-downstairs verandas spread across the front façade, while multiple chimneys protruded from the sagging roof. An obvious, later-attached, cook house extended from the back of the imposing rectangle of the main house. Located in the heart of the rural South Carolina Piedmont at a country crossroad, somewhere between Traveler’s Rest, Landrum and Campobella, there wasn’t another building within a mile or so of the structure. My wife, Wanda and I were instantly drawn to it as we drove by on a lazy fall Sunday afternoon.
We were “Old House Nuts” before it became fashionable. We bought our first house, a 10-room, 1903 Greek revival, in an Atlanta slum, at the tender age of twenty two. We caught the neighborhood at the early stages of gentrification, and rode the money-pit rollercoaster to a nice profit.
The decaying relics of a more bucolic age always beckoned to us. We prowled the inner city back alleys, and unknown country lanes looking for intrigue and history. We found hidden gems of an abandoned Gatsby-era Spanish Revival City Mansion, with amazing tile work, and kitchen appliances, including a huge steam dish washer; an old farm house with 20-by-20 hand hewn beams supporting the front porch, and even barged in on a nice couple just sitting down for dinner, who lived in a restored unit in Baltimore Row, the only remaining row house in Atlanta. So, yeah, we were Old House Nuts. Walk across an obviously rotted floor to see what’s in the next room – no problem; poke around a collapsing attic to look at the construction of the period – routine. So naturally, we had to stop and check out this deteriorating treasure from the past.
We parked in the gravel along the side road, squeezed through the partially ajar gate in the chain link fence surrounding the property, and headed toward the back door, which was also partially open. Carefully climbing up the back stairs, pushing open the creaking door, (of course!) and stepping inside, we found amazing sights. The ceiling was a high, cathedral-style, and post-and-beam construction. The floors were well-worn, handmade brick, as was the foot-high hearth and the fireplace – and what a fireplace it was! Situated along the back wall, this colonial masterpiece was seven feet wide, with an arched top, five foot at the peak. About four feet deep, there were various cast iron swinging davits protruding across the opening to support cook-pots, while two huge cast iron andirons occupied the stone floor. Chef Walter Staib would jizz his apron to cook in this fireplace!
The walls were wide plank panels, and across the front wall, a larger, matching arch opened into the enclosed dogtrot to the main house. Passing through the dusty connection (the shelves and cabinets in the dogtrot showed this was mainly a pantry) we entered the gloom of the main house. The pantry door opened onto a central hall with pairs of doors off either side, and a scissor-switch staircase, and front door at the other end.
I don’t remember much about the downstairs rooms (perhaps a dining room, and two parlors) but I do remember a sense of nervousness began to nag at the corners of my mind as we brushed past old cob-webs and began to explore the rooms off the hall. Our steps left footprints in the thick dust as we advanced through the house, and with each step my sense of unease grew. I began to sweat in the cool autumn atmosphere of the old home place. By the time we reached the staircase, and began to ascend, my nervousness was palpable. I could tell that Wanda was feeling it too, because she had gotten uncharacteristically quiet. We climbed the stairs, being careful to place our weight on the stringers rather than the unsupported treads, and as we emerged to the upper floor, a very real sense of dread settled over us.
I took the lead, just in case, and headed down the hall, looking into the side rooms as we went, and with every step we took, the oppressive sense of dread grew. Something was very wrong here. Halfway down the upstairs central hall the hackles on the back of my neck began to stand! I could not force myself to go on. Looking at Wanda I realized that she had stopped too. Simultaneously we said “Let’s get out of here!” We retreated as quickly as we could, retracing our steps until, with a huge feeling of relief, we emerged into the lowering grey sky and the fresh mountain air.
Just as we stepped down to the ground, a car pulled up beside ours. We squeezed through the chain link gate to be confronted the owner of the property. His craggy face was baked to a rind that only the Deep South sun could produce. He scowled at us as we explained that we had stopped to admire the great architecture, told us we were trespassing, and warned us to never come back there! We were only too glad to jump in our car and head back to town.
The next Saturday, Wanda’s best friend, Kelby came to visit over beer, wine, and pizza, a regular event. Kelby was from an old settler family in the Piedmont. In fact there was a road and covered bridge named after her family near Glassy Mountain. Eventually, our conversation came round to the weird experience of the weekend before. As we described the house, and the real fear we experienced as we explored it, Kelby’s eyes grew wide with shock. “You were at the Dark Corner,” she said softly. And then she told us a story.
A large, amorphous area in the Upstate nestled in the crotch between Pack Mountain, Glassy Mountain, and Hogback Mountain had long been known as the Dark Corner. While the actual borders were always vague, the region was isolated and remote, and rugged. It was an area of moonshiners, outlaws, and mystery. There are several theories on how the name came about. Scholars say it was from an old political speech. Others claimed it was because of the moonshiners disdain for the Law. But the locals knew the real reason – an evil presence on the actual Dark Corner crossroad.
Kelby told us that when she was a pre-teen, a couple of kids from a local high school had gone to the house one night, partially on a dare, but mostly looking for a place to be alone. They were never seen again! She also told us of the Family that lived there (maybe the Gosnels, maybe the Howards) that owned a hundred and fifty acres or so of Tyger River bottomland, upon which they built their wealth. They farmed corn, apples, beans, and yams, and raised livestock. And like most of the families in the area, they made moonshine whisky. Because of their large holdings, and with the aid of a dozen or so slaves, they grew to become one of the most prosperous and powerful families in the area; and as the years went by in isolation, inbreeding, and moon-shine-induced violence, one of the meanest.
The Dark Corner settlers waged a continuous war against the Law, and sometimes with each other, for a hundred years. The first High Sheriff was sent to the area by George Washington to enforce the new tax on liquor. He did not survive the trip. And he was just the first of scores of revenuers to lose their lives going into the Dark Corner. The Family didn’t stop with killing revenuers, however. Itinerate fruit buyers would disappear, as would travelling salesmen, and most any stranger that wandered into the area. Passers-by sometimes reported horrendous screams coming from the house. It became rumored that the Family roasted slave babies in the kitchen. In 1906 the entire Henshall family was murdered, and their bodies cremated in the flames of their own homes. No one was ever prosecuted for this crime. The locals knew who did it, but no one would speak against the Family.
In the early 1900s things began to change. Textile mills opened, and the men could make more money in the mills than they could farming, and selling whiskey. With all the men working in the towns, the Dark Corner became a near ghost town, populated by faded women and ragged children. The Authorities took advantage of the change to finally destroy most of the moonshine industry in the Dark Corner. The Family eventually left their house on the Dark Corner to the elements and dispersed across the Piedmont, some to isolated cabins in deep mountain coves, but most to the towns and cities of the upstate.
The Dark Corner region is one of the most beautiful in South Carolina. Mountain vistas are abundant, and a scenic byway winds through the heart of the area, although golf courses and luxury sub-divisions now intrude on the landscape. Most people have forgotten the Family, and the worst of their evil. A Google Earth search revealed that their house is gone. Yet to this day, there is moon-shining in the back coves and forests, and a frisson of mystery stills clings to the name. And there are still tales told of the ghosts of lynched slaves that haunt the old Poinsett Bridge, and of screams often heard at night from an old log cabin in the Dark Corner.
A place to share scary/creepy real life encounters.
I wrote this for the contest but submitted it under the Scary Encounters section because it is 100% true, except for our names. A Google search of the Dark Corner will confirm most of this story, the only thing you will find about the Family are vague hints like "other evils" in the reportage. In the hundred or so old housed I have explored, I have never experienced anything like the presence I felt in the Dark Corner. Laz
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