The fearsome wampus cat of the Appalachians.
The cat in Kentucky who smells like soup.
A cat in Tunica, Miss., that will eat your face.
Ghostly cats from throughout the South — including one from Savannah — are featured in a new book by Randy Russell, Ghost Cats of the South, published by John F. Blair Publisher.
“My story set in Savannah is about ghost tours,” the Asheville, N.C. resident says. “The premise I used was a man who lived in the Historic District. He has a boy who wants to go on a ghost tour. When the tour pulls up in front of his own house, he learns it has a ghost cat.”
The new book is a companion volume to Russell’s Ghost Dogs of the South. ”When I was promoting it, people said, ‘Why don’t you collect cat stories?’” So he did.
Russell is a folklorist who has been collecting all kinds of tales over the past 20 years. Many are ghost stories.
“It shocks people sometimes,” Russell says. “For some reason, lots of people don’t talk about it, but it’s not uncommon for them to have had an encounter with a ghost.”
Russell is the author of several books. His first included mountain ghost stories. He listens to the stories, then does all sorts of research.
When possible, he visits the sites of the alleged hauntings. “Some types of sightings are common,” Russell says. “Many of the ones I hear are about the person’s family, which includes dogs and cats and other pets.
“Some of the sightings I call comfort visits. Seeing the ghost of that person or a pet in one manner or another comforts a bit. It seems to let them know everything is okay.”
So, are ghosts really real?
“It’s just as real as toast,” Russell says. “I have no doubt at all. People tell me the most outlandish things, then say, ‘Well, Randy, is that a ghost story?’”
Often, Russell listens for key phrases when interviewing people.
“When some says the ghost was dressed in ‘old-timey clothes,’ I have a little more confidence in the story,” he says. “For some reason, women ghosts are occasionally seen walking around the house wearing long aprons.”
A few stories are downright frightening. “I will get chills all the time,” Russell says. “Sometimes, the story itself isn’t scary, it’s just the fact that I believe in ghosts.
“I do an annual week-long ghost seminar that teachers come to,” he says. “These are respectable people who tell me their experiences. It does make the skin move on me.
“I’ve not really heard too often of ghosts being mean or exacting revenge,” Russell says. “Most are going about their business.
“I’ve had four or five where the decedent’s relatives were told where the ghost had money hidden,” he says.
“The first time I heard it, the woman said she didn’t know if it was a ghost, but she smelled perfume in the room. She heard the ghost’s voice clear as day. She was told to go look behind a loose brick and found $6.21 — someone’s kitchen money.”