The book was first published in 1969, but it didn’t become widely known until several years later. I remember my Daddy sitting with his Daddy and brothers beneath the pecan trees, passing it around, each reading for a few minutes, then with exasperated looks, shaking their heads and passing it on to the next person in the circle of webbed lawn chairs.
Kathryn Tucker Windham’s popular, “13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffery” was great reading for most in the South who loved a good scary story, but my family had a different take on the book, since our great (repeat it a few more times) Granddaddy was one of the ghosts.
That’s right, I’m a direct descendent of William “Grancer” Harrison, the ghost from Kinston, Alabama who supposedly dances on his grave. A successful plantation owner, Grancer (a common nickname for “Grand Sir, or Grandpa back in his native South Carolina), loved to spend his cotton earnings on lavish parties. He built a pavilion for his friends and played the fiddle while wearing an expensive suit and shoes made specifically for nighttime Southern soirees. (It’s nice to know the origin of my love of a good party and fancy shoes.)
After Grancer died, instructions were carried out to bury him in his dancing clothes, close to the pavilion, to be near the music. Over the years, the parties faded away, but locals claimed when they passed the Harrison Cemetery on moonlit nights, they could see and hear Grancer dancing on his grave.
If the story ended there, it would have been easily ignored, which is exactly what we’d always done, since we were raised to believe strongly in angels and demons, but not the ne’er-do-well haints. Dancing fiddle players were not polite conversation in our family and flew in the face of our British-Scottish-Protestant practical common sense. (And no seances, horoscopes or Rocky Horror Picture Show at slumber parties, young lady!).
The big trouble came from a few of the local folks who insisted there was buried treasure in Great-Grancer’s grave, and took to the commonplace redneck plan of using dynamite to blast the grave to smithereens. The family paid to have the bones gathered and the tomb repaired, but the low-life scamps insist on returning every few years with shovels, sledgehammers and other tools to break apart the above ground burial site of Grancer and other family members surrounding him.
I wonder how ole’ Bubba, who sits with his girlfriend, dangling their legs off Great (four more times) Granddaddy’s tomb would feel if I went and knocked the plastic blossoms off his Granny’s grave? Not that I would ever be so common as to consider graveyard retaliation tactics, but I don’t think he’d be too happy if he found Mee-Maw’s mums scattered in the grass much less found her petals blown to heck and back.
Grancer’s grave continues to be a popular hang-out for the local South Alabama ghoul-seekers on Halloween, but according to the next day’s evidence of left-over empty beer cans, the only thing that haunts them these days is a down-home, non-imagined hangover caused by spirits of the cheap kind.
Windham died in 2011, and I know several people who personally knew and adored the popular storyteller. I’m sure she intended no malice by turning real people’s kin into haunted tourist attractions, for she was only repeating the decades old local folklore.
But as my second cousin, once removed said, “Grancer may have lived with spirit, but in death, he ain’t no haint.” And that’s the true story of this frightening tale.