- Last Updated on 08:49 AM 04/18/12
- BY Paula I. Bryant
Many of our readers have heard the legend of Aunt Tabby, “The Oak Level Witch.”
The late Preston Young, a local historian who knew a little something about everybody and everything in the county, even included a story about Aunt Tabby in his book “Country Folks.”
Recently, Aunt Tabby’s gravesite has been reclaimed from extensive overgrowth that has kept her burial spot pretty much hidden for decades.
Bob Crone, who owns a farm in the Oak Level community, purchased the old Anderson place where the burial ground is located over two years ago.
At the time of the purchase, Bob said he knew he was buying the farm on the backside of his property, but also included in that purchase was a piece of Oak Level history -- “Aunt Tabby’s” grave – the final resting place of “The Oak Level Witch.”
About a year ago, the new owner had a bulldozer cut a circle around the graves, and last week Bob and a young helper worked for hours uncovering the site, resurrecting two larger headstones and exposing a couple of other graves.
The gravesite, for years smothered under bush and bramble, dates back to Civil War times.
For those who do recall the legend of “The Oak Level Witch,” it provided the storyline behind the Oak Level Volunteer Fire Department’s haunted trail ride for several years.
The story is very interesting and can be found on the Oak Level Volunteer Fire Department’s haunted trail website.
The legend goes something like this…
Aunt Tabby was born in 1810 and was raised on a plantation.
In 1830 she married John Anderson, and they had a son, Joe.
They owned and lived on a large plantation in the Oak Level area.
Her son, Joe, would grow up and be drafted into war.
He was not pleased by this and failed to show up before the draft board at the appointed time.
Legend has it that he concealed himself in a gully behind his house. But Aunt Tabby, feeling quite ashamed of the fact that her son did not want to serve in the Civil War, told officials when they arrived at her home where her son was hiding.
When they brought him back, it is said he cursed his mother telling her he would haunt her until her dying day should he perish in battle.
And die in battle he did.
In fact, Joe died in the Seven Days Battle around Richmond in June 1862 succumbing to infection after losing a leg in the battle.
Shortly after his death, it is said strange things began to happen at Aunt Tabby’s home.
So frightful in fact, Aunt Tabby decided she must go and retrieve the body of her dead son to bury him at the home place.
The story goes that when the family arrived, officials advised them where to dig and to look for a man missing a leg. She dug up three bodies before finding the one that was missing a leg.
Aunt Tabby then brought the body home and buried it in what was known as the Anderson Cemetery.
According to legend, she planted a redbud tree in the middle of her son’s grave representing blood and tears.
Every year when that tree bloomed, it was said to have dropped real blood from its leaves.
Last week when clearing the gravesite, Bob found a slew of redbuds within 50 feet of the grave, and no others close by, so the story seems to fit.
A large tell-tell stump also was discovered at the grave that has since rotted out.
It’s not known which type of tree it was.
Could it have been that original redbud Aunt Tabby planted?
Around the time that Joe’s body was brought back and buried at the Oak Level farm, people in the community reported witnessing some very strange occurrences.
It is said large rocks would fall on top of the house, and then objects would appear underneath the doors.
The cupboard doors would open and shut at intervals, and the furniture would move around the room. The door leading upstairs would open and shut on its own, a spectacle actually witnessed by an Oak Level man, legend has it.
Wash that had been hanging on the line would fly off and blow into the trees when no wind was blowing.
Heavy chains could be heard dragging across the loft floor when no one was upstairs.
Joe’s clothes would fly out of the trunk, out the window and into a nearby tree.
Hunters, beware to this day if you treasure your dogs…the dogs have been known to tree something and then return to their masters as if they have been whipped, legend says.
Farmers who have farmed Aunt Tabby’s land in later years have reported putting their horses in the stable with doors fastened tightly at night.
In the morning, they would find the doors still locked, and the horses inside wet with lather and their manes and tails tied in witches’ knots.
The farmers would say, “Oh well, I guess Aunt Tabby’s been riding again.”
On Sept. 14, 1886, Aunt Tabby’s husband died and was buried in the Anderson Cemetery.
Aunt Tabby died on Aug. 8, 1887 and was buried with her son and husband in the Anderson Cemetery.
And thanks to hard work by Bob and his young friend, the family’s final resting place has been cleared, but check out the shape of the dogwood tree between the two headstones.
Five years later
It was five years ago this past Monday that unspeakable horror touched the Virginia Tech campus and community when 32 families suffered unimaginable loss.
Since that terrible day, survivors of the Virginia Tech tragedy have continued to demonstrate a resilient spirit of determination.
As we reflect this week on that fateful day, we honor the memory of those lost but not forgotten.