Halloween often conjures images of ghosts and other mysterious beings lost and wandering in the night. Unsettled souls who have not found rest in the afterlife haunt the living as seen or unseen supernatural forces that chill and terrify. I personally don't have any proof that ghosts exist, but some of the most frightening and mysterious stories are the true tales of people who disappear without a trace. Today, in what has become a Friday tradition on this blog, we will look back on some unsolved missing persons reports that have come out of the Great Smoky Mountains.
"The facts are sobering. On any given day, there are as many as 100,000 active missing persons cases in the United States. Every year, tens of thousands of people vanish under suspicious circumstances. Viewed over a 20-year period, the number of missing persons can be estimated in the hundreds of thousands"
In the summer of 1969 I had recently graduated from high school and had just begun working a summer job in construction to raise funds for my upcoming first year at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Neil Armstrong had not yet become the first man to set foot on the moon and Woodstock was still two months away. It was June 14, Father's Day, when something would occur that captured headlines in the Tennessee papers and tug at the hearts of millions throughout the nation. Dennis Martin, who was about to turn seven years old, had been camping with his family in the Great Smoky Mountains. Their campsite was in Spence Field, a highland meadow near the Appalachian Trail. The area was somewhat remote requiring campers to backpack to the site. At about 4 PM on that Sunday, Dennis was playing with his older brother and two other boys when they decided to hide and scare their parents. Dennis was instructed to come from one direction because he was wearing a bright red shirt that made him easily visible while the other boys waited in hiding to scare the parents. When the parents arrived the three boys jumped out from their hiding place but Dennis was nowhere to be found. The father began calling for Dennis and then, according to the reports, when there was no answer they began searching for him not more than 3 to 5 minutes after he had disappeared. The boy's grandfather hiked down the mountain to alert park rangers who joined the family in the search throughout the night and with pouring thunderstorms.
As the week progressed, hundreds of trained personnel and volunteers scoured the area in search of "little Dennis Martin" as the media referred to him. The FBI was called in to investigate on the possibility that Dennis had been kidnapped. After two weeks the intensive campaign was called off, althougth the search continued for the next two and a half months by a team of experienced park rangers.No trace was ever found of the boy and after 40 years the case remains open until this day.
Trenny Lynn Gibson
Little Dennis Martin is but one of many who have disappeared without a trace in the Smoky Mountains. On October 8, 1976 a group of 40 Knoxville high school students were hiking to Andrews Bald. They had eventually broken down into smaller groups according to pace. Sixteen year old Trenny Lynn Gibson had joined various groups throughout the afternoon. Then sometime around 3 PM she disappeared. She was last seen near Clingman's Dome, an area highly popular with tourists. The search for Trenny continued until the end of October but not a clue was found. Until this day no one has reported ever hearing from her. There is plenty of rumor and speculation after over 30 years but perhaps no one will ever really know what happed to Trenny Lynn Gibson.
Thelma Pauline Melton
Twenty-eight years ago Thelma Pauline Melton disappeared while hiking with two friends on the popular Deep Creek Trail in the National Park. The 58 year old woman, who was overweight and had some health problems, is said to have walked this trail for 20 years. At around 4 PM, as the three friends were returning to the campground where they were staying, Thelma began walking ahead of the others. They saw her disappear over a hill and that is the last they ever saw of her. There are various theories ranging from becoming disoriented and becoming lost, to suicide, to running away because she was having an affair. We may never know and the case remains unresolved.
Stories of people vanishing into thin air are intriguing, tragic, and sometimes even romantic. Can you imagine the terror of being lost in the woods or kidnapped? The recent stories about Jaycee Dugard remind us that missing people can be found after many years. What you do if you became lost in the mountains or taken captive by someone you didn't know? Have you ever imagined just taking off on your own without telling anyone? In any of these cases, who would miss you and who would be hurt? Ghosts don't have to be supernatural. Sometimes our memories are like ghosts.