It was a really nice day, and I had picked my favorite spot to enjoy it, the Applewood Manor Rocking Chair Porch. I was also enjoying an interesting book, Voices of the Winds: Native American Legends. About that time, I was joined on the porch by Earl Brighton. Earl was a Professor at the University before retiring. When he saw what I was reading, he said, “You know we have our share of legends around here. This was Indian country. And they would tell you that the French Broad River, the Tselica as they called it, is not all beauty and pleasure. It has its dark side.”
I asked, “You mean because of its rapids?”
“No sir, I am talking about something unnatural—the Siren of the Broad. As I said, the Cherokee called the river, ‘Tselica’. Over the years there have been many young men who disappeared around the rocks just east of here. The Cherokee knew the reason, but not everyone would believe them. According to legend, there exists in the river at that place the image of an alluring woman, a Siren, in the water of the Broad that draws men to her and to their death. There was this fellow, William Gilmore Simms, who learned from the Cherokee and wrote about many of their beliefs and legends in the eighteen hundreds. He wrote about the Siren in Volume 5, if I remember right, of his book, Myths and Legends of Our Own Land. He even wrote a poem about it later, titled the Siren of Tselica. Only he used the name from a German legend of a Woman that lured men to their death at sea, ‘Lorelei’. We studied his writings at the University and I even recited some passages from Simms’s book to my students to pique their interest. I still remember the story as Simms wrote it. Would you like to hear it?”
“Sure, let her rip.” Earl cleared his throat and then in his professorial voice started his rendition just like he was in the front of a classroom:
“Among the rocks east of Asheville, North Carolina, lives the Lorelei of the French Broad River. This stream—the Tselica of the Indians—contains in its upper reaches many pools where the rapid water whirls and deepens, and where the traveler likes to pause in the heats of afternoon and drink and bathe. Here, from the time when the Cherokees occupied the country, has lived the Siren, and if one who is weary and downcast sits beside the stream or utters a wish to rest in it, he becomes conscious of a soft and exquisite music blending with the plash of the wave.
Looking down in surprise he sees—at first faintly, then with distinctness—the form of a beautiful woman, with hair streaming like moss and dark eyes looking into his, luring him with a power he cannot resist. His breath grows short, his gaze is fixed, mechanically he rises, steps to the brink, and lurches forward into the river. The arms that catch him are slimy and cold as serpents; the face that stares into his is a grinning skull. A loud, chattering laugh rings through the wilderness, and all is still again.”
“Well, that is a gripping story,” I said.” But you don’t believe that stuff, do you?”
“Who knows for sure, Mr. Collins? I tell you this, legends like this are not baseless. They are grounded in events. Things happen and people look for an explanation. Even now, if a young man were to go missing, I would suggest they look at the Broad around the rocks east of here. Legends are not to be dismissed out of hand.”