October 24, 2020



Tap, tap tap—that is the sound of Asheville’s oldest ghosts. And let this story caution you from walking late at night past the Asheville Botanical Gardens.

In 1800 the population of Asheville was 38 and had grown to only a couple of hundred by 1835. In those early years, it was not always the most civilized of places with plenty of ruffians about. One of the earliest ghost stories told about Asheville involves just such characters.Two accused horse thieves, William Sneed and William Henry were executed in Asheville in the year 1835. A local man named Holcombe accused them of stealing his horse. The two 24-year-old Tennessee men reportedly lived a life of debauchery and sin, making their way across the Southern states on gambling jaunts and eluding the long arm of the law. Thousands of people of all classes traveled miles to see them hanged.

Writing in his weekly column for the Citizen-Times, historian Rob Neufeld wrote about the event:

Rev. Thomas Stradley, founder of the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church (later First Baptist Church), was seeing to the prisoners. “I had great pleasure in visiting them whilst in irons,” Stradley wrote in a letter published on June 17, 1835, in The Biblical Recorder, a Raleigh newspaper. He was greatly impressed with the young men’s character for they “met their tremendous death with the most becoming behavior and fortitude I ever witnessed or heard of.” This, despite the fact that they confessed only to intemperance and gambling, the horse they’d allegedly stole from a man named Holcombe actually having been won in a card game.

The reverend was not alone in his misgivings about their guilt. The men claimed that they had won the horse playing cards with Holcombe. And the two young men were said to have been married and had children back in Cocke County, Tennessee. There was even a petition circulated to pardon the condemned, saying, “No son of a woman should suffer the death penalty for the foal of an ass.” Despite their claims of innocence, the two were executed on May 29, 1835, near the current location of the Asheville Botanical Gardens.

Black caps were put over the condemned men’s heads, the signal was given, and the double trap doors triggered opened. …they did not fall clear down, but only part of the way,” and the hanged men tried to gain purchase with an awful scrabbling with their feet on the diagonal boards of the partially opened trap door.

To this day there are many people who when walking late at night near the Botanical Gardens claim to hear the tapping, (tap, tap, tap), of the condemned gamblers toes as they were strung up and dangled from the gallows.

Asheville has been called many things—weirdest, happiest, quirkiest place in America, Santa Fe of the East, New Age Capital of the World, Paris of the South, Beer City USA, Most Haunted, Sky City and others. It has many secrets, mysteries, and legends—some factual, some alleged, some exaggerated and some just plain lies.


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TAPPING GHOSTS, The Applewood Manor

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