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Michael Bell
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Posted By Michael Bell

A printed version of a tale that the authors maintain is a legend circulating in Bradley County links the staked, “petrified” woman to a “vampire chair.” The narrative begins with a discussion of a chair-making tradition in Eastern Tennessee, focusing, in particular, on the “mule-ear” chairs made by brothers Eli and Jacob Odom during the early 1800s. Their chairs became so renowned for durability that, by 1840, they lined the long front porches of resort hotels and were being sold to wealthy homeowners in Chattanooga.

One of the chairs found its way into the small cabin of a woman who lived on a ridge above the Hiwassee River, near Charleston, Tennessee. “This woman was nobody’s sweet little old lady,” the authors write, because she “was a vampire.” The authors offer no explanation for labeling her a vampire, and then relate that “there is no record of her exploits” or why her neighbors killed her. If she was, indeed, regarded as a vampire, I think it’s obvious why she might have been killed.

The piece of wood that had been used to stake the woman’s heart was “a cradle-lathed post, a bottom leg support, from one of the chairs that had been in the woman’s cabin. . . . The chair had been crafted by brothers Eli and Jacob from Shell Creek.” While the woman’s cabin feel into disrepair, the prized chair was repaired and began a long round of circulating. No one wanted to keep it long, for anyone who sits in the chair “is held fast for at time, against one’s will, until a scratch appears on a forearm or bare leg, and blood drips to the floor. Only after a drop of blood stains the floor or the ground under the chair, is the occupant capable of fleeing from the chair.” People are afraid to destroy the chair, lest they bring down a curse upon themselves. So, the vampire chair continues to circulate.

What should we make of this animated chair? While researching the possible background to the American vampire tradition, I found two stories from Wales (published in 1909) about a vampire chair (there is also a vampire bed in this collection). As far as I know, there are no other versions of this story, or even of inanimate objects being inhabited by—or actually being, in themselves—vampires. So, I wonder how this motif might have turned up in Bradley County, Tennessee. Was there any significant Welsh immigration to the area?

If anyone in Eastern Tennessee (or anywhere else, for that matter) can shed some light on any aspect of this fascinating narrative, I would love to hear from you.

3 Comment(s):
Dale Clark said...
Hello, I just now saw your story 10 years later. I grew up in Charleston Tn and have always been fascinated by this story. As far as locals, no one seems to know where the chair is. However, I have learned the only place near Charleston to buy those chairs at that time was the Cherokee Hotel in Cleveland, TN on Inman St. I have a picture of what could be the chair or one like it.
October 27, 2021 07:26:59
Michael Bell said...
Good question. The story, as it was published, is that the chair continues to circulate because, obviously, no one can keep it for long. Kind of like the "monkey's paw." BTW, nice to hear from you William.
April 17, 2011 03:12:22
William D Romanski said...
Does someone have the chair today?
April 16, 2011 10:09:29
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