Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2018 - 66
IN THE SKY
Betsy Teter is a founder of Spartanburg,
South Carolina's Hub City Writers
Project, which publishes books and
operates an independent bookstore in
downtown Spartanburg. She is the 2017
winner of the Elizabeth O'Neill Verner
Award for contribution to the arts in
Triumphant climbs occur in many places for Betsy Teter, including one here, in Wales.
BY BETSY TETER
I know exactly what pulled me into the Blue Ridge Mountains. It was those 1960s television commercials for
Ghost Town in the Sky, a Wild West theme park on a
western North Carolina mountaintop. Even more than
the images of the steep chairlift or the cowboy gun battles in the streets, it was that haunting jingle I heard as
a child and still remember today: GHOOOST TOWN IN
THE SKYYYYYY. The place called out to me, dangerous,
remote and above the cloud line.
We were flatlanders, and mostly we watched flatlander television: stations in Spartanburg and Greenville
that came in clear as a bell and where the nightly newsmen-Huntley & Brinkley and Cronkite-had gravitas.
Watching WLOS, the ABC affiliate on channel 13 at the
top of the dial, sometimes required a twist of the rabbit
ears and a redirection of the aluminum foil flags.
To this piedmont girl, tuning in to the Asheville station felt like peering into another world. Occasionally,
as we searched for local news, the dial would stop at
WLOS, and there, standing in front of a big map, would
be weatherman Bill Norwood pointing to places with
musical, exotic names: Banner Elk, Maggie Valley, Cataloochee, Blowing Rock, Grandfather Mountain. These
were places that captured my imagination (unlike the
towns on our maps-Union, Gaffney, and my own,
the plebian-sounding Spartanburg). Norwood and his
nightly weather report was part of the same Blue Ridge
siren song that included Ghost Town in the Sky.
Ghost Town opened in Maggie Valley in 1961, and
after a nearly 50-year run, finally closed during the recent recession, doomed by money problems, mechanical failures and mudslides. In all those years, I never got
to go. Instead, my parents chose to take my brother and
me to Tweetsie Railroad, Ghost Town's smaller, friendlier cousin. Its advertisements were filled with happy
children pouring off the historic steam train. I remember riding the train in a wide circle and the bank robber
who stuck his gun in my younger brother's face, shouting, "Give me all your money!" Tweetsie was fun and
memorable, but I didn't come away feeling like I'd made
a trip into the sky, or seen any ghosts.
When I was 14, I found a scout troop that would take
me there. Well, not there exactly. Our intrepid, all-girl
troop hiked every mile of the Appalachian Trail in North
Carolina. We climbed the Chimney Peaks and danced
on the edge of the earth. We rode horses to the top of
Mount LeConte in a dense fog. We raced each other to
the top of Clingmans Dome. Lugging 40-pound packs,
we camped in the valleys and skipped across the grassy
balds. In the end, I found my ghost towns in the sky. To
this day, they keep calling.