Kentucky Arts and Culture
Scary Tales of Breathitt County
Jerry “Bucky” Deaton always liked a good ghost story. They sent shivers up his spine. And they brought back moments in time when life was entirely different than what it is now. Deaton also knows that Breathitt County, along with Eastern Kentucky and entire Appalachian region of America, is a hotbed of ghost stories. Most of all, his biggest fans were the youngest of ages.
“I've told different ghost stories to my children, like 'The Legend of Sleepy Hollow' by Washington Irving. And I've probably scared two generations of children at Second Street Elementary School in Frankfort, where my wife Leslie teaches,” Deaton said in a telephone interview last Thursday. “I'd take off on my lunch break at work, go down to her kindergarten class, and tell 'em stories. The kids would get on me to make new stuff up, so I did that in a pinch. One day, I decided to write them down.”
The result is Deaton's first book, called “Appalachian Ghost Stories: Tales From Bloody Breathitt.”
After a successful selling earlier this month at “Breathitt County Day” in Frankfort, he's hoping the coming-home crowd at next weekend's Honey Festival will come to his booth downtown and turn the pages and admire his writings, as well as sample the period artwork that's featured inside and on the cover. “The Honey Festival will is the first place I'm really planning on selling it. I'm also doing a CD of the book, because people have said they also like to hear me read the book. After the festival, I'll sell it online at Amazon.com and maybe find a publisher to help me with with, too.”
Deaton pointed out to the Times-Voice that while he decided to write a book on ghost stories, he also wanted to do it in a different vein – with some in the style of his favorite author, who happens to come from Greenup County.
“This all started out about a year-and-a-half ago. The stories are a cross between those by Washington Irving and Jesse Stuart. I've always liked Jesse Stuart's work, and the Kentuckian's my main inspiration. But I wanted to write them in a voice representative of Breathitt Countians.”
That's because many of the stories in Deaton's book are about pivotal times in the county's history, and he wanted that voice to sound similar to the way those stories were told generations ago.
“I could hear my uncle, Pleas Turner, and my grandmother, Sophie Deaton, tell their tales in their own voice in the style similar to the way our ancestors talked. Every character in every story is somebody I knew in Breathitt County, when I grew up on Long's Creek and Jackson. Some are about the feuds we had, or the fact that everyone from Breathitt County who fought in World War I volunteered. In fact, there's a picture in the book of Junior Stamper, a World War II veteran...And the book remembers things from a different era, like telephone party lines, and when Memorial Day was called, 'Decoration Day'.”
To help chronicle those early – and scary times – Deaton's had a talented Virginia woman, Kathryn Smith, draw the sketches.
“She's a young lady who's done a wonderful job on giving the reader a feel for the places and happenings in Breathitt County's history, like the old Turner school, the first man killed in the feuds, Decoration Day, those telephone party lines, and much more. On the cover, Kathryn's sketched a picture of a barn where I grew up and played in. There was a story of a little boy who died there in that barn, back in the 30's. The pictures add to the stories, giving a more ghost-like feel to the book.”
There's someone else who added his stamp of approval to Deaton's book as well – an old classmate and long-time friend. “Steve Williams and I went to school together. We graduated from the Breathitt High Class of 1981, and he now runs a printing shop in Prestonsburg. He printed the layout, format, binding and did the publishing for it. When you take into account the work Steve and Williams Printing did, and what I wrote, this is almost a complete Breathitt County project between us.” Deaton added he and Williams will be among several of the BHS Class of '81 who'll attend their 30th Anniversary Reunion Saturday, Sept. 3 at the First Church of God on Route 30 West.
It all adds up to not just a book about scary stuff, but a book about a time and place that once was.
“It's about a way of life in Breathitt County that's going away. It's unedited, untouched and written in a style of the voice I can remember hearing when they told me a story. I wrote it like someone was sitting next to me near a fireplace, telling a story,” Deaton noted. “The Kentucky State Historian, Dr. Jim Klotter, wrote a phenomenal foreword for the book. He said it was about a time that's just fading away.' People here grew up with ghost stories, and tell them all their lives. I grew up hearing ghost stories on Christmas Eve. Others tell them to their children and grandchildren when families reunite. I wrote ghost stories in the book, because that's what we do in the mountains.”
Deaton will sell and sign copies of “Appalachian Ghost Stories: Tales From Bloody Breathitt” on Sept. 3 at the Breathitt County Honey Festival's big arts and crafts booth tent, located on Main Street. The cost for the books are $21 for a hardback copy, while the paperback copies go for $13. He is doing a CD of the book, but has not announced a price for those at this time.
So, will there be more ghost stories coming out of the fertile mind of “Bucky Deaton? And will the Breathitt County native continue to make more people aware of this county's rich and colorful history?
“I've had good feedback from this book, my first one ever. I sold 50 copies at 'Breathitt County Day' in Frankfort, and while it's my first book, it will not be my last,” Deaton pointed out. “My next project will be a script for a documentary film on the feuds in Breathitt County. I've got plenty of time for it now. I've lived in Frankfort for 25 years, but now I'm retired after working with the state legislature. Instead of writing and drafting speeches and laws, I'm using the creative part of my brain for the first time. And I'm loving every minute of it.”