Eric Talbot let me borrow a spooky book last week called “Chilling Tales: Beneath the Chinaberry Tree,” written by former Red Level High School principal Johny Odom.
Odom’s book, which was published in 2016 and illustrated by Vickie Cross, contains 13 spooky tales from in and around Covington County.
Most of these creepy tales were first told to Odom by his grandmother who often spun tales while sitting in her favorite spot beneath a huge chinaberry tree in her backyard. “Granny,” as she was called, shared many memorable tales with Odom and his young relatives and friends, and Odom’s 115-page book contains some of her best stories.
Odom recounts such tales as the “Old Spinster Woman from Pigeon Creek,” the “Hollow Goblin Tree,” the “Mum Supper,” the “Light from the Grave,” the “Hidden Treasure of the Bass Ole Field” and others. While those were all very interesting, entertaining and thought-provoking, one tale in particular got my full attention, the tale of the “Raw-headed Hinge-tailed Bloody-boned Bisbulljus.”
I was particularly interested in this tale with its tongue-twisting title because it takes place “along the banks of the Sepulga River, near where Covington and Conecuh counties border” in an “area known by locals as the River Swamp.” Odom described this area as a “1,500-acre marshy area of land containing scattered natural ponds, but mostly covered with dense sections of virgin pines which are intermingled with ancient stands of hardwood trees throughout.”
Odom went on to mention a number of old landmarks in this area, including the Oak Tree Stump, the Boat Landing, the Log Pile Hill, the Old Jones Ferry, the Triangle, the Indian Mound, Slaughter Alley and the Old Slave Graveyard. Odom said that few people today know of the exact location of the old graveyard, which can be found “deep in the heart of the swamp.” This old cemetery contains the graves of slaves from the large plantations that were once located in that area, and Odom noted that most of these graves are unrecognizable now because the markers were made from perishable materials.
What that said, we come to the tale of the “Bisbulljus,” which was basically a boogeyman-type character that haunted the area in and around the graveyard. Supposedly, a slave named Mose was brutally beaten to death by his master, and Mose’s female companion, a slave woman named Jaina, cursed the master by using voodoo to bring Mose back to life on the night of a full moon about two weeks after he died. However, when Mose emerged from his grave, he didn’t look like his old self. Instead, he looked like something that would “buckle the knees of even Old Scratch himself.”
Mose, now transformed into the horrible “Bisbulljus,” waited in the graveyard for his master to return, and he didn’t have to wait long. A few days later, the farmer went hunting in the swamps near the graveyard, and he never returned, disappearing without a trace. Local residents speculated that the “Bisbulljus” got him, and, worse yet, according to Odom, “no one knows if the evil spirit still roams the swamp looking for others who had wronged his people, but you can feel a chill when you roam the swamp at night.”
In the end, I enjoyed Odom’s book of old ghost stories, and I’d especially like to hear from anyone in the reading audience who has more details about the “Bisbulljus” story. Who was the unnamed farmer in the tale? Where exactly is the old graveyard mentioned in the story? When did this all happen? Anyone with more information about the story is encouraged to shoot me an email.