Popular haunt

On the surface, Shipley Cemetery in Sale Creek is the embodiment of a haunted graveyard.

Some of its marked tombstones date to the mid-1800s. Many of them are flat, asymmetrical rocks with free-handed chiseled markings; several have no markings at all. Most of the one-acre site is cleared, but trees close in around the edges.

An attempt to scare up some ghosts led a group of teenagers to a confrontation with a rifle-toting man last Sunday, according to what the teens told police.

Tales abound about "Pitty Pat Hollow," the general area that includes the cemetery and Shipley Hollow Road. These stories, some dating back as many as 150 years ago, are included in several local books, including Ghosts of the Southern Tennessee Valley by Georgiana C. Kotarski.

Tom Pannell, who lives near Shipley Cemetery, said ghost stories are well-known in the community, including one about a woman who was kidnapped, murdered and thrown into a well near a cemetery. He said there is, in fact, a well near his property.

"I've wanted to pump it dry just to see," he said.

But people who live around the graveyard say it also has become a spot for parties and drug deals. Some think Sequoyah High School teacher Stacy Swallows was just protecting hallowed ground when he held the nine teens at gunpoint and wouldn't let them leave late Sunday night.

Swallows was arrrested on nine counts each of false imprisonment and aggravated assault. He bonded out of jail Wednesday but as not returned to work.

"I see a lot more strange vehicles coming in here than I used to," said Pannell. "You don't recognize them as being part of your community. In the past, we paid more attention to who's up here. Now you're kind of afraid to pull through - just get their tag number if you can when they leave."

On Thursday, the treeline around the graveyard was studded with cans and bottles, some with soft drink markings, but more with beer and liquor labels. A wadded-up pair of Ralph Lauren briefs lay discarded.

Some neighbors have said they've found used condoms, bras and panties in the cemetery. One said he visited a relative's grave and discovered two syringes.

Pannell said the ghost stories aren't as important - or as threatening - as the supposed crime and partying that takes place at the cemetery.

"Knowing that [there have been reports of drug dealing], I would've came armed if I would have been [Swallows]. I would have probably done the same thing," he said. "You don't know what you're involved in."