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Folklorist to give lecture
on Kentucky’s ghost stories

University professor Montell
has spent years compiling tales

By Helen E. McKinney
Contributing Writer


LA GRANGE, Ky. (September 2005) – After penning six books about ghosts, Dr. Lynwood Montell said, “I neither believe, nor disbelieve, in ghosts.”
Montell has become somewhat of an authority on the subject, writing, teaching and speaking across the state of Kentucky.

Ghost Tours

• Depart at 7 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. every Friday and Saturday night in September and October from Hot Dog Heaven at 209 E. Main St.,
La Grange.
• Tickets: $10 per person. The 1.5 hour tours are limited to 13, so reservations are recommended.
Call (502) 379-2018.

He will speak in La Grange, Ky. on Sept. 21 at the Irish Rover Too restaurant, 117 E. Main St., as part of the ongoing Lecture Series sponsored by the Oldham County History Center and funded by the Kentucky Humanities Council.
Montell said he became interested in the idea of writing a book about ghost stories while teaching at Campbellsville College (now Campbellsville University) from 1963-1969. “My students and I collected ghost stories and beliefs and stories about death premonitions from their home counties in south central Kentucky,” said Montell.
After leaving Campbellsville University, Montell spent the next 30 years teaching at Western Kentucky University. He had retained an interest in the stories he had collected while at Campbellsville University.
He taught a course in Venacular Architecture at Western, in which Montell would take trips around the state to photograph various architectural forms. He discovered many old, deserted houses along the Cumberland River that reminded him “of the contents of the ghost stories collected by my students and me.”
Montell drew fodder from these experiences to write his first ghost book, “Ghosts Along the Cumberland: Deathlore in the Kentucky Foothills.” The book was published in 1975 by the University of Tennessee Press. So popular was this book that all copies of the fourth printing recently sold out, said Montell.
As Montell goes around the state giving ghost story presentations, he urges people in the audience to listen if someone wants to tell what happened to them. “To tell about a personal encounter with a ghost has a healing quality for the person who witnessed it,” he said. He gives 10 to 12 such presentations a year.
Bill Matthews, editor of the magazine “Back Home in Kentucky,” has called Montell, “Kentucky’s No. 1 folklorist and teller of tall tales.”
Apart from his ghost books, Montell has also written 13 additional books focusing on life and culture.
“The people who tell about their experiences firmly believe they really happened,” said Montell. While in La Grange, he will relate the story of the return of a dead brother to visit his sister.
Montell grew up in a rural setting in Monroe County, Ky., filled with family and community storytelling situations. After graduating from a business college in Nashville, Tenn., he worked for two years as a bank teller and then joined the U.S. Navy for four years.
He then attended the University of Kentucky, Campbellsville College and Western Kentucky University and received a degree in history and minors in Spanish and geography. During his last semester at Western, Montell enrolled in a folklore course. After that, he knew he wanted to become a folklorist and teach folklore courses.
He obtained his master’s and doctorate degrees from Indiana University in folklore, social and cultural history and cultural geography. Montell also taught for three years as a visiting professor at the University of Notre Dame and one semester at UCLA. “I retired from teaching in 1999 but loved every minute I was teaching,” said Montell.
He has relied on oral history interviews and folklore methodology to write his books. The Lynwood Montell Collection is housed at Cumberland College and contains mid-20th century Cumberland College folk study projects that complement his own research.
Montell is the father of Kentucky State Rep. Brad Montell. His favorite memory of growing up in Tompkinsville is of going into town on Saturdays and buying two Dovie hamburgers, a Pepsi-Cola, and going to the movies for a grand total of 26 cents. Times have changed since then, but Montell strives to keep oral history a vital part of Kentucky’s culture.

• Tickets to Lynwood Montell’s lecture are $15 for Historical Society members and $18 for non-members. For more information, call the History Center at (502) 222-0826.

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