Episode 147: Smollop: The Greenbrier Ghost

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Look, I’ve seen some Forensic Files


One source (plus Dave) says Zona was in her early 20’s. Ferrum College, in Ferrum, Virginia, says she was fifteen. Wellllll, that just makes the whole timeline that much more oogie, doesn’t it?

Let’s break it down:

  1. 1895: Zona gave birth out of wedlock at age 14.
  2. 1896,  November: Zona met Eramus “Edward” Strippling Trout Shue and married him 2 weeks later at age 15.
  3. 1897,  January 23: 2 months married: Zona is murdered by Edward at age 15.
  4. 1897,  January 23: Edward buries Zona in an all-fired hurry, paying untoward attention to her head and neck at the wake.
  5. 1897,  January-February: Zona’s ghost visits her mother, Mary, four times, asserting she was murdered by Edward for serving him a meatless meal. Mary reports that Zona’s spirit demonstrates her broken neck by rotating her head 360 degrees. Apparently, when you name your child Zona, she retains a falir for the dramatic, even upon death.
  6. 1897,  February 22: Mary Heaster and John Preston, the prosecuting attorney, convince Dr. George Knapp to exhume Zona for an autopsy. Autopsy is conducted in one-room schoolhouse, and Edward is compelled to attend, against his strenuous protestations (he was busy scoping for wife no. 4, gotta keep the hustle moving).
  7. 1897,  June 22: murder trial begins
  8. 1897,  July: Edward “Funky Names” Shue is found guilty.
You can tell this is Zona's mother, because she looks like she has seen a ghost. (Too soon?)
You can tell this is Zona’s mother, because she looks like she has seen a ghost. (Too soon?)

The Man Who Wanted Seven Wives: The Greenbrier Ghost and the Famous Murder Mystery of 1897 * Katie Letcher Lyle

The Greenbrier Ghost * Dennis Deitz

Weird Virginia: Your Travel Guide to Virginia’s Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets * Jeff Bahr, Loren Coleman, Troy Taylor

You have made the big time in America when you get your own roadside highway marker.
You have made the big time in America when you get your own roadside highway marker.


The tragedy of Zona’s murder (and her spinning ghost head) has been brought to the stage twice.

First, Jan Buttram’s play, Zona, was produced in 1998: Greenbrier Valley Theatre.

Zona Heaster Shue
Zona Heaster Shue

Next…saints preserve us…The Greenbrier Ghost, the musical.


Book and lyrics: Cathey Sawyer, Music: Joe Buttram

My fellow Americans, I remember when I was in high school, and the musical version of Les Miserables was announced on the news. I was weirded out and full of immature righteous anger. A classic novel about famine, loss, death, war, fear…set to snazzy, catchy tunes? Offensive, weird, creepy, tasteless. I was a teenager, and, as all teenagers, I knew it all. Now, I need no good reason to start belting out “Do You Hear the People Sing?” I get it.
But… I can’t compute.
I try to think seriously about how this story might translate to musical expression, and my Dollop brain goes right to numbers like “Momma, Do You See the Spin of My Head?” (or, of course, “Momma, He Makes My Head Spin”) and “Meat, Meat, (Beat! Beat!)”…and “Young Anderson’s Lament”, “Seven Brides for One Greedy Brother”…


Band names from this episode:

  • Salmon Slipper
  • Trout Shue
  • 7 Wives
  • Meatless Luncheon
  • Longnap Fruitpunch
  • Bloodsheet


Cultural references from this episode:

murder house
The Murder House

One comment

  1. The more I look at that picture of Zona, the more I think it might be a post-mortem photograph. The dull look on her face, her half-closed eyes…plus, she is wearing what her husband placed on her: a high-neck tied with a scarf/ribbon…It’s not out of the question for that era, y’all, for this to be a memento mori image.

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