The rumbling of Rumbling Bald

Published 12:39 pm Thursday, December 28, 2023

Just across the mountain, on the edge of Rutherford County, there’s a 3,040-foot peak folks call the Rumbling Bald. This rocky ridge sidles up to the edge waters of Lake Lure and is popularly known nowadays as the home of a luxurious golfing community. But back in 1874 this bald mountain top was anything but luxurious, and that’s where our story begins.

According to local tradition, a self-taught Baptist preacher from around Chimney Rock named Posey Owensby organized a three-day revival meeting in the area in late January or early February 1874 to create some interest in spiritual things among the locals. He prayed that the Lord would shake the people up even if that meant shaking the earth itself! Even the fire-breathing preacher couldn’t have predicted what happened next. 

On February 9th, Bald Mountain began quaking and rumbling with such intensity the people around the mountain were quite sure the world was ending. Houses were rocking and plates, dishes and furniture were tumbling to the floor. Even the cows, horses and pigs were alarmed. They headed for the woods. 

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Almost immediately folks took this as a sign from God and farmers left their plows and housewives left their chores to gather and pray for mercy. 

Various preachers were summoned for these protracted prayer meetings. The first was a much-respected African American preacher named George Logan. On the third day Rev. Billy Logan, a white Baptist preacher took over the proceedings, and these meetings continued right on because the earthquake-like activity just wouldn’t stop. 

In fact, Rumbling Bald rumbled incessantly for sixteen days and sixteen nights, rattling windows as well as rattling the nerves of everyone living close by.

This seismic phenomenon became so well-known nationally that the New York Times and Harper’s Weekly sent reporters to chronicle the goings on. Some believed the mountain was volcanic and could erupt at any moment. Professor Warren Dupree, Professor of Geology at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C. was called to offer his expert opinion. 

He brought several of his students with him and they lodged with a local farmer named Noah Elliott. Dupree wrote to his father about some of his experiences with the mountain folks, and especially the time he spent with Mr. Elliott. In fact, the professor and his students found their host to be quite amusing with his peculiar mountain ways. 

This group from Wofford wandered over the craggy peaks of the Rumbling Bald and even crawled through several caves on the mountain looking for clues. Their findings were inconclusive even though the continuing seismic activity was quite dramatic. Some experts believed that trapped gasses inside the mountain’s extensive cave system were causing explosions under the surface. 

After days of nerve-wracking bumps and booms Rumbling Bald stopped rumbling and hasn’t rumbled since.  

Allegedly, the story of the Rumbling Bald inspired the famous science fiction writer Jules Verne to write a novel in 1905 about a mountain in North Carolina that was manipulated and made to rumble by the invention of a mad scientist. The name of the story was “Master of the World.” Locally, the quakes and shakes motivated a group of Baptists in the area to organize Stone Mountain Baptist Church, a congregation that still worships today at the foot of Stone Mountain, a peak not far from the Rumbling Bald.

My interest in this story is personal because Noah Elliott, the mountain man who brought so much amusement to Professor Dupree and his colleagues, was my great-great grandfather.