Mystery of the Talking Skull

Family Secrets in Southern Appalachia

Cover, Harold L. Zimmer, "Tennessee's Riddle of the Talking Skull," Startling Detective, April 1938.

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Mystery of the Talking Skull

Family Secrets in Southern Appalachia

by Stephen Simmons
Southern Cultures, Vol. 11, No. 2: Summer 2005

“Cheap, lurid, and often drawing from sensationalized news stories, pulp fiction enjoyed a heyday from the 1920s through the 1940s.”

Middle Tennessee’s landscape is marked by its Central Basin, a region formed by the erosion of a geological dome once forced above the Earth’s surface from far below. On the outskirts of this crater’s perimeter lies a region known as the Highland Rim. This fractured landscape embraces a winding swath of caves, hollows, and rocky outcroppings littered with cedars that cling to tiny patches of shallow soil. Two-thirds of Cannon County, Tennessee, lie along the eastern border of the Central Basin. There are hollows in this county where the sun does not rise till late in the morning, when it clears the rim, and sinks early in the evening beyond the shadows of steep hills. Maybe these shadows are why secrets are so easy to keep here.

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