NEWPORT — “The spirits have brought you there.”
That’s the message Dave Miller says he’s been getting from here and beyond since 2002, when he bought a 128-year-old cabin on Sinking Creek.
The 62-year-old former salesman from Richmond — now Uber driver and author — said chills ran up and down his spine when he first stepped onto the porch of the little house on Clover Hollow Road. Looking back, he said, a string of random events had lined up perfectly to draw him there.
If Miller’s veterinary student girlfriend at the time hadn’t needed a place to live while studying at Virginia Tech.
If Miller hadn’t been able to get a call through from Papua, New Guinea, to tell her to put an offer on the cabin he’d never seen.
If he hadn’t found his mother’s family name, Sibold, on a flood plain map of the property while trying to insure it.
If any one thing hadn’t happened, Miller said he might never have known that his ancestors had settled here in the 1740s, and that some of their descendants had owned this slice of Giles County land to which he now holds title.
And, if that hadn’t happened, he might never have encountered the spirits that inhabit this land, he said, or written about his experiences in “The Sibold Effect: Beyond Science, History, Ghosts, and the Appalachian Supernatural.”
“It’s such an unbelievable story, I had to write a book about it,” Miller said. “It’s like the story was fed to me.”
It started with the name Frank W. Sibold, which was written on a plat map of the cabin property. The shock of finding his mother’s maiden name on the document sparked a decade of research to trace his ancestors in the New River Valley, and he found Phillip Harless, Michael Price and John Phillip Sibold, whom Miller claims as his grandfathers going back nine generations. The men emigrated to what is today Southwest Virginia from Germany in the 1740s, establishing some of the area’s earliest European settlements.
David Price, son of Michael Price, later settled on land by Sinking Creek that Miller says his research shows included the half-acre of land he now owns. The Sibolds also settled in Clover Hollow, according to Miller. And that’s why the family name appeared on his plat.
After the Civil War, the descendants of David Price were forced to sell some of their property. A subsequent owner, William Echols, built Miller’s cabin as quarters for his employee, Ben Kendrick. A small, two-story home built of white oak, the cabin sits up above the creek with a view of Salt Pond Mountain. But Miller says he knew nothing of his family ties to the place before he set foot on the porch in 2002.
The chills he got, however, did feel familiar. They first seized him at a place called “The Devil’s Writing Table.” He encountered this pivotal rock formation in the Saltpeter Caves of Greenville, West Virginia, where he spent his childhood summers visiting his Miller and Sibold grandparents. It was his first encounter with the spirit world.
Miller said spirits inhabit those limestone caves located only 30 miles as the crow flies from Sinking Creek. They recognized his Sibold blood and marked him. He believes they targeted him for a mission: To go to Clover Hollow to discover the distant past and to tell the ancient stories.
“The limestone bedrock that’s there is the same limestone bedrock that’s here,” Miller said of Greenville and Clover Hollow. “And limestone has a very spiritual essence to it because it’s the remnants of living organisms.”
‘This place might be haunted’
On a recent Thursday, Miller walked the cabin’s porch, a set of homemade copper dowsing rods in his hands. As he reached an iron porch railing, the rods crossed. Two other devices also picked up what Miller said was an unusual electromagnetic field from the same spot.
“I’m not sure why it happens on that railing,” he said. But he’s sure the porch is a man-made transducer communicating messages from the limestone bedrock beneath the house.
That’s one clue, he said. But he said the videos he’s taken over the years back up his theory.
After Miller and the girlfriend for whom he’d bought the cabin split, he started remodeling it. One big job was refinishing the long, narrow staircase leading to the second floor. They were covered in layers of old carpet and paint, Miller said. He had to scrape each one by hand to uncover the oak beneath. That’s when things really got odd, he said.
“When I got to the seventh step, chill bumps started going up and down my spine,” Miller said. “When I would step off the step, the chill bumps would go away. That’s when I started to realize this place might be haunted.”
To confirm his suspicions, Miller bought an $80 infrared camera to film in the house at night. Panning over the seventh step, he said he caught what he called “ectoplasms” jumping off the step. They were followed by other orbs and strange lights he has documented.
“People always think of this as a haunting,” Miller said. “But I think of it as a communication event from beyond with friendly spirits. I never was scared.”
Then he said he felt drawn outside, to the land itself. Large stones scattered across the landscape caught his attention. Some had what looked like strange markings or carvings on them. Using a still camera, he photographed them and studied the patterns. There he discovered what he calls the faces of the ancient past.
The faces of Clover Hollow
Miller said he’s traveled around the world for adventure, swimming with sharks and hiking to Machu Picchu. He spent those trips exploring the connection between the spiritual and natural worlds, and they prepared him to recognize the resonance of the ancient world in his own life.
“That flat space over there is the remains of an ancient Indian trail,” Miller said, pointing. “It’s still unchanged from probably thousands of years ago, and it’s covered with rock petroglyphs of unknown origin.”
He’s tried to get expert confirmation for the petroglyphs, but has mostly come up short. Tom Klatka, of the Virginia archaeologist’s office, is one of a handful of experts who have pronounced the petroglyphs to be natural geological features. But, according to Klatka, Miller may be right about what he calls the trail.
“His location is right,” Klatka wrote in an email. “Some trails followed rivers and streams because the waterways were natural conduits that facilitated the flow of information and people. Likewise, streams leading to gaps in the steep, rugged mountain systems were also natural features that allowed people and information to pass over mountains.”
The cabin sits in a “water gap,” where Sinking Creek runs through a rugged section of the mountains, and there is evidence of human activity along the creek in another part of Newport dating to about 9,000 BCE. Miller said he believes an ancient temple site sits along the creek near his cabin. That’s why they — and the spirits of his own ancestors — have visited him as strange lights, orbs and electromagnetic fields.
While he was writing the story he would self-publish in 2016, a Kenyan woman who booked three Uber rides with him in Richmond confirmed what he had come to believe: The ancestors who trod this land brought him to this spot. “The spirits have brought you there,” she told him.
“It all fits together; it makes sense,” Miller said. “There are no coincidences.”
And there is another thing Miller feels deeply, he added: “There is more to come.”