Eden, West Virginia is ofttimes known as the lost corner of Heaven, but it’s far beyond Adam and Eve’s prospect of paradise. The majestic views from its valley terrain reveal the awe of a mountainous sunrise harnessed by a seemingly endless waterfall spilling from the bottom end of the sun into the hollows. The surreal view spurred legends of a Fountain of Youth, which is still sought after to this day.
Even so, tourists and adventure seekers are often discouraged by the hours-long trek only to discover they walked around in a circle of hope turned hopelessness. Compasses fail and GPS devices are rendered helpless once hikers enter Eden’s orbit. Determined people who try to shortcut the trek by air planing, parachuting, or entering with all-terrains disappear without trace or strangely end up at the edge of Eden’s perimeter. Locals claim “the disappeared” walked, drove, or flew to the edge of paradise, but it was a mirage that led to the bottom of a rocky cliff. Of course, no one has ever tested this theory, but it makes for fine storytelling over a campfire and s’mores.
It doesn’t matter whether one’s in raggedy blue jeans or designer athletic pants, the destination eludes all who see it not matter how far they wander. A mountaineer could make a living being a tour guide to the area but would likely be exposed by the end and in constant need of an escape route.
Joking aside, a newlywed couple disappeared after “glamping” as the wife called the excursion. A reporter asked one of Eden’s locals, a crotchety diner waitress, about the couple. “They came in here with their fancy BMW car thinking they owned everything. The girl kept talking about glamping, and no one knew what she was talkin’ about. I think she meant camping. The last we seen of them, they were leaving a trail of dust bending the corner of our dirt road up yonder. It used to have gravel, but it warshed out during the last flood.”
A young man interrupted the woman’s trail off to add, “They didn’t want a typical bed and breakfast honeymoon. They wanted an adventure they could remember for eternity. I hope they’re not gone forever. Seemed to be real good people even though they were well-off city folk.”
It had been almost 10 years since anyone had disappeared into Eden’s abyss. Tourists often referred to the virgin forest as the Appalachian Triangle, but that rarely deterred visitors from Eden’s Main Street charm and trespassing into the unknown. The largely abandoned salt milling town recently completed a revitalization comeback by virtue of a stellar creative arts program and diversifying its economy through tourism.
The generational commitment paid off as tourists flocked to this off-the-beaten-path destination in lieu of skiing and bungee jumping in neighboring counties. Enticing the youth to stay in the eerie town has been another story. The exodus continues to plague Eden with no cure in sight for their children’s wanderlust for an opportunity. The rich, mysterious nature surrounding Eden rarely entice them to stay or return, so the elders maintain their oral history.
Akin to the local swimming hole, people enter the untraceable forest at their own risk despite all the warning signs and dismissing local’s stories as hillbilly myths. “There ain't much to do in these parts except go to work and watch the Mountaineers play on T.V., so they make up good stories” one outsider was overheard saying.
Cell phone and Internet services are sparse at best, and most people don’t even bother taking them out of their motel rooms. Instead, adventurists with expensive hiking sticks and hydrating bags think they have some sort of advantage, but they too get devoured and end up right back in their over-priced SUVs after the unsuccessful end of an excursion.
The disappearances have been blamed on everything from witchcraft to Bigfoot to secret cell phone towers capable of opening portals to another dimension, but no one has ever confirmed the number of people missing or the method of their departures. The town ousted their corrupt and incompetent sheriff over a decade ago then decided their town was better off without one. Consequently, the mayor has served with many hats as the town of just over 600 didn’t need much in the way of government. Family members of missing tourists often come in search of lost relatives, play detective for a week or so, pay respects, then grudgingly continue on with their solemn lives.
Some of the elders claim to have seen Eden’s Fountain of Youth “right up yonder” but most outsiders immediately know they’re lying right through their teeth by losing count of the number of face and neck wrinkles, or age spots on their hands while pretending to listen to them spout trumpery.
Nevertheless, pointers in the direction of over yonder are as good a starting point as any once the sunrise separates from the majestic waterfall. Folklore has it, if you want to reach the point of entry, aptly named The Apple of the Eye, then you must arrive at the destination before sunset or the journey restarts. As a local college kid explained the way it happened to him, “It was like dying in a video game, but I’m one of the lucky ones ‘cause I got to come back to the start! But by God, I refused to play again. Too much at stake when I realized how close I was to death.”
The kid was referring to the dark secrets behind Eden’s mythical forest and the many souls lost trying to reach Eden’s gate to paradise. The first documented missing person’s case was filed in the 1940s when a group of high school kids disappeared without much of a trace other than their empty knapsacks. As parents imagined the worst possible scenarios, people from all over Eden (a population of 20,000 at the time) created prayer vigils and search teams scanning every imaginable inch of territory but continually came up empty-handed. Mysteriously, some were unaware how they made it back home and couldn’t explain how other men and women vanished during the hunt.
The search was called off after fifty or so disappeared without a trace. Days later, it rained for forty days and forty nights and the largely Christian town of Eden took that as a sign rather than an omen that their lost loved ones were with the Lord. As the river crested, many believe God’s tears filled the rivers but spared the town from the damnation of a flood.
Oral history mentions men disappearing in droves, but the coal and timber companies dismissed the claims for generations to prevent terrifying potential workforce and protect their investments. In consideration, it must’ve been grueling to explain away groups of able-bodied men with chainsaws being struck by lightning when there wasn't a visible cloud in the sky or bodies to be recovered. Some locals believe the devoted land is defended by God. Others claim the site is sacred ground and protected by an Indian curse. Whatever the case, there’s no denying the constant draw the area possesses for adventure seekers.