By Wil Crews
Everyone loves a good ghost story. No matter where you are from, you’ve probably heard one about a creepy area in your hometown or somewhere nearby.
Auburn native Joshua Dairen has heard the stories. And he’s using TikTok to inform his followers of the stories and urban legends that may be right in their backyard.
An urban legend, according to Merriam-Webster dictionary, is an often lurid story or anecdote that is based on hearsay and widely circulated as true.
“I’d like to just remind people these aren’t necessarily true or false,” he said. “When it comes to the paranormal, there are a lot of believers and a lot of skeptics. At the end of the day, it’s a story that has other things tied into it as well.”
Ever since June 1, Dairen, a full-time communications specialist by day, TikToker by night, has been sharing popular urban legends of Alabama — and the Southeast as a whole — on his account @joshuadairen.
Miller said he found inspiration for his series through other TikTok users, one of a man who posted instructional lawn care videos, and another of a user who shared informational items about various animals.
“I came across a couple of accounts that were doing really cool stuff,” Dairen said. “I got sucked in and started thinking about if I could do something like that.”
Dairen began to brainstorm for a topic he could share that was both fun and informational. He came across the story of Spring Villa in Opelika — a tale about a former slave who killed his master, and after death looms to haunt the area. That story produced the inspiration for Dairen to seek out other urban legends in the state and share them with his followers.
“That’s when the light bulb came on,” Dairen said. “If I feel this way about Spring Villa, and don’t know the full story, maybe there are people out there who also don’t know the full story.”
While he previously held a modest following on the app, Dairen’s first post detailing the Ghost Bridge urban legend in Florence, Alabama, received more than 8,000 likes.
“I’ve always been a content creator; that’s just the nature of being a communications major,” Dairen said. “You’re always looking for a way to maximize your skills. It was mostly for fun at first, and it was just super casual.”
The success of that first video has led to Dairen posting numerous different videos explaining Alabama urban legends, and boasting a following of about 70,000 users. He’s also started to branch out with his Southern urban legend series, and his account has over 920,000 likes as a whole.
“It’s been incredible and kind of scary at times,” Dairen said of his rise to viral status. “The following has been cool, but that wasn’t my initial plan going in. The first video I posted was one of the first with that much engagement. It’s been kind of surreal. There is no real way to be prepared for your following to go up like that.”
Dairen said he gets most of his video ideas from comments users leave on his posts.
“People are always telling me to go research somewhere,” he said. “So, I have a running list of places I want to check out.”
Dairen has produced multiple videos detailing the urban legends of Auburn-Opelika, including stories about: Spring Villa, the Opelika Chamber of Commerce building, the Auburn University Chapel, Samford Hall, Pine Hill Cemetery, Old Ward Funeral Home and others.
“It’s my home area, Auburn, so I am more than happy to help out,” Dairen said.
In all of his videos, Dairen tries to be as historically accurate and factual as possible. But, all the stories still need to be taken in with a grain of salt, he said.
“I did a lot of research before I actually started posting,” he said. “I hit the internet and make sure the places I’m trying to cover have had some sort of reputable source covering it. I try not to be a gimmick. Trying to present the information as it is and just let the story tell itself is kind of my strategy.”
Dairen typically posts at least one story per day. He has completed more than 115 videos on Alabama urban legends, and nearly 150 stories on urban legends in the Southeast in total.
“I want people to feel comfortable coming to my page knowing they are going to have a new story to engage with and see, something they didn’t know,” Dairen said. “It’s more about what people want opposed to me hitting set targets.”
Dairen is asking for help from Opelika and the surrounding area in identifying more of the state’s unearthed, mystical stories.
“If there are places in Opelika that people think for sure has something going on, I want to look into it,” he said. “You never know what kind of cool stories can come out of it.”
Dairen’s ultimate goal is to unearth every urban legend in the state, and from there, continue his series throughout the South.
“I think over time I will run out of urban legends in Alabama,” he said. “I think I will have uncovered every stone.”
If he does run out of urban legends to tell, Dairen said he already has plans to shift his focus to other unique things about his home state, like historical buildings or nature.
For now, Dairen said he just wants to continue telling the fascinating tales which reside in Alabama and the South.
“I just wanted to do something for my state — something that would pull these stories out of Halloween and delve into the history and the cool figures that are intertwined with these stories as well,” Dairen said.