Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #16: Haunted Watauga County, North Carolina

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Bullard, Tim. Haunted Watauga County, North Carolina. Haunted America, The History Press, 2011.

Here’s another entry from the Haunted America series at The History Press. This one is a series of folkloric reminiscences about Watauga County in the western part of the state. Like other entries in the series, Haunted Watauga appears not to have had much in the way of editing. That’s by far it’s biggest flaw.

I really wanted to like it, especially since the author was a reporter for a long time in the area. He has personal reminiscences and acquaintances in law enforcement and EMS going back to the 1970s (he even mentions the Frank C. Brown Collection). There’s a lot of potentially intriguing stuff in here, but it’s chaotically told. It feels like a closet full of potential treasures that were just casually tossed in, willy-nilly. The author will start telling a story about, say, witches and then wander off to talk about mountain climbing and then a bit of history about something completely unrelated. A lot of it reads like stream-of-consciousness.

Bullard’s storytelling flaws stand out the most in the two longest and most intriguing stories. One of them is a piece of research journalism about the Durham Family murders in 1972 and the other is a mostly-eyewitness account of the capture of some escaped cons. Bullard was on the case during their siege.

The first story, a chilling true crime tale, is about the triple murder of two parents and their son on February 3, 1972 near Boone. The wife was strangled with a rope, while the husband and son were drowned in the bathtub. The case officially remains unsolved, though you get the impression that the police knew exactly who did it. They just can’t prove it.

The chapter is very well-researched. It is not well-written. Bullard wanders from time period to time period and from witness interview to witness interview. He throws in everything, including the kitchen sink. One of these elements, though, appears to be unique to the book. He interviewed people now living in the house where the murders occurred and they claim it is indisputably haunted.

The second story with the convicts involves a phlegmatic cameraman straight out of central casting. I’ll be he was fun to work with. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have much of a climax because the author missed the actual capture. This, along with the recurring semi-finished folklore about witches, is probably the most frustrating part of the book.

I think the best part is the chapter about a long-running theater play (similar to the Lost Colony play in Manteo) called Horn in the West about the life of Daniel Boone. The town of Boone in the county is named after him. Glenn Causey played the title role for 41 straight seasons. There’s also a Haunted Horn in the West version for Halloween. Causey doesn’t haunt the stage now that he’s passed on, but another named Charles Elledge (he’s a benevolent spirit) does.

I hadn’t known about this play and it doesn’t appear in the usual collections, let alone the haunting connected to it. It’s an example of all the unique material in the book. I just wish this one had been written up and presented better.

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The Official Supernatural: “Back and To the Future” (15.01 – Season Premiere) Live Recap Thread


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It’s been a tough summer, so I’m way behind on my recaps and reviews. As of this review, I now have 52 episodes left to finish for previous seasons, plus the 19 after this one for the final (15th) season that starts on October 10. That’s 71 total by next April. I currently have 149 coffees at $3 each on Ko-Fi (many thanks to those who have contributed so far!). If I get 300 coffees total, I will commit to doing one recap/review per week (retro or Season 15). If I get 400 coffees, I will commit to two. If I get 500 coffees, three reviews. If I get 600 coffees, four reviews. If I get 700 coffees, five reviews per week.

Other that that, any and all contributions are welcome! You can still find my reviews here of North Carolina ghost story books, and notes about my folklore research on Patreon.

My collected recaps and reviews of season one, which first appeared on Innsmouth Free Press, are up (with a few extras) on Kindle. The Kindle version is available through Amazon. The print version is also up. If you buy the print version, you get a Kindle copy thrown in for free. I also get paid if you get it on Kindle Unlimited (for free), read the Kindle version, or lend it to a friend via the Kindle Owners Lending Library. Reviews also help with sales. Just FYI.

Scroll down to find links to all of my recaps and reviews of all seasons up to this point.

Really long recap (nearly two minutes) of random (maybe) stuff from previous seasons and one for last season that includes Dean-Michael and Mary’s death for a hot minute. We also get a quick bit of EVOL!Kaia fighting, but not Jody or Donna, or any other Wayward Sister we might care about. But it mostly lingers on the Jacknatural plot. For a painfully prolonged time. It’s all set to Bob Seger’s “The Famous Final Scene.”

Cut to Now as the song continues in the middle of the night Chuck either suddenly created out of a bright, sunny afternoon or time traveled TFW into. The camera pulls back from Jack’s face with its burned-out eye sockets to the fight going on around him. Sam, Dean and Castiel are defending themselves from a horde of zombies. Whenever they stab or smite them, the spirits inside the bodies flame red and flare out in a new special effect that … well … doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Are they being destroyed? Shouldn’t they all be demons by now? Ah, Dabb, you and your LOL!Canon.

Eventually, TFW are able to grab Jack’s body (because, as Game of Thrones demonstrated in season eight, the smartest thing to do in a fight with zombies is to grab a recently dead body and go hide out with some other dead bodies) and retreat to a nearby mausoleum.

Cue title cards of some sort of hurricane bullet wound. Or something.

So, they’re in the crypt, trying to figure out how to get out. Well … the Brothers are trying to figure out how to get out. Castiel is moping over Jack’s dead, eyeless body, ’cause that’s useful.

After circling round and not finding a way out (aside from a window that’s way too close to the zombie-laden Forest Lawn they just escaped, the Brothers return to Jack’s body and mope briefly over it, too.

“He didn’t deserve this,” Dean says, before moving on to figuring out how not to join him. Mmm, yeah, he really did, Dean, but okay. Sam asks Castiel if he can heal Jack (from a Chuck smiting? Don’t think so, Sam).

Dean tries to figure out this new version of zombies while facing the prospect of starving to death (they’d actually die of thirst, first). Sam and Castiel both speculate that the zombies are Hell souls who leaped into any body they could find.

This … quite irritates me. For one thing, a graveyard like that isn’t going to have a whole lot of bodies left because bodies decompose relatively quickly in relation to how quickly your average cemetery in a small town fills up. For another, all souls that go to Hell turn into demons (per Ruby, who was a lying demon, yes, but was never proven wrong on that one) and they do it pretty quickly.

So, the evil ghosts the Brothers have vanquished actually ought to be demons by now, not ordinary ghosts. Or superghosts. Or whatever the hell Dabb is trying to make them out to be now.

But hey. Why should the showrunner pay any attention to his show’s own canon, amirite?

Anyhoo, Dean grumbles that he never trusted Chuck. This is true. Maybe everyone else should have listened to him about that.

Meanwhile, Sam has found an area of the wall near the floor that has the sound of running water in some kind of French drain pipe (in a crypt?). So, they start breaking up the wall and the brick behind it to see if they can crawl out (while Castiel just stands there).

Alas, the zombies have somehow figured out this route first and crawled in because … well, who the hell even knows? What did you have in mind, here, Dabb?

Castiel finally steps in and brains the zombie (which causes the skeletal spirit inside to ghost out), but it appears whatever barrier kept the souls out has been broken. Jack suddenly stands up behind them. Only, it’s not Jack. It’s a demon using his meatsuit.

The demon introduces itself as Belphegor, then checks out their gear to find some sunglasses to cover Jack’s burned-out eyes. At this point, Castiel grabs Belphegor, shoves him against the wall, and demands – at angel-sword-point – that he vacate Jack’s body.

Belphegor’s counter is that he can help them escape the crypt. That’s a pretty good counter. Dean pulls Castiel off, saying they need all the help they can get (and if the demon doesn’t help, they’ll just kill him). Sam, for once, backs Dean up.

Sam starts to introduce himself and Dean, but Belphegor cuts them off. He knows they’re the Winchesters and he knows what that means. He immediately assumes Dean was the one who opened all of Hell and is surprised when Castiel sets him straight that it was actually Chuck (while Dean looks nonplussed and Sam confirms Castiel’s claim with grim look).

Belphegor explains that he’s not a CRD or a BED (in mythology, he’s a Prince of Hell, but the show already killed them off so … not in this story?). He’s just an ordinary demon Joe who likes being in Hell, tormenting souls. He wants to get back to business as usual, which means he’s on the Winchesters’ side, at least for now.

Sam asks if Belphegor can “fix this” (meaning: Put all the zombies back). The demon says he can’t, but that he can get them out of the crypt. Dean asks how. Belphegor gets together some grave dirt and angel blood (from a reluctant Castiel) and then claps his bloodied/dirty hands together. The incessant growling of the zombies outside stops, as if cut off. When TFW go outside, they find bodies everywhere.

Castiel says the ghosts must have all died – I mean, again. Belphegor corrects him on that. He just blasted them out of the bodies. Dean asks, Where are they now?

Cut to two girls (one black and one white – this is very relevant) playing dress-up in the white girl’s bedroom (except that later, we will see pictures on the wall of the black girl, so I guess it’s her house?), while Extreme Music’s “Gimme What I Want” plays.

It’s not actually a bad song, but I get the impression the show is using it here to emphasize the girls immaturity and innocence. Dabb writes them as stereotypical pre-teens (giggling, big smiles and talking in popular catchphrases), but the actresses look quite a bit older. Which just underscores how poorly he writes women.

Anyhoo, we get a few lines about how the white girl’s mom is buying her lots of stuff out of guilt over divorcing her dad/step-dad. As the black girl turns back to the mirror, Bloody Mary (who had previous stuck her hand out of a mirror the white girl turned away from) starts to mimic her. First, she makes the girl’s reflection’s eyes bleed, then the girl’s eyes. But then, as the girl turns around, she pulls the skin off her own face as she screams and that’s not part of the whole Bloody Mary thing, so LOL!Canon strikes again.

Also, yep, the Person of Color dies first and worst. Thanks so much for grinding that old horror-movie cliche in a little more, Dabb.

Upon seeing her friend drop dead, White Girl turns to flee, but sees Bloody Mary blocking her path. She lets out a hearty horror-movie scream.

Cut to the Impala, still in Chuck’s imposed night. Castiel and Belphegor are in the backseat, which is mighty uncomfortable for the angel. Belphegor is saying he looks good with the glasses, but demons whose vessels have burned-out eyes can’t see (per the waitress demon in season four’s premiere, “Lazarus Rising”).

Sam is looking online for any sign of the “ghosts” and can’t find any (wouldn’t people also be confused by day suddenly turning to night?). Belphegor says the “souls” will resurface eventually, as they have to go somewhere. He can contain them, though, in a mile-wide radius near the cemetery (but doesn’t this conversation imply they blasted all over the world – oh, never mind). He just needs to use a spell. When asked how many souls there are in Hell, he says 2-3 billion. Um, really? If there were that many in Hell, then why did Crowley believe in season six that the tens of millions of monster souls in Purgatory would ever help him against Raphael?

Castiel points out that this circle would encompass the nearby town of Harlan, KS, so now TFW has to go back in and get everyone out (assuming they’re not already dead or possessed by ghosts).

They see a car up ahead. It’s deserted, with blood on the windshield and the radio playing “Too Good to Be True” by Lon Rodgers and the Soul Blenders. Dean immediately recognizes this as the MO of a Woman in White. Sam confirms that there is more than one Woman in White type of ghost in the SPNverse when he guesses this might be their Woman in White. At that point, Dean realizes that all the souls they ever vanquished are back out of Hell and roaming the earth.

Cut to a viciously disrupted birthday party (it’s heavily implied that there were child casualties). There are only two survivors – a woman and her daughter. The woman, who is happily quite resourceful, carries her child out to the garage. But a ghost clown chasing them has put the whole house on supernatural lockdown and they can’t get out. The woman calls out to a man outside, walking his dog, but he doesn’t hear her. She and her daughter hide as the ghost (of John Wayne Gacy from “Lebanon” last season) stalks through the garage, looking for them and cackling.

Cut to daytime, with the Brothers arriving in the Impala in town. Sam gets out to convince the sheriff that he has to evacuate the town (some barmy lie about a benzene pipeline outside town that “sprung a leak”). Sam and Dean are wearing FBI jackets.

Meanwhile, Dean tries to detail Castiel out to the job of getting Belphegor his ingredients, but Castiel can’t even angel-up enough to look at Belphegor and gets out of the car. Hey, remember when Dean was reaaaallly upset about Jack murdering his mom and Castiel wanted him to get over it in a hot minute? Yeah.

So, in the car, Belphegor is saying he’s been downstairs since he died and that the last time he was topside, people were very ugly and they “worshiped a giant penis” (the expressions from Jensen Ackles to stay in character – and likely to keep from laughing – are priceless). This is a reference to Belphegor’s real-world mythology as the god Baal-Peor in Ancient Canaanite religion. He was worshiped by the Moabites in the form of a stone penis. Really. It’s all in Belphegor’s pretty-short Wikipedia page, which is probably the only research Dabb did on the subject.

In the show, this version has a wee crush on Dean. Dean mostly shrugs this off and gets out of the demon that there are only two key ingredients to his spell – rock salt and a human heart. So, basically Ruby’s spell from season three’s “Jus in Bello,” but missing the “kills all demons” part.

Meanwhile, Sam and Castiel have convinced the sheriff to evacuate the town and they are going into houses to get people out. Castiel happens to enter the one with the two girls (Bloody Mary is still there in the mirrors and looking smug). Sam goes into the one where the woman is still hiding with her daughter in the garage from Gacy Clown.

Rather than let her mom get her down from the high shelf they were hiding behind, Sam stupidly puts down his saltgun and gets her down himself. Then he starts reassuring her while still not picking up the gun. This, unsurprisingly, results in GC appearing behind him and slashing him.

Fortunately, Castiel shows up and blasts the ghost with rock salt. Then he heals Sam of the ghost’s slash wound. They then have a conversation about Sam’s ricochet wound from shooting Chuck, right in front of the mom and daughter, while the clown ghost is still in the vicinity. As you do.

Castiel tries to heal the bullet wound, but instead gets a vision of Sam apparently possessed by Lucifer in the Bunker while it’s on lockdown and possibly a shot of Dean collapsing as if dead, while we hear him say, “Sammy, please.”

Castiel then says there’s an “energy” in the wound that he has never, ever, pinky-swear felt before. I roll my eyes, because did we really need a final round of Sam Done Come Back Wrong? Really, Show? That’s the best you can do with this character in his final season?

Meanwhile, Dean is getting off the phone with Rowena (“Get your exquisite ass over here” he tells her after being told off for saying only “Get your ass over here”) and handing Belphegor his salt. Belphegor then admits that he’s a major fan (and he does use that word) of the torturer Dean was in Hell, that what Dean did there was “art.” He just didn’t want to say that in front of the rest of TFW.

Whoo, does that make Dean uncomfortable. But when Dean asks Belphegor what it was like when Hell burst open, he is shocked to hear that every door opened up and confirms that this included the Cage. Michael hadn’t left the Cage when Belphegor was cast out (up?), but if he were to do that, well ….

Meanwhile, the sheriff is finishing up clearing the town out and gets killed in a parking lot right after talking to Sam, by the Woman in White (not played by Sarah Shahi this time). Conveniently (and uncharacteristically), she leaves the heart, which means Belphegor can now use it for his spell without too much guilt for TFW. The Woman in White shows up and hits Dean after saying “I remember you. You took me home.” Nooooo, Dabb, honey. That was Sam. She also slashes Belphegor because that’s now a thing ghosts can do to demons, I guess.

Sam and Castiel are leaving the house as GC watches them from the garage. The little girl decides to wander over to a pond and stare into it until Bloody Mary shows up because … plot reasons. Mom gets grabbed as she tries to get her daughter away. Meanwhile, Sam is up against GC and Castiel against Lizzie Borden for some random reason. There’s also some other random tall dude. Actually, Castiel does most of the vanquishing and Sam accidentally shoots him with rock salt at one point (to Castiel’s annoyance). But Sam does get to shoot Bloody Mary, and save Mom and her stupid daughter. So, there’s that.

This is interspersed with Belphegor doing the spell in Latin (a bit mangled in pronunciation): “Animae infernorum, spiritus abyssi surrecti defigo, vos intra confinia, vinciamini,” which basically means, “Spirits of Hell, resurrected spirits of the abyss, I enchant/strike [you] dumb; within this boundary, I confine you.”

A large, glowing red line spreads out around the town. Sam and Castiel see it and Sam realizes it’s the spell. He and Castiel, along with the mom and daughter, start running. Funnily enough, instead of doing their usual thing of teleporting, the spirits … run after them. In broad daylight. Really.

So, the humans make it through the boundary (after Sam first tries to hold off the ghosts with an empty saltgun). GC howls in rage and Sam tells to clown to “shut up.”

Afterward, as they get dropped off in a nearby town, Mom and Daughter thank TFW, who tell them it might be best if they don’t tell anybody about all this. I concur.

Dean asks Castiel if he’s okay. Castiel says yes, but before he can go into any detail (warming up more than he has recently toward Dean), Dean says that’s good and coldly turns his back on him. Just in case we weren’t sure what this was supposed to mean, Belphegor casually rimshots it as an intentional snub. Castiel rebuffs Belphegor’s offer to cry on his shoulder.

At the very end, Sam says they’re on a deadline. What happens when the real FBI shows up? Dean gets Sam to show him his wound and cleans it (distracting him with a knock-knock joke, just as when they were kids). Because surely, after an angel couldn’t do anything, a little alcohol will do the trick. He notes there’s no exit wound. Well, yeah, but it wasn’t a gun that, strictly speaking, fired bullets, anyway.

Sam brings up Chuck saying it was “the end” in last season’s finale. Dean says they were just “rats in a maze” all along, with no meaningful choice. Sam says they saved people, but Dean asks what is the point, when Chuck will just throw another apocalypse at them? Sam, though, thinks that Chuck is gone (um … because why, now?), that Chuck has given up on this story and moved on to another one. So, if they can beat this apocalypse, maybe it will be the last one.

As they turn back to the trunk (in a mirror of the end of the Pilot), Dean says, “Well, you know what that means.”

Sam: We got work to do.

As Sam reaches up to close the trunk, we get an actual flashback to his doing it in the Pilot.

Credits.

The show came back slightly higher in demo (0.4/2) than the season 14 finale (0.3/2) and slightly lower (1.23 million vs. 1.30 million) in audience. What that probably means is that it skewed a bit younger this week than in last season’s finale. This put it in fourth place for the week on the network (including against brand-new show Batwoman). I haven’t seen DVR numbers yet for the show.

For comparison, Supernatural‘s lead-out Legacies came back with an unimpressive 0.3/3 and 0.80 million, which put Legacies third-from-last for the week, only ahead of Friday shows Charmed and Dynasty. Sure, CW. Tell us again how Legacies and Charmed were such better ideas than that Wayward Sisters spin-off.

The preview for next week is up.

Review: Well. That happened.

For those of you hoping the showrunners would clean up their act this final season, it was a nice thought. Let’s put it that way.

This episode had some nice ideas and clip-clopped along at enough of a rate that it might even have been scary in an old-school, fairly simplistic-but-eerie way, if both the writer and director hadn’t been phoning it all in. Not a good sign of things to come when both showrunners are so mentally checked out in the very first episode of their last season.

It was a typical Dabb script – shallow, insipid and chaotic, yet painfully linear, loaded with walking cliches in place of characters, random plot holes, poor or nonexistent foreshadowing, and many unnecessary errors in canon.

Singer’s direction was obvious and plodding, taking the cheapest, easiest and least imaginative approach to the script. I got some amusement out of the traditional Belphegor being an example of laziness and sloth in Reformation era demonology. What a perfect metaphor for the current showrunners and their bad attitude. It’s possible this was Dabb’s sly dig at critical fans, but with everything else in the episode being banged home with verbal rimshots, I doubt he had anything so subtle in mind.

A major example in the episode itself is the central MOTW – the ghosts. There’s a moment at the climax that highlights the errors in a glaring way. That’s when Sam and Castiel, and their two civilian charges are running from the ghosts who are … running after them. Say, what?

Now, sure, in the beginning of the episode, the ghosts are lumbering after TFW, but that’s because they are inside dead meatsuits. Why they are inside dead meatsuits isn’t entirely clear. Is that something Chuck just randomly made up?

Okay, fine, but how is that satisfying storytelling? Just because a monster mash-up sounds cool on paper, that doesn’t mean it’s gonna work out onscreen (it sure didn’t here). And if it’s not satisfying storytelling, why would Chuck do it in the first place? Just because he’s God, that doesn’t mean his behavior has no limits or pattern. He likes good stories. Even if he is (as I continue to suspect) actually the Empty Entity, he’s still gotta act in character and doing so means “writing” a good puppet show.

The thing that Dabb forgets, over and over, in this episode is that a big part of what made classic ghosts like Bloody Mary and the Woman in White so frightening was how the limits of their urban legend backstories actually made them more dangerous, not less. It made their behavior unsettling and unpredictable, even once you figured out their pattern.

When they would hit such a limit in their parameters, they’d bounce off in some random direction and come at you sideways, or from behind. Sure, the pattern would be obvious after their attack, but by then, someone would usually be dead. Their backstories gave them a mystery, a mystique, that made them truly frightening. Take away their traditional limits and they become generic monsters, and much, much less scary.

The thing that Singer forgets is that ghosts are scary because they operate in the dark, in shadows (where you can’t really see them or what they’re doing), and because they no longer move or act like human beings. They flicker and teleport. They appear and disappear at random. They twist and distort. They flow like liquid, blow like gas. They appear in multiple forms. They are lethally ethereal.

What they are not is a group of live human actors in dress-up, running after Our Heroes across an open street, in broad daylight, on a bright and sunny day. If you’re gonna go with that setting, do some friggin’ shadow people flickering along the house walls and doors, instead. That would be scary.

At the climactic point in the episode, the ghosts have been kicked out of their bodies and are, again, just ghosts. There is simply no reason for ghosts to run. In point of fact, we never see them run in other episodes (except for the justly forgotten “Of Grave Importance,” where they even forget they can pass through walls and floors and ceilings). There is nothing scary about ghosts running like living people.

Speaking of which, why are they still just ghosts? They should long since have been demonized by now. Yet, we only meet one demon – Belphegor. And the way Belphegor talks about being in Hell, it appears the show has, once again, forgotten all about the canon established in season-freakin’-four that Hell time moves much faster than earth time – in the same scene where Belphegor is referencing Dean’s 40 years in Hell, no less.

Or, that there shouldn’t be that many souls left in Hell, demonized or not, after Amara’s eating rampage. Or, if there were lots more than that before she chowed down on them, why was Crowley so hot to get a mere 20-30 million monster souls from Purgatory in season six?

One could argue that some of this retconning is just reinterpreting canon, rather than changing it up. And I’d be fine with that if the replacement canon were better, or at least took the story in intriguing new directions, but it’s not and it doesn’t. It’s just lazy.

There is no reason, for example, for the Woman in White to claim that Dean took her home. That’s as dumb as the Nepotism Duo claiming that Lucifer was the oldest archangel. The Pilot’s climax makes it obvious this was Sam’s plan (to the point that Dean complains afterward about Sam driving the car into the house). Sam even says what he’s about to do to Constance (the Pilot’s Woman in White) right before he does it. And Dean is treated by both of them as little more than an afterthought, even though he “shot Casper in the face, you freak,” as Sam so memorably puts it.

Further, while I can see a fandemon like Belphegor believing that Dean was behind opening the gates of Hell, it makes no sense from a story point of view. Aside from Dean, only a few angels and demons even know that Dean was the First Seal. That leaves Sam and Castiel duking it out for the top spot of Number One Public Champ in Starting Apocalypses.

I find it curious that these two “accomplishments” (one minor, one highly negative) are incorrectly attributed to Dean, while Sam gets the limpest, lamest version of Speshul Sauce Sammy subplot yet. He’s got VISIONS FROM GOD, Y’ALL. Though it would be more accurate to say that Castiel’s attempt to heal his wound meant the wound sparked visions in Castiel because Sam acts completely unaware of them when interacting with Dean later on. But the upshot is that once again, we have something SPECIAL about Sam that really has nothing to do with Sam and doesn’t grow his personality in any significant way.

Not helping is the constant handholding and training wheels that the episode gives Sam. Sam is a grown-ass adult and experienced Hunter of no small renown, yet he’s presented here as barely able to carry a saltgun by the correct end. Castiel has to rescue him almost incessantly from his own stupidity and the big, mean ghosts Sam has been fighting his entire life. I mean, I get that clowns scare him, but come on. He acts dumb even before he tangles with Gacy Clown.

Granted, everyone in that climactic ghost chase scene (especially that little girl) is hit by so many plot stupid anvils that it’s a wonder they won’t have concussions for the rest of the season. The little girl was so dumb, I kept expecting her to be possessed by a ghost. Hell, somebody should have been possessed by a ghost in all the shenanigans.

Castiel, I wanted to smack with a rotten mackerel for much of the episode. He’s been acting pissy toward Dean for a while, for various plot reasons (for a start, he was mad at Dean last season for saying yes to Michael, even though Castiel had said yes to Lucifer under not-dissimilar conditions). His latest thing was being upset that Dean wasn’t properly “mourning” Jack, but as Dean put it in the episode, Jack was dead and they had an apocalypse to survive.

Castiel seems to have had a change of heart after seeing the vision of Sam apparently murdering Dean. I think. Unlike everything else in the episode, including Dean’s stinging rejection of Castiel’s proffered olive branch (complete with verbal rimshot from Belphegor, standing nearby), it wasn’t made REALLY OBVIOUS. Yet, Castiel did act distinctly warmer toward Dean in the episode’s coda and it did follow directly on his vision of Dean’s death at Sam’s hands in some probably-near future.

Alas, Dean wasn’t feeling the reconciliation. Well, that might have something to do with Castiel’s little meltdown in the middle of the episode. Castiel wasn’t happy at all with Dean’s being willing to work with a demon inside Jack’s meatsuit and was pretty nasty about it. Yet, he was all about Dean insta-forgiving Jack for murdering Mary and just moving on from his own mother’s (second) death. Keep in mind that only occurred days ago in the story’s timeline.

From Dean’s POV, that’s going to look an awful lot like Castiel feeling “bad” about Mary, but not really. In wallowing in his own grief and anger over Jack’s death, Castiel made it abundantly clear that his love and grief over Mary was all pretty academic, and that he wasn’t willing to respect Dean’s grief in the way he expected Dean to respect his own (in the middle of an all-hands-on-deck emergency, no less). And that’s gonna make Dean pretty salty.

Well, I left Belphegor for last. I’m not really sure what to think of him. I liked him okay initially, though I found Alex Calvert’s performance a little rough. He did improve a bit on rewatch, though, and it’s common for fan favorites to have rocky starts in their first episode.

I currently have two problems with him. One is that his powers and skills were a little bit too convenient for the needs of TFW and the story. That Sued him up a bit, even allowing for the probability that he is playing TFW (Dean even acknowledged this likelihood while accepting his help). The other is that I don’t see much reason to get used to him as a character, since I doubt he’ll last long. The show seems obsessed with bring Jack Sue back, with all that entails, so that makes Belphegor just a placeholder character who keeps Alex Calvert onscreen and Calvert fans happy for now. Ah, well.


The Kripke Years

Season 1

Season 2

Season 3

Season 4

Season 5

The Gamble Years

Season 6 (with Kripke)

Season 7

The Carver Years

Season 8

Season 9

Season 10

Season 11

The Dabb Years

Season 12

Season 13

Season 14

Season 15


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Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #15: Haunted Broughton: Tales from the Graveyard Shift

Check out the rest of the month’s reviews here, and last year’s reviews here. If you enjoyed this review and want to help out with my folklore research, head on over to my Patreon page and join up, make a one-time donation on this site or directly through Paypal, or send me a coffee.

Langley, Margaret M. Haunted Broughton: Tales from the Graveyard Shift. October 2, 2009.

This is my other favorite of the month so far. It’s a veritable self-published diamond in the rough, the first in a trilogy of ghost story collections about Broughton Hospital, a psychiatric facility in Morganton, NC (in the Mountain region). Despite having an editor named along with the author on the book cover, I’m afraid that this book suffers from a cornucopia of copy editing errors and weird formatting. Nonetheless, I recommend wading through them because the content is worth the effort.

So, why is that? For a start, there’s the setting. Psychiatric hospitals, especially the earlier ones built in the Victorian and Edwardian eras, are perennial chill-givers, particularly this time of year. They have propped up many a creaky B-movie.

The idea of being trapped as a patient or working in such asylums in their heyday is unsettling enough, but if they were haunted, too? Yikes. American Horror Story did an entire season based just on that premise and one of Supernatural‘s most famous (and famously scary) episodes is season one’s “Asylum.”

But most of these tales are set in that fuzzy time of Back in the Day. Even non-supernatural accounts about the real-life hospitals are told from a distance of decades. Most of them were closed down in the 1960s and 1970s, with some making it into the 90s.

So, it’s rare (even unique, as I can’t think of any comparable such collection) to find a book of ghost stories that is not only about a psych hospital still in operation, but one that has been collated and told by one of its current staff (and boy, do we EMS folks have some doozies to tell). Forget moldy old urban legends at fifth or sixth-hand. This is living oral history being recorded as it occurs.

Langley herself recognizes this. In the introduction, she says, “These stories are essentially time capsules, if you will; memories of conditions and happenings around Broughton Hospital that will be lost forever if someone doesn’t record them. Sadly, many people have not told their story to me, for fear of being thought ‘crazy.’ Imagine, working in a mental hospital and telling people you saw a ghost? So, for that reason, all submitters will remain anonymous.”

This is not necessarily a problem in terms of folkloric reliability, since Langley herself is one of the people who have experienced paranormal phenomena. So, even though she is telling other people’s stories as well as hers, it’s still a first-hand account. Also, by keeping anonymity for everyone (including possible identities of even ghosts of patients), she doesn’t violate HIPAA rules. In general, she demonstrates a lot of compassion for those patients, both living and dead.

The first part, about the history of the hospital, is on the tedious side. Bear with it. As with the intro for Haunted Theaters of the Carolinas, which I reviewed earlier this month, it’s necessary to the understanding the sometimes complicated background and layout of the hospital. You’ll get more out of the stories if you understand their setting.

Annnd then we get into the creepy stuff. There is, for example a haunted laundry that no one on the staff likes going into at night. Ditto a haunted recreation hall in the same building (fittingly called Ward 13) that is just fine and dandy in the daytime, cheery and bright, but a whole other story at 3am.

See, Ward 13 is the second-oldest building still in existence on campus. Built in 1887, it may have been used in experiments on patients, but it seems no one actually knows why it’s haunted, just that it is. People have reported hearing screams when they get sodas out of the vending machine, whistling, ghostly conversations, and being touched in the elevator. A cat who lives on the grounds sometimes disappears for hours, only to appear out of the deserted Ward 13 elevator or show up with chilly fur.

Ward 13 is also a building where the author reports having seen shadows of people passing in the hallway when it was deserted. In the Bates Building, she heard the disembodied voice of a colleague (recently murdered by her husband) call her name. When Langley told her supervisor, the supervisor admitted that on nights when she was doing paperwork in her office in the Bates Building, she would see reflections on her door of people passing in the hallway, but no one was there. For some reason, that’s the story that comes back to me when I’m in bed at night.

Langley also heard a story from the same building about a crying baby and a haunted doll. In a nearby building can sometimes be heard piano music.

As if that’s not bad enough, there’s a haunted tunnel through which dead patients were once carried (much like the famous Waverly Asylum) and a nearby graveyard that’s seriously haunted. This book is full of stories and there are two more books (which I still intend to read). That’s a grand total of some 400 pages in all.

An interesting footnote is that one Amazon reviewer named “littlejo” (Susan Amond Todd from White Lake, NC in her profile) gave the book two stars on February 4, 2011. She claimed to have worked at the hospital for 15 years and that her mother worked there for 37 years. She insisted that while some hauntings had occurred, the author had greatly exaggerated them and that the reviewer’s mother disagreed about some of the stories.

On the other hand, a reviewer from Alabama named Joe L. Carpenter gave it four stars on July 16, 2015. He claimed in a review on the second book that his father and neighbors experienced many of the same stories as Langley tells, while working at the hospital, themselves. I’m not sure what the background is on all that, especially considering the easy anonymity of internet criticism, but it’s intriguing that even the reviews add to the folkloric story.

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Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #14: Haunted Fort Fisher

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Gray, Mark. Haunted Fort Fisher: Ghosts on the Cape Fear. 2014.

Fair warning: This is one of my favorite books that I’ve read so far for this project – not just for this year, either. The premise is simple – it’s a self-published picture book of ghost photos. The author decided in 2002 (this book came out in 2014) to start taking digital photographs around Fort Fisher to see if he could catch any ghostly phenomena. He also recorded for EVPs at the same time (Electronic Voice Phenomena: voices and sounds caught on a sound recorder that have no known cause and were not heard by observers at the time).

I’ve mentioned Fort Fisher on the Cape Fear River in previous reviews. Fort Fisher is one of the most haunted sites in North Carolina, if not the most haunted, and some of the reported encounters have been quite frightening to the observers. This is most likely due to the two Civil War battles in 1864 and 1865 that led to the storming and capture of the Confederate fort by Union forces. Fort Fisher had been a major military target because it defended the one Confederate port late in the War – Wilmington. When Fort Fisher fell, so did Wilmington and the War was pretty much won (or lost, depending on your point of view).

This book is a condensed account of 12 years of Gray’s best photographs. Being a computer and AV tech, he goes into quite a lot of useful detail about what type of camera he used, and why, and its capabilities. Some of these pictures are pretty grainy, but in a way, that makes them creepier.

One thing I like about Gray’s observations is that he keeps them very grounded. He talks about how he’s only ever been able to get EVP’s at Shepard’s Battery and that the only ghost photos he’s been able to get were from the Sally Port (facing north) into the woods. Most of them have been in the woods. That he has observed these conditions adds to his sincerity and his observation skills. The only psychic sense he makes any claim to is having an idea when and where would be a good day to take creepy photos. Which, considering he’d done this for 12 years at the same spot by the time the book came out, isn’t that hard to swallow.

Gray also makes no bones about having taken a whole lot of photographs, but that only a few have ever turned out … odd. He also is not shy about putting his photos up, in the raw as it were, for readers to evaluate. And it’s true that some of these look like a straightforward case of pareidolia (like the cover photo). But then there are the others.

By far the most unsettling are the shadows and the photos where something is blocking the view of the background. Maybe the shadows are just sunlight coming down through the trees in odd ways (but they sure do look like people) and maybe the weird fuzzy things are just camera artifacts. But they’re not any artifacts I’ve ever seen in a digital camera.

At any rate, this was not a book I wanted to review at night. Even though it’s short, those photos creeped me right out. Just looking for what is supposed to be odd about them lent a strange kind of menace to them.

I don’t know what the author has captured here. I do, however, think it’s a worthwhile project because he spent so much time, over several years, in the same areas, photographing the same spots with the same type of equipment. At the very least, that lends itself to a cool study about light reflection and refraction, internal and external, in digital cameras. It also involves the kind of scientific method that too-often isn’t used properly by either believers or debunkers. I’m curious to see what Gray finds next. Just … don’t make me read it at night.

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Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #13: Ghosthunting North Carolina

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Ambrose, Kala. Ghosthunting North Carolina. America’s Haunted Road Trip. Clerisy Press, 2011.

This was not the book I thought it was when I bought it (twice, accidentally). I thought it was about ghost hunter organizations in North Carolina. It’s not. I did find something like that, but I will review that book later in the month. And I did end up enjoying this book overall, but let’s address a few issues first.

So, what is this book? It’s basically a tour guide by a professional psychic of a selection of the most interesting and creepy paranormal sites in the state. I wasn’t especially thrilled at first to find out her profession. I found the introduction, where she went on at great length about her psychic abilities and such, very tedious.

It’s not that I don’t believe in ESP, etc., but these claims irritate me for a few reasons. First, there’s more than a little bragging involved about something that is really quite common (and often faked to make money). Lots of people have strange experiences with the supernatural or paranormal, or whatever you want to call it. I think there’s a strong probability that most people are “psychic” to some extent.

Second, it tends to Scooby-Doo folklore. I don’t see a whole lot of difference between dismissing a creepy feeling and strange noises in a house as drafts and bad plumbing, and dismissing it as a “vortex” or whatever New Age term sounds good. It’s still attempting to dismiss a mystery with an untested hypothesis.

Third, it tends to be culturally appropriative and sometimes bordering on racist. For example, I had my hopes up early on when Ambrose was talking about Somerset Plantation and the conditions for slaves there. Yay, finally some ghost storytelling that doesn’t fall for the usual Gone with the Wind mythologizing!

But then she fell into the same trap Tiya Miles talks about, where white tour guides in the dark tourism industry treat African Americans and their historical experiences as window dressing and entertainment for white people and their history. I can’t think of a single example in the entire book where she talked about black people except as slaves.

Especially disappointing was her repeated mentions of how slave conjure women may have used magic against their white masters, but she never gets into any details about that. And yes, that’s been researched. Remember the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans in Dixie Spirits? So, I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised that the only mention of the Tri-County area is a rather pallid description of Blount-Bridgers House in Tarboro that doesn’t even mention Miss Minerva and her tendency to run the house’s elevator in the wee hours.

It’s not all bad, though. One of the frustrating aspects of Ambrose’s gimmick (being a psychic writing a book about NC ghost stories) is that she does do a fair bit of research and travels to a lot of different places in the state. I mean, yeah, there are holes and she never mentions the Frank C. Brown Collection, but she does mention the Rhine Research Center and interviews a bunch of people at these different sites. I actually found her postscript about her research path a lot more interesting than her introduction about her psychic career. Yes, I’m a nerd.

She talks in the intro about how she’ll use her psychic abilities to find ghosts at these sites (while making the apt observation that most ghost experiences happen when you’re not expecting them). Then half the time, she doesn’t sense anything in these places, anyway. Yet, those chapters are usually still interesting because she did her homework. I get that the psychic bit is the gimmick to sell the book, but it detracts from the actual work she put into it.

The story I found most interesting by far comes late in the book. It’s about the 1906 massacre in Asheville (which I’d never heard of before) of five innocent people by an escaped convict named Will Harris. Seems Harris blew into town shortly after his prison break, looking for his “girlfriend.” There was a difference of opinion about that relationship status and she got her sister to tell him she’d left town.

Not believing the sister, he got drunk and took her hostage. When found out, he fled into the street, where he went on a shooting rampage that killed five people and a dog. Tracked down by a very large posse, he shot back at them and ended up full of holes. Classic pattern for a mass shooter. And it led directly to Asheville becoming a dry town for decades (some Temperance campaigners successfully blamed the massacre on Harris’ drinking).

One of the things Ambrose notes is that Harris kept shouting he was the Devil (this, of course, made my folklore research ears prick up). But even though she has a previous discussion in which she mentions (without scraping more than the surface) that NC has a lot of devilish folklore, she doesn’t connect the two.

What she does do is mention that there are shadow people hauntings (among others, like the sound of screaming) since the massacre. She connects this to discussion of previous dark entities at other sites in the book. In this recurring discussion she makes some good points about how violent and unhappy events can lead to a sinister atmosphere and scary hauntings. I think that’s a pretty good metaphor for the kind of history folklore most often preserves.

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Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #12: Cape Fear Ghosts

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Midwood, John. Cape Fear Ghosts. 2006.

This is one of two collections from the Cape Fear region that I read for this year. Cape Fear Ghosts is the older and more conventional one. It’s a collection of ghost stories with some photographs (some of them quite interesting, especially the ones relating to the author’s family history).

I really wanted to like this one. The Cape Fear region has a lot of history, much of it violent and a lot of it related to the Civil War. European history for the Cape Fear River basin goes back to 1662 and includes everything from Native Americans to pirates to Union blockades of Fort Fisher to battleships to hurricanes. There’s even a good business in old growth timber salvaged from the river.

The book reminded me, in overall format, of last year’s Tar Heel Terrors and North Carolina Haunts. The author has spent many years in the Cape Fear region. And he does have a lot of stories.

Unfortunately, he’s not very good at telling them in a way that is compelling rather than frustrating. This book could have used a good editor. There were times when he would be talking about being psychic and how he had witnessed a ghost as a kid, but the story would go on and on and end up nowhere. It was a bit like taking a tour through the Winchester House – lots of creep, but no payoff.

His account of his first ghost sighting as a kid is stuffed with so much extraneous detail that I wearied of ever getting to the point. The account of his father’s career in the military in WWII was potentially fascinating, but again, it wandered all over the place. And details like his mother predicting his father’s death (and supposedly being psychic, herself) needed to be in their own story. I don’t necessarily object to a lot of biographical detail if the stories are well-told, but these often weren’t.

Conversely, there were others that felt sketched out rather than given room to breath. For example, there’s one in which Midwood heard strange noises in the wall of The House in the Horseshoe (in Lee County) during a tour, but the tour guide (being deaf) couldn’t hear them and didn’t understand why the author was creeped out. And … that’s about it. It’s not even clear what the noise was, exactly.

But it’s not all frustration. The tale of Philip Alston, first owner of The House in the Horseshoe in the late 18th century, is bloody intriguing. After a long and nasty career that spanned the Revolutionary War, Alston got one of his slaves – a man named Dave – to kill a political rival. He promised that he would get Dave off and they would both avoid a date with the noose. Things didn’t go quite as planned when the authorities objected. After fleeing the area and other shenanigans, Philip was murdered in bed in 1791 by Dave, who hanged for Philip’s murder, not the rival’s.

The real payoff story that makes the book worth it, though, is the one involving Fort Fisher. Now lots of people include stories about Fort Fisher in their collections if they cover the coast. Fort Fisher is alleged to be massively haunted with Civil War ghosts (and perhaps some others). But Midwood tells a story about the fort that I hadn’t heard before and it’s quite chilling.

After hearing some strange tales told by couples who would go down there around midnight, Midwood and some friends decided to check the place out at night. As they arrived, they noticed 15-20 vehicles in the parking lot (some of them older cars and quite nicely restored), and some people heading from the cars to the beach, so they figured they were pretty safe.

Once they got inside the park, though, they encountered a whole flurry of Civil War ghosts, some of them quite frightening. After a bit, they figured they were quite done for the night and hurried back to the parking. Imagine their surprise when they found it deserted except for their own car, even though they had not heard any other cars start up or see anyone else leaving the beach.

In the coda to the story, Midwood notes that the empty parking lot was a common detail in the previous stories from the couples (he gives us one such account early in the chapter). It seems the road nearby is treacherous and has seen a lot of fatal car wrecks over the years ….

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Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #11: Our Family Trouble: The Story of the Bell Witch of Tennessee

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Bell, Richard William. Our Family Trouble: The Story of the Bell Witch of Tennessee. M. Todd Cathey, ed. February 12, 2013.

You may ask why I’m reviewing a book about a haunting in Tennessee. The reason is two-fold. First, prior to its becoming the 16th state in 1796, Tennessee was western North Carolina. North Carolina’s territory originally, if someone fantastically due to the U.S. having no control beyond the Appalachians until the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, extended to the west coast. Second, the afflicted Bell family originally came from a part of Edgecombe County that has since become Wilson County. So, the principles (perhaps even the ghost) were originally Carolinians.

The Bell Witch case is exceedingly famous due to being (allegedly) the only “confirmed” case of a person being killed by a ghost. This account purports to be written by Richard Williams Bell, the son of the alleged victim, John Bell. In it, Richard recounts the story of how the family settled in Tennessee sometime before 1810 (before he was born) and then came to be afflicted by a witch in the form of a spirit, from 1817 until John Bell’s death in 1820. Though the “witch” (who claimed to be a woman named “Kate Batts”) visited a time or two more after that, the persecution ended with the demise of John Bell.

This story didn’t really come to public attention until 1894, when a newspaper editor, Martin Van Buren Ingram, wrote a book entitled An Authenticated History of the Bell Witch. This book not only incorporated Richard Bell’s diary, but used it as its sole primary source. And if you’re wondering who M. Todd Cathey is, he appears to be this guy.

This is where it gets sketchy. A fair number of modern researchers believe that the entire thing was a hoax and that Ingram made it all up. It seems that no one but Ingram ever saw the original copy of the diary in question.

They are likely not wrong. The diary has some serious issues with voice and tone and context. For a start, it does not read at all like a diary. It reads like an account written long after the fact.

It does not sound like a story written by a man who grew up on the Early American frontier (and boy, do the Bells have a ton of neighbors who have the leisure time to just show up to hang out with ghosts). It sounds like a late-Victorian dime store novel.

One of the really weird things is how the the diary portrays the Bells as living a life of plantation leisure, complete with a rather large group of family slaves. They might have done so back in Edgecombe County, but they wouldn’t have been doing it on the mountainous Tennessee frontier in 1817. The impression is of a fabrication by someone confusing Southern plantation life with Southern frontier life.

Further, the tone does not sound like that of a man who lost his father to an illness that may well have been poisoning. The tone of the hauntings (even though patriarch John is slowly wasting away throughout) is boisterous, with the family taking in visitors from all around and much merriment being made with the witch (who engages in as many pranks as she does actually malicious stuff aimed mostly at John). It’s weird.

There’s also a lot of casual racism in the text. The grossest thing in the book by far is the witch persecuting the family’s slaves while in the house because she complains that black people stink. Yet, no one in the family ever wonders why she is afraid to follow them to their own cabins, or why they act so knowledgeable about her folkloric origins and identity. The slaves are presented in very stereotypical and stupid fashion by the narrator, but hey, they’re not the ones being bothered in their own homes by a poltergeist. The Paranormal Activity movie series made absolute hay out of this kind of White People Are Arrogant and Dumb trope.

Lo and behold – the Ingram-made-it-all-up theory itself got debunked in 2017. Ingram had claimed the case first appeared in the Saturday Evening Post in 1849, but that the article was retracted after John’s daughter Betsy threatened to sue. Yet, no issues of the Saturday Evening Post survived from that period and there was no mention of it elsewhere. Skeptics therefore assumed he had made it all up.

Still, there was a common practice back in the day for smaller newspapers to pick up articles from larger ones and reprint them (giving credit), much the way they do with AP dispatches today. Well, it turns out that on February 7, 1856, the Green-Mountain Freeman (out of Montpelier, VT) did just that with the legendary Saturday Evening Post article.

So, it looks as though Ingram (though he most likely forged the diary) didn’t make up the entire story out of whole cloth. There’s an interesting difference between Ingram’s account and the earlier one, though. The diary is quite sympathetic to Betsy, but not so the Green-Mountain Freeman/Saturday Evening Post. What got Betsy Bell so up in arms and threatening to sue? They never claimed the story didn’t happen. They just accused her of faking the entire haunting to win the affections of a local young man (whom she ended up not marrying in the end). What’s chilling is that John Bell probably died of poisoning. This account just blames it on the witch.

Oh, Betsy, you little parricide, you.

This is not a good book. Most of the time, it’s not very scary, either. But it is very interesting from a folkloric point of view. The “witch” is a classic witch-ghost straight out of North Carolina. “Kate” manifests as a poltergeist, a voice, and various spectral animals (the first form in which she appears). There is no real evidence (assuming she even existed) that she is ever human. The Bell Witch case is probably a hoax, but it’s also a really interesting example of why so many Tennessee ghost stories bear a strong resemblance to North Carolina ghost stories. They come from the same people and the same fokloric source.

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Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #10: Ghosts of America – North Carolina: True Accounts of Ghosts from North Carolina

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Lautner, Nina, ed. Ghosts of America – North Carolina: True Accounts of Ghosts from North Carolina. Ghosts of America, Local Book 39. Stratus-Pikpuk, 2017.

So, there’s this website called “Ghosts of America” and it’s a sort of curated bboard run by internet publishing company Stratus-Pikpuk, Inc. (they have a bunch of other sites on various topics). It invites people to post their experiences with ghosts and any local legends, and lists them by state, then town (alphabetically). It’s not the only such site, but it is one of the bigger ones. According to its entries at Archive.org, Ghosts of America has been around since April 2005.

The publisher’s blurb on it says they originally started it as a way to test generating AI content, but changed up their plan when people started sending in actual stories. This would explain why the earliest stories on the site sounded creepy but unbelievable, with random elements grouped together in a single anecdote, and had no sources. The publisher says they only accept about half of the stories sent in and only the ones they think are real (i.e., sincere).

What the author (actually, editor) did was take these stories off the site, edit them lightly, and collect them all into single volumes by state. In this case, we’re talking about stories from North Carolina. Even a glance at the site (where you’ll find 1345 stories from North Carolina) demonstrates that the book is very much not-comprehensive at 37 stories for the state.

Some of these are quite creepy, such as a tale from Statesville about an in-law visit disrupted by the singing of a ghost girl in the attic. There’s another disturbing tale from Camp Lejeune about a house on base haunted by a malevolent gnome-like ghost/poltergeist. A former employee of Highland Inn in Highlands talks about
levitating knives at work and horrible dreams of amputations, and how she’d never go back. Another business, this time in Winston-Salem, is haunted by a “phantom family” that startles people as they round a corner.

Other stories include the usual range of UFOs (Tar Heel), battlefield ghosts (Salisbury and Bahama), several haunted houses (Louisburg, Ellenboro, Lumberton and Emerald Isle, among others), even a roadside revenant and a phantom hiker (not hitchhiker) from Tryon. An actual phantom hitchhiker gets off at her last stop (the graveyard) in Bladenboro. And one account from Elm City sounds a lot more like the narrator’s psychotic episode than a ghost story.

The folkloric value of a site like Ghosts of America seems fairly obvious. You are basically inviting random people to share stories around the internet campfire. This concept was more popular in the late 90s and 2000s, when the internet had fewer whistles and bells, but such sites can stay up for decades. They create an archive of raw data that influences and inspires new folklore, even as it preserves stories that might otherwise have been forgotten.

Sites where hired professional writers create content for the site are also useful, particularly those specific to a state. But they’re not as cutting edge as something like Ghosts of America or The Shadowlands. The latter don’t just record or revive or even embellish folklore – they create it outright.

But is there value in a Kindle “greatest hits” collection series of volumes by state on Amazon? I’ll confess that when I got this one, I was pretty skeptical, myself. I mean, the value to the site owners seems clear – they’re making money off repackaging these stories for a new audience on Amazon (after getting the original authors’ permission, one hopes) that helps to keep the site going.

What, though, is the value for the reader? Well, there’s the plus that one has a bunch of ghost stories from the site in one handy-dandy volume (there is also a print version). Further, by having a publication date on the volume, you can now use it as a permanent record of entries from the site. That can be mighty useful for tracking these tales. Then, too, not everyone wants to rush to the internet (even on their phones) to read ghost stories when they could do so by picking up a book or a Kindle. It would, however, be nice if there were a Kindle Unlimited version.

So, whether you check out the book or continue straight on to the site, strap yourself in for some scary shenanigans in North Carolina with this one.

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Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #9: Haunted Theaters of the Carolinas



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Lambeth, Cheralyn. Haunted Theaters of the Carolinas. Schiffer, 2009.

I interviewed the author for Innsmouth Free Press right after this book came out in 2009. You can still find the interview here. I am, however, a bad and lazy reviewer with a metric ton of books to review all over my house. So, I only got to reading and reviewing this one now. Ten years later. Sorry.

Anyhoo, I thought this book was a fun romp with some creepy photos and layout (that cover – [shudder]) and an interesting premise. Though there are other books on haunted theaters out there – such as the imaginatively named Haunted Theaters (2002) by Barbara Smith and Haunted Theaters: Playhouse Phantoms, Opera House Horrors, and Backstage Banshees (2009) by Tom Ogden – Lambeth’s book offers two unique features. One is that it’s the only book about haunted theaters in North and South Carolina. The other is that Lambeth has worked in the field for decades. This means she hears rumors and accounts that someone outside the theater wouldn’t ever know about.

To be honest, I found the introduction about theater history, terms and customs a bit slow. That said, it was also necessary to get one’s bearings and it did introduce me to the rather creepy tradition of the ghost light (AKA the Equity Light). Unlike the ghost lights of the book I reviewed the other day, this is a single light (often a bare bulb) intentionally left onstage (usually downstage right) whenever the theater is closed. The safety angle is that it provides illumination for anyone working in the theater after hours to see their way around. Hence the alternate name.

But there is also a folkloric element. Some theater people believe that every theater is haunted by at least one ghost. Why the light would be left on for them is less clear. Obviously, with the safety element, you’re actively trying to avoid creating one more ghost for the stage. But whether the light is left there to placate them, comfort them, or keep them out depends on your source.

Of the 21 theaters discussed in the book (starting, fittingly, with the Waterside Theater for The Lost Colony Outdoor Drama on Roanoke Island in Manteo, NC), 16 are in North Carolina and 5 in South Carolina. One review on Amazon complains that there are a lot more theaters from North Carolina in the book than in South Carolina. While this is true, it’s usually the other way round in collections about both states (Charleston and Columbia tend to hog the spotlight), and I’m looking for NC folklore, anyway. So, it depends on your preferences.

It also makes sense if you consider that Lambeth is a graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill and was living in Charlotte when she wrote the book. Nor is she a live theater snob. Some of the theaters covered either started life as movie theaters or were later converted into them. Live theater hit hard times a while back, as vaudeville faded.

Stories in the book range from the unsettling to the hair-raising. The Dock Street Theatre in Charleston, SC, for example is haunted by the ghost of an escort named Nettie Dickerson. It seems Nettie was unhappy about being considered little better than a high-class prostitute and was also a bit reckless. She liked to lean against an external iron balcony of the hotel during thunderstorms. One night, a bolt of lightning struck the balcony, “killing her instantly.” She’s been there ever since.

Many of these theaters are in older buildings that were allowed to fall almost to ruin at some point. They have a lot of history and, doubtless, lingering structural issues. However, Imaginon: The Joe and Joan Martin Center for children’s theater in Charlotte was built in 2005 out of recycled materials – and there are many reports of it’s being haunted by at least one child or teenage ghost. So, age and relative decrepitude don’t always have anything to do with it.

Employees and visitors in these theaters report a variety of phenomena such as cold drafts, disembodied voices, paintings that fly across the room, lights, rattling keys, and pianos playing by themselves. One alderman who died in the 1918 Influenza Epidemic plays the pipe organ in the Old Court House Theatre in Concord, NC.

Patrons can also end up checking in and staying forever, such as an African-American woman who was raped and murdered in the upper balcony of the Powell Theater/Chester Little Theater in Chester, SC sometime during the 1950s (according to local legend). She reportedly causes nausea, cold spots and the sense of being choked in that part of the theater.

The author herself heard some strange banging noises when taking photos in the Dana Auditorium at Guilford College in Greensboro. She also includes a ghost orb photo from a backstage stairwell in The Paul Green Theater/Center for Dramatic Art at UNC-Chapel Hill, and another one in the house right section.

All in all, this is a fun collection for this time of year. But I wouldn’t suggest reading it after midnight or in the dark. That cover alone is super-creepy and the contents deliver on it!

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Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #8: Dead and Gone: Classic Crimes of North Carolina

Check out the rest of the month’s reviews here, and last year’s reviews here. If you enjoyed this review and want to help out with my folklore research, head on over to my Patreon page and join up, make a one-time donation on this site or directly through Paypal, or send me a coffee.

Wellman, Manly Wade. Dead and Gone: Classic Crimes of North Carolina. University of North Carolina Press, 1954, 1980.

Apologies for this being so late in the day. As some of you may have noticed, the site has been down since last night. Basically, it was a case of WordPress and my service provider not talking to each other, an issue that crops up now and again. Anyhoo, it’s fixed now.

So, what to say about this book? Let’s start with the easy stuff. Manly Wade Wellman (1903-1986) was a reasonably famous and successful Pulp writer during most of his lifetime, about the level of contemporary Seabury Quinn. He was best known for his story collection Who Fears the Devil? (1963) about a recurring wandering protagonist known as Silver John the Balladeer.

Wellman was celebrated in his day, winning two Edgars, two World Fantasy and Locus Awards each, and a British Fantasy Award. He was also nominated for several others, including a Hugo. He was inducted into the North Carolina Writers’ Network Literary Hall of Fame in 1996.

He was friends with noted Mythos writer Karl Edward Wagner and, it appears, Harlan Ellison (who knew him well enough that Ellison had an unpublished story from him after he died in 1986; Ellison also acted as the auctioneer for his literary estate). His fiction tended to pastiche and crossovers for characters from such writers as Lovecraft and Conan Doyle. That’s okay. A lot of us have done that.

Dead and Gone won him a Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award in 1956, in the category of Best Fact Crime Story. Despite what I’m about to say down-review, it probably deserved it, especially in 1956. It’s well-written in the Pulp style of the day and has been greatly influential on the subsequent folklore for the ten stories he covers in nine chapters. There’s even a ghost story postscript to one (the Reverend George Washington Carawan, convicted murderer and possible serial killer of the Bluebeard variety, who shot himself in court in 1853). It was an important tick off my list.

This true crime collection is likely his best-known book now. At any rate, it’s the one you can most easily buy at the bookstore here in North Carolina (though born in Angola to missionary parents, Wellman died in Chapel Hill after many years in NC). Though there seems to be a bit of a revival of interest in his stuff (at least about a decade ago), along with the general resurgence of interest in Pulp and Golden Age weird fiction, he has largely fallen into obscurity outside NC.

Wellman loved his adopted state and that comes through in the prose in this book. He writes with a clear and easy style, for the most part – pulpy and engaging. The book is pretty well organized (though thematically rather than chronologically, which can be confusing). Wellman’s conceit was that he didn’t do any stories from after 1900 to avoid embarrassing the living. He didn’t do any before 1800, either – perhaps because he didn’t feel there would be enough concrete evidence from which to tell the tale.

Not that facts ever stopped Wellman from telling a good story. His considerable embellishments and frequent failure to cite any credible sources are rather the least of my concerns with this book. But you’ll see in a minute why I felt a need to mention them first.

You see, this book also makes it abundantly, painfully, scarily clear that Manly Wade Wellman, beloved (if somewhat forgotten) Pulp fantasy writer, was an unapologetic and vigorous fanboy of the Ku Klux Klan.

Yes, you heard me right. There is nothing subtextual about it, either. Not only does Wellman go into a long-ish explanation in the book about how he despises the 20th century revivals of the KKK, but thinks the Reconstruction era Klan was a heroic band of outlaws dispensing vigilante justice to miscreant rivals (who are always described in not-so-vaguely homophobic terms), but he tells two stories in this collection about these vigilante murders. Namely, the lynchings of William Parker and John “Chicken” Stephens. And they are rhapsodic in their praise of … the murderers. It’s ugly.

The Ku Klux Klan of Reconstruction times was operating in North Carolina. This order, not to be confused with the twentieth-century disturbers of peace who filched the name and the sheeted regalia, was seen riding in the gloom of Yanceyville evenings – “‘those here to day gone tomorrow ‘ gentlemen with flowing white robes, those speechless spirits,” they were described by A.J. Stedman, the Danbury editor. Dead and Gone, p. 142-3.

When looking at this sort of thing, especially in the current political atmosphere, it’s useful to consider two things. First, is this attitude racist? I would say, well, yes. Second, is it a dog whistle? Sadly, I’m inclined to think that Wellman was freely using the dog whistles of the Lost Cause here. In 1956 (another racially inflammatory time), that was, at the absolute best, dangerously irresponsible.

What’s astonishing is how little this is discussed even now. One 2013 Tor retrospective refers to him as “multicultural” due to his missionary background and claim to be part Native American. Um … no. Not even close. African Americans barely appear as more than scenery in this collection and when they do, they are thoroughly stereotypical.

That hasn’t dated well. But the Klan adoration society thing … that is so far over the line of “okay” that it Superman-flies over that line, lobs a nuclear grenade back onto it, pours on a little plasma from a neutron star, and then sets it on fire. There is no excuse or justification for this. Even “for the times,” it was pretty bad.

What is truly shocking is not his racism. Lots of Pulp writers were racist. Just look at Lovecraft.

It’s that people who, even at the time, claimed to be racially progressive (you know, like Ellison, who aggressively turned his political progressiveness into a huge part of his writing persona) either completely blanked Wellman’s clearly-stated bigotry or excused it with “Oh, tee-hee, that Manly, such a Southern gentleman. What a card.” Some of them are even still doing it. Even though he was espousing this attitude, in a book, during a time when the Klan was actively murdering people who just wanted to be able to live their lives in peace. And vote.

I shouldn’t leave out the fact that Wellman is downright vicious about the female murderers in his stories – notably Ida Bell Warren and poor Frankie Silver (who was most likely a victim of domestic violence and her dead husband’s vindictive family). No apologia for these gals. It’s okay if white women stay in their place, silent and demure, but God forbid they have sexual desires or just plain want to avoid being beaten to death. And it’s not like Wellman is any kinder to murder victims “Poor ‘Omi” or Laura Foster, who get slut-shamed even in the grave.

The thing is that this book is still in print. You can get it on Kindle. It’s charming and engaging in the storytelling, and it continues to influence how some perceive the ten crimes outlined in its pages. Wellman said he didn’t want to cause harm to anyone living when he chose crimes with no living participants. But I don’t think he tried hard enough.

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Blog for scifi writer and medieval historian Paula R. Stiles