Halloween in North Carolina, Day #19: Ghosts of the Triangle: Historic Haunts of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill (2009)


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Jackson, Richard and William Jackson. Ghosts of the Triangle: Historic Haunts of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill. Haunted America. The History Press, 2009 (Ebook 2013).


Ghosts of the Triangle covers the “Triangle” area: the three cities of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill. In addition to Raleigh being the state capital, the Triangle is the second-largest metropolitan area in North Carolina (after Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia). It is also a major center for medical and STEM research, and is one of the most diverse and liberal parts of the state. People come from all over the world to attend school and conduct research here. Hence its full name, the “Research Triangle.”

I have to admit that even though I read it just a few weeks ago, I didn’t remember much about this one at all. It could have just been that North Carolina Haunts covered the same ground more memorably. Or it could have been that this one was so short. There are only 32 tales in it.

The book has some of the usual standards of the Piedmont – notably, the early 19th century Peter Dromgoole legend, Civil War era Bentonville Battlefield, Millcreek Bridge (in which a meek old slave accidentally kills his brutal master and buries the body in secret under a bridge), and, of course, the Devil’s Tramping Ground. Personally, I have never understood the romantic appeal of the Peter Dromgoole legend, in which a young University of North Carolina student got himself killed in a duel over a girl and later on, some frat boys built a castle on the spot. From Peter Dromgoole to Jim Wilcox, North Carolina folklore seems to have a soft spot for young men doing irrevocably stupid things.

Ghosts of the Triangle also has its fair share of Moldy Old Piles architectural history, with an emphasis on the institutional. You’ll find sections on the North Carolina State Capitol building, Stagville Plantation, North Carolina State University, Dorothea Dix Hospital, and the White-Holman House. The authors are quite fond of haunted hospitals and the Triangle area doesn’t lack in old medical centers. Since many of these buildings are large and not residences, these sections tend to be collections of stories about different sections of the building and involve more witnesses than a private house generally does.

I’ve been rather harsh on this one so far and that’s not entirely fair. The Jacksons are also good at turning off familiar roads into some pretty strange and new territory, such as with the Haunted Wood section in Durham County or CryBaby Lane in Raleigh (which turned out to be only an urban legend when the authors researched it). Just as CryBaby Lane turned out not to be a gravity hill (as they usually are), I thought the story about the Phantom Hitchhiker would be about Lydia’s Bridge, but nope. It was a lesser-known male version from what appears to have been the 19th century. And it was quite creepy. Lydia is known for being wistful and just wanting to go home. This spirit appeared to have more darker designs, like a less-humorous version of the mule-abusing monster in Haunted Uwharries.

The authors tend to waver between lots of historical detail that doesn’t necessarily add to the atmosphere and going really vague with the iffier legends that may be created out of whole cloth, or go too far back to have lots of surviving corroborative evidence. The Jacksons provide less autobiographical detail than some other authors, so it’s a bit hard to tell what angle they’re coming from. But they do provide an introduction that briefly talks about folklore. It wouldn’t have hurt to make this one a bit longer, but the Haunted America series tended to have some pretty short entries. Ghosts of the Triangle is definitely that.


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Halloween in North Carolina, Day #18: Ghosts of the Yadkin Valley (2009)


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Absher, R.G. Ghosts of the Yadkin Valley. Haunted America. The History Press, 2009 (Ebook 2013).


As with some other authors I’m reviewing this month, R.G. Absher hails from the area he’s covering (the upper Yadkin Valley), is a local park service employee, and also works in the dark tourism industry, conducting ghost tours. Yadkin Valley is in the northwestern part of North Carolina, currently part of this state’s burgeoning wine industry, and is part of the Yadkin River system. The sweet wines from the ancient Muscadine and Scuppernong grapes are generally grown toward the coast, but more traditional European varieties can also be grown in the Piedmont and points west, notably in Yadkin Valley. So, with all the wine trails and heritage trails, this is a very touristy area.

Absher begins right off with a folkloric bent. There’s an opening Acknowledgements section with interviews for each chapter (and a bibliography by subject of websites in the back). Many of them are with local museum historians and ghost tour guides. His introduction then discusses the various characteristics of a traditional ghost tale or experience, such as sights, sounds and smells.

Absher deals with some well-known material, notably the Tom Dooley story, which occurred in the Yadkin Valley. Contrary to the Lost Cause myth of virtuous and godly women (and men) in the South, the Yadkin Valley was quite the swinging place in the 60s – the 1860s. One man, Thomas C. Dula (known to legend as Tom Dooley), was a Confederate veteran who got involved with numerous women after the Civil War. These included a love quadrangle that went horribly wrong when one of the women ended up pregnant and dead, after allegedly having given the small group an STD.

Dula was hanged, still protesting his innocence (it’s possible one of the other women did it), and a folkloric ballad tradition was born. Dula reportedly haunts the Old Wilkes Jail (where he was confined for trial) and Tom Dooley Road (where he was buried). There is also a small collection of hauntings from deaths near these sites.

Absher discusses early Native American relics (a large burial mound in Caldwell County) and folklore (the legend of huge battle that probably happened in the early 18th century and left behind ghost lights related to the Brown Mountain Lights). There is an impromptu mountaintop séance that results in a sudden storm.

There is also a rather long section dealing with Revolutionary War ghosts. Many of these were of soldiers and irregulars who were hanged from specific trees in the region. One old Colonial era hanging oak only came down in the 1990s after a series of storms (oaks live three centuries on average). One old Sycamore still stands that was used for the hanging of a Tory in 1781. Other Colonial era ghosts are related to battles and skirmishes in the area, and the defense of Fort Defiance.

The 19th century section has a good bit of the Old House Tour aspect often found in these books. Absher does liven it up, though, by introducing a variety of houses, such as an old slave quarters for the Brown-Cowles House in Wilkesboro. There are several Civil War stories, including one about Stoneman’s Raid, and one involving a murder (by “slow hanging”) of a Union sympathizer after the war by one of the author’s ancestors. This incident resulted in a haunting legend known as “Dead Man’s Hollow.”

The book then wanders a bit as we get a collection of familiar tropes, including haunted graveyards, churches and hotels, a Phantom Hitchhiker, a misty mountain ghost, and a Devil Dog from Purlear. As with the book about Old Salem, also from the Haunted America series, this book is quite short and sometimes (paradoxically) feels a bit padded. For example, Absher ends with a personal account of a haunting of the Reed Creek farmhouse – which is actually in Hartwell, Georgia – rather than a local legend.


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Supernatural: Season 13


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Contribute monthly via Patreon (which includes perks), make a one-time donation through Paypal, or buy us a coffee. I’m posting reviews here of North Carolina ghost story books, and notes about my research all month long in October on Patreon.

My collected recaps and reviews of season one, which first appeared on Innsmouth Free Press, are now up (with a few extras) on Kindle. The Kindle version is available through Amazon and is on sale through this Friday. 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.

Here are all my live recaps and reviews in one, handy-dandy spot, for Season 13.


The Official “Lost and Found” (13.01 – Season Premiere) Live Recap Thread

The Official “The Rising Son” (13.02) Live Recap Thread

The Official “Patience” (13.03) Live Recap Thread

The Official “The Big Empty” (13.04) Live Recap Thread

The Official “Advanced Thanatology” (13.05) Live Recap Thread

The Official “Tombstone” (13.06) Live Recap Thread

The Official “War of the Worlds” (13.07) Live Recap Thread

The Official “The Scorpion and the Frog” (13.08) Live Recap Thread

The Official “The Bad Place” (13.09 – pre-Christmas finale) Live Recap Thread

The Official Supernatural: “Wayward Sisters” (13.10) Live Recap Thread

The Official Supernatural: “Breakdown” (13.11) Live Recap Thread

The Official Supernatural: “Various and Sundry Villains” (13.12) Live Recap Thread

The Official Supernatural: “Devil’s Bargain” (13.13) Live Recap Thread

The Official Supernatural: “Good Intentions” (13.14) Live Recap Thread

The Official Supernatural: “A Most Holy Man” (13.15) Live Recap Thread

The Official Supernatural: “ScoobyNatural” (13.16) Live Recap Thread

The Official Supernatural: “The Thing” (13.17) Live Recap Thread

The Official Supernatural: “Bring ’em Back Alive” (13.18) Live Recap Thread

The Official Supernatural: “Funeralia” (13.19) Live Recap Thread

The Official Supernatural: “Unfinished Business” (13.20) Live Recap Thread

The Official Supernatural: “Beat the Devil” (13.21) Live Recap Thread

The Official Supernatural: “Exodus” (13.22) Live Recap Thread

The Official Supernatural: “Let the Good Times Roll” (13.23 – Season Finale) Live Recap Thread


Season 12

Season 14


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Supernatural: Season 12


We need your help!

Contribute monthly via Patreon (which includes perks), make a one-time donation through Paypal, or buy us a coffee. I’m posting reviews here of North Carolina ghost story books, and notes about my research all month long in October on Patreon.

My collected recaps and reviews of season one, which first appeared on Innsmouth Free Press, are now up (with a few extras) on Kindle. The Kindle version is available through Amazon and is on sale through this Friday. 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.

Here are all my live recaps and reviews in one, handy-dandy spot, for the second half of Season 12 (after the IMdB boards went bye-bye).


Recap and Review: Supernatural 12.10: Lily Sunder Has Some Regrets

The Official Family Feud (Ep. 12.13) Recap Discussion Thread

The Official The Raid (12.14) Recap Discussion Thread

The Official Ladies Drink Free (12.16) Recap Discussion Thread

The Official The British Invasion (12.17) Recap Discussion Thread

The Official “The Memory Remains” (12.18) Live Recap Thread

The Official “The Future” (12.19) Live Recap Thread

The Official “Twigs and Twine and Tasha Banes” (12.20) Live Recap Thread

The Official “There’s Something About Mary” (12.21) Live Recap Thread

The Official “Who We Are/All Along the Watchtower” (12.22-12.23 – Season Finale) Live Recap Thread


Season 13

Season 14


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Halloween in North Carolina, Day #17: Ghosts of Old Salem, North Carolina (2014)


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Montgomery, G.T. Ghosts of Old Salem, North Carolina. Haunted America. The History Press, 2014.


This is another book where the author is a professional in the field. In this case, as with Karen Lilly-Bowyer, he’s a ghost tour guide. So, he operates in the industry of dark tourism, as Tiya Miles would put it. Montgomery puts a tour guide’s zest into discussing the area’s history and its ghosts. Needless to say, he also works at giving some inside info that someone who does not work in the dark tourism industry in Old Salem might not know. And he gives the best and most detailed account of the Little Red Man of Old Salem that I’ve encountered yet. Contrary to how it sounds, this ghost is of a Moravian brother who was accidentally killed when part of a cellar fell on him. Not only is he not demonic, he’s not even malevolent, just mischievous.

That said, this is a very short book, even with the padding toward the end of unrelated history and what is probably a straight-up fictional tale at the end. It’s 112 pages and that includes the introduction, the author’s bio, and the end pages. This is one from The History Press, back when they were putting all of their regional ghost story books into a series called “Haunted America.” Those are always a bit short.

Montgomery does recount quite a bit of history with his ghosts, so it makes it easier to give these tales a time and place of origin. However, he does tend to fictionalize at times. There is no way, for example, he could accurately tell us the thoughts of someone about to commit suicide decades ago who didn’t even leave a note, but that’s exactly how he tells one story.

Old Salem, NC, in Forsyth County, is very different from Salem, MA. Old Salem was founded by the Moravians (one of three such settlements in NC), a German Protestant sect who sought refuge in the Americas in the 1800s. The Moravians were not unlike the Shakers. They emphasized hard work and segregation of their members (both married and unmarried) into age and gender cohorts, living in different buildings and even being buried separately. They seem to have retained a good reputation over the years. But their devotion to God has not left the town unhaunted. No surprise, then, that one of the first stories is about their cemetery.

Interestingly enough, there is another Salem in Burke County and a New Salem in Union County.

Old Salem prospered. It eventually grew so much into a later nearby community, Winston, that they were merged in 1913. Winston-Salem is now one of the largest and most prosperous regions in North Carolina. Old Salem, however, remains an historic district in the city. Montgomery sets most of his tales in Old Salem. He, rather apologetically, mines some from the greater area of Winston-Salem, as well, later in the book.

The most unusual of these spirits is the Little Red Man. The rest tend to follow familiar tropes. There’s a “haunted” portrait of a society dame where her eyes appear to follow you everywhere. There’s the ghost of a young boy (largely manifested by a cold spot in the street) who was hit by a trolley car. There’s a ghost of a young college student who committed suicide, a haunted tavern, two shootings, and a hotel fire.

As I said, the book is pretty short, so there’s not as much there as I might like. Even so, Montgomery does spin a good yard. Even if the last tale is probably fictional, it’s also quite creepy.


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Halloween in North Carolina, Day #16: Haunted Uwharries (2009)


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Morgan, Fred T. Haunted Uwharries: Ghost Stories, Witch Tales and Other Happenings from North America’s Oldest Mountains. Bandit Books, 2009.


Fred T. Morgan classifies himself as a storyteller. He’s still with us and lives in Albemarle, NC, running a B&B where you can stay the night and interview him or listen to him tell his stories. Yes, I am saving my pennies.

Morgan’s big focus is the region of the Uwharries. This one is part of a series about the area. The Uwharrie Mountains are a low and ancient mountain range, half a billion years old, in the Piedmont (central) area of North Carolina. Once higher than the Rockies, this heavily wooded range is now a series of rolling hills barely topping a thousand feet. For comparison, the Appalachians are about twenty million years younger, with the Rockies being 55-80 million years old and the Himalayas a mere 55 million years old. The area boasts its own National Forest.

As with many such ancient places, the Uwharries are a region that seems to brood and brim with secrets. A lot of the stories in here follow well-known folkloric tropes of NC and the South: a headless man chasing a hapless tramp out of an abandoned witch house, a particularly chilling and brutal Bluebeard of the Uwharries who dispatched his seven terrified wives with their own knitting needles, the siren of Rocky River who lures unstable musicians to their doom, a ghost child who asks for a ride and then turns into an enormous monster that breaks down mules, the crying ghost of a baby buried beneath a hearth, more than one shapeshifting witch, a hermit, a girl frightened to death by accidentally staking her dress to a grave, and so on. An entire section, in fact, is dedicated to witch tales. All of these are garnished by clear and evocative black-and-white illustrations by Tim Rickard.

Morgan tells these stories as if they are actual stories (much like Nancy Roberts) rather than recountings of local history or legends (as Morgan claims they are in his introduction). There is at least one that is historical, retelling the local stories surrounding the area’s experience of the massive 1886 earthquake of Charleston, SC. Some of the entries in the final section, though (such as the tale of an enchanted pipe whose smoke can show strange new worlds or the morality tale about Lucifer the crow), seem entirely fictional.

Some are also just plain funny, like the tale of the drunken turkeys (from still mash) who are accidentally plucked by a housewife who thought they were dead. They then give everyone a scare when they show up on the doorstep, naked and hungover, but very much alive.

Morgan spins a good yarn (particularly memorable are the monster baby and the skilled horsewoman who takes revenge on the creepy suitor/stalker who murdered her) and some of these are new. There’s a Phantom Hitchhiker tale of an old woman who walks along a lonely stretch of dirt track with her laundry on her head until a traveling preacher takes pity on her and picks her up. In another traveling preacher tale, the minister takes home a grieving mother whom he finds lying on her dead baby’s grave, only to find when he gets there that she, too, has died. He was giving a ride to a ghost. In another traveler tale, visiting midwives are felt up over the bedclothes by a ghost in a haunted porch room (an exterior room of the porch made up for visitors in old country houses).

There are also several tales about African Americans back in the day, such as Celia Easely and her husband Old Free Harry, who once worked their way up to owning 400 acres in the Uwharries during the 19th century. Then there’s the odd story of Old John, an old man with a magic ball who may have originally come from Ancient Egypt.

One of the creepiest is the very strange tale about the squeaky pines of Rocky Hill Road in Rocky River. Those passing by a certain spot in their carts would see the ghost of a hanged man before being accosted by three witches and five goblins, intent on murder. A country doctor on an emergency call finally busted through with his assistant. This apparently broke the spell, but for years afterward, people saw three crows harassing five field mice in the area. One theory advanced in the story is that the goblins were the ghosts of five slaves who once lynched a cruel slave master and the witches were the ghosts of the slave master’s sisters, who sought revenge on the slaves, but never got it in life. But in truth, the mystery is never fully explained. It’s just straight-up creepy.


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Halloween in North Carolina, Day #15: The “Wettest & Wickedest Town” (Salisbury, NC) (2011)


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Lilly-Bowyer, Karen C. The “Wettest & Wickedest” Town: An Illustrated Guide to the Legends & Ghosts of Salisbury, North Carolina. Frank Chodl, photos. 2011.


I was pleased to find this book while attending a conference in Salisbury a couple of years ago. It’s the kind of local, indie book that is very hard to find outside of its own location. You’d probably have to call the South Main Book Company in Salisbury (where I bought the book) to get a copy. It’s self-published (with the ring-binder, that shows), and it’s short (73 pages), but the sepia photographs look really nice on glossy paper and there are ghost stories here you won’t find anywhere else.

You know a town has a pretty dark history when one of the ugliest “legends” (an extremely notorious group lynching that put Salisbury on the map for a time in the worst possible way) is just cold, hard fact. There’s a lot more to Salisbury than that, but the chilling unsolved ax murder of a family and the three unfortunate men whose lynching for the crime made international news in 1906 is probably its most famous tale. As with most lynchings during this time period, race was a major factor and the real murderers of the family (possibly the oldest two children, who survived) got away with it, as did the mob. At least, in a court of law. In the court of international opinion, Salisbury was thoroughly condemned.

The crime still resonates today. Just this year, the town council has been considering two resolutions that themselves thoroughly condemn the lynching and they’ve generated a lot of controversy, even in 2018.

The tree is still there.

But there are other tales, too. There are 14 in all from the author’s ghost tours in Salisbury. Though some of them follow folkloric tropes (such as the ghost of a little girl spotted in an upstairs window in the Wrenn House), you’re not likely to see very many in other collections. For example, there’s the quote used in the title. Salisbury began as a county courthouse and a tavern (known as an “ordinary”) in 1755. A century later, it had so many whiskey distilleries, saloons and whorehouses that it was considered “the ‘Wettest and Wickedest’ town in the state.” Prohibition had little effect on the town other than to drive its activities underground.

The Sessions House, on land once owned by the rich slave trader Maxwell Chambers, is built over the family graveyard and belongs to a nearby church. It’s speculated Chambers felt guilt late in life about his profession and wanted a connection to the church, but why are the graves under the house and covered by stone slabs? The author floats a more sinister theory – that Chambers feared the family’s bodies would be stolen by medical students looking for cadavers.

Unsurprisingly, the local cemeteries get an entry (some going back to the 18th century). In addition to being the cemetery for a former Confederate prison, one also has possible Masonic graves. Lutheran Cemetery has an odd ring around one tree of permanently trampled earth, reminiscent of the Devil’s Tramping Ground in Chatham County. The author also mentions legends of pirates and of tunnels under the town (some of which may actually have existed as escape tunnels from the prison).

All in all, Salisbury has a fascinating history and folklore. Even Lilly-Bowyer admits that this book just scratches the surface of the folklore, but it’s a good effort that adds some unique material to the North Carolina collection of ghost stories.


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Halloween in North Carolina: Day 14: Best Ghost Tales of North Carolina (2006; 2011)


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Zepke, Terrance. Best Ghost Tales of North Carolina. 2nd ed. Pineapple Press, Inc., 2006; 2011.


General wisdom would indicate that unless you’re a completist like me, you should try anything which has “best of” in the title in it early on in your reading binge to avoid boredom and repetition. This is true to a certain extent for Best Ghost Tales of North Carolina.

You’ve got a lot of the old standards here, like the Maco Light, Blackbeard, The Devil’s Tramping Ground (which Zepke calls “The Devil’s Stomping Ground”), Lydia’s Bridge, the Brown Mountain Lights, and the mystery of the wreck of the Carroll A. Deering. There are also some lesser-known, but still oft-told stories like the mystery of the death of the Hermit of Fort Fisher, haunted Old Salem Tavern, and Helen’s Bridge, as well as the creepy story of the door that wouldn’t stay closed.

Probably the most original material here is Zepke’s introduction (in which she explains both her background as a ghost hunter and folklorist, and the revisions she’s made to update the 2011 edition), and her chapter on safe and ethical ghost hunting, “How to Conduct a Ghost Hunt.” I highly recommend the latter. There’s a lot of good advice and she even gives a specific recommended equipment list.

By far the creepiest tale of the lot is one I hadn’t heard before: “The Shadow Man” from Big Lick in Stanly County. Man, what is it about Stanly County?

“The Family That Didn’t Exist,” from Cedar Mountain (Transylvania County), is one I had heard before, but Zepke tells quite an eerie rendition of it. This is the story of a man who, long after his wife and children died in an epidemic, continued to have dinner with their ghosts (at least, according to the occasional traveler who stopped by and took shelter with them). As a matter of fact, Zepke is quite a decent storyteller. She also includes some illustrations that will give you a chill.

Zepke is one of the more conscientious when it comes to giving time and place (or at least place) to these stories. Each one is carefully introduced according to town (or unincorporated area) and county. She even gives the reader an index. There aren’t a whole lot of citations in her Resources section, but she beefs them up by annotating each one.

Overall, a pretty worthwhile read for such a slim (and general topic) volume.


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The Official Supernatural: “Stranger in a Strange Land” (14.01-Season Premiere) Live Recap Thread


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Contribute monthly via Patreon (which includes perks), make a one-time donation through Paypal, or buy us a coffee. I’m posting reviews here of North Carolina ghost story books, and notes about my research all month long on Patreon.

My collected recaps and reviews of season one, which first appeared on Innsmouth Free Press, are now up (with a few extras) on Kindle. The Kindle version is available through Amazon and is on sale through this Friday. 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.

Whoo, we’re in season 14. A whole new season for the writers to screw up. So much fun.

Anyhoo, there’s a longish recap of the previous season to AC/DC’s “Shot Down in Flames.” This segues to Sam driving down the road in the Impala, listening to the song on the radio. He turns it off. It’s dark and he has a hiatus beard, but he’s not wearing sunglasses.

Cut to a guy waking up in the Middle East to the early call of the muezzin to dawn prayer (this is the scene from SDCC). It turns out to be the alarm on his cell phone. He gets up in his tiny efficiency apartment, lays out his rug, and starts the prayer (there are subtitles, for verses related to the strict monotheism of Islam). He kneels before an empty chair, but when he rises up, a man is sitting in it. A man dressed like a 1920s gangster and looking like Dean Winchester – alt-Michael. We’ll just go with “Michael” for now, ’cause I’m tired of using the dash all the time.

“Hello, Jamil,” Michael says, apparently in English.

The man – Jamil – is quite shocked and asks who he is. Michael recites a verse from the Quran (in Arabic, of course) about the angels Gabriel and Michael, and his eyes glow blue. Jamil guesses he’s God. “Close, but not quite,” Michael says in clipped tones, sounding vaguely irritated. Jamil then guesses Gabriel. A little more annoyed, Michael says, “The other one. The better one.” Finally, Jamil guesses Michael. “There you go,” Michael says.

Then they have a conversation in which Michael asks Jamil what he wants. Michael says he already knows what he wants, but he’s been going all over the world, asking all sorts of humans, what they want. Now he’s asking Jamil.

Jamil gives the usual response (“peace and love”). Michael smiles at this, but it’s not a nice smile. He points out that if Jamil believed in peace, he wouldn’t have abandoned his friends to death in Syria and if he believed in love, he wouldn’t have cheated on his wife, she wouldn’t have left him, and he wouldn’t be “living in this…rathole.” Furious and humiliated, Jamil attacks him from behind and Michael (eyes glowing again briefly) tosses him across the room without even looking. He calls Jamil “lost.”

Jamil, bloodied, asks, “What do you want?!”

Michael replies, “What I’ve always wanted – a better world.”

Cue pretty new title cards with glowing blue wings.

I have to say that Michael is a lot more interesting so far this season than he was last season and Jensen Ackles seems to be having a blast playing him. Michael’s body language is quite still compared to Dean’s. Alas, I have a feeling we won’t be seeing too much of this, partly to keep from ruining a good, scary villain and equally because the writers just aren’t up to it. But we’ll see.

Back at the Bunker, where Mary is talking with some dude who knows how to make magic bullets of all kinds and Maggie is still acting squeamish about treating bloody wounds (seriously, how did this girl survive the alt-SPNverse?), it seems that the people from the other universe are engaged in Hunting trips against monsters all over the U.S.

Sam comes in and infodumps with Mary about the current situation. It’s three weeks later, and Dean is still in the wind and possessed (obviously). Sam was following an angel sighting in Atlanta (which didn’t pan out). Castiel is in Detroit. Ketch is in London. Sam is getting discouraged (after only three weeks? Suck it up, Sam).

It’s funny that some fans have blamed Dean for saying yes to alt-Michael and making things “worse,” but he really didn’t. Lucifer was going to unmake the SPNverse within a week, starting with Sam and Jack. Three weeks later, Michael is still traveling around, doing research, and hasn’t done much damage so far. Dean sacrificed himself, fell on the possession grenade, to buy everyone else time and so far, it’s worked. The situation won’t last, of course, but he did buy them time.

Sam yawns and Mary is all solicitous (how much has she really been like this with Dean since she came back?). Somebody comes up and says there are some vamps prowling the highway, so Sam orders people out on a Hunt. He then sits down and Mary tells him he needs to sleep, blahblahblah. Sam then asks about Jack, which is an obvious segue.

Jack is getting his ass kicked, is what Jack is doing. It’s a boxing session with Bobby (let’s be frank – he may be from another timeline, but he’s basically Bobby), who is trying to teach Jack how to defend himself. Bobby quotes something about self-defense and Jack thinks it was from Ghandi. Yeah, he has a lot to learn.

Castiel is in a bar waiting for the latest Crowley-lite would-be King of Hell to show up. It’s so obviously a trap that I take some time out to do Other Things around the house and then come back. Yep, it turns out the entire bar is possessed. Not only should Castiel have seen that coming, but he should have literally seen that coming since we’ve known since season four that angels can see demons’ real faces. Ugh. Such lazy writing.

Next, we see Sister Jo leaving a church with money when she hears an angel fly in from behind her and Dean’s voice say, “Hey, Jo.”

Jo immediately thinks it’s Dean (even though she heard the wings) until she turns around and sees someone else inside Dean’s body. She then, horrified, identifies him correctly as an alt-verse Michael with her angel vision. I have to say that this is quite a beautiful and scary image, visually evocative of what kind of coldly inhuman character Michael is without dialogue. You wouldn’t expect mercy from such a creature. Hope they do it some more.

She asks him why Dean Winchester would ever say yes to him. He says, “Love,” which pretty much cinches the writers’ confirmation that Dean made this earth-shaking decision for the “right” reasons, despite the eventual consequences (“love” is always the right motivation on this show). She pretends to be sarcastic about this, but you can see she’s affected.

She then tries to run away and he warns her rather politely not to do that (even if he weren’t so powerful, he has wings and she does not). He then asks her what she wants. She says she wants human riches. He gets annoyed and tells her to stop lying. Apparently miffed because, in her mind, she really wasn’t, she says she’s telling the truth. He says that no, she likes to believe she is a “rebel” and materialistic, but what she really wants is to “belong.” She wants “love.” Michael finds this “very, very human and so disappointing.”

He says that he is well aware the angels are in dire condition in the SPNverse and thought he might “help,” but if they’re all like Jo, he doesn’t see the point. They’re not “worthy.”

I have to say that even allowing for the knowledge that these two are married with children, so it’s not all that surprising, the sexual chemistry between the actors in this scene is really distracting, since it’s fairly obvious the writers don’t intend for Jo to be (or fake being) sexual attracted to Michael the way she did for Lucifer.

Back at the Bunker, Sam is giving discouraged Jack a pep talk in his room. He reassures Jack that he will be able to move on without his powers and it will be okay. This is interrupted by Mary coming in and saying “He’s awake.” Jack still looks discouraged after Sam leaves.

Sam and Mary go to another room, but Mary won’t go in, saying she can’t look at whoever is in there. The person is sitting on a bed on top of a devil’s trap. It turns out to be Nick, very much alive, but still wounded (from the stabbing from DeanMichael that killed Lucifer inside him). He and Sam speculate that the archangel blade is engineered to kill the possessing archangel but leave the vessel alive. Well, that would be a whole lot different from pretty much any other angel blade. It also doesn’t explain why Gabriel’s vessel appears to be quite dead. This is fairly obvious foreshadowing for a possible way to rescue Dean (assuming they can find another archangel to stab Michael, or for Dean to regain control and stab himself), but I have a sneaking suspicion the Michael storyline will eventually end up with some Michael stuck in Heaven, powering it back up permanently. Then again, even Michael and Jo haven’t discussed that in detail and it doesn’t appear that Sam & Co. know about it.

I’ve seen unhappiness on Twitter about this storyline, but as I’ve said in the past, I’ve always thought it would be interesting to see Nick again (Crowley’s dialogue about boosting up Lucifer’s vessel is just vague enough that he could have resurrected Nick and just kept him comatose). The character has two pretty major reasons for PTSD (his wife and baby’s deaths, and what Lucifer did using his body) and isn’t played out the way Lucifer was. He was barely introduced before he said yes. There’s stuff to mine there. And I like Mark Pellegrino as much as the next fan. He’s a good actor who’s quite capable of mining it.

My main concern is that the writers are using this as a way of reintroducing Lucifer after a pause. If there’s one character I never, ever, ever want to see again at this point, it’s Lucifer.

Sam interviews Nick about what he remembers from Lucifer. Nick says that he remembers nothing useful about Dean’s whereabouts and all he knows about Michael’s plan is that he told Lucifer he wanted to do things right this time. Oh, yay. That doesn’t sound ominous, or anything.

Sam then gets a call from the demon who has kidnapped Castiel. The demon tells Sam that they need to talk or Castiel will die. So, Sam has to go take care of that.

It’s interesting that a lot of the chatter I’ve seen on social media talks about what a great leader Sam is now and how well he handles things in this episode in Dean’s absence. But I’m more struck by the differences and how much Sam is bogged down by housekeeping duties when he should be triaging the situation better.

Dean is by no means perfect (hell, that’s why he’s so fun to watch and relateable), but he is, as his own brother has stated many times (and been backed up by others) a genius of a true leader. In Sam’s place, Dean would be putting out some fires, too, it’s true, and he’d definitely be leading from the front. But he would also have a laser focus on the main goal – stopping Michael. He wouldn’t lose that focus, either.

Sam wants to find his brother, and I think he’s quite dedicated to that goal, but in the process of dealing with all the different pieces on the chessboard, he seems to have lost focus on the fact that there is a worldkilling archangel out there that needs to be dealt with three weeks ago. Instead of having every single person in the Bunker deal with the Michael problem, Sam is actually draining his resources by having people go out on minor hunts (and how alt-SPNverse humans would know how to navigate in the SPNverse is a big old plothole, anyway).

It’s almost as if a part of him is relying on Dean to somehow keep a rein on Michael from inside until Sam and his team find him (and there are some hints that may even be possible), but it’s shortsighted to do that. If Dean can’t stall or hold back Michael, then everyone else is completely on Michael’s disturbingly inhuman timetable and that’s not good.

If Dean is Julius Caesar, then Sam is Mark Antony.

Sam recruits a team consisting of himself, Mary, Bobby and Maggie (no, I have no idea why, either). Call them Team Free Will: The Expansion Pack. Jack wants to come, too, and Sam agrees over Bobby’s objections. Oh, come on, Bobby, you guys are already taking Maggie. How much worse could Jack be than her?

At the bar, the demon explains in excruciating detail to Castiel that he is bait so the demon can get something from Sam. Castiel does try to warn him that Sam won’t do a deal with him, but the demon has apparently not heard about all the CRD’s Sam has killed (this is a BED). In the previous scene, the demon had made a crack about Destiel being a thing and Castiel hadn’t exactly disagreed.

Castiel wonders what the demon really wants and, lo and behold (without mentioning the archangel’s name, unfortunately for Castiel), the demon has been visited by Michael and asked what he wanted. The demon now says he wants “everything.”

This brings up two interesting points – Michael apparently isn’t killing the people he visits, and he’s asking questions of more than humans and angels. The first is really important because while we know Michael doesn’t kill without reason, we’ve also seen that he has found a whole lot of reasons to kill. And it would be sensible to kill those he asks so they can’t rat on him to Sam or anyone else. It would also have been sensible (in the way Michael thinks) to kill both Sam and Jack in the church after stabbing Lucifer. But he didn’t do that, either. So, it makes one wonder how much real control he has over his vessel who, strictly speaking, only ever gave conditional consent. And is his control growing or receding?

The second point isn’t fully developed, yet. Let’s see where that goes.

Driving through the night, Bobby reassures Jack that the alt-SPNverse humans are still grateful for everyone he saved back in their ‘verse and that they still believe in him. Jack seems to perk up a little about this.

Sam is less sanguine about Mary’s pep talk in the Impala. He worries what Michael is doing to Dean, or if Michael has perhaps even burned Dean out and moved on to another vessel (he’s the Michael Sword, dummy; there aren’t any other vessels). Mary brings him up short, saying that Dean is out there “alone and scared.” She starts to choke up a bit as she says that she has to hope things will turn out okay and they’ll find Dean because she can’t afford to “drown in the bad.” This is actually a good scene between the two of them, and well-acted, showing their guilt and grief and concern without quite spelling it out ad nauseam. This mission is as much about redemption for them both as rescue.

They arrive that morning where Castiel is being held. Sam gives Mary the Spork before going into the bar, reasoning that they will search him. Indeed they do and Crowley-lite smarms all over him, trying to butter him up. Sam blows him off to check on Castiel, who says he’s okay.

Crowley-lite introduces himself as Kipling (“Kip for short”), as we get a bit of eye-rolling virtue signalling from Dabb. As Sam demands to know what he wants, Kip says he warned Sam to come alone. Other demons bring in Jack and Maggie, then beat them up a bit. Sam does his damnedest not to let on that the two genuinely competent Hunters remain in ambush.

So, Kip monologues a bit. We find out he’s been 600 years topside and has been a very naughty boy. He was an even naughtier boy in life during the 12th century, riding with Genghis Khan. He preens and brags and gets annoyed (though he never seems terribly dangerous) when Sam balks at doing a deal with him. Kip wants the “deal” Crowley had with the Winchesters (pretty hard to do that with Dean not there, Kip, just sayin’) and Sam says there was no deal. Kip says that Hell is in a bind, since it’s without a King for the first time in a very long time and he wants to be King. Sam says no. Then all (slowmo) Hell breaks loose.

Mary and Bobby burst in through the door. Bobby is shooting a machine gun. Mary has a pistol. She tosses the Spork to Sam, though she also has an angel blade, with which she dispatches a demon. Bobby gets some of the demons with his gun, but then gets it knocked out of his hands. Sam goes after Kip, but gets TKed into a wall. All this with that annoying “let’s slowmo this Kodak kill moment” stuff that’s so popular lately. Jack tells Maggie to stay under the table they just dived beneath and goes to help. This does not go well. He quickly gets punched out, though he does distract the demons kicking Bobby.

Mary gives Maggie an angel blade, then gets tackled by a demon in a female host. The demon starts choking her, but then gets stabbed by Maggie. As Mary and Maggie wrestle with some of the remaining demons, Sam gets the crap beaten out of him, but finally manages to stab Kip when Kip is distracted by admiring the Spork he’s holding.

It occurs to me that Dean probably could have cleaned up most of the bar all by himself, starting with Kip. This is a very choppy fight and Castiel keeps disappearing as he watches helplessly. Remember how well Cain was integrated into the fight Dean had with three demons? Yeah, not like that.

Anyhoo, once Sam stabs Kip, he yells at the other demons and they stop in shock. He tells them there won’t be any new King of Hell, ever, and come-at-me-bro-demon if any of them want to argue. Instead, they all smoke out.

Oh, and none of them ever finds out that Kip talked to Michael.

Back at the Bunker, a battered Castiel apologizes to a battered Sam. Sam says it’s no big deal. He would have tried the same thing, too, if he’d thought of it first. They infodump about Ketch in London (no mention of the LOL), looking for the egg that tossed Lucifer out of the POTUS, but not finding it.

Castiel then goes to give Jack a pep talk while Jack mopes about how he’s “useless.” Castiel thinks Jack’s grace should regenerate eventually (though can’t he still fly? Hello?), but Jack doesn’t know what to be without his powers.

Meanwhile, Mary and Bobby are enjoying a beer. Called that one last season.

Sam, back in his (Dean’s?) room, gets a call from a mysterious number. It’s Sister Jo, saying they need to talk. Guess she’s finally choosing sides.

Meanwhile, Michael has found someone “worth saving.” It’s a vampire. Remember that second point I talked about? Michael’s going with the monsters.

Credits.

This wasn’t as bad as it sounded on Twitter. Sam actually made plenty of mistakes and he’s no Dean Winchester. And TFW:TEP is no TFW, either 1.0 or 2.0. That was more interesting to watch than the SuperSammy who has everything go his way crap that they’ve done in the past. Also, yay for Mary finally getting organic stuff to do besides run away from her sons.

And I like watching Michael, even if some of his characterization and motivation doesn’t work too well in light of last season (why would he focus on vampires now when he ignored them pretty literally to death in the alt-SPNverse?). He’s interesting to watch and quite scary (Ackles really knocks it out of the park). Also, powerful and deliberate enough not to rush his EVOL World Rebuilding Plan. After all, it took 13 billion years to work through the previous one. Too bad the show apparently cut down the little screentime he already had (his first scene was reportedly longer at SDCC, if the audio out there is any indication).

Dean’s absence is keenly felt in this one, though, especially in the fight scene. And I don’t particularly like the idea of using Michael vampires because the show has overdone that MOTW. I guess we’ll see.

Anyhoo, we’ll see what happens next week. Ratings were not wonderful (a 0.5/2 and 1.49 million, which tied it for second for the week with Riverdale and only 10 thousand behind in audience), but still good for the way the CW is shaping up so far this season. There’s a promo for 14.02 out here.


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Halloween in North Carolina, Day #13: Witchcraft in North Carolina (1919)


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Cross, Tom Peete. “Witchcraft in North Carolina.” Studies in Philology, 16:3 (Jul. 1919): 217-287. Reprinted Forgotten Books, 2018.


This is the second-oldest of the books that I’m reviewing this month and it, too, is technically an article. But it is a very important article that is nearly as long as a book in pages, and easily packs enough for any three regular ghost story collections. It is dense. It is arcane. It is well-researched. Though obviously dated (having come out in 1919), it has footnote sections that are two-thirds the length of the page. But in those footnotes, you will find some stories that may well make you want to read with all the lights on.

“Witchcraft in North Carolina” is a very comprehensive study of its subject. Also, unlike many academic articles, it firmly places its regional topic within the larger subject of witchcraft with a brief history and overview of that subject up to that point in time (99 years ago). This is quite useful, for Virginian folklorist and Celtic scholar Tom Peete Cross (1879-1951) holds to the theory that all witchcraft is based on the concept of maleficium – that some people have the power to do magic that can both help and harm others. The ones who do harm are called “witches,” though the line can be very blurred between helpers and harmers.

Stuart McDonald, Canadian author of The Witches of Fife: Witch-Hunting in a Scottish Shire, 1560-1710 (2002), would argue there is also an element in which political and religious elites use witchcraft charges to root out and eliminate “heretical” dissent. Hence why I reviewed this article today. Today is the 711th anniversary of the arrest (for heresy) of the Knights Templar in France. Their subsequent multi-year trial became an exemplar for later trials during the witchcrazes, even though the Templars had been tried as heretics (and the results were ultimately and officially inconclusive). The witch accusation evolved out of the heresy accusation.

There was certainly this “heresy” element in the Salem Trials (and previous Puritan witch trials) of 1692. However, North Carolina was a very different area. North Carolinians were notoriously irreligious early on and had a different mix of Europeans, Africans and Native Americans than New England. From what I’ve seen in my research, the more humble maleficium was pretty much what you got in NC.

That doesn’t mean that witches were treated better than in Puritan New England, but “conjurers,” were perhaps tolerated more. One really intriguing element is how Cross notes that the distinction between “witch” and “ghost” is fairly meaningless in North Carolina. In NC folklore, witches are not human, but are spirits or demons, already.

So, a story like “The Witch Cat” can have versions where a house is haunted variously by witches (in the form of a black cat) or ghosts, and the ghosts are usually a headless man. The Headless Man in Celtic folklore is actually a fairy (themselves often conflated with the unbaptized dead) called a Dullahan, a very dark member of the Unseelie Court whose appearance invariably signals death – except when the story is mixed up with a dead man’s ghost who is seeking to give away his hidden treasure to a worthy person. Yeah, folklore mutates like that.

Witches in NC folklore are also adept shapeshifters, usually appearing as a black cat or a sow or a black dog. Black dogs (also known as “black shucks“) have their whole own sinister folklore from the British Isles that connects them to fairies, as well, but they can be found all over the world. The measures traditionally used against a witch indicate a cringe-worthy and grim history of extreme animal abuse, especially against black cats. But curiously, there are also traditions where cats shouldn’t be harmed, especially if they are black.

Overall, while this is definitely an academic article and it’s definitely aged, “Witchcraft in North Carolina” is worth a read if you are looking for material for your own stories or want to find out more about NC folklore and its origins. I’ve included a link to it, but there are other, free versions available around the internet, since it’s now well out of copyright.


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Blog for scifi writer and medieval historian Paula R. Stiles