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Barefoot, Daniel W. Piedmont Phantoms. North Carolina’s Haunted Hundred, Vol. 2. John F. Blair, Publisher, 2002.
This second volume is the longest of the three in Daniel Barefoot’s North Carolina’s Haunted Hundred trilogy. It’s 187 pages to the other two’s 130 each. There is actually a good reason for this. As I’ve said before, North Carolina is divided up into different distinct regions. But there are four, not three: The Coast, the Coastal Plain, the Piedmont, and the Mountains, and they are separated along geological lines. Basically, the Coast is the current coast. The Coastal Plain is what was under water up almost to Raleigh not so long ago and may end up under water again if the oceans continue to rise. The Piedmont is an area of metamorphic, disrupted rock from when continents were jamming together and pulling apart, creating the Appalachian Mountains, which comprise the Mountain region. The Uwharries lie in the Piedmont. This has relevance to Barefoot’s material, since the regions affect the folklore due to natural features and resources. The Coast has lots of stories about haunted marshes and ghost ships. The Coastal Plain and the Piedmont have stories about gold rushes, plantations, and the Revolutionary War. The Mountains have a lot of Appalachian lore. And so on.
I guess Barefoot (or his publisher, John F. Blair, which also published Whedbee’s collections) decided he preferred a trilogy over a tetralogy. Since Barefoot was doing that, he had to fit one of those regions into at least one of the other books. That “lost” region turned out to be the Coastal Plain, where I live. It is also sadly neglected by North Carolina ghost story books in general, even though we actually have some pretty distinctive stories of our own.
The Coastal Plain is a curiously diverse place, further divided into the Outer and Inner Coastal Plains, or into the Upper and Lower Coastal Plains (though apparently not both at once, since one division is more environmental and the other is more political). I live on the Inner and Upper Coastal Plain.
For Volume 1, Seaside Spectres, Barefoot included the Outer Coastal Plain as part of the coast, but he also included parts of the Inner Coastal Plain (such as Edgecombe and Halifax Counties). For Volume 2, he includes the eastern parts of the Inner Coastal Plain (such as Nash, Wilson, Johnston and Franklin counties) in the Piedmont section. The methodology is confusing, but I guess it kept the books more or less within shouting distance of equal length.
As with Volume 1, there are a lot of witch stories (and also one about the Devil’s footprint in Largo, Warren County). In part, that’s because NC has a lot of witch stories. In part, I suspect Barefoot just likes them. He gets to decide which stories to include, after all.
I was glad to see some African American ones in this volume. As I mentioned in my reviews on the two folklore articles about witchcraft and Guilford County, African Americans have contributed quite a lot of NC lore, frequently without much recognition of that fact. Despite this contribution, their presence in popular ghost story collections has been scant. Curiously, Barefoot shows no knowledge of the Guilfort County article, choosing instead to discuss a haunted theater for that chapter.
Barefoot manages to stuff in two witch stories from Person County, involving encounters with children. The general impression I got from this chapter was that children can be terribly cruel (not a shocking revelation to me, considering I got bullied mercilessly as a child) and you have to school that out of them with some lessons about appearances and compassion. In the first section, two young boys balk at helping an old woman who seems, to them, to be a teleporting witch. The folkloric motif that Carolina witches and ghosts are not necessarily a separate category appears here.
In the second section (which shows the shamanistic aspect of NC witches in the powers of shapeshifting and flight), a bunch of children brutally bully an elderly African American field hand (it’s implied the children are white). Finally, she snaps. She beats them and curses them by predicting “sudden and horrible deaths” for them. The brats tattle on her and get her fired. This causes her to curse the whole lot of them, kids and parents.
Soon after, two of the kids die of mysterious illnesses. Historically speaking, this was the kind of thing that led to a lynching, but the witch in this story gains herself a happy ending of sorts. When a mob of men confront her at her cabin, the old woman coolly faces them with a large owl perched on her shoulder. When they attack her, she escapes them by turning into a bird and flying away. Unnerved, some of the families move out of the area. Moral of the story: Don’t be a bully. You might end up cursed by a witch.
The story for Nash County is rather blah (another Theodosia-in-Distress story? Really?), but the Wilson County one is quite intriguing. North Carolina used to be a lot larger than it is now, even after splitting from South Carolina, because its original borders extended to the West Coast, encompassing what is now Tennessee. This means that certain famous figures (like the Harpe Brothers) and legends (like the Bell Witch) from points further west had their origins in NC. The story of the Bell Witch, in fact, begins in Wilson County. That’s where the Bell family came from.
It’s probably not a huge surprise that Barefoot chooses the Bentonville Battlefield for Johnston County. Not only is it a famous site that’s appeared in other collections I reviewed this month, but it’s also quite haunted. The Franklin County section eschews the numerous college hauntings in Louisburg for a story about a traveler (known only as the Lady in Blue) who died at a plantation house in Belford in 1835. She continued to appear as a ghost for another century until she managed to save the owners of the house from a devastating fire. Her final purpose fulfilled, she appeared no more.
Tomorrow, I’ll review the third volume about the Mountain region, Haints of the Hills.
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