Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #5: North Carolina Ghosts & Legends

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Roberts, Nancy. North Carolina Ghosts & Legends. University of South Carolina Press, 1959, 1967, 1992 (second edition).

We’re back with another Nancy Roberts book (according to her introduction, she had done ten by 1992). This one, however, is a special one for her. It’s her first book (originally titled An Illustrated Guide to Ghosts & Mysterious Occurrences in the Old North State) from 1959, but with a new introduction and six new stories. Otherwise, everything appears to be the same as the original.

Case in point: Remember that book I reviewed last year that investigated the Haunted Hitchhiker legend of Lydia? That story is here in its most famous early form as “The Lovely Apparition.” In retrospect, it’s not terribly hard to dope out that “Burke Hardison” is a fake name for the supposed informant (the young man who drove her home).

Lydia is not the only familiar ghost between these covers. The Maco Light, the Devil’s Tramping Ground, the Music of Roan Mountain, the Hoofprints of Bath, the Dromgoole legend, and the Little Red Man of Salem, among others, are all here and likely in the form that many North Carolinians read for the first time. There is also the story of the old slave who killed his master and buried him under a bridge, that I mentioned the other day.

In Roberts’ defense, her book was one of the earliest popular ghost story collections for North Carolina, at least for the 20th century. Her ex-husband’s atmospheric photos no doubt helped seal the deal for a lot of readers looking for an October chill. I would be very surprised if she had not pillaged the (then very recent, and not quite complete) Frank C. Brown Collection of North Carolina Folklore for fresh material.

I rode pretty hard on Roberts last year, especially her newer collection, but there’s little doubt about the influence she had on the spread of popular North Carolina folklore in the past half-century. I also have to say that her storytelling was better early on, albeit it was always high on atmosphere and low on concrete facts.

One thing that bothers me a tad about this revised edition is that it’s not entirely clear which stories are new and which aren’t. It appears that all of the coastal tales are new (I guess this includes the Blackbeard one). Maybe I’ll get a hold of the first edition and see how it differs from this one.

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