Category Archives: North Carolina

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #12: Tales from Guilford County (1917)


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Parsons, Elsie Clews. “Tales from Guilford County.” The Journal of American Folklore, 30:116 (Apr.-Jun. 1917): 168-200.


This is the oldest of the books that I’m reviewing this month and as you can see, it’s technically an article. That said, it’s a densely packed, 32-page article that has almost as much information as some of the books I’ve reviewed. Some of those books are also heavily indebted to this article, so in it goes.

The article itself collects various tales (62 in all, not including variations within a tale) from a specific county in North Carolina in the early 20th century. Parsons (1875-1941) was a pretty major folklorist of the day, collecting Caribbean tales, as well as an anthropologist concentrating on Native American cultures, so you’ll see her pop up elsewhere, such as with her article on animal tales. She was not a Southerner, let alone a North Carolinian.

What Parsons gathers here is a grab-bag of different types of tales. There are animal tales that may go back to Africa (notably of the Brer Rabbit type). Others are based on well-known European tales like Aesop’s “The Tortoise and the Hare.” There are also some ghost stories.

There are several stories about the Devil, several about witches, and one about Bluebeard. That last one is especially interesting, since Parsons’ theory is that these stories originally derive from the Bahamas prior to the Revolutionary War, even though most of the storytellers were native North Carolinians. Canadian horror writer Nalo Hopkinson, whose story, “The Glass Bottle Trick,” is based on the Bluebeard legend, is originally from Jamaica, so Parsons may have been on to something. The Bluebeard legend is also popular in NC and appears in several of the North Carolina collections I’ve read.

I’m not a huge fan of Parsons’ style. The way she transcribes African American dialect (the title aside, all of the storytellers recorded in this article are African American Southerners, whereas Parsons is white and a Yankee) has not dated well. It reads a lot more like Amos and Andy than it does like how real people speak and it’s pretty distracting.

I’m also not wowed by her relative lack of notes. She has an introduction in which she explains her Bahamas origin theory. She also gives (very brief) bios of her unnamed storytellers. These mostly include their ages, where they were born, and where they lived, and that’s about it. The most detailed bio is for the eldest, a woman who was born before the Civil War. That woman also tends to recount the most coherent and detailed stories.

Parsons also doesn’t do a very good job of gleaning info out of the storytellers beyond the surface level. While some of these are classics that have been told and retold many times since the article came out, like “Dividing the Souls,” “The Black Cat,” and “The Woman-Cat,” others are confusing and lack critical parts to them (like “Woman on Housetop” and “The Talking Bones”). Some would be quite chilling with a little more story flesh to them (notably, the vicious, disemboweling ghost in “The Spitting Haint”). But Parsons never seems to ask any questions or give more than the most basic footnotes to put any of them into context.

Overall, though there’s some material here still left to mine if you’re a horror writer, this one is mainly for the folklorist or the completist.


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Halloween in North Carolina, Day #11: Tar Heel Terrors (2011)


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Renegar, Michael. Tar Heel Terrors: More North Carolina Ghosts and Legends. Bright Mountain Books, Inc., 2011.


For reasons I honestly don’t get, this book has suddenly become very expensive since I bought it. I can assure you I didn’t pay $145 for it and I got a brand-new copy at, as I recall, Books-a-Million. So, I guess we can officially call it out of print.

The author, Michael Renegar, is a professional ghost hunter from Yadkin County. He has written other books about ghosts in North Carolina. His latest, out this year and co-written with Amy Greer, is about Lydia’s Bridge, a famous Phantom Hitchhiker haunting in western NC. In his introduction to this one, Renegar indicates that Tar Heel Terrors is really a sequel to a previous collection, Roadside Revenants, with overflow of stories he couldn’t fit into that previous collection. Unsurprisingly, several of the stories here are about roadside ghosts, such as the one about the ghost who cries “Slow down!” on the dangerous curve the killed her, or the Phantom Hitchhiker of Christine’s Bridge.

Renegar tells a decent yarn and the cover is super-creepy. While some of his stories (like the tales about the Battleship North Carolina) are well-worn by other folklorists, others are more original. He tells a collection of ones that were making the rounds when he was going to Appalachian State (“The Legend of the Unseen Hands”), as well as many historical ones from Yadkin County (notably, “The Deserters and the Cemetery”). He also tells some personal stories from his ghost hunting days, such as “Cold Spots in the Cemetery.” And there’s one recounting a friend’s experience with the legend of Payne Road. He even includes several family legends, such as the entertaining one involving Great-Grandpa Shober, the moonshiner, and his apprenticeship to a witch, which was foiled by his refusal to harm a cat.

One thing I quite like is that Renegar starts off each tale with subtitles under the chapter heading that list both the site and the county in which you can find it. That immediately gives a place to start in locating these tales. Granted, many of them are pretty obviously based on local legends (such as the tale, “You’ll Be Sorry,” with the old British Isles motif of the shapeshifting, mischief-causing witch), but where these legends pop up and who tells them are still very useful information. This is quite intentional on Renegar’s part, as he makes clear in the introduction, where he talks about how ghost stories (Payne Road being a prominent example) change over time.

It would have been nice to see a larger bibliography at the end. Then again, as I noted above, many of these stories come from family lore or personal experiences while ghost hunting. So, they’re not taken from books. And at least Renegar shows an indepth knowledge of how folklore works when discussing the stories in the text itself.


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Halloween in North Carolina, Day #10: Mysterious Tales of Coastal North Carolina (2018)


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Carmichael, Sherman. Mysterious Tales of Coastal North Carolina. Sarah Haynes, illus. The History Press, 2018.


As you may have noticed from the date, this is the newest book I’m reviewing this month. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s the newest collection of North Carolina folk tales at the moment. It came out on April 16 of this year. So, it’s fresh off the press.

You may also have noticed that it comes from The History Press (which apparently, is no longer doing the Haunted America line for its ghost story collections). These collections tend to come out from specific publishers like The History Press and Schiffer, and they often do so in bursts of activity rather than evenly spread out over time. So, you see a burst from the early 2000s and around 2009, another around 2011 and 2014, and then it got mostly quiet until now. I’m not exactly sure why that is, but it may have something to do with the editorial schedules.

Carmichael covers a lot of ground in the sheer number of tales by keeping them short (from a paragraph to about two pages). With all the white space and the odd illustration by artist Sarah Haynes thrown in here and there, it’s a pretty quick read at 128 pages. He sacrifices a bit in depth, but then again, some of these tales don’t have a lot of available facts in the first place (notably, legends like the Devil’s Hoof Prints of Bath or the oft-retold tales about Blackbeard, his dramatic death in battle, and his legendary string of wives).

Even though he’s from South Carolina, Carmichael doesn’t mention that the Gray Man of Hatteras has a counterpart who does exactly the same thing for Pawleys Island in SC. The similarities were to the point where I wondered if he’d simply confused Pawleys Island with the Outer Banks. It would have been nice to see him dig a bit more into this legend and see how it had cropped up in two places. Unfortunately, while Carmichael does give a fair number of facts and figures for recorded events like known disasters, he doesn’t delve especially deeply into the folkloric side of things. It was also disappointing to see that he only cited ten books, some newspapers, and a bunch of websites, none annotated, in his bibliography at the end.

I wouldn’t say the stories are high on variety. In addition to the geographical focus being solely the Outer and Inner Banks, there’s quite a bit of filler in the form of a first section that is completely about shipwrecks and plane/helicopter crashes. While these are certainly tragic, they are not very mysterious at all and have no paranormal or folklore elements. Plus, Carmichael’s rather dry, just-the-facts method of recounting the stories doesn’t exactly pull the reader along.

I was pleased to see a section on Devil legends, considering my current research focus. There were some I’d already seen (The Curse of Bath), some I hadn’t (The Devil’s Last Supper of Wilmington), and some details to add to ones I had (The Devil’s Christmas Tree from Tyrrell County). In that sense, Carmichael’s approach of stuffing in a bunch of briefly-told tales worked well because it brought up a lot of stories, so I was bound not to have heard of a few. I was surprised at the paucity of witch stories, though. Just one, about the Boo Hag? Okay. Speaking of which, that’s practically the only African American-related tale in the entire book.

Unfortunately, even though he used a bunch of websites, I didn’t see very many fresh stories. That is to say, there weren’t any concerning 21st century happenings (and no scuba hauntings? Really?). Most of these were very old and retold many times. Also, his accounts can be fragmentary, retelling the same story inside a different story more than once. Some sections, like the one on the origins of the name “Kill Devil Hills,” are pretty incoherent and seem slapped together.

Most disappointing is that he doesn’t deliver a lot of background in North Carolina history. So, you’re left wondering why so many ships went down off the Outer Banks during WWII. The area was a main shipping lane for the Allies. The German U-boats would park themselves along the Continental Shelf and prey on the merchant vessels, sinking hundreds (there are a few U-boats sunk down there, too). It became so bad by 1942 that it was known as Torpedo Alley (AKA Torpedo Junction). Carmichael doesn’t explain any of this context, which makes those particular tales a bit confusing.

So, read it for being the newest and freshest of the books out there (and a quick read), but expect it to be a bit messy.


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Halloween in North Carolina, Day #9: Haunted Hills (2007)


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Williams, Stephanie Burt. Haunted Hills: Ghosts and Legends of Highlands and Cashiers, North Carolina. Haunted America. The History Press, 2007.


I have to admit that I didn’t initially have many expectations about this one. It’s smaller than the average paperback ghost book (5X6.5 inches rather than the more standard 6X9) and only about 126 pages, including the bibliography (I like bibliographies; too many ghost story collections don’t have one), with a fairly nondescript cover. And it’s about a relatively small part of Western North Carolina, which usually means the book will get into folksy storytelling without a whole lot of solid content.

I was therefore pleasantly surprised to find quite a bit more meat on the bones with this one than I’d first thought. Williams does a good job of explaining the rather eccentric history of Highlands and Cashiers, starting off with the legend of their creation. According to this story, Highlands’ founders did some geographic calculations that it would eventually become a trade crossroads of the U.S. It didn’t, but it’s done nicely in the centuries since then becoming a big resort area in the hills. There are a few legends about the origin of Cashiers (pronounced “Cash-ers”). The most popular one involves a white stallion named Cash who escaped captivity during the 18th century and thrived in the area.

Williams balances the history and the legends rather better than some other authors I’ve already reviewed. I also like how she breaks up the reading with photos that are historical, informational and interesting. One particularly quirky tale recounts when the circus came to town, complete with elephants, and visited Highlands Inn in 1923. This story is confirmed by a photo taken at the time.

Williams also tells a pretty decent ghost story. There are outdoor hauntings like the Hooper-Watson feud at Cold Springs near Cashiers, which resulted in at least one senseless massacre, an eternally bloody rock, and a chilling tale passed down of heads on stakes. There are indoor hauntings like the dark shadow figure at the Log Cabin Restaurant in Highlands and rocking chairs on the porch at Kalalanta. And, of course (this being Appalachia), Highlands history is intimately tied up with bootlegging and law enforcement, since the cops were also moonshiners for a time.

This was the first book where I encountered the Cherokee legend of Spearfinger, who lived near the cliff-face now known as the Devil’s Courthouse. Spearfinger was an inhuman, shapeshifting witch that often took the form of an elderly matron of the tribe. She’d snatch any victim she could, but she preferred little kids. She’d sidle up to you and then use her sharp stone finger to remove your liver. You’d never even feel it at the time, but you’d then waste away over the course of the next few days or weeks.

Williams talks about how Spearfinger was used as a scapegoat for the mysterious illnesses (and disappearances) that plagued Cherokee children. Like most Pre-Modern people, the Cherokee suffered from a high infant mortality rate. For them, all the stories were real.


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Halloween in North Carolina, Day #8: Monsters of North Carolina (2013)


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Hairr, John. Monsters of North Carolina: Mysterious Creatures of the Tar Heel State. Stackpole Books, 2013.


The Gallinipper (Lillington, NC writer and popular historian John Hairr confidently tells us in Monsters of North Carolina) does not really exist. Neither does the Ro-tay-yo of Tuscarora legend nor the U’la’gu’ of Cherokee myth (and cringeworthy Saturday night Syfy flicks). Mosquitoes and yellow jackets don’t really get all that big, and aren’t really all that dangerous.

Ha. Joke’s on him this summer. Hope he’s doing okay post-Hurricane Flo.

Monsters of North Carolina is part of a series (by different authors) that covers monster stories from different states. This is more of a cryptozoological study of North Carolina than one that tells ghost stories. There are someĀ spiritsĀ in there, as well as folk tales about Bigfoot and ridiculously large and mythical creatures, but it’s mostly about how weird the wildlife can get here in NC. And it can get pretty weird. So, it’s somewhat misleading in that respect. The “monsters” in this book are considerably more solid than most of the rest of the entries this month.

On the plus side, Hairr gives lots of facts and figures, researches the background of these tall tales, and even cites his sources. So, there’s that and that’s not small in the telling of popular campfire tales, where you often can’t get a confirmed date for events in the story, even down to the right century.

Some of the chapters are more tedious than others. Hairr gives lots of examples, but they aren’t always in a coherent order and his storytelling voice can get dry. It took me a good, long while to work through the first chapter on Bigfoot, largely because I don’t really care about Bigfoot. The chapter on insects was also dull. The Gallinipper should be a funny and rousing tale, but for some reason (maybe Hairr’s skepticism), it didn’t catch fire.

A lot better are the chapters on cougars, escaped zoo and circus animals, and snakes, which make rural North Carolina nights sound perilous indeed! You’re probably thinking of exotic snakes like boas and anacondas. But they can’t survive long this far north (not yet, anyway). Nope, we are mostly talking about rattlesnakes. Really, really, really big rattlesnakes.

Also, lake monsters. And I don’t just mean the killer fish.

I think my favorite chapter was the one on coastal sea monsters. With the Gulf Stream and the Continental Shelf right off the Outer Banks, leading to unexplored deeps, a whole lot of weird goes swimming past our shores. My biggest problem with it was that it was the last one and it was too short. Hairr does some fine speculation about possible species, even for the stranger tales.

I also appreciated the long and detailed bibliography he provides at the end. It makes my research so much easier. Wish more writers did that (side-eyeing you, Nancy Roberts).


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Halloween in North Carolina, Day #7: North Carolina Haunts (2011)


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Ward, Kevin Thomas. North Carolina Haunts. Schiffer Publishing, Ltd., 2011.


By far, the most interesting thing about North Carolina Haunts is the number of original stories the author tells that don’t appear elsewhere, particularly those in the Rocky Mount area. Ward doesn’t include every known tale from around here by any stretch, but he does add to the pile with writing down the oral ghost stories about Antebellum Greek Revival mansion Stonewall and a certain local house I’ve visited many times and where I know the principles very well indeed.

He also does a good job in his section on the Bentonville Battlefield, in which he discusses with compassion how both sides were ordinary men fighting for their homes and what they believed was right. Interestingly, most of the haunting at the battlefield appears to be aural.

The Fayetteville and Smithfield sections also have some spooky stories of a ghostly chief of police in the Prince Charles Hotel and a bar called Orton’s, as well as some down-home hauntings. Other sections have some of the old favorites, such as the Brown Mountain Lights, the Maco Light, the Devil’s Tramping Ground, Gimghoul Castle, Piney Grove Church, the Battleship North Carolina, and (of course) Blackbeard.

Ward’s special interest in the area stems from a childhood home in Rocky Mount (on Sunset Avenue) that he describes as extremely haunted in his introduction. These early stories range from ghostly footsteps to a faceless shadow at the foot of the bed to angry spirits glimpsed through the attic hatchway to a precog dream that helped prevent a fire. All of the family members saw or heard or felt a ghost at one time or another. Ward blames it on a time his sister used a Ouija board. A seance is a common folkloric origin in hauntings that begin abruptly with no apparent previous history.

So, early on, we get a taste of Ward’s storytelling style, which is evocative. Ward divides the book into five geographical parts relating to the Mountains, the Piedmont area, the Coastal Plain, the Coastal Tidewater (Inner Banks), and the Outer Banks. The freshest stories come from the Piedmont and Coastal Plains sections. The latter area has definitely been neglected by Carolina ghost story collections, so Ward makes some important additions there.

The illustrations, though childlike and crude, are quite eerie. I found myself stopping several times because the book was too creepy to read too late at night. That’s a compliment, by the way.

Less of a compliment is that I also frequently had to stop in irritation because this book really needed a copy editor before publication, but didn’t get one. It’s rife with typos and grammatical errors, as well as awkward diction, repetitious speech, and just plain weird idioms. I’ve noticed this is a problem with Schiffer and History Press publications. You’d think the publishers would put in the effort and money for some editing and proofreading to make these books shine. North Carolina Haunts is still worth a read, but it would have been an easier one with a good editor and proofreader on board.


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Halloween in North Carolina, Day #6: Tales from the Haunted South: Dark Tourism and the Memories of Slavery from the Civil War Era (2014)


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Miles, Tiya. Tales from the Haunted South: Dark Tourism and the Memories of Slavery from the Civil War Era. The University of North Carolina Press, 2015.


I was looking forward to this academic analysis of how ghost tours create and distort African American Antebellum history as soon as I found it on Amazon. For the most part, it delivered. Tiya Miles (1970- ) is an African American historian and professor at the University of Michigan. In Tales from the Haunted South, she explores the industry of “dark tourism” (tourism centered on death, disaster and other such tragedies) as it relates to ghost tours in the South. As you may have already noticed, Southern ghost tours (and ghost collections) usually like to go Gothic and indulge in Lost Cause romanticism, especially when it comes to the Civil War. Dr. Miles’ acerbic academic study is a bracing antidote to all that.

Dr. Miles comes into this field, not only as an African American historian focusing on the stories of the slaves who have become mere props in the tales of Romantic and Stupid Dead White People of Times Gone By, but as a “Yankee” outsider who isn’t very sympathetic toward the gauzy view Southern historians and storytellers may still hold toward the Civil War and Antebellum South. She also uses a narrative frame for the more academic discussion, in which she develops and gradually explores an equal fascination and repulsion regarding the supernatural and the ghost tour industry.

Dr. Miles comes from a Baptist tradition that appears to regard all truck with the supernatural world as not only unsavory, but spiritually dangerous. This adds a heightened and personalizing sense of guilt as an undercurrent to her journey from Charleston, SC to Savannah, GA to New Orleans, LA to the infamous Myrtles Plantation upstream from NO. Sadly, she never steps foot in North Carolina. In her defense, it’s also outside her intended geographic scope. It’s a short book that requires a sharp focus. As we get to know the subject matter, we also get to know her as a person exploring a shadowy corner of her cultural heritage.

Sometimes, this personal subtext works very well. Sometimes, not so much.

This is an essential book in any bibliography of Southern folklore. Dr. Miles does an excellent job of showing how white people in the Southern ghost tourism industry are stuck in a Gone with the Wind narrative of mossy Greek Revival plantations, in which they use the real-life sufferings of African slaves as a spice and hors d’oeuvre. Shadowy slave ghosts are trotted out as an exotic feature on these tours for a largely white audience. This distorts popular teaching of African American history and re-victimizes historical slave victims, on whose bones America was built, all over again.

She also tells a rousing good ghost tale (has even authored a novel or two) and is quite able to insert some creep into all the standard academese. There’s the Savannah ghost tour of the Old Sorrel-Weed House she and her husband attend. Later, they do some research and find that the compelling tales of slave suffering they encountered on the tour have no known basis in fact. The stories and characters are fiction. Obviously, this disappoints them after the properly chilling tour.

But back home in Michigan, Dr. Miles finds that one of her photos (of an alleged slave cemetery buried under Calhoun Square) unexpectedly shows an orb. Orbs are soap-bubble-like distortions that appear on digital photos. They are usually tricks of light reflection or refraction, dust motes, water droplets, or insects, but sometimes, they have no discernible cause. As she and her husband, rather creeped out, are trying to explain this digital artefact away, Dr. Miles’ young son comes in and sees the photo. He then starts talking emphatically about a “thing” in the photo that is not the orb and that neither of his parents can see.

Doo-doo-doo-doo.

However, Dr. Miles has a tendency to acknowledge the corrupting influence of slavery as an institution (something even its proponents knew by the 1850s), while ignoring the fact that its corruption was so terrible in its effects because it was universal. For example, she talks about Native Americans in rather distant terms, as victims of European expansion and aggression (and even mentions the Vann Plantation, about which she has written elsewhere), without ever really digging into the aspect that Cherokee plantation slave owners like the Vanns and Stand Watie fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War. Their descendants were anything but sanguine about sharing tribal identity with the descendants of their freedmen in the late 20th century. Like white plantation wives, Native Americans were both victims and abusers in the Antebellum South.

There are some other odd blind spots. After clearly establishing that the teenage slave “mistresses” Molly (Sorrel-Weed House) and Chloe (Myrtles Plantation) probably never existed (though women like them certainly did), Dr. Miles spends a lot of time on their apocryphal suffering while ignoring real-life women like Marie Laveau in New Orleans who held leadership roles in African religion and the local African American community. These women negotiated a very delicate balance with the dominant white culture to avoid extermination as an early American type of heretic. I was disappointed that Dr. Miles discusses Laveau mainly in passing when she spends a great deal more time (and, frankly, more sympathy than I ever would) on the monstrous New Orleans society dame Madame Delphine LaLaurie, her Creole heritage, her abusive final husband, and her Frankenstein complex. In the process of trying to unearth real African American history, Dr. Miles sometimes contributes to burying it further.

Her point – that LaLaurie’s brutality likely wasn’t really all that remarkable in the Antebellum South among the angry white plantation wives who had to negotiate their own precarious and unfree status not so far above enslaved black women their husbands owned and sexually exploited – is well taken. However, she doesn’t appear to have made a connection that LaLaurie’s myth does not come from whole cloth. It is very close to the story of Elizabeth Bathory, a liminal European female serial killer of high status, and contains elements (the abusive younger husband) from Chaucer’s notorious Wife of Bath. These possible literary allusions suggested that Madame LaLaurie’s story has been greatly heightened, beginning immediately after her flight from New Orleans.

Dr. Miles also implies that quadroon balls (in which biracial women sought white male protectors) were likely an invention of Spanish rule, but appears unaware of a similar tradition of “temporary” wives involving Christian men and Muslim women in late medieval Castile.

It’s interesting that Molly and Chloe are two apparently fictional characters introduced into real life tragic mysteries surrounding the sudden deaths of two white wives of plantation masters and used to excuse the possibly culpable actions of those real-life men. It’s also interesting that Chloe was apparently invented by a white woman in the late 20th century who was paranoid that her husband was cheating on her. I would have liked to have heard more about some of the real-life Mollies and Chloes, but most of that part of the book is about Madame LaLaurie and her abusive white counterparts, instead. LaLaurie’s victims never get a proper voice.

Also a problem is that there are times when Dr. Miles makes some rather visible goofs and omissions. For example, she mentions Supernatural and Ghost Hunters early on as reality ghost shows when Supernatural is most decidedly horror fiction. She does discuss Toni Morrison’s Beloved and mentions Tananarive Due in her end notes. But she never mentions that important and well-known African diaspora writers like Octavia Butler (Kindred) and Nalo Hopkinson (The Salt Roads), and movements like Afrofuturism, Steamfunk, and Sword and Soul, already deal with the issues of slavery and ghost tales the way she says African Americans should. It doesn’t feel so much that she ignores them as that she simply isn’t aware of all the people of color writing horror out there because (as she admits at the beginning), she herself has a horror of horror.

Toward the end, in her rather incoherent final chapter, she claims that she encountered no African American tour guides on any of her tours. Just the chapter before, she spends considerable time describing a young, openly gay African American tour guide at Myrtles Plantation.

She begins the book with a white tour guide on a standard historic house tour speaking rather sarcastically about the popularity of ghost tours. This makes her rather uneasy (since the potted history of the historic Southern house tour often has precious little African American content). Yet, she ends the book settling comfortably back into her previous contempt for dark tourism, with an African American historical tour guide who so assiduously avoids commercializing influences like ghost tours that he doesn’t even explain the history behind the use of haint blue in Savannah. This color was used on houses (particularly porch ceilings) by the African American Gullah people, probably to confuse spirits (who could not cross water). It likely became used in Antebellum Southern plantation houses because the people building them were African American slaves and freedmen. Far from a silly stereotype about the South invented by white ghost tour operators, haint blue illuminates a pretty major part of African American contribution to Southern architecture that the author appears to have missed.


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Halloween in North Carolina, Day #5: Ghosts of the Carolinas (1967)


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Roberts, Nancy. Ghosts of the Carolinas. University of South Carolina Press, 1962, reprinted 1967.


This is an older book by Nancy Roberts than the other one I reviewed, Ghosts from the Coast. Interestingly enough, I enjoyed this one a bit more. Maybe she ran out of steam (or material) toward the end of her career. It’s still not wonderful storytelling, and I found many of the stories forgettable, but it has its merits. Roberts’ then-husband contributed appropriately creepy photos and some stories put a bit of actual chill in the air.

Notable stories are the pirate treasure curse on Folly Island in Charleston, SC (Alan Brown retells a version of this legend from Louisiana in his book) and a “talking corpse” from a tavern in Old Salem, NC, as well as one tale about a door that just wouldn’t stay shut and a really creepy beach ghost known as The Grey Man, that predicts hurricanes for Pawley’s Island in South Carolina. And she retells a popular folk tale usually known as “The Witch Cat,” which likely hailed originally from the British Isles. There are also several plague tales from Savannah and Charleston, though those tend to run together in the memory.

Alas, there are still problems. If anything, Roberts is even more vague about dates and places in Ghosts of the Carolinas than in Ghosts from the Coast. Half the time, I couldn’t even tell what state we were supposed to be in. Her dialogue is atrocious. It is doubtful any human being ever spoke the way she has them speak, especially the few African Americans in her stories (who sound like Minstrel Show characters).

African Americans generally appear as window-dressing for her Lost Cause tales of doomed pairings of Southern belles with their gallant beaus, straight out of Gone with the Wind. But as people in their own right, with stories of their own to tell? Nope. Not even though “The Witch Cat” is a very big part of Carolinas African American folklore.

So, I can’t say I really recommend this one, either.


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Halloween in North Carolina, Day #4: The Haunted South (2014)


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Brown, Alan. The Haunted South The History Press, 2014.


Oh, Book, I wanted to love you, but you were so, so boring. Took me forever to get through this one. Ugh.

Popular ghost story collections tend to go to one of two extremes. On one end, the author may vaguebook like crazy all details about some legend, going off into entirely invented reveries of Victorian-style purple prose. On the other end, you get people who just list facts and figures in the dullest and most uninteresting way. Usually, these facts and figures involve the history of the haunted place or haunter (if it’s a person), with much attention paid to crumbling old Antebellum Greek Revival piles erected by rich old white dudes, maintained into the 20th century by their spinster daughters and grand-nieces, then sold off to childless Yuppie couples to turn into a B&B.

Unfortunately, The Haunted South not only goes the latter route, but does so with such a vengeance that half the time, you barely get any ghost stories at all. The author is so focused on giving you the Ye Olde Haunted House tour that he frequently skimps on the “haunted” part. In addition, despite endless architectural detail (which bored even this historic preservation-minded gal), his documentation for the folklore is almost nonexistent in some parts. This tosses him right back to the other extreme. How an author can occupy both ends of the spectrum, I don’t know, but you should ask Mr. Brown, because he pulled it off.

There is another major problem with The Haunted South and it’s geographical. I’ve been reading books about the region as well as just the state. Obviously, the legends of North Carolina are not limited all that much by borders. The state has both its imports and exports, and examples of regional, or even worldwide, trends (like the Phantom Hitchhiker of Lydia’s Bridge). But when reading about folklore in the South for the purposes of doing work on North Carolina, I obviously would expect some coverage of the Old North State.

Alas, the regional coverage here is lumpy, to put it kindly. The author neglects certain states to the point where some barely get five pages. Savannah in Georgia is criminally neglected, while there’s not even a mention of Texas and no explanation why. The Texas omission is especially puzzling, since the author has done an entire book of Texas ghost tales, but doesn’t even mention that in this book.

North Carolina is one of those neglected states. It gets a few brief pages about what are basically tourist trap spots (like Fort Fisher) and that’s it. I think I added maybe one new legend to my collection from reading this. That’s pretty poor for a book that’s over two hundred pages long.

Nor does extra length automatically equal better coverage, even of the states with more pages. The author spends a good third of the book in Louisiana (specifically, New Orleans), yet makes downright rotten gumbo out of NO’s seriously colorful history. The incoherent and scanty approach to how Hurricane Katrina affected the local folklore is particularly disappointing, considering this book came out in 2014. Maybe I should count my blessings that he didn’t do the same thing to North Carolina, even if his selections for NC were less-than-inspired.


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Halloween in North Carolina, Day #3: Ghosts from the Coast (2001)


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Roberts, Nancy. Ghosts from the Coast: A Ghostly Tour from Coastal North Carolina, South Carolina & Georgia. The University of North Carolina Press, 2001.


Nancy Roberts (1924-2008) was known during her lifetime (at least, according to her Wikipedia page, which gives no source) as the “First Lady of American Folklore.” Good Lord, I hope not. If there’s anything Roberts wasn’t, it was a great folklorist, or any kind of folklorist, really. Basically, she was a journalist from North Carolina (albeit born in Milwaukee to Southern parents), who started writing articles about local ghost stories. After this caught a good readership, she graduated to books. She was certainly popular (since she’s still in print), but if she was a folklorist, I’m a stripper.

The book covers ghost stories and legends along the coastlines of three states, in order: North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. Even I weren’t mainly looking for NC tales, I’d still judge the first section the best. There’s something about the Outer Banks that keeps Roberts (mostly) honest. The one about the lifeguard station is especially creepy and likely the best of the collection.

Roberts’ style is to take a story and then embellish it with imaginary conversations and such. She also makes up characters from whole cloth. This is common among NC storytellers, though they tend to do it the most with legends that may or may not have an historical basis. This wouldn’t be so bad if she weren’t so darned vague about things like dates and places, making everything (including events that really happened) sound as though they occurred somewhere long, long ago and far, far away. This has the tendency to uproot the stories from any realistic dirt and make them seem less scary. On top of that, whenever she is in a sharing mood with facts, she has a tendency to do long-winded “house tours” before she tells any ghost stories, which are then pretty perfunctory. Dull.

Not helping is that she tells some obvious porkies that are easily disproved. For example, Savannah didn’t exist until 1733, so the likelihood that Blackbeard (who died in 1718) frequented a tavern there is pretty low. She also repeats the tired old canard that Blackbeard was bloodthirsty and evil. Yet, historians these days aren’t sure if he ever killed anyone before his last battle, let alone a girlfriend who probably never even existed.

Roberts also has a tendency to romanticize Southern history (she buys the Lost Cause approach hook, line and sinker) and slut-shame any woman who doesn’t follow that rigid code. So, Roberts hints that the probably-apocryphal pirate moll Jenny had it coming for ditching the love a Good Man for the no-good Blackbeard.

Even worse, Roberts invents a poisonous cousin for poor Nell Cropsey, a real-life teenager who was murdered (probably by her boyfriend, Jim Wilcox) in Elizabeth City in 1901. As said cousin testifies at Wilcox’s trial, she has a purely invented internal monologue about how Nell kinda deserved getting her head bashed in and dumped in a canal for teasing Jim and being mean to him while preparing to dump him for the next thing to come along. Roberts even manages to twist it so that the cousin didn’t believe Jim did it, even as her thought process does a great job of giving him a strong motive. Ewwwww.

Overall, I found this collection unsatisfying. If the book’s Amazon and GoodReads reviews are any indication, I’m not alone. While a lot of ghost books are short, some pack more material into those pages than others. Ghosts from the Coast included an awful lot of boring fluff that either had little to do with the legend at hand or made stuff up from whole cloth out of badly researched history. Roberts’ writing style has not dated well. I’m also not too thrilled about the strange fact that despite there being at least two other major male NC writers in the 20th century, she was the only woman writing about the Carolinas legends at the time, with three new women folklorists popping up only after her death in 2008. Hmm.


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