Tag Archives: Devil

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #22: Ghost Stories In North Carolina: Every Haunted Place In North Carolina (2012)


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Mosley, Sean. Ghost Stories In North Carolina: Every Haunted Place In North Carolina. Booktango, 2012.


In light of the fact that this ebook (solely found on Google Books, for some reason) is only 59 pages long and only has 22 stories in it, I think that after three weeks’ worth of North Carolina ghost story book reviewing, we can all conclude the subtitle is both wildly optimistic and inaccurate. Yes, the author also discusses these stories as examples of folklore tropes, but the other examples he lists don’t even come close to the grand total North Carolina has (I suspect the true number may top five hundred, or even a thousand, but don’t quote me on that). I’ve got a trilogy by Daniel Barefoot on my pile, called “The Haunted Hundred,” that includes one story for each of North Carolina’s hundred counties. And even that’s just a survey collection.

So, yeah, this book is not comprehensive.

I’ll give Mosley points for covering as much territory as possible in a short space. There are no witch tales, ghost ship legends, myths about Judaculla, ghost stories about the Capitol building in Raleigh, or bootlegger yarns, but he does manage to include many of the most famous NC tales, from the Maco Light to Boojum to Lydia’s Bridge. He also especially likes Devil tales. This naturally perked me up, considering my present research focus.

For the most part, Mosley doesn’t embellish all that much. He tells the tale, but he largely sticks to what’s already in the legend. Then he concludes a section by picking apart its origins, its development, and what historical basis it may or may not have. In this, he’s reasonably consistent and efficient.

There are also places where his tendency to make lists proves useful and informative. For example, in his section on the Moon Eyed People (a legendary group from Cherokee folklore), he also mentions the Nunnehi (whom I’ve discussed in a previous review) and the Yunwi Tsunsdi (whom I had not previously heard about).

In his section on the Devil’s Tramping Ground, he talks about the Reformation era Scotch-Irish tendency to name natural features after the Devil (my research indicates it’s a bit more complicated than that, but yes, that’s one possible source), and lists several such features in the NC landscape.

He also gives a short version of the literary bibliography of Virginia Dare (the first English child born in North America in the Lost Colony) and how she became known as a ghostly white doe. And he discusses one of the popularizers of the Little Red Man legend, Richard Walser’s, influence on the growth of that story.

Unfortunately, the text could have used a good edit. There are numerous spelling and grammatical errors. Some of the formatting is wonky, though whether that’s my computer having issues with Google Books, I couldn’t say. Also, the black-and-white cover lacks context and seems a bit blah.

Overall, though, the typesetting is easy to read and the book is worth a look for the extra details and connections Mosley brings to these oft-told tales.


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Halloween in North Carolina, Day #20: Mountain Ghost Stories (1988)


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Russell, Randy and Janet Barnett. Mountain Ghost Stories and Curious Tales of Western North Carolina. John F. Blair, Publisher, 1988 (13th printing, 2014).


The authors of this one hail from Kansas City, MO and first visited the mountains of NC on their honeymoon. Randy Russell (1964-?) is a poet and mystery writer who also wrote three other collections about haunted hospitals, ghost cats, and ghost dogs, all in the South. His wife Janet assisted him as his researcher and co-author for his stories. She also collaborated with him on The Granny Curse and Other Ghosts and Legends from East Tennessee in 1999.

Randy was active at least as late as 2014, doing a book signing¬†as a “ghostlorist” in Asheville, where he then lived, for his latest book. As far as I know, he’s still with us. Janet Barnett appears with him as late as 2009.

It’s interesting to read books ghost story books from different periods. They tend to show distinct trends and styles that other periods don’t. Mountain Ghost Stories, which came out in 1988, is like Harden, Morgan and Roberts’ books in that it focuses more on telling a good yarn than on investigating the history behind the legends. You’ll find no paranormal investigations with bell, book and EMF meter here.

These are stories set in the Appalachian “Mountain” region of North Carolina, west of the Piedmont. There’s quite a bit of overlap with Haunted Hills, though the latter goes a lot more into digging up facts and history (including period photographs). Mountain Ghost Stories is more about legends. But that’s not to say it’s lacking in worth or just retreads what other collections have done, before or since.

The authors retell several classic Cherokee myths and legends. Notable is their version of Spearfinger (“The Wicked Witch of Nantahala”). “Ulagu, the Giant Yellow Jacket,” whom we met previously in Monsters of North Carolina, also appears, as does the famous tale of the maiden Wenonah and her beloved’s leap from Blowing Rock in Watauga County, in “A Lover Lives to Leap Again.”

But Dagul-ku (a goose spirit) and his theft of tobacco from the Cherokee, in “The Magic that Brought Back Tobacco,” was new to me, as were the Nunnehi (Cherokee mountain spirits) from “Fairy Crosses and the Immortal Nunnehi.” There is a ghost story (not in this book), about the vicious 18th century serial/spree killer Micajah Harpe, that refers to his being cursed for desecrating a clearing on the Natchez Trace where Cherokee witches danced. This may be a later distortion of the Nunnehi legend.

Even in stories that date from the time of European settlement in the area, starting in the 18th century, the authors like to include some Cherokee legends. “The Phantom Choir of Roan [Mountain]” in Mitchell County, where some people can hear a roaring like a great battle, has stories going back to the Cherokee period. Later witnesses were in disagreement whether the armies in battle were heavenly or hellish. Similarly, Chimney Rock Mountain near Hickory Nut Gap, has a legend going back to the gold rush days of a ghostly battle. But Chimney Rock Mountain also has Pre-Columbian legends that the mountain was inhabited by a host of evil spirits. Like Roan Mountain, which has a bald (a place where grass, but no trees, grows) at the top, Chimney Rock Mountain has features and legends related to the Devil.

The Brown Mountain Lights, of course, also appear, along with a murder mystery that allegedly occurred during the 19th century. A man murdered his wife and newborn baby, so that he could run off with another woman. But he was found out by the spirits of his wife and child, who appeared as ghost lights and led the local women to their bones. And then there’s the story from Rutherfordton of Daniel Keith, which appears in other Mountain region collections, how he was unjustly hanged and his shadow lingered on the jail’s outside wall until the last person responsible for his hanging died many years later.

Finally, the cover illustration is for the story, “Hannibal Heaton Hears a Hoot,” about High Hampton Inn. A version of this story also appeared in Haunted Hills. When General Heaton decided to sell the house, his wife told him she would kill herself if he did. He didn’t believe her, but she was good as her word and he arrived home from the sale to find her hanging from a tree. Later, he claimed she returned as a white owl that hooted by his window every night. He left town soon after and was not heard from again.


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Halloween in North Carolina, Day #2: Ghost Stories from the American South (1985)


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McNeil, W.K., ed. Ghost Stories from the American South. August House, 1985.


As I read through these ghost story collections, not only do I collect the stories and critique how the authors treat them, but I also examine how the authors (or editors and compilers) in question put their books together. It’s tough to find a way to be thorough and rigorous at an academic level, while also staying entertaining and holding on to the reader’s interest.

Well, this nifty little classic collection by the late Ozark Carolina folklorist W.K. McNeil (1940-2005) does a great job of both. In the back, every story is amply documented, from everything McNeil could find about the source and the tale’s background, right down to the folklore type of story. He even includes lists by state for easy reference (Yayyy! My Hero!).

In the main section, McNeil records these stories verbatim as they came down from whatever source he used. And some creepy tales he does find. They are grouped roughly by subject and some are then also grouped with the chapters as variations of the same tale. Because these are oral histories of the campfire tale type, they are all pretty short. This makes it easy to stop and start with ease, putting the book down after finishing one short narrative and then picking it up to read another.

In addition, that shudder-inducing cover (even now, I leave that thing turned down and under a bunch of other books) is augmented by some seriously creepy interior illustrations. It actually took me longer to get through this because it creeped me out too much to read alone than because of all the information I had to take down from the references.

The book is by no means comprehensive, though it works as an introductory overview. McNeil chooses 100 stories from all over the South, from different sources and different periods of time. Though he does try to cover all the major folklore trope and trend bases, he is willing to admit that even that coverage is sketchy, at best (there are, for example, no sea or coastal stories whatsoever). The book is less than two hundred pages long, after all. It’s just too bad he never did another one.

Contrary to what some reviewers claim, many of these stories do not come from the WPA folklore collections. In fact, McNeil is fairly acerbic about the tendency of the WPA compilers to tart up the oral histories they heard and make them sound more “literary” (which generally makes them read like bad Victorian melodrama), rather than record what was actually told, the way it was told.

Also, one of the nice things about the book is that McNeil collected some of the newer (for the time) legends. There’s a fairly large collection of stories from the 1970s, which were only a few years before the book came out in 1985. These include some pretty interesting variants on the Mexican-American legends of “La Llorona” and “The Devil in the Dance Hall” that might otherwise have been lost to time.

The book has unfortunately dated a bit, through a few choices by McNeil that probably seemed logical at the time. McNeil emphatically puts down popular collections of published tales as useless for oral history. While I agree that there’s a fair amount of, shall we say, personal embellishment and bias in these collections (McNeill has no truck with any of that Lost Cause guff), they do influence oral history in their own right. In addition, McNeill effectively ignores the role of electronic media that has increasingly and heavily influenced the evolution and telling of American folklore over the past century, especially since the World Wide Web came out less than a decade after this book. Is that oral history or written? It acts an awful lot like oral history.

Sadly, McNeill never dealt with these issues before his death in 2005. Now I guess he never will. We’ll just have to make do with this book. Don’t read it in the dark, though, kids. Just because it’s academic, doesn’t mean it’s not creepy.


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Halloween in North Carolina, Day #1: The Devil’s Tramping Ground and Other North Carolina Mystery Stories (1949)


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Harden, John. The Devil’s Tramping Ground and Other North Carolina Mystery Stories. 1949. Reprinted University of North Carolina Press, 1980.


John William Harden (1903-1985) was one of North Carolina’s well-known folklore storytellers of the 20th century. He originally hailed from Alamance County and was a journalist most of his life. He’s usually remembered for this collection and another book called Tar Heel Ghosts, which will probably be getting a look-in later this month. But back in the day, he was best known for the radio show on WPTF where he first told these stories, Tales of Tar Heelia, in the 1940s. Sadly, none of these broadcasts appears to have survived (or, at least, is yet accessible among his papers), but if you’ve ever watched Tar Heel Traveler on WRAL, it was a similar kind of show.

This was the first folklore book I began reading this summer. You could say it set the tone to a large extent for the others. Harden tells stories from the whole Old North State. He does a good job of showing the balance between telling tales for entertainment (“storyteller”) and preserving local history and culture (“folklorist”). Every author has their particular balance.
Harden’s wording may seem a bit odd to today’s reader looking for ghost stories. He calls these “mystery” stories. This means that every time, however strange and eerie the story, he always looks for a “rational” explanation, however convoluted. So, there aren’t any “real” ghost stories in the collection.

It’s largely a collection of odd disappearances (Peter Dromgoole, Major Robert Clark, Reverend Hawkins, Captain Blakeley) and unsolved murders (Nell Cropsey, Polly Williams), which may or may not make your blood run cold, paired up with the odd bit of cryptozoology or sea story (notably, the Carroll A. Deering). Every single time, he finds a way to Scooby-Doo it, even when he’s talking about well-known Carolina oddities like the Devil’s Tramping Ground (often confused with the somewhat lesser-known Devil’s Stomping Ground in South Carolina) or the Devil’s Hoofprints of Bath (there is also a Devil’s footprint in Largo, NC with one matching in SC), or the Brown Mountain Lights. This was a common attitude back in the first half of the 20th century.

Mind you, I’m not arguing for a knee-jerk supernatural explanation, either, but a Rube-Goldbergian chain of circular reasoning is not superior to a simple and honest “It’s a mystery; we just don’t know,” just because all the links in the chain of circular reasoning involve some sort of known natural phenomenon. I think it’s entirely possible that both the Devil’s Tramping Ground and the Hoofprints of Bath have natural causes (ditto the Brown Mountain Lights), but I also think we aren’t going to get anywhere by imposing ill-fitting theories on poorly understood phenomena and calling it a night.

That said, Harden’s hard-headedness can be refreshing. There is, for example, his entry toward the end of the book about a Wilkes County hound dog who tangled with a new and previously unknown mystery creature and, after a terrible fight, was never seen again. As far as I know, this story is unique to the collection. Harden astutely surmises that it was likely a Cougar that was displaced east by a recent forest fire in the mountains. Someone else might have claimed it was Bigfoot (though, after all the Homo floresiensis findings, I’m beginning to soften a tad on the idea of Bigfoot, but only a tad) or a forest demon. But Harden’s theory is both simple and logical. Most importantly, it fits all the facts without strain. This dovetails rather nicely with Hair’s book on Carolina monsters (coming up later this month).

Another thing that hasn’t aged too well is Harden’s love affair with Lost Cause mythology. Fortunately, this only really appears in a story or two (notably, the wreck of the Fanny and Jennie) related to the Civil War and it’s fairly benign. Some other ghost books bang away at it a lot harder.


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