Tag Archives: folklore

Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #24: Haunted Plantations

Check out the rest of the month’s reviews here, and last year’s reviews here. If you enjoyed this review and want to help out with my folklore research, head on over to my Patreon page and join up, make a one-time donation on this site or directly through Paypal, or send me a coffee.

Buxton, Geordi. Haunted Plantations: Ghosts of Slavery and Legends of the Cotton Kingdoms. Arcadia Publishing, 2007.

This one is not, strictly speaking, set in North Carolina. It’s stories about ghosts (mostly) of slaves from the Lowcountry of South Carolina and Georgia. But as we’ve learned from other such collections, state borders don’t limit folklore that neatly. Enslaved African Americans in North Carolina labored and suffered under similar conditions.

The author’s premise is to explore the experience of African American slaves and of slavery through Antebellum ghost stories. Some of these go all the way back to the 17th century (and earlier for the Native American tales). This mostly works, though there are some silly flubs, like the dated theory that slave labor built the Pyramids.

After a slow start and some objectifying in the manner of what Tiya Miles complains about in Tales from the Haunted South, Buxton gets into the lives (and afterlives) of slaves in South Carolina and Georgia. This includes some asides about coastal Gullah culture (and some extended detail about the origins and meaning of haint blue paint on houses) and West African religion like the Mami Wata.

There are some odd detours. For example, early on, we get the tale of Monsieur Dutarque. A (white) French teacher, M. Dutarque has to leave town in a hurry after tying a young white plantation owner’s daughter to a tombstone all night and causing permanent paralysis in her face. He then ingratiates himself into another community, only to disappear at the end of the school year. The boys he was teaching discover only their papers on his desk, corrected and marked with failing grades in his blood.

Until some months later, anyway, when one of them decides to pull the bucket up from the old schoolhouse well.

We then get into some of the better known ghost stories about the Lowcountry, such as the mass suicide by drowning of a group of Igbo slaves, newly arrived in South Carolina from Africa, in 1803. Buxton explains how their beliefs would motivate them to do so as a way to return to the old country in spirit, if not in body, and the subsequent hauntings of the water there. These include singing and the sound of clanking chains from beneath the river water.

Another story from Savannah Harbor tells of a place where something unseen tries to capsize passing ships. Could it be the mass ghost of a French pirate slave ship from the Civil War that was capsized by escaping slaves?

He also devotes two chapters (from both sides of the conflict) to slave revolts, such as the Stono River Slave Rebellion (1739), which resulted in the passing of laws forbidding the education of slaves that restricted the rights of both slaves and slaveowners. Another slave revolt may (or may not) have been headed off in 1822 by the hanging of freedmen Denmark Vesey and Gullah Jack in Charleston. Who may, or may not, have been completely innocent of the crime of insurrection.

Another Charleston hanging (the last public one) leads to the unsettling tale of the arrest and summary hanging without trial for murder of teenager Daniel Duncan in 1911. The reason why it was the last public hanging is because three days later, while his body still hanged on display, a major hurricane slammed into Charleston. Residents took it as divine punishment for hanging what was probably an innocent child. It later became known as “Duncan’s Storm.”

More mysterious are the spectral riders who appeared at dusk to some firefighters near the beginning of the 21st century on James Island in South Carolina. These Lightwood Cowboys, originally slaves who herded cattle on the island’s plantations during Antebellum times, were apparently America’s first cowboys.

Equally mysterious, but more uncanny, is the specter of a woman who also appears at dusk. Also probably the ghost of a slave, she is seen beside Boone Hall Brickyard near Wampancheone Creek, still apparently making bricks. The saddest ghosts are the ones who cannot seem to break free from the sufferings of their lives in the afterlife.

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Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #15: Haunted Broughton: Tales from the Graveyard Shift

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Langley, Margaret M. Haunted Broughton: Tales from the Graveyard Shift. October 2, 2009.

This is my other favorite of the month so far. It’s a veritable self-published diamond in the rough, the first in a trilogy of ghost story collections about Broughton Hospital, a psychiatric facility in Morganton, NC (in the Mountain region). Despite having an editor named along with the author on the book cover, I’m afraid that this book suffers from a cornucopia of copy editing errors and weird formatting. Nonetheless, I recommend wading through them because the content is worth the effort.

So, why is that? For a start, there’s the setting. Psychiatric hospitals, especially the earlier ones built in the Victorian and Edwardian eras, are perennial chill-givers, particularly this time of year. They have propped up many a creaky B-movie.

The idea of being trapped as a patient or working in such asylums in their heyday is unsettling enough, but if they were haunted, too? Yikes. American Horror Story did an entire season based just on that premise and one of Supernatural‘s most famous (and famously scary) episodes is season one’s “Asylum.”

But most of these tales are set in that fuzzy time of Back in the Day. Even non-supernatural accounts about the real-life hospitals are told from a distance of decades. Most of them were closed down in the 1960s and 1970s, with some making it into the 90s.

So, it’s rare (even unique, as I can’t think of any comparable such collection) to find a book of ghost stories that is not only about a psych hospital still in operation, but one that has been collated and told by one of its current staff (and boy, do we EMS folks have some doozies to tell). Forget moldy old urban legends at fifth or sixth-hand. This is living oral history being recorded as it occurs.

Langley herself recognizes this. In the introduction, she says, “These stories are essentially time capsules, if you will; memories of conditions and happenings around Broughton Hospital that will be lost forever if someone doesn’t record them. Sadly, many people have not told their story to me, for fear of being thought ‘crazy.’ Imagine, working in a mental hospital and telling people you saw a ghost? So, for that reason, all submitters will remain anonymous.”

This is not necessarily a problem in terms of folkloric reliability, since Langley herself is one of the people who have experienced paranormal phenomena. So, even though she is telling other people’s stories as well as hers, it’s still a first-hand account. Also, by keeping anonymity for everyone (including possible identities of even ghosts of patients), she doesn’t violate HIPAA rules. In general, she demonstrates a lot of compassion for those patients, both living and dead.

The first part, about the history of the hospital, is on the tedious side. Bear with it. As with the intro for Haunted Theaters of the Carolinas, which I reviewed earlier this month, it’s necessary to the understanding the sometimes complicated background and layout of the hospital. You’ll get more out of the stories if you understand their setting.

Annnd then we get into the creepy stuff. There is, for example a haunted laundry that no one on the staff likes going into at night. Ditto a haunted recreation hall in the same building (fittingly called Ward 13) that is just fine and dandy in the daytime, cheery and bright, but a whole other story at 3am.

See, Ward 13 is the second-oldest building still in existence on campus. Built in 1887, it may have been used in experiments on patients, but it seems no one actually knows why it’s haunted, just that it is. People have reported hearing screams when they get sodas out of the vending machine, whistling, ghostly conversations, and being touched in the elevator. A cat who lives on the grounds sometimes disappears for hours, only to appear out of the deserted Ward 13 elevator or show up with chilly fur.

Ward 13 is also a building where the author reports having seen shadows of people passing in the hallway when it was deserted. In the Bates Building, she heard the disembodied voice of a colleague (recently murdered by her husband) call her name. When Langley told her supervisor, the supervisor admitted that on nights when she was doing paperwork in her office in the Bates Building, she would see reflections on her door of people passing in the hallway, but no one was there. For some reason, that’s the story that comes back to me when I’m in bed at night.

Langley also heard a story from the same building about a crying baby and a haunted doll. In a nearby building can sometimes be heard piano music.

As if that’s not bad enough, there’s a haunted tunnel through which dead patients were once carried (much like the famous Waverly Asylum) and a nearby graveyard that’s seriously haunted. This book is full of stories and there are two more books (which I still intend to read). That’s a grand total of some 400 pages in all.

An interesting footnote is that one Amazon reviewer named “littlejo” (Susan Amond Todd from White Lake, NC in her profile) gave the book two stars on February 4, 2011. She claimed to have worked at the hospital for 15 years and that her mother worked there for 37 years. She insisted that while some hauntings had occurred, the author had greatly exaggerated them and that the reviewer’s mother disagreed about some of the stories.

On the other hand, a reviewer from Alabama named Joe L. Carpenter gave it four stars on July 16, 2015. He claimed in a review on the second book that his father and neighbors experienced many of the same stories as Langley tells, while working at the hospital, themselves. I’m not sure what the background is on all that, especially considering the easy anonymity of internet criticism, but it’s intriguing that even the reviews add to the folkloric story.

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Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #14: Haunted Fort Fisher

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Gray, Mark. Haunted Fort Fisher: Ghosts on the Cape Fear. 2014.

Fair warning: This is one of my favorite books that I’ve read so far for this project – not just for this year, either. The premise is simple – it’s a self-published picture book of ghost photos. The author decided in 2002 (this book came out in 2014) to start taking digital photographs around Fort Fisher to see if he could catch any ghostly phenomena. He also recorded for EVPs at the same time (Electronic Voice Phenomena: voices and sounds caught on a sound recorder that have no known cause and were not heard by observers at the time).

I’ve mentioned Fort Fisher on the Cape Fear River in previous reviews. Fort Fisher is one of the most haunted sites in North Carolina, if not the most haunted, and some of the reported encounters have been quite frightening to the observers. This is most likely due to the two Civil War battles in 1864 and 1865 that led to the storming and capture of the Confederate fort by Union forces. Fort Fisher had been a major military target because it defended the one Confederate port late in the War – Wilmington. When Fort Fisher fell, so did Wilmington and the War was pretty much won (or lost, depending on your point of view).

This book is a condensed account of 12 years of Gray’s best photographs. Being a computer and AV tech, he goes into quite a lot of useful detail about what type of camera he used, and why, and its capabilities. Some of these pictures are pretty grainy, but in a way, that makes them creepier.

One thing I like about Gray’s observations is that he keeps them very grounded. He talks about how he’s only ever been able to get EVP’s at Shepard’s Battery and that the only ghost photos he’s been able to get were from the Sally Port (facing north) into the woods. Most of them have been in the woods. That he has observed these conditions adds to his sincerity and his observation skills. The only psychic sense he makes any claim to is having an idea when and where would be a good day to take creepy photos. Which, considering he’d done this for 12 years at the same spot by the time the book came out, isn’t that hard to swallow.

Gray also makes no bones about having taken a whole lot of photographs, but that only a few have ever turned out … odd. He also is not shy about putting his photos up, in the raw as it were, for readers to evaluate. And it’s true that some of these look like a straightforward case of pareidolia (like the cover photo). But then there are the others.

By far the most unsettling are the shadows and the photos where something is blocking the view of the background. Maybe the shadows are just sunlight coming down through the trees in odd ways (but they sure do look like people) and maybe the weird fuzzy things are just camera artifacts. But they’re not any artifacts I’ve ever seen in a digital camera.

At any rate, this was not a book I wanted to review at night. Even though it’s short, those photos creeped me right out. Just looking for what is supposed to be odd about them lent a strange kind of menace to them.

I don’t know what the author has captured here. I do, however, think it’s a worthwhile project because he spent so much time, over several years, in the same areas, photographing the same spots with the same type of equipment. At the very least, that lends itself to a cool study about light reflection and refraction, internal and external, in digital cameras. It also involves the kind of scientific method that too-often isn’t used properly by either believers or debunkers. I’m curious to see what Gray finds next. Just … don’t make me read it at night.

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Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #13: Ghosthunting North Carolina

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Ambrose, Kala. Ghosthunting North Carolina. America’s Haunted Road Trip. Clerisy Press, 2011.

This was not the book I thought it was when I bought it (twice, accidentally). I thought it was about ghost hunter organizations in North Carolina. It’s not. I did find something like that, but I will review that book later in the month. And I did end up enjoying this book overall, but let’s address a few issues first.

So, what is this book? It’s basically a tour guide by a professional psychic of a selection of the most interesting and creepy paranormal sites in the state. I wasn’t especially thrilled at first to find out her profession. I found the introduction, where she went on at great length about her psychic abilities and such, very tedious.

It’s not that I don’t believe in ESP, etc., but these claims irritate me for a few reasons. First, there’s more than a little bragging involved about something that is really quite common (and often faked to make money). Lots of people have strange experiences with the supernatural or paranormal, or whatever you want to call it. I think there’s a strong probability that most people are “psychic” to some extent.

Second, it tends to Scooby-Doo folklore. I don’t see a whole lot of difference between dismissing a creepy feeling and strange noises in a house as drafts and bad plumbing, and dismissing it as a “vortex” or whatever New Age term sounds good. It’s still attempting to dismiss a mystery with an untested hypothesis.

Third, it tends to be culturally appropriative and sometimes bordering on racist. For example, I had my hopes up early on when Ambrose was talking about Somerset Plantation and the conditions for slaves there. Yay, finally some ghost storytelling that doesn’t fall for the usual Gone with the Wind mythologizing!

But then she fell into the same trap Tiya Miles talks about, where white tour guides in the dark tourism industry treat African Americans and their historical experiences as window dressing and entertainment for white people and their history. I can’t think of a single example in the entire book where she talked about black people except as slaves.

Especially disappointing was her repeated mentions of how slave conjure women may have used magic against their white masters, but she never gets into any details about that. And yes, that’s been researched. Remember the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans in Dixie Spirits? So, I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised that the only mention of the Tri-County area is a rather pallid description of Blount-Bridgers House in Tarboro that doesn’t even mention Miss Minerva and her tendency to run the house’s elevator in the wee hours.

It’s not all bad, though. One of the frustrating aspects of Ambrose’s gimmick (being a psychic writing a book about NC ghost stories) is that she does do a fair bit of research and travels to a lot of different places in the state. I mean, yeah, there are holes and she never mentions the Frank C. Brown Collection, but she does mention the Rhine Research Center and interviews a bunch of people at these different sites. I actually found her postscript about her research path a lot more interesting than her introduction about her psychic career. Yes, I’m a nerd.

She talks in the intro about how she’ll use her psychic abilities to find ghosts at these sites (while making the apt observation that most ghost experiences happen when you’re not expecting them). Then half the time, she doesn’t sense anything in these places, anyway. Yet, those chapters are usually still interesting because she did her homework. I get that the psychic bit is the gimmick to sell the book, but it detracts from the actual work she put into it.

The story I found most interesting by far comes late in the book. It’s about the 1906 massacre in Asheville (which I’d never heard of before) of five innocent people by an escaped convict named Will Harris. Seems Harris blew into town shortly after his prison break, looking for his “girlfriend.” There was a difference of opinion about that relationship status and she got her sister to tell him she’d left town.

Not believing the sister, he got drunk and took her hostage. When found out, he fled into the street, where he went on a shooting rampage that killed five people and a dog. Tracked down by a very large posse, he shot back at them and ended up full of holes. Classic pattern for a mass shooter. And it led directly to Asheville becoming a dry town for decades (some Temperance campaigners successfully blamed the massacre on Harris’ drinking).

One of the things Ambrose notes is that Harris kept shouting he was the Devil (this, of course, made my folklore research ears prick up). But even though she has a previous discussion in which she mentions (without scraping more than the surface) that NC has a lot of devilish folklore, she doesn’t connect the two.

What she does do is mention that there are shadow people hauntings (among others, like the sound of screaming) since the massacre. She connects this to discussion of previous dark entities at other sites in the book. In this recurring discussion she makes some good points about how violent and unhappy events can lead to a sinister atmosphere and scary hauntings. I think that’s a pretty good metaphor for the kind of history folklore most often preserves.

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Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #10: Ghosts of America – North Carolina: True Accounts of Ghosts from North Carolina

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Lautner, Nina, ed. Ghosts of America – North Carolina: True Accounts of Ghosts from North Carolina. Ghosts of America, Local Book 39. Stratus-Pikpuk, 2017.

So, there’s this website called “Ghosts of America” and it’s a sort of curated bboard run by internet publishing company Stratus-Pikpuk, Inc. (they have a bunch of other sites on various topics). It invites people to post their experiences with ghosts and any local legends, and lists them by state, then town (alphabetically). It’s not the only such site, but it is one of the bigger ones. According to its entries at Archive.org, Ghosts of America has been around since April 2005.

The publisher’s blurb on it says they originally started it as a way to test generating AI content, but changed up their plan when people started sending in actual stories. This would explain why the earliest stories on the site sounded creepy but unbelievable, with random elements grouped together in a single anecdote, and had no sources. The publisher says they only accept about half of the stories sent in and only the ones they think are real (i.e., sincere).

What the author (actually, editor) did was take these stories off the site, edit them lightly, and collect them all into single volumes by state. In this case, we’re talking about stories from North Carolina. Even a glance at the site (where you’ll find 1345 stories from North Carolina) demonstrates that the book is very much not-comprehensive at 37 stories for the state.

Some of these are quite creepy, such as a tale from Statesville about an in-law visit disrupted by the singing of a ghost girl in the attic. There’s another disturbing tale from Camp Lejeune about a house on base haunted by a malevolent gnome-like ghost/poltergeist. A former employee of Highland Inn in Highlands talks about
levitating knives at work and horrible dreams of amputations, and how she’d never go back. Another business, this time in Winston-Salem, is haunted by a “phantom family” that startles people as they round a corner.

Other stories include the usual range of UFOs (Tar Heel), battlefield ghosts (Salisbury and Bahama), several haunted houses (Louisburg, Ellenboro, Lumberton and Emerald Isle, among others), even a roadside revenant and a phantom hiker (not hitchhiker) from Tryon. An actual phantom hitchhiker gets off at her last stop (the graveyard) in Bladenboro. And one account from Elm City sounds a lot more like the narrator’s psychotic episode than a ghost story.

The folkloric value of a site like Ghosts of America seems fairly obvious. You are basically inviting random people to share stories around the internet campfire. This concept was more popular in the late 90s and 2000s, when the internet had fewer whistles and bells, but such sites can stay up for decades. They create an archive of raw data that influences and inspires new folklore, even as it preserves stories that might otherwise have been forgotten.

Sites where hired professional writers create content for the site are also useful, particularly those specific to a state. But they’re not as cutting edge as something like Ghosts of America or The Shadowlands. The latter don’t just record or revive or even embellish folklore – they create it outright.

But is there value in a Kindle “greatest hits” collection series of volumes by state on Amazon? I’ll confess that when I got this one, I was pretty skeptical, myself. I mean, the value to the site owners seems clear – they’re making money off repackaging these stories for a new audience on Amazon (after getting the original authors’ permission, one hopes) that helps to keep the site going.

What, though, is the value for the reader? Well, there’s the plus that one has a bunch of ghost stories from the site in one handy-dandy volume (there is also a print version). Further, by having a publication date on the volume, you can now use it as a permanent record of entries from the site. That can be mighty useful for tracking these tales. Then, too, not everyone wants to rush to the internet (even on their phones) to read ghost stories when they could do so by picking up a book or a Kindle. It would, however, be nice if there were a Kindle Unlimited version.

So, whether you check out the book or continue straight on to the site, strap yourself in for some scary shenanigans in North Carolina with this one.

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Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #3: Black Spirits: The Ghostlore of Afro-American Slaves


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Gorn, Elliot J. “Black Spirits: The Ghostlore of Afro-American Slaves.” American Quarterly, vol. 36, no. 4 (Autumn 1984), pp. 549-565.

As historian Tiya Miles notes in her book Tales from the Haunted South (reviewed here last year), ghost story books and the dark tourism industry in general tend to ignore African-Americans or, at best, use them as exotic scenery or set pieces. African-American ghost stories certainly exist, but you have to dig a bit to find ones that are actually told by African-Americans.

Elliot Gorn is white, but this is an important article in terms of discussing Antebellum slave ghostlore and I don’t have a copy of John Mason Brewer’s classic Worser Times and Better Days: The Folklore of the North Carolina Negro (1965), yet.

The first part of the article is mainly devoted to discussing the late Gladys-Marie Fry‘s then-recent book, Night Riders in Black Folk History (1975). Gorn disagrees with Dr. Fry’s thesis that Antebellum slave owners intentionally used ghost stories to terrorize and control their slaves, but agrees with her that they most certainly tried to do so with recently freed African-Americans during Reconstruction (one example may be the story of the old slave who killed his master in self-defense, buried him under a bridge, confessed on his deathbed, and now haunts the bridge, still beaten by his abusive master).

For the former, Gorn cites a lack of evidence, among the voluminous source material of methods of control slave owners used and discussed, of using “hant” stories as one such method. Obviously, this situation was different in the post-War period, when one reason the Ku Klux Klan dressed in white hoods and robes was to pretend they were Civil War ghosts to frighten African-American ex-slaves. Gorn is skeptical, however, that very many of the slaves were taken in by this charade. The actual violence the Klan freely engaged in was far more persuasive.

Gorn notes that part of the difficulty in collecting African-American ghostlore from ex-slaves was their general reticence in sharing pretty much anything personal with white interviewers. They had learned the hard way not to overshare with whites, although some admitted to WPA interviewers during the 1930s that slave owners had not encouraged beliefs in, or discussion of, such lore. Slaves learned not to trust their masters – or any white person – and to limit unnecessary contact (or even discussion) with them well beyond the point of death.

Also, while they were not necessarily taken in by living white men pretending to be dead, some slaves found some particularly brutal masters so terrifying that they imagined them coming back from the dead in a classic example of abuse-generated PTSD. But there is a humorous side to “hant” lore that sends up overly superstitious people who see everything as supernatural. Gorn also notes that a major function of ghostlore was to strengthen strained familial ties with helpful ghostly ancestors, since the institution of slavery did not legally recognize any bond save that between the slave and the master.

Much of the rest of his article is a review of the literature on the topic. He notes the theory that African-American slaves held a largely animistic view underneath an imposed, but superficial, white Christian theology. He also notes that slaves tended to perceive ghosts as restless unless placated by grave goods and largely malevolent. This was in contrast to Anglo-American white views of ghosts as largely benevolent. The article ignores the fact that slave owners also included whites from French, Dutch, Spanish, and Celtic backgrounds (despite several mentions of New Orleans ghostlore), and that these could have radically different views on ghostlore than the English.

Celtic lore, for example, freely mixes ghostlore with fairy lore (some sources claim that fairies were the unbaptized dead). The Colonial Era Dutch-American Ichabod Crane is terrified by the Headless Horseman specifically because that figure is a powerful death omen for anyone who sees it. In Celtic lore, headless men (and especially those on horses) were some of the deadliest members of the Unseelie (Dark Fairy) Court. African-American and Celtic lore are both full of headless men, black dogs, restless dead who must be pinned into their graves, and spirits/fairies who can’t cross water. There are differences to be sure (for example, black dogs are seen as helper figures in some West African lore, whereas they are terrifying demons in Celtic lore), but not all Antebellum white culture was diametrically opposed to black culture.

There are not many stories specific to North Carolina in the article, though the author does cite the Frank C. Brown Collection early on. One story does appear about the ghost of a man who was whipped to death, that returns to haunt the plantation where he died. In another, a black woman is beaten to death by two white men and returns to haunt their sleep with her screams.

Gorn puts these tales in the category of avengers who strike from beyond the grave, freed from all earthly bonds and consequences by death. Even though they did little beyond beg or stare in mute reproach, these ghosts could be as terrifying to those they were avenging as to the targets of their revenge. They had a tendency to return to their masters’/killers’ plantation houses and drive them out, effectively taking over the house for their own. In a few stories, however, slave spirits came back to kill their masters outright.

Since the article came out in 1984, it is inevitably a bit dated. Though Gorn tries to put his work in context with other folkloric research, he doesn’t mention Jan Harold Brunvand’s classic popular study of modern urban legends, The Vanishing Hitchhiker (1981). Obviously, there is no discussion of the internet or how these old stories might have spread on it, either, since the World Wide Web did not yet exist.

More puzzling is Gorn’s avoidance of any discussion of Lost Cause mythology. Since he spends a good part of his article discussing Dr. Fry’s book, this is a pretty big omission. Lost Cause mythology was a major attempt by Southern white elites to recapture the post-Civil War narrative. In the context of their trying to intimidate ex-slaves with ghostlore, it would have made sense to discuss how the Lost Cause narrative fit into that effort. Ah, well.

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Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #2: Ghost Cats of the South

Check out the rest of the month’s reviews here, and last year’s reviews here. If you enjoyed this review and want to help out with my folklore research, head on over to my Patreon page and join up, make a one-time donation on this site or directly through Paypal, or send me a coffee.

Russell, Randy. Ghost Cats of the South. John F. Blair, Publisher, 2011.

This one comes from half of the duo that gave us Mountain Ghost Stories from last year. It’s exactly as advertised – supernatural stories of cats from all over the South, including photographic illustrations. The author did a similar one for dogs, as well.

It has many of the same strengths and weaknesses as Mountain Ghost Stories. There is basically no investigation of the folkloric background to these tales, despite an introduction by the author that discusses his work as a “ghostlorist.” In fact, it’s hard to tell the original legend in some of them (and some even sound like thinly veiled fiction). Russell claims that the South has older stories than any other region of the U.S. But even those two oldest that he claims for this collection (the Cherokee Wampus Cat and the 1740s San Marcos Cat of “Rose Perfume” from St. Augustine, FL) are not likely as old as those of New England and Eastern Canada.

Perhaps the most outrageous in folkloric terms is also the creepiest – an eternally hungry cat ghost called “Eat-Your-Face Cat” from Tunica, MS that haunts a 1956 Chevy Bel-Air. “Butcher Cat” from Tuscaloosa, AL sounds downright terrifying (albeit its story is told from the impossible viewpoint of a victim). So do the malevolent Voodoo haint “Chimney Cats” of Savannah, GA. And “Run-Over-Flat Cats” from Birmingham, AL gets downright metaphysical with its two Schrodinger-like cats, pet(s) of a lonely longhaul trucker.

The book is also pretty lacking in North Carolina content. There are only 3 NC stories out of the 22 in the book and they’re all from the Mountain region. One (“Camp Cats”) is from Black Mountain in the west and I was fairly disappointed at the lack of markers for further research in it. It is a sweet story, though, about a young girl who misses her dead cat so much that she brings the kitty’s ashes with her to summer camp. After she dies relatively young in a car wreck, she and the cat come back in feline form as a benign haunting of the place she loved so much.

Another from Hot Springs, “Wedding Cat,” is about a bridesmaid who makes an inadvertent stop in a holler after her car breaks down. In gratitude to the old widower who puts her up for the night, she agrees to take an old “Wampus” mask, that once belonged to his wife, with her to the nuptials. This has the unexpected effect of “birthing” a mischievous ghost cat at the service that figuratively gets the bride’s tongue.

The one from Sylva, NC (“Cat Cookies”) is also a tad vague in historical or folkloric detail, but is gentle in tone. In it, an old spinster (who may or may not be a witch), uses magic cookies to find homes for her many kitties on Halloween among the local children. This one got a “d’awww” from me.

Others deal with witches, too, but those tend to be rather misogynistic (whether the author’s writing or the original source material, I wasn’t sure). The one from Gatlinburg, TN (though most of the locations in the story are near Judaculla Rock in NC) is about the Native American legend of the Wampus Cat (“Slivers of Bone”). Taken from a story by Davey Arch, a contributor to Living Stories of the Cherokee, it involves a Cherokee woman who is cursed for putting on a cougar skin to spy on the menfolk during their night war meetings against the Colonial settlers.

In “Lightning Cat” from Baton Rouge, LA, a luckless witch caught in a storm is eventually forced to take shelter in a tree, where she is trapped (perhaps eternally) by a bolt of lightning striking the tree. Her attempts to escape cause a periodic discharge that locals mistake for ball lightning. I ended up feeling sorry for her.

If you don’t like feline fatality, this may be one to avoid. Almost all of the cats in the stories end up dead, some of them gruesomely in the manner of urban legends (though usually with a more tragic than comic spin to the storytelling, except in the case of the boisterous “Cat Shine” from Edgefield, SC). My favorite part of the book, though, was the collection of vintage black-and-white photos of cats (and their owners) interleaved with the stories. These ranged from adorable to gravely gorgeous. I wish there were more historical information on them.

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Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #1: Dixie Spirits

Check out the rest of the month’s reviews here, and last year’s reviews here. If you enjoyed this review and want to help out with my folklore research, head on over to my Patreon page and join up, make a one-time donation on this site or directly through Paypal, or send me a coffee.

Coleman, Christopher K. Dixie Spirits: True Tales of the Strange and Supernatural in the South. Cumberland House, 2008 (2nd edition).

I decided to start out general, as this has given me a lot of insight into the difference between regional lore and stories specific to North Carolina. Dixie Spirits does have a North Carolina section, but (as is often the case with these regional ghost story books), it’s a bit thin and the lore obvious.

This is the second, revised version of the book (the original came out in 2002). Contrary to the image of the Antebellum plantation house on the cover, Coleman addresses a pretty wide variety of subjects and situations. There’s a good fair bit of outdoor campfire tales. Despite my misgivings that the book would turn out to be a tedious read through a Hoary History of Old Houses like last year’s The Haunted South (yeah, I’m still a bit salty about that), Coleman’s book is an entertaining and quick read for its length (nearly 300 pages). Admittedly, he’s not so hot at providing sources, and the stories I knew the best had some distinctly literary origins of the Victorian variety, but the book itself is a fun read. Especially for this time of year.

Easily my favorite chapter is the one on Marie Laveau (“The Witch Queen of New Orleans” in the Louisiana section). I was expecting the usual attention paid to Creole monster slave owner Madame LaLaurie. Actually getting a chapter-length bio on Laveau instead was a refreshing change.

I don’t know how many of Coleman’s “facts” are taken from contemporary sources, but he does a pretty even-handed take on her. He puts her in context in both the New Orleans overall culture of the 19th century, and her role in the growth and evolution of Voodoo culture in the American South.

She appears to have been quite the enigma in contrasts – a devoted wife and mother, and devout Catholic, who was also a feared witch queen (who died in bed rather than at the stake). A black woman who dressed the hair of rich white women, yet knew more about the affairs of her city than any of the rich elites and who ended up living alongside them as their equal. A ruthless woman who died wealthy, but beloved thanks to her decades of charity. I think she deserves more attention than just in ghost story collections at Halloween.

Another good chapter is the third (“Graveyard Shift: The Haunting of Sloss Furnaces”) about the post-Civil War iron works that grew up around Birmingham, AL. It’s a different kind of site for a haunting than the usual sprawling mansion or college or hospital (as Coleman himself points out in the chapter’s introduction). This setting has led to stories of some unsettling and even malevolent ghosts, especially a scorched and vengeful foreman who was much-hated in life and may have been hastened to his death. Equally disturbing is chapter one (“The Face in the Courthouse Window”) about a near-lynching that may have ended in a quiet murder. This story bears a remarkable resemblance to the contemporary accounts about the last hanging in Nash County (on March 15, 1900), despite the tale hailing from Columbus, AL.

The chapter about Natchez (“The Devil’s Backbone: Ghosts and Haunts of Natchez and the Natchez Trace”) is early Western history at its darkest and bloodiest. There’s surprisingly little about the infamous Harpe Brothers of the Early Republic, but Coleman gets into plenty of detail about other river pirates and dastardly deeds.

There are some inaccuracies in there, though. For example, while Big Harpe was known for killing at least two infants (one of them his own daughter), neither murder occurred in a Natchez, as one story claims. In fact, the Brothers appear to have avoided civilization (even what passed for it in Natchez), and mostly kept to Kentucky and Tennessee.

Another flub pops up in “Savannah Specters,” with that old time-traveling tale from Nancy Roberts of Blackbeard visiting a Savannah pub that wasn’t built into 16 years after his death. And, unfortunately, North Carolina is largely represented by Sallie Southall’s bathetic (and vaguely racist) invented story of Virginia Dare as a white doe. All of the Native American tales in the story suffer from similar levels of Victorian cheese.

Coleman is pretty sympathetic toward the Lost Cause, but he mostly keeps it on the back burner except for the chapter on Robert E. Lee (“The Haunted Homes of Robert E. Lee”), which turns into a Lost Cause paean to the Civil War general. Needless to say, we get no mention of Lee’s brutal pre-War treatment of his wife’s slaves or the blunders laid at his door by more recent Civil War historians. In the process, a nascent and potentially fascinating discussion of the origins of Arlington Cemetery gets derailed.

The previous Virginia chapter about accused “witch” Grace Sherwood (“The Devil’s Dominion”) is fun, though. She sounds like a spitfire along the lines of 19th century Yorkshire noblewoman Anne Lister.

Alas, the book ends with a serious turn for the weird – and not in a good way. The creepy Mothman mystery of West Virginia (“Cornstalk’s Curse: The Mothman Enigma”) is worth including, but a lot of this legend’s mystery stems from confusion over how to classify it. Reports of it were largely cryptozoological for years until the shocking and fatal collapse of the Silver Bridge to Ohio on December 15, 1967. After the disaster, the Mothman phenomenon essentially faded away and many later perceived a pattern of predictive warnings for the collapse in the Mothman’s appearances.

Unfortunately, Coleman then lets himself get mired in a discussion about UFOs, which continues in the next and final chapter. As some reviewers on Goodreads have pointed out, this is an abrupt change in tone from the rest of the book. Also, the incident the last chapter centers on sounds an awful lot like a meteorite paired up with mass hysteria and a general ignorance of astronomy. Not the best way to end a book on ghost stories.

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Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina

We’re baaaaaaack. Welcome to the second year of Halloween in North Carolina. All month long leading up to Halloween, All Saints Day and All Souls Day, just like last year, I’ll be reviewing more ghost story and folklore books about the state of North Carolina – the creepy, the crawly, the scary. You can still find last year’s reviews here (and you can find the source for this year’s cover pic here).

Again, this won’t be a comprehensive list. For a big start, I still haven’t had time to read all the way through the Frank C. Brown collection. That will just have to wait until next year. For another, on top of all the books I didn’t get to last year, new ones have come out since then. But I have deliberately gone for a wider spread of subject matter and area within the state this time round. Some of it is self-published and very local, so these are stories you may not ever have heard before, even if you’ve read a lot of ghost stories about the Old North State. We’ve got stuff about haunted hospitals, theaters and libraries, photographic studies, and studies of local folklore made in the 1980s. We may even throw in one or two about urban legends.

My current main focus is to write up my collection of Nash County tales and legends by the end of this year. If you know of any tales from Nash, Edgecombe or Wilson counties, please feel free to drop me a line.

Again, this stuff takes time and money to do. If you’re interested in helping me with this research (and would like an early copy when it’s ready), head on over to my Patreon page and join up. I’ll be sharing some chilling tales on there, exclusively for my patrons, all October. You can also help by making a one-time donation on this site or directly through Paypal, or sending me a coffee.

Happy Ghost Hunting!

The reviews:

Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #1: Dixie Spirits (2008)

Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #2: Ghost Cats of the South

Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #3: Black Spirits: The Ghostlore of Afro-American Slaves

Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #4: Whispers from the Past: A Collection of Folklore by North Carolina Students

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

Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #6: North Carolina’s Supernatural Phenomenons

Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #7: North Carolina Ghost Lights and Legends

Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #8: Dead and Gone: Classic Crimes of North Carolina

Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #9: Haunted Theaters of the Carolinas

Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #10: Ghosts of America – North Carolina: True Accounts of Ghosts from North Carolina

Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #11: Our Family Trouble: The Story of the Bell Witch of Tennessee

Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #12: Cape Fear Ghosts

Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #13: Ghosthunting North Carolina

Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #14: Haunted Fort Fisher

Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #15: Haunted Broughton: Tales from the Graveyard Shift

Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #16: Haunted Watauga County, North Carolina

Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #17: Spirits of Stonewall

Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #18: Watch Out for the Hallway: Our Two-Year Investigation of the Most Haunted Library in North Carolina

Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #19: Weird Tales of Martin County

Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #20: Myths and Mysteries of North Carolina

Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #21: Ghostly Spirits of Warren County, North Carolina & Beyond

Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #22: Ghosts of the Triad: Tales from the Haunted Heart of the Piedmont

Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #23: Smoky Mountain Tales, True and Tall, Volume II

Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #24: Haunted Plantations

Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #25: Folk Arts and Folklife in and around Pitt County

Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #26: Spooky North Carolina


Halloween in North Carolina, All Souls’ Day: Bonus Round #2: Scottish Ghosts (1999)


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Seafield, Lily. Scottish Ghosts. Lomond Books, 1999.


So, as promised, I’ve continued my reviews through All Souls’ Day (today), but with the twist that the last two days, since they’re in November, are reviews of ghost stories from other regions than North Carolina. But possibly, these are regions that may have influenced or have similar tropes to what you find in NC.

I picked this one up at the bus station in Glasgow almost two decades ago. It’s one of several books I have of Scottish folklore. The cover above is very nice, but the edition I picked up actually looks like this:

Kinda cheesy, I know. The apparent editorial excuse is that this edition is for kids. It might be a bit too creepy and historical for American kids, though.

Also, for such a short book, it has a whole lot of stories in it – over 150. Each one is maybe a page or two, though the entry on Second Sight in the “Signs, Prophecies and Curses” section is (appropriately) several pages long, as Second Sight is a major part of Scottish folklore. With most entries, the author gets in, gets out, and then moves on to the next, grouping them thematically into several sections, such as “Military Ghosts,” “Fairies, Green Ladies and Devilish Struggles,” and “Poltergeists.” The stories are sometimes sad, sometimes horrifying, sometimes educational. But they’re also mostly fun.

My favorites, of course, tend to be about St Andrews, where I lived for six years. Alas, there are really only two stories (for some reason, the very haunted St Andrews Castle didn’t make it into the “Ghostly Castles” section). St Andrews Cathedral, for example, has a Lady in White and a ghostly monk who haunts St Rule’s Tower. The late-11th century St Rule’s Tower is the tallest (and probably oldest) building in St Andrews. It’s pretty much the only remaining intact structure for St Andrews Cathedral. It’s a bit of a hike that I’ve done a few times, but sadly (or not?), I’ve never seen the monk.

Stories range from the humorous to the creepy to the quite-disturbing. One of the funniest is the large “Demon Crab” of Dundee that crawls out of a drowned ferryman’s coat after he washes up on the beach. The Devil doesn’t last long in that guise, as he is quickly snatched up by a fishwife who happily cooks him for her dinner. One of the creepier ones is a story of a pair of eyes (just eyes) haunting a room in Crail, down the coast from Dundee, in the section, “Ghosts in the House.” And then there’s the scary tale from the “Mind How You Go” section of the Big Grey Man who haunts the mists of Ben MacDuibh in the Cairngorms (Scotland’s mountain range) and attacks anyone who visits it.

The witchcrazes of the 16th and 17th centuries hit Scotland especially hard. It’s believed that thousands were accused and over a thousand executed (by burning at the stake) as a result. You can see the scars of that and the rest of the Covenanters’ repressions to this day on the Scottish landscape (never been fan of John Knox).

The author is sympathetic to the doomed accused witches. She discusses the witchcrazes in her introduction, but also writes about some witch tales more sympathetically than how they appear in North Carolina folklore. The interesting thing is that you can see some Scottish influence (North Carolina has had quite a few Scottish settlers in its early history) on NC folklore.

For example, the famous tale of “The Miller’s Wife” ends fatally in North Carolina lore, with the blame clearly laid on the witchy wife (despite the Miller character being kind of an idiot). In Scotland, you get “The Cursed Mill.” In this story, set near Newtonmore in the Highlands, an old woman curses a miller and his mill. It’s never stated what the insult was, but you start to get some clues as the story progresses.

The first miller dies in a fire. The one after him contracts a fatal illness and the mill burns down. After the mill is rebuilt (because mills were critical to a town or village’s life), the witch relents a little and changes the curse. People can now use the mill for all except one day of the year. The mill runs well once subsequent millers follow these instructions.

However, long after the witch dies, the mill comes into the hands of an ambitious, grasping man who believes the curse is just superstition. So, he uses the mill on that one forbidden day of the year. Predictably, the mill grinds to a standstill. The miller tries again the next year, but this time, rats eat up all his corn. He gives up and sells the mill, but has no fortune in his business ventures thereafter and dies of a wasting illness.

The mill then goes to another man who is kind and gets the mill working again with the help of a young Traveler boy he adopts. After the man dies, the Traveler has to be recalled to get the mill working again. Once he dies, it falls apart for good.

This tale bears a lot of resemblance to the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden, but in this instance, the sin is a refusal to observe a single Sabbath day of rest in the year. We humans just can’t resist crossing boundaries we just shouldn’t cross and that we don’t need to cross. There is also a clear subtext that when the mill is run with kindness rather than covetousness, all goes well. It’s only when the mill is run meanly, with greed, that everything comes to a screeching halt. Here, you can see the mill as a metaphor for Scottish society.

This indicates that the witch’s original grievance was a sound one and the curse not due to an evil nature. It also shows the witch as a productive member of society who brings necessary justice to those who transgress by treating others badly (very different from how witches were perceived back in the Convenanters’ day!). Scottish folklore often shows a balance in the Scottish cultural psyche between great generosity of spirit and the kind of miserliness for which the Scots have too-often become famous (even when it wasn’t true) worldwide. This story is a classic example.

The plan from here on out is to continue reading NC folklore and reviewing the books, just at a slower pace and over on Patreon. If you found these enjoyable, and want to follow my research plans, you can do so there. I’ll still be posting stuff here (including my Supernatural recaps and possibly reviews), but it will involve another one of my projects this month (likely, my mom’s family cookbook). I got a lot done on the NC folklore stuff in October and now that I am thoroughly creeped out, I need to do some other stuff.


Did you enjoy this review? You can help keep the project going by contributing monthly via Patreon (which includes perks), making a one-time donation through Paypal, or buying us a coffee. And don’t forget to check out my ghostly folklore notes all month on Patreon!