Tag Archives: ghost stories

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

Many apologies for the lateness of this. As some of you may have noticed, my site was down (for the second time in the month) for a day or two over the weekend. I’ll spare you the technical details, but it took a few calls and some shouting at my website provider to get things fixed. Unfortunately, that took up the time and energy I was going to use to do these reviews, my latest Supernatural review, and class work. So, I’m currently about five days behind. All this means is that we will be going into November with the ghost story reviews until we get the full 31 (possibly not every single day), though I will continue to post them as timed in October, so that all you need do is click on that month to get to them. Sorry about the delay.

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.

Schlosser, S.E. Spooky North Carolina: Tales of Hauntings, Strange Happenings, and Other Local Lore. Paul G. Hoffman, illustrator. Morris Book Publishing, 2009.

Having previously read another entry in this series (Spooky New Jersey) and found it underwhelming, I had an idea about the format for this one. The author takes stories from around a state and basically fictionalizes them. Even though she has a long bibliography at the end (from which she clearly took lots of “inspiration”), she doesn’t give a whole lot on which to confirm or deny her details. Even with a map supplied near the beginning, the stories often feel set in some vague Never Never Land. So, you certainly can’t rely on any of these as being the “true” account of a myth or legend.

Most of these stories were quite well-known, to the point where I often could tell where she embellished. I think only the ghost dog in the mirror (from Boone) and the healing ghost of the suicidal father (from Raleigh) were ones I had never heard of before as either a specific tale or a collection of tales.

I think my favorite was the Jesus tale from Bat Cave about an itinerant carpenter who is hired by a farmer to build a fence blocking out his neighbor, with whom the farmer has a long-time feud. Instead, the carpenter builds a bridge, reconciles the two neighbors, and heals the farmer’s crippled son, to boot.

Blackbeard’s ghost from Ocracoke, the Little Red Man of Old Salem, Tsali’s protective Cherokee spirit of Smoky Mountains National Park, the fictional White Doe of Roanoke Island, the Dare County woman haunted by her sister after stealing the ring off her dead finger, the Maco Light, the fratricidal man from Murphy “plucked” to death by his brother’s ghost, they’re all here. There are even some lesser-known stories like the (mysterious, but quite real phenomenon) Seneca Guns of the Outer Banks.

This narrative storytelling approach isn’t necessarily a problem for most people. But the other issue is that while some of these stories are well-written and entertaining, they’re not very chilling. I know for a fact these tales have been told in more harrowing ways elsewhere, but there wasn’t a lot of Boo Factor in this one. The illustrations don’t help in that they are folksy and interesting, but not eerie like the ones in Haunted Uwharries from last year. As I recall, Spooky New Jersey wasn’t very scary, either. There was only one exception (involving a Satanic hitchhiker) that I even remember, let alone remember it being unnerving (though, in fairness, that one was a doozy).

Just to check whether I’d finally become too jaded to get scared easily, anymore, by ghost story books, I read an article of ten scary, true stories told by law enforcement officers. It was pretty creepy. So, the fault, Dear Brutus, lies in this book. ‘Cause I ain’t that hard to creep out.

Because of all the embellishment, I found the extra detail in some of these stories less than compelling. It was most obvious in the Witch in the Mill story (from Edenton) that comes directly from Daniel Barefoot’s Haunted Hundred series. The Barefoot version does not have a daughter character (let alone one as a narrator) in it.

So, when I read a whole lot more detail in the Boo Hag story from Elizabeth City (mostly to do with the Haint Blue around the doors and windows keeping her out, and her preying on her husband to sell to her Boo Daddy) than I had encountered before in that legend, I was suspicious of the extra detail. Was it really part of the original Gullah legend or had the author added it in?

Other embellished stories suffered from the heavy emphasis on narrative and lack of analytical distance. The one about the Raven Mockers (from Cherokee), far from sounding like a straight-up heroic tale of a Cherokee shaman who protects his tribe from the titular witches (as you normally get in tales about Spearfinger, say), has the disturbing subtext of a vicious witchcraze straight out of Salem, Massachusetts. The author showed a similar disinterest in exploring the Unfortunate Implications in her tales about witches and cats. A lot of misery was caused by these superstitions (still is, one could argue), so I’m leery of signing off on being oblivious to their ugly real-life history.

The stories I liked best (besides the Jesus tale) were a collection of Mountain tales in the middle of the book about various kinds of premonitions and death omens. In one (from Pineola), a woman has an elaborate waking dream in which she correctly predicts a complicated series of events where her sister-in-law runs away with a man, who is then shot dead by the SIL’s own brother. In another (Watauga County), a old country doctor whose father dropped dead at the age of 62 after seeing his doppelgänger, has a similar encounter at the same age, in the woods returning from a night call early one morning. It doesn’t end well for him.

In his book on Scottish folklore, The Supernatural Highlands, Francis Thompson refers to people who have these kinds of precog waking dreams as “seers.” There’s quite a tradition surrounding them in Scottish Celtic lore. “The Coffin” (Fayetteville) fits easily into this tradition.

Are these stories badly told? No, not really. They pass the time easily enough. Just don’t expect them to be … well … scary.

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

Many apologies for the lateness of this. As some of you may have noticed, my site was down (for the second time in the month) for a day or two over the weekend. I’ll spare you the technical details, but it took a few calls and some shouting at my website provider to get things fixed. Unfortunately, that took up the time and energy I was going to use to do these reviews, my latest Supernatural review, and class work. So, I’m currently about five days behind. All this means is that we will be going into November with the ghost story reviews until we get the full 31, though I will continue to post them as timed in October, so that all you need to do is click on that month to get to them. Sorry about the delay.

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.

Baldwin, Karen, et al., eds. Folk Arts and Folklife in and around Pitt County: A Handbook and Resource Guide. Illustrated by David Norris. East Carolina University Folklore Archive, Department of English, Greenville, NC, 1990.

Folk Arts and Folklife in and around Pitt County (Pitt County, whose largest city is Greenville, is to the immediate southeast of me) is one of the more important folklore collections in North Carolina. Its introduction states that it’s intended as a resource for teachers (grade school and high school) in teaching about “folklife.” Only the last section involves itself with ghost tales and legends, though Henry Cowan, a cement sculptor and storyteller in the Material Arts section, also tells a supernatural tale or two about witches.

As you can guess, this book (which, alas, is not available online and was published in a very limited edition in 1990) comes out of the same tradition as that of Weird Tales of Martin County (which it mentions) and Whispers from the Past (which it doesn’t, though both came out the same year). There are sections on practitioners of the material arts and musical arts, occupational folklife, regional cookery, home medicine & midwifery, and (last and treated as least) narrative arts. Narrative Arts is where you find the rest of the witch tales, some ghost and UFO stories, and a short section about a tornado that hit a trailer park in 1984 because … it’s about the spread of urban legends, I guess. Honestly, I think they just didn’t know where else to put it.

“Folklife,” according to Lexico (the online version of the Oxford English Dictionary), is defined as “The way of life of a rural or traditional community. ” The book doesn’t give much of a definition of what it means by this word, but the impression I got was “Stuff old people do out in the country and isn’t that quaint.” Unfortunately, 1990 was back in the day when academics still tended to look down their noses at “folk” art and this book, unfortunately, follows in that tradition. It’s especially annoying to see now-famous whirligig makers Lester Gay and Vollis Simpson treated in a rather head-patting manner as quirky local eccentric inventors.

One could argue that the book is intended, basically, as a sort of textbook for grade school and high school, but that’s hardly an excuse. Tom Peete Cross managed to tell a rousing good tale in his copious footnotes for “Witchcraft in North Carolina” in 1919, while there was a lot more charging the horror engine for W.K. McNeil’s Ghost Stories from the American South (1985) than this book. This one comes across as condescending at times toward its subjects, a little pompous, and (too often) deadly dull.

The reason can be gleaned from a comparison to what the above two sources (as well as the Frank C. Brown Collection) did right. The introduction to Folk Arts and Folklife in and around Pitt County: A Handbook and Resource Guide claims that it was kept short (90 pages) because of limitations of space. It never explains why such limitations existed. Maybe someone thought a longer book wouldn’t fit the grade school format or maybe they ran out of budget.

But this leads to a rather odd mix of raw interview quotes of the subjects (who are often fascinating, especially Gospel/Jazz musicians like the Vines Sisters, just not presented that way) with some droning on about sociological theories of folklore and the barest minimum of context. And I think the lack of context is the real problem. You get a little biographical information about the subjects, but it’s bare bones. You get even less about the history of the towns in question.

Folklore motifs get the shortest shrift. The intros to the tales about the witch cat or the boyfriend’s head, for example, mention that these are old tropes, but don’t go any further and barely mention Stith Thompson. There are several family stories of dead relatives returning to haunt the living, with far more emphasis on the idea that this is how the family kept their history and far less exploration of them as actual ghost stories.

A quite-fascinating (if short) story about a car going dead near a sighting of mysterious red lights on NC 43 north of Rocky Mount (so, probably still in Nash County) is buried in the middle of a group of UFO stories (most of which sound like cases of mistaking an airplane or star/planet for an extraterrestrial craft). Thing is, this story could easily be a case of ghost lights and/or a roadside revenant, but the possibility is simply ignored. There’s a lot of that kind of thing in this book and that makes it a bit of a disappointment.

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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 #22: Ghosts of the Triad: Tales from the Haunted Heart of the Piedmont

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.

Renegar Michael, and Amy Spease. Ghosts of the Triad: Tales from the Haunted Heart of the Piedmont. Haunted America, 2011 (ebook edition: 2013).

When I saw one of the authors of this was Michael Renegar and the other was Amy Spease (Greer), I perked right up, despite having read several books about this area, already. Although I haven’t yet got hold of Roadside Revenants, I thoroughly enjoyed Looking for Lydia: The Thirty-Year Search for the Jamestown Hitchhiker and Tar Heel Terrors last year. I had a feeling I would be in for a good, well-researched yarn and I was not disappointed.

First things first – let’s establish where the Triad is. The authors do a solid job of this in their first chapter. Which is good because I initially confused the Triad with the Triangle. The Research Triangle is an urban region of three cities in Wake, Durham, Orange and Chatham counties: Raleigh (the capital), Durham and Chapel Hill. These are more-or-less in the center, in the Piedmont region. Where I am about an hour east is known as the much-more-rural Tri-County area of Nash, Edgecombe and Wilson counties on the Upper Coastal Plain. But then you’ve got Tri-County Community College in the western part of the state, which serves Cherokee, Clay and Graham counties.

So, the Triad is points further west of Raleigh, rather than east. It comprises Winston-Salem, Greensboro and High Point, in Forsyth and Guilford counties. As the authors note, it’s smack dab in the middle of the Piedmont. Hence the subtitle.

If you’ve been reading my reviews, you’ll already know about a fair number of famous ghosts from Moravian Old Salem. The authors start right off with the most famous one – the Little Red Man. Contrary to his sinister name, which evokes the vicious Scottish Borders goblin Redcap, Andreas Kremser was a real person. This cheerful shoemaker and Moravian brother died horribly when a cellar caved in on him in 1786. He is (or was, since a visiting, rather intolerant minister reportedly exorcised him about a century ago) a mischievous, but friendly, spirit who likes to play pranks on people, but won’t hurt anyone.

The authors also discuss the tavern ghost in Old Salem of a man who died without identification, but visited the innkeeper after his death to send a message to his brother in Texas. The message duly sent and received, and the man’s family arrived to retrieve his possessions, the ghost never haunted the inn again.

Spease tells of a house her parents bought in the Historic Waughtown District (Winston-Salem), before moving away. After moving back in as an adult, she didn’t mind the hauntings at first. The resident ghost was a benign elderly lady. But the house later became infested by a darker aura and the appearance of shadow people. She met her co-author Michael Renegar in the process of trying to figure out what was going on and they tried several ways of “cleansing” the house. Nothing worked, at least not for long. Eventually, after a particularly scary dream involving coffins, she was forced to move out. Her stepfather still owned it, but no one lived in it, at the time of publication (2011).

The chapter on the bizarre life and mysterious shooting of tobacco empire heir Zachary Smith Reynolds (1911-1932) at Reynolda House in Winston-Salem is almost a textbook case in how you write the family history of an old house in an interesting way. The shocking case of Reynolds’ Jazz Age death (murder? Suicide? Misadventure? The jury remains out) actually overshadows reports of the path outside the house being haunted by Reynolds’ mother, Katharine.

Other famous sites like Korner’s Folly in Kernersville get a look-in, and there are several haunted theaters and inns. But some of these tales come about from the authors’ own experiences or their investigations of historic houses as Camel City Spirit Seekers. This results in a lot of talk about EVPs and we get to see folkloric stories at various stages in their development.

For example, Spease reports a haunting of a backyard that started after one of her neighbors hanged himself outside his house. There are stories of ghostly encounters with phantom soldiers at the site of The Battle of Guilford Courthouse (1781) in the National Military Park in Greensboro. Lydia gets a chapter, but she’s not the only roadside revenant. And then there’s Spookywoods Haunted Attraction in Archdale, near High Point, which is allegedly really haunted by ghost lights and other shadowy figures. It’s open this time of year, so you can go check it out for yourself.

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

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.

Bice, Arlene S. Ghostly Spirits of Warren County, North Carolina & Beyond: Extrordinary True Stories Told By Ordinary People. 2016.

Perhaps I should have seen the misspelling (not mine) of “extraordinary” in the title as a bad sign. But as I’ve said in the past, self-published local collections of ghostlore can be good, despite the need for a decent proofreader or copy editor in some (most?) of them. This one, however, was more in the category of requiring a substantive editor. This is a revised version, too. Go figure.

I’ll admit to being a bit more salty than usual with this book. I paid over twice as much as I generally would for a Kindle book (this one cost $5.99 in Kindle format, $14.00 in paperback). If you’re going to charge me for that, at least deliver a final product with some decent editing.

A big problem is that the author just tosses a lot of stuff in that not only includes the kitchen sink, but the plumbing all the way out to the septic tank, for good measure. For example, she reproduces interviews with owners of Warren County Antebellum mansions, in their entirety. She does things like, “Mr. X continues, ‘As soon as we finished the renovation, the ghosts came back.” Cue a long and rambling account, with plenty of side trips well outside the county. This is standard for the way people interview, but it should have been incorporated more coherently into the book itself.

That’s too bad, because the section on Traveler’s Rest (AKA the Devil’s Den) that comprises the first quarter of the book could have been quite fascinating. The city itself (which is near the northern border of North Carolina) got its official name from being an important stop for travelers from the 18th century onward. Kind of like Natchez down in Mississippi, but in the North Carolina mountains.

We get the story behind both names. A respectable woman forced to stay at Traveler’s Tavern (now The Marshall-Moore House), sometime after it was built in 1788, referred to the tavern after her night there as “the Devil’s Den.” Guess it wasn’t to her taste.

The house’s reputation has continued into the 21st century (though it’s funny how what started out as an Early American den of ill repute has come up in the world by dint of sheer survival over nearly two and a half centuries). A “clairvoyant” student of one of the owners Bice interviewed declared about the house, “The walls are full of black snakes and the house is full of spirits!”

That said, the spirits don’t seem to get up to an awful lot of specific things that the snakes and bugs in the walls don’t. Keys go missing. Doors are found open. The smell of roses occasionally appears. More interesting is the nearby roadside revenant, a gentle haunt that appears as the ghost of a white mule. This spirit goes back to the days of the horse and buggy, when it would appear, peeking over the side of the wagon, to the astonishment of the occupants.

We get a lot about haunted Antebellum piles like Oakley Hall Plantation in Ridgeway (owned by the same people who owned and renovated The Marshall-Moore House) or the Somerville-Graham House in Warrenton. There’s also a very odd chapter on a woman Bice met while doing jury duty who had visions of angels and shadow people, protecting her from harm or trying to get her to do evil. In another chapter, the author is invited to a ghostly children’s tea party at the Putnam House (also in Warrenton).

The chapters tend to be of different lengths and they ramble quite a bit. Lots of family history is stuffed in, with a mind-numbing parade of names and dates of the biblical “begat” variety. Yet, basic info like the house’s location by town and how long it’s been there is buried in the text. These are quite-famous houses, too, so protecting the owners’ privacy doesn’t seem to be the reason.

In these chapters, house owners do renovations that rev up the spirits. Then they talk to them, reason with them, yell at them, do cleansings and banishings with sage, bring in psychic investigators, and so on. Dealing with the ghosts becomes part of dealing with the general environment of the house.

Here and there appear photos taken at the sites by the author. Some of them have rather … odd … photographic anomalies. You decide for yourself what they may entail. Personally, I found them intriguing and creepy. I would have liked some more info on them.

There is also an interview late in the book, with Michael La Chiana from The Heritage Hunters Society (THHS), a paranormal investigation group out of Raleigh, that probably should have appeared earlier. The chapter also references G.H.O.S.T.S and NC Hags, both also out of Raleigh. The group did an investigation on The Putnam House.

The Legends section talks about Person’s Ordinary (c.1770) in Littleton. An ordinary was a stagecoach stop/inn for lower-class people who could not get introductions to the nicer mansions of the rich when they traveled. Stains on the floor allegedly come from an assassination attempt on the visiting (incognito) General Lafayette, who killed the assassin in the struggle. The other story is about a local ghost light called Bragg Light, named after a prominent local Antebellum family.

The author runs out of steam about two-thirds of the way through. To pad the book up a bit, she includes a final section about Lake Gaston – but it’s not actually about Lake Gaston. It’s stories told by people who visit Lake Gaston from other places, who had experiences in those other places. This greatly disappointed me, as I would have liked to have heard some tales about the lake.

Bice does include a short bibliography at the end that has some sources I hadn’t seen before. So, there’s that. I just wish the content that came before it had been better organized.

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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

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.

Madia, Tonya and Joey Madia. Watch Out for the Hallway: Our Two-Year Investigation of the Most Haunted Library in North Carolina. Visionary Living, Inc., September 25, 2018.

When I first discovered this book, I got pretty excited about it. Basically, my first impression was that this book was like what Haunted Broughton turned out to be and Haunted Broughton would be like what this turned out to be. Go figure.

So, I was thinking, “Hey! Now I have a book of hauntings related to a specific hospital and one related to a specific library! Yay!” The library in question, by the way, is the Webb Memorial Library in Morehead City, which is down near Beaufort on the southeastern coast of the state.

Now, some of the book is actually pretty decent. The chapter about the spirits upstairs (even though the whole extended infodump about the “vortex” theory is silly) is pretty scary. In fact, the title is an alleged quote from a warning by one of the friendly ghosts about the upstairs hallway.

There’s a lot about the history of the library and all the events that probably caused the haunting folklore. The courtyard coming into the library, for example, is apparently quite haunted and people not-infrequently see things from the street such as lights going on and figures in the windows.

The “investigation” of the library occurred over a two-year period roughly 2016-7. This is something of a misnomer/exaggeration. What the authors actually did was conduct regular ghost tours at the library and keep detailed records about them. That’s hardly nothing, but bringing groups of civilians through a place like that doesn’t strike me as something nearly as professional as an investigation.

Lord, was this book tedious and bloated in parts. Stories in the chapters wander and twist and take a long time getting to the point. The authors go into a lot of detail about Tonya’s alleged psychic gifts. As I said in my review of Ghosthunting North Carolina, I’m not into that. I feel that if you’re going to create your own New Age narratives about the local folklore, at least tell me about the original stuff you’re riffing from, first.

There’s an embarrassing moment in the introduction when the authors are talking about their experiences prior to coming to the library. They once set up a Lakota sweat lodge outside their house in West Virginia and then experienced an increase in paranormal activity. A Shawnee friend pointed out that no Lakota had never lived in that area, so the local spirits might be a bit miffed. Cultural appropriation at its most well-intentioned, but obtuse.

One of the most frustrating parts of the authors incessantly going on about their psychic abilities was that the writing often made it unclear whether someone sitting in a chair in the library was a living member of a ghost tour, a ghost everyone could see, or just a strong impression one of the Madias had of them. It’s deceptive because a lot of the communication actually occurs via flashing lights on instruments. This vagueness had a tendency to “Scooby-Doo” the very ghost encounters that are the intended selling point of the book.

Ultimately, yes, there’s a lot of info about the library’s (and neighborhood’s) folklore and ghost stories. But boy, is it a wade to get to it in some cases.

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

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.

Ricks, T.E. “Spirits of Stonewall – Good and Otherwise.” Dec. 1996.

“Spirits of Stonewall” is a short article on ghost folklore surrounding Stonewall Manor by the late local historian T.E. Ricks (1931-2006). A realtor most of his life, he was also considered the “unofficial historian of Nash County.”

Theophilus Edward Ricks, by his own admission, was not a believer in ghosts. But he was asked by the Nash County Historical Association to write up the known folklore for Stonewall Manor in 1996 and so, he did. Despite his protestations, these stories even included an experience or two of his own. In the process, he managed to pack quite a lot of ghost storytelling into two and a half pages, single-spaced.

A short explanation about Stonewall Manor and why it’s important: Stonewall Manor is currently one of the two oldest houses in Rocky Mount, NC, on the Nash County side. It is an antebellum Greek Revival mansion right off U.S. 64 and Benvenue Avenue. The mansion is a little hard to see due to the trees from Benvenue, but you can see it lit up like a Christmas tree at night from 64.

The first owner of Stonewall, Bennett Bunn, owned most of the surrounding area as part of his plantation when he built the house around 1830. The house was later bought by nearby Rocky Mount Mills (another reputedly haunted site) as a superintendent’s house. Stonewall has seen a lot of history and unfortunately, it is now in so much disrepair that it’s not open to the public (I have been inside it, though).

Just due to its age, it’s no surprise that Stonewall has a reputation for being haunted. But if you should run across the odd story about it (it’s not a common stop on the usual statewide, book-length ghost tour), you’re liable to trace most of them back to this article. That’s not to say that Ricks made it all up, so much as he was the first person to delve into the topic and write down all the local oral history about the mansion’s ghostlore.

The most notable motif (not surprising in light of how inaccessible the interior of the house has become) is that of teenagers coming up to visit the grounds at night and seeing ghostly figures in the windows. One of Ricks’ sources reported a woman cradling a baby in one window and another woman who screams blue murder from a balcony and then vanishes.

Ricks’ own experiences center around a door on the second floor that seemed to unlock itself no matter how many times he locked it, despite the house being otherwise deserted. At one point, he came upstairs and found the entire doorknob out and lying on the floor nearby – with parts missing.

Perhaps the most intriguing ghost, however, is that of a young boy. He was seen by a young “soldier” in a Civil War reenactment, who was in the house with Ricks at the time, not long before Ricks wrote the article. The reenactor walked into a room and saw a spectral little boy crouched near the window, who looked at him and whispered, “You came. You came.”

Ricks was able to track down the history behind the haunting and discover a gentle soul named Ronald E. Stevens Jr., who died of meningitis at age five in 1938. “Ronnie” is buried in town with his parents, in Pineview Cemetery. Ricks was even able to track down Ronald’s sister and get some reminiscences from her about him. The soldier witnessed the boy’s apparition just two weeks before the 58th anniversary of his death on November 23.

November is coming up next month. If you’re curious, you may drive up to Stonewall some night to see if little Ronnie still wants to play.

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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

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.

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.

Did you enjoy this review? You can help keep this 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.