Tag Archives: ghost stories

Halloween in North Carolina: Day 14: Best Ghost Tales of North Carolina (2006; 2011)


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Zepke, Terrance. Best Ghost Tales of North Carolina. 2nd ed. Pineapple Press, Inc., 2006; 2011.


General wisdom would indicate that unless you’re a completist like me, you should try anything which has “best of” in the title in it early on in your reading binge to avoid boredom and repetition. This is true to a certain extent for Best Ghost Tales of North Carolina.

You’ve got a lot of the old standards here, like the Maco Light, Blackbeard, The Devil’s Tramping Ground (which Zepke calls “The Devil’s Stomping Ground”), Lydia’s Bridge, the Brown Mountain Lights, and the mystery of the wreck of the Carroll A. Deering. There are also some lesser-known, but still oft-told stories like the mystery of the death of the Hermit of Fort Fisher, haunted Old Salem Tavern, and Helen’s Bridge, as well as the creepy story of the door that wouldn’t stay closed.

Probably the most original material here is Zepke’s introduction (in which she explains both her background as a ghost hunter and folklorist, and the revisions she’s made to update the 2011 edition), and her chapter on safe and ethical ghost hunting, “How to Conduct a Ghost Hunt.” I highly recommend the latter. There’s a lot of good advice and she even gives a specific recommended equipment list.

By far the creepiest tale of the lot is one I hadn’t heard before: “The Shadow Man” from Big Lick in Stanly County. Man, what is it about Stanly County?

“The Family That Didn’t Exist,” from Cedar Mountain (Transylvania County), is one I had heard before, but Zepke tells quite an eerie rendition of it. This is the story of a man who, long after his wife and children died in an epidemic, continued to have dinner with their ghosts (at least, according to the occasional traveler who stopped by and took shelter with them). As a matter of fact, Zepke is quite a decent storyteller. She also includes some illustrations that will give you a chill.

Zepke is one of the more conscientious when it comes to giving time and place (or at least place) to these stories. Each one is carefully introduced according to town (or unincorporated area) and county. She even gives the reader an index. There aren’t a whole lot of citations in her Resources section, but she beefs them up by annotating each one.

Overall, a pretty worthwhile read for such a slim (and general topic) volume.


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


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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doo-doo-doo-doo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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Halloween in North Carolina

Welcome to Halloween in North Carolina. All month long, I’ll be reviewing ghost story and folklore books about the state of North Carolina. The Old North State has a lot of eerie tales, some new, some old, some startling, and some downright frightening.

North Carolina is the only state to have its folklore thoroughly catalogued in a seven-volume series, The Frank C. Brown Collection of North Carolina Folklore. Brown collected stories from 1912 until his death in 1943, and the series was published in 1951. It’s available online. The state also had its own WPA guide (a research project from the 1930s). In addition, there is Tom Peete Cross’ lengthy article, “Witchcraft in North Carolina” (1919), and Elsie Clews Parsons’ “Tales from Guilford County” (1917), among others, that have preserved a lot of the stories that have since appeared in more popular collections.

But much new folklore has popped up since the 1950s. You’ve got Bigfoot and Goat Farm Road and Piney Grove Church and Stateline (Satan’s) Bridge, etc., etc., etc. We’ll talk about those stories, too.

I’ve been collecting books and articles and websites about North Carolina ghost stories for years, but this will be by no means a comprehensive list. The bibliography of published books alone would be at least three times as many as what I can review this month. But I can give you a pretty good idea of what’s out there. And perhaps, I can give you some creepy new material to read and retell.

My current two projects are a book on tales from the Tri-County (Edgecombe, Wilson and Nash) area in Eastern NC and one on tales about the Devil in North Carolina. But this stuff takes time and money to do. If you’re interested in helping me with this research (or you just want to check out my notes and other such perks), head on over to my Patreon page and join up. 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 articles:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #13: Witchcraft in North Carolina (1919)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #14: Best Ghost Tales of North Carolina (2006; 2011)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #15: The “Wettest & Wickedest Town” (Salisbury, NC) (2011)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #16: Haunted Uwharries (2009)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #17: Ghosts of Old Salem, North Carolina (2014)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #18: Ghosts of the Yadkin Valley (2009)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #19: Ghosts of the Triangle: Historic Haunts of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill (2009)

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

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #21: Looking for “Lydia”: The Thirty-Year Search for the Jamestown Hitchhiker (2018)

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

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #23: Cursed in the Carolinas (2017)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #24: The Lost Colony in Literature (1985)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #25: Legends of the Outer Banks and Tar Heel Tidewater (1966)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #26: Ghost Stories and Legends of Murphy, NC (2015)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #27: North Carolina’s Haunted Hundred, Volume 1: Seaside Spectres (2002)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #28: North Carolina’s Haunted Hundred, Volume 2: Piedmont Phantoms (2002)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #29: North Carolina’s Haunted Hundred, Volume 3: Haints of the Hills (2002)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #30: Ghost Tales of the Moratoc (1992)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #31: Pirates and Ghosts of the Carolinas’ Coast (2014)

Halloween in North Carolina, All Saints’ Day: Bonus Round #1: The Little Book of the Hidden People (2015)

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