Tag Archives: Halloween

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

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Cross, Tom Peete. “Witchcraft in North Carolina.” Studies in Philology, 16:3 (Jul. 1919): 217-287. Reprinted Forgotten Books, 2018.

This is the second-oldest of the books that I’m reviewing this month and it, too, is technically an article. But it is a very important article that is nearly as long as a book in pages, and easily packs enough for any three regular ghost story collections. It is dense. It is arcane. It is well-researched. Though obviously dated (having come out in 1919), it has footnote sections that are two-thirds the length of the page. But in those footnotes, you will find some stories that may well make you want to read with all the lights on.

“Witchcraft in North Carolina” is a very comprehensive study of its subject. Also, unlike many academic articles, it firmly places its regional topic within the larger subject of witchcraft with a brief history and overview of that subject up to that point in time (99 years ago). This is quite useful, for Virginian folklorist and Celtic scholar Tom Peete Cross (1879-1951) holds to the theory that all witchcraft is based on the concept of maleficium – that some people have the power to do magic that can both help and harm others. The ones who do harm are called “witches,” though the line can be very blurred between helpers and harmers.

Stuart McDonald, Canadian author of The Witches of Fife: Witch-Hunting in a Scottish Shire, 1560-1710 (2002), would argue there is also an element in which political and religious elites use witchcraft charges to root out and eliminate “heretical” dissent. Hence why I reviewed this article today. Today is the 711th anniversary of the arrest (for heresy) of the Knights Templar in France. Their subsequent multi-year trial became an exemplar for later trials during the witchcrazes, even though the Templars had been tried as heretics (and the results were ultimately and officially inconclusive). The witch accusation evolved out of the heresy accusation.

There was certainly this “heresy” element in the Salem Trials (and previous Puritan witch trials) of 1692. However, North Carolina was a very different area. North Carolinians were notoriously irreligious early on and had a different mix of Europeans, Africans and Native Americans than New England. From what I’ve seen in my research, the more humble maleficium was pretty much what you got in NC.

That doesn’t mean that witches were treated better than in Puritan New England, but “conjurers,” were perhaps tolerated more. One really intriguing element is how Cross notes that the distinction between “witch” and “ghost” is fairly meaningless in North Carolina. In NC folklore, witches are not human, but are spirits or demons, already.

So, a story like “The Witch Cat” can have versions where a house is haunted variously by witches (in the form of a black cat) or ghosts, and the ghosts are usually a headless man. The Headless Man in Celtic folklore is actually a fairy (themselves often conflated with the unbaptized dead) called a Dullahan, a very dark member of the Unseelie Court whose appearance invariably signals death – except when the story is mixed up with a dead man’s ghost who is seeking to give away his hidden treasure to a worthy person. Yeah, folklore mutates like that.

Witches in NC folklore are also adept shapeshifters, usually appearing as a black cat or a sow or a black dog. Black dogs (also known as “black shucks“) have their whole own sinister folklore from the British Isles that connects them to fairies, as well, but they can be found all over the world. The measures traditionally used against a witch indicate a cringe-worthy and grim history of extreme animal abuse, especially against black cats. But curiously, there are also traditions where cats shouldn’t be harmed, especially if they are black.

Overall, while this is definitely an academic article and it’s definitely aged, “Witchcraft in North Carolina” is worth a read if you are looking for material for your own stories or want to find out more about NC folklore and its origins. I’ve included a link to it, but there are other, free versions available around the internet, since it’s now well out of copyright.

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The Official Supernatural: “Exodus” (13.22) Live Recap Thread

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My collected recaps and reviews of season one, which first appeared on Innsmouth Free Press, are now up (with a few extras) on Kindle. The Kindle version is available through Amazon and is on sale through this Friday. The print version is also up. If you buy the print version, you get a Kindle copy thrown in for free. I also get paid if you get it on Kindle Unlimited (for free), read the Kindle version, or lend it to a friend via the Kindle Owners Lending Library. Reviews also help with sales. Just FYI.

Okay [cracks knuckles]. Let’s blow through this one and get to the season premiere.

So, we start with an overly long and detailed recap (two minutes) of the season so far. And we come back to Now, which is Sam getting hugged by Mary, while Dean asks him how he got away. Sam admits that Lucifer brought him back.

Lucifer, of course, immediately starts humble-bragging about what a great guy he is and immediately sidles up to a confused Jack. This sparks an instant custody battle between Dean and Castiel on one side and Lucifer on the other (Sam is conspicuously silent). Jack loses it and flies off, leaving them all behind.

Cue title cards.

Gabriel goes after Jack, while Dean yells at Lucifer. Lucifer claims he’s an ally now and he’s even beaten Michael once (as if!). No one believes him. To “prove” his point, Lucifer lets Castiel slap some demonic cuffs on him. Lucifer also tells them that he left Rowena enough grace for about 31 hours left of rift-time. So, Sam sets a clock. Yay. Flash to Rowena at the Bunker, getting a migraine trying to keep the thing open.

Sam apologizes to Dean for bringing Lucifer along. Dean tells him it’s fine, since Dean thought he was dead and now he’s alive again. Dean hugs him. Then they discuss Lucifer and Sam insists he will take care of Lucifer. Dean looks skeptical. Well, we all know how that turned out.

Jack, exhausted from flying around, leans against a tree trunk and recaps his entire friggin’ biography, hitting mostly on the mistakes. Bored now.

As Castiel is dragging him past her, Lucifer unwisely decides to taunt Mary (because that went so well with Rowena). She punches him in the face. Her sons, coming in from stage left, express appreciation.

That appreciation turns a bit sour when she tells them she’s staying in the alt-SPNverse to save a bunch of people she hardly knows. Both brothers protest (especially Dean), but she seems adamant. Oh, Mary, you can be such a bitch, sometimes.

Sam decides to break the deadlock by suggesting they bring everyone back. I’m not quite sure why Mary was so concerned about supplies before, because it turns out there are only 25 people in the camp. Jeez, a couple of episodes ago, she was acting as though they had hundreds. If you’re wondering why the writing got so linear, especially in favor of making Sam look like a Big Damn Hero for not much effort, and why the pacing drags with so much filler, yep, this is a Nepotism Duo script.

Jack comes back, just as Lucifer is trying to manipulate Castiel. Castiel tries to dissuade Jack from having conversation with Lucifer. It doesn’t go particularly well. Jack insists on talking to Lucifer and Lucifer immediately turns on the charm. Jack’s first question is “Why does everyone hate you?”

Lucifer whines and downplays and blames humans, though he falters a bit when Jack brings up his own mother. Lucifer is awfully persuasive and manages to make it seem as though he is the victim. The monologue goes on long enough for me to say “Y’all aren’t Shakespeare, Buckner and Ross-Leming. Wrap it up.”

Sure enough, Jack decides to be persuades by Lucifer’s greasy buttering up. And then they all walk out to the rift because it’s not as though they’ve got two archangels and a naphil who could fly everyone to the rift, one by one, pretty much instantly. Oh, wait.

Gabriel is getting chased by a group of angels (speaking of characters with wings not using them). He warns everyone and the two groups face off. Then Lucifer wastes the angel squad because it turns out the demonic cuffs don’t work on him in the alt-SPNverse. For convenient plot reasons.

Man, I hate recapping Nepotism Duo episodes.

So, after that damp squib of a conflict, everyone arrives at alt-Bobby’s. Alt-Bobby remembers the Brothers, is strangely nice to them, and generally protests far too much that he’s not basically Bobby resurrected. Okeydoke.

We hear that Ketch and alt-Charlie have gone off to hunt down some angel squad that’s executing Resistance members. Any excuse that keeps any version of Charlie off my screen is fine by me.

Lucifer is still shmoozing Jack with his own, weird distorted version of family history and Jack’s illustrious family tree. He tries to get Gabriel to play along, but Gabriel calls him out on it and stalks off.

Unfortunately, we “get” to see Ketch and alt-Charlie’s raid, such as it is (she gets herself easily captured and Ketch, completely out of character, gives up his weapon and surrenders). Morticia Addams channels my feelings, both about Charlie and The Cat in the Hat: “Oh, no. She lives.”

Sam, Dean and Mary are engaged in a recruitment speech for bringing people back so they can get some lore and return to beat alt-Michael when alt-Bobby magically gets news that alt-Charlie and Ketch were captured. How this news got back, let alone so quickly, and why the two of them were out there on a raid alone in the first place are not questions that are about to be answered. So, we’ll move on. The important thing here is that while Ketch is getting the crap beaten out of him and alt-Charlie is looking upset while tied to a chair, the Brothers decide to go rescue them. Because clearly, they don’t already have enough on their plate and alt-Bobby’s crew are clueless. Gee, if only they had some people on their side with wings – oh, wait.

Now, keep in mind that this is the second-to-last episode of the season, and the show really doesn’t have room for extra storylines. So, of course, now is the perfect time to bring all the plot momentum to a screeching halt so that we can have Ketch and alt-Charlie meet…wait for it, now…the alt-SPNverse version of Castiel. You heard me. And how do you know he’s EVOL!Cas? Because Misha Collins uses a really bad German accent and sneers a lot.

That’s good, because back at base camp, Dean is having Our!Cas torture the guy who set up Ketch and alt-Charlie into giving up their location. We surely don’t want to be confused, or anything.

Gabriel and Lucifer are told (by Dean) to stay back at the camp in case any angels come by. Because I’m sure they wouldn’t be useful on this raid, or anything, what with having wings. Gabriel tells Lucifer some cold, hard truths about Jack, that “he’s a kid; he likes shiny objects and magic tricks,” but that he is also fundamentally different from Lucifer. Whether it’s his human blood or his human upbringing, Jack is probably already mostly beyond Lucifer’s corruptive influence.

Lucifer insists he’s changed. Gabriel mocks this, pointing out he’s known Lucifer since the world began. Lucifer doesn’t love or feel empathy for anyone. And Chuck didn’t lock him up because Chuck was mean, but because Chuck realized he was a cancer of evil that would spread. Gabriel says that Lucifer was jealous of humans because Chuck loved them more than he loved Lucifer. He says it’s too late for Lucifer to change and he walks away.

Back to the interrogation, in which EVOL!Cas goes on and on and on a lot more about what a stone-cold badass alt-Charlie is, while Felicia Day gives off waves of scared fluffy-bunny vibes. He then basically does the same thing Our!Cas did to the guy back at base camp until the lights go out, and alt-Charlie screams a whole lot.

Damn, if I weren’t recapping this, I’d totally be FFing this whole scene. Well, soldiering through….

So, as EVOL!Cas runs outside to something-something, Jack takes out the guards, while Mary and her sons burst in and kill all the angels guarding the prisoners. Because angels totally can’t fly, anymore – oh, wait. Dean helps Ketch, while Sam helps alt-Charlie. Sam hugs a startled alt-Charlie (who seems none the worse for wear from her torture) and Ketch snarks about Dean saving him instead of the other way round.

Outside, Our!Cas catches up with EVOL!Cas and, after some banter about how they’re the same, dispatches him with an angel blade. Which makes sense in an interdimensional Circle of Life sort of way. I guess.

Back at the camp, Bobby tells the Brothers that everyone voted to go with them (well, wouldn’t you?). Now, the problem is how to get them there. Gee, if only they had some people in their ranks who could fly – YES, I KNOW IT’S A PLOTHOLE, BUT AT LEAST ADDRESS IT, SHOW.

Dean spots a bus at the edge of camp. Even though they have just a few hours left, Dean has it running by daylight. Because of course he does. And they only have half an hour and a half left (based on Lucifer’s seriously inexact estimate), but they can totally drive there in time. What tunnel full of vampires? That was so last episode.

So, Jack decides to waste even more time saying he’s going to go kill alt-Michael and check that off his To Do list, first. Sam and Lucifer talk him out of it. Kid, when the Devil is giving you good advice, you’ve really been heading in the wrong direction.

We then get an extended montage of the caravan driving through the woods because I guess the Nepotism Duo couldn’t stretch the melodrama quite enough to fill the run time (they even waste time on an obnoxious “bitches” line from alt-Charlie before she goes through the rift. So much hate). In the Bunker, an exhausted Rowena is saying a spell that extends the time for the rift to last. People start heading through, though not the people she expects, at first.

Back in the alt-SPNverse, alt-Michael arrives unexpectedly (okay, maybe only because nobody mentioned he might be coming). His landing kills most of the remaining redshirts, including at least one who had lines earlier. Maggie has gone through and a lot of other people. Gabriel decides to stay behind because he’s tired of running and Sam has been pushing Lucifer back. Lucifer fights alt-Michael first and gets his ass kicked. Gabriel tries and gets stabbed to death (though whether this is any more real than last time? Who knows?). Dean is horrified when he sees Gabriel get stabbed, but Sam urges him to go through the rift.

Sam has hung back for a reason. As Lucifer tries to follow him, he shoves him back to the ground, saying “How’d you think this was gonna end?” And then he goes through the rift. Alt-Michael tries to rush after them, but (presumably, after Sam yelled at Rowena to close it on the other side), the rift evaporates. Lucifer is trapped on the other side with alt-Michael.

Welp, that was mighty cold of Sam and I don’t blame him a bit.

At the Bunker, it’s Miller Time, though Jack is sad about . Sam tells Rowena he owes her (and she insists she will “collect”). She regrets not being able to leave the rift open any longer, so I guess Sam didn’t warn her to close it.

Dean mopes to Sam and Castiel about Gabriel’s death. When Castiel asks Dean about Lucifer, Dean calmly replies, “Sam handled it.” Oooh. Ice cold. Not only did Sam intentionally ditch Lucifer on the other side, but he and Dean had planned it beforehand.

Alt-Bobby gives a speech (because we’re still short a few minutes of air time) about their fallen redshirt comrades (who apparently don’t merit names), and how they’re gonna get strong and go back to the alt-SPNverse and kick it in the ass. Then he proposes a toast to the Brothers Winchester.

Too bad that deadline’s about to be rushed. On the other side of the rift, Gabriel is still dead, but Lucifer is alive and telling alt-Michael all about the spell to go through the rift (isn’t it the same one alt-Michael got from Kevin? Pretty sure it is). They make a deal. Lucifer will get his son and alt-Michael will get “everything else.”


Of course, I’ve already recapped the season finale here.

Alas, this one took me a while (as I said, Nepotism Duo episodes are a bit of a slog), so I’ll have to tackle the season premiere tomorrow evening. I do have it, though, so that shouldn’t be a problem.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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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