Tag Archives: North Carolina folklore

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Halloween in North Carolina

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)