Tag Archives: North Carolina

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


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Jackson, Richard and William Jackson. Ghosts of the Triangle: Historic Haunts of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill. Haunted America. The History Press, 2009 (Ebook 2013).


Ghosts of the Triangle covers the “Triangle” area: the three cities of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill. In addition to Raleigh being the state capital, the Triangle is the second-largest metropolitan area in North Carolina (after Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia). It is also a major center for medical and STEM research, and is one of the most diverse and liberal parts of the state. People come from all over the world to attend school and conduct research here. Hence its full name, the “Research Triangle.”

I have to admit that even though I read it just a few weeks ago, I didn’t remember much about this one at all. It could have just been that North Carolina Haunts covered the same ground more memorably. Or it could have been that this one was so short. There are only 32 tales in it.

The book has some of the usual standards of the Piedmont – notably, the early 19th century Peter Dromgoole legend, Civil War era Bentonville Battlefield, Millcreek Bridge (in which a meek old slave accidentally kills his brutal master and buries the body in secret under a bridge), and, of course, the Devil’s Tramping Ground. Personally, I have never understood the romantic appeal of the Peter Dromgoole legend, in which a young University of North Carolina student got himself killed in a duel over a girl and later on, some frat boys built a castle on the spot. From Peter Dromgoole to Jim Wilcox, North Carolina folklore seems to have a soft spot for young men doing irrevocably stupid things.

Ghosts of the Triangle also has its fair share of Moldy Old Piles architectural history, with an emphasis on the institutional. You’ll find sections on the North Carolina State Capitol building, Stagville Plantation, North Carolina State University, Dorothea Dix Hospital, and the White-Holman House. The authors are quite fond of haunted hospitals and the Triangle area doesn’t lack in old medical centers. Since many of these buildings are large and not residences, these sections tend to be collections of stories about different sections of the building and involve more witnesses than a private house generally does.

I’ve been rather harsh on this one so far and that’s not entirely fair. The Jacksons are also good at turning off familiar roads into some pretty strange and new territory, such as with the Haunted Wood section in Durham County or CryBaby Lane in Raleigh (which turned out to be only an urban legend when the authors researched it). Just as CryBaby Lane turned out not to be a gravity hill (as they usually are), I thought the story about the Phantom Hitchhiker would be about Lydia’s Bridge, but nope. It was a lesser-known male version from what appears to have been the 19th century. And it was quite creepy. Lydia is known for being wistful and just wanting to go home. This spirit appeared to have more darker designs, like a less-humorous version of the mule-abusing monster in Haunted Uwharries.

The authors tend to waver between lots of historical detail that doesn’t necessarily add to the atmosphere and going really vague with the iffier legends that may be created out of whole cloth, or go too far back to have lots of surviving corroborative evidence. The Jacksons provide less autobiographical detail than some other authors, so it’s a bit hard to tell what angle they’re coming from. But they do provide an introduction that briefly talks about folklore. It wouldn’t have hurt to make this one a bit longer, but the Haunted America series tended to have some pretty short entries. Ghosts of the Triangle is definitely that.


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


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Absher, R.G. Ghosts of the Yadkin Valley. Haunted America. The History Press, 2009 (Ebook 2013).


As with some other authors I’m reviewing this month, R.G. Absher hails from the area he’s covering (the upper Yadkin Valley), is a local park service employee, and also works in the dark tourism industry, conducting ghost tours. Yadkin Valley is in the northwestern part of North Carolina, currently part of this state’s burgeoning wine industry, and is part of the Yadkin River system. The sweet wines from the ancient Muscadine and Scuppernong grapes are generally grown toward the coast, but more traditional European varieties can also be grown in the Piedmont and points west, notably in Yadkin Valley. So, with all the wine trails and heritage trails, this is a very touristy area.

Absher begins right off with a folkloric bent. There’s an opening Acknowledgements section with interviews for each chapter (and a bibliography by subject of websites in the back). Many of them are with local museum historians and ghost tour guides. His introduction then discusses the various characteristics of a traditional ghost tale or experience, such as sights, sounds and smells.

Absher deals with some well-known material, notably the Tom Dooley story, which occurred in the Yadkin Valley. Contrary to the Lost Cause myth of virtuous and godly women (and men) in the South, the Yadkin Valley was quite the swinging place in the 60s – the 1860s. One man, Thomas C. Dula (known to legend as Tom Dooley), was a Confederate veteran who got involved with numerous women after the Civil War. These included a love quadrangle that went horribly wrong when one of the women ended up pregnant and dead, after allegedly having given the small group an STD.

Dula was hanged, still protesting his innocence (it’s possible one of the other women did it), and a folkloric ballad tradition was born. Dula reportedly haunts the Old Wilkes Jail (where he was confined for trial) and Tom Dooley Road (where he was buried). There is also a small collection of hauntings from deaths near these sites.

Absher discusses early Native American relics (a large burial mound in Caldwell County) and folklore (the legend of huge battle that probably happened in the early 18th century and left behind ghost lights related to the Brown Mountain Lights). There is an impromptu mountaintop séance that results in a sudden storm.

There is also a rather long section dealing with Revolutionary War ghosts. Many of these were of soldiers and irregulars who were hanged from specific trees in the region. One old Colonial era hanging oak only came down in the 1990s after a series of storms (oaks live three centuries on average). One old Sycamore still stands that was used for the hanging of a Tory in 1781. Other Colonial era ghosts are related to battles and skirmishes in the area, and the defense of Fort Defiance.

The 19th century section has a good bit of the Old House Tour aspect often found in these books. Absher does liven it up, though, by introducing a variety of houses, such as an old slave quarters for the Brown-Cowles House in Wilkesboro. There are several Civil War stories, including one about Stoneman’s Raid, and one involving a murder (by “slow hanging”) of a Union sympathizer after the war by one of the author’s ancestors. This incident resulted in a haunting legend known as “Dead Man’s Hollow.”

The book then wanders a bit as we get a collection of familiar tropes, including haunted graveyards, churches and hotels, a Phantom Hitchhiker, a misty mountain ghost, and a Devil Dog from Purlear. As with the book about Old Salem, also from the Haunted America series, this book is quite short and sometimes (paradoxically) feels a bit padded. For example, Absher ends with a personal account of a haunting of the Reed Creek farmhouse – which is actually in Hartwell, Georgia – rather than a local legend.


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


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Montgomery, G.T. Ghosts of Old Salem, North Carolina. Haunted America. The History Press, 2014.


This is another book where the author is a professional in the field. In this case, as with Karen Lilly-Bowyer, he’s a ghost tour guide. So, he operates in the industry of dark tourism, as Tiya Miles would put it. Montgomery puts a tour guide’s zest into discussing the area’s history and its ghosts. Needless to say, he also works at giving some inside info that someone who does not work in the dark tourism industry in Old Salem might not know. And he gives the best and most detailed account of the Little Red Man of Old Salem that I’ve encountered yet. Contrary to how it sounds, this ghost is of a Moravian brother who was accidentally killed when part of a cellar fell on him. Not only is he not demonic, he’s not even malevolent, just mischievous.

That said, this is a very short book, even with the padding toward the end of unrelated history and what is probably a straight-up fictional tale at the end. It’s 112 pages and that includes the introduction, the author’s bio, and the end pages. This is one from The History Press, back when they were putting all of their regional ghost story books into a series called “Haunted America.” Those are always a bit short.

Montgomery does recount quite a bit of history with his ghosts, so it makes it easier to give these tales a time and place of origin. However, he does tend to fictionalize at times. There is no way, for example, he could accurately tell us the thoughts of someone about to commit suicide decades ago who didn’t even leave a note, but that’s exactly how he tells one story.

Old Salem, NC, in Forsyth County, is very different from Salem, MA. Old Salem was founded by the Moravians (one of three such settlements in NC), a German Protestant sect who sought refuge in the Americas in the 1800s. The Moravians were not unlike the Shakers. They emphasized hard work and segregation of their members (both married and unmarried) into age and gender cohorts, living in different buildings and even being buried separately. They seem to have retained a good reputation over the years. But their devotion to God has not left the town unhaunted. No surprise, then, that one of the first stories is about their cemetery.

Interestingly enough, there is another Salem in Burke County and a New Salem in Union County.

Old Salem prospered. It eventually grew so much into a later nearby community, Winston, that they were merged in 1913. Winston-Salem is now one of the largest and most prosperous regions in North Carolina. Old Salem, however, remains an historic district in the city. Montgomery sets most of his tales in Old Salem. He, rather apologetically, mines some from the greater area of Winston-Salem, as well, later in the book.

The most unusual of these spirits is the Little Red Man. The rest tend to follow familiar tropes. There’s a “haunted” portrait of a society dame where her eyes appear to follow you everywhere. There’s the ghost of a young boy (largely manifested by a cold spot in the street) who was hit by a trolley car. There’s a ghost of a young college student who committed suicide, a haunted tavern, two shootings, and a hotel fire.

As I said, the book is pretty short, so there’s not as much there as I might like. Even so, Montgomery does spin a good yard. Even if the last tale is probably fictional, it’s also quite creepy.


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


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Morgan, Fred T. Haunted Uwharries: Ghost Stories, Witch Tales and Other Happenings from North America’s Oldest Mountains. Bandit Books, 2009.


Fred T. Morgan classifies himself as a storyteller. He’s still with us and lives in Albemarle, NC, running a B&B where you can stay the night and interview him or listen to him tell his stories. Yes, I am saving my pennies.

Morgan’s big focus is the region of the Uwharries. This one is part of a series about the area. The Uwharrie Mountains are a low and ancient mountain range, half a billion years old, in the Piedmont (central) area of North Carolina. Once higher than the Rockies, this heavily wooded range is now a series of rolling hills barely topping a thousand feet. For comparison, the Appalachians are about twenty million years younger, with the Rockies being 55-80 million years old and the Himalayas a mere 55 million years old. The area boasts its own National Forest.

As with many such ancient places, the Uwharries are a region that seems to brood and brim with secrets. A lot of the stories in here follow well-known folkloric tropes of NC and the South: a headless man chasing a hapless tramp out of an abandoned witch house, a particularly chilling and brutal Bluebeard of the Uwharries who dispatched his seven terrified wives with their own knitting needles, the siren of Rocky River who lures unstable musicians to their doom, a ghost child who asks for a ride and then turns into an enormous monster that breaks down mules, the crying ghost of a baby buried beneath a hearth, more than one shapeshifting witch, a hermit, a girl frightened to death by accidentally staking her dress to a grave, and so on. An entire section, in fact, is dedicated to witch tales. All of these are garnished by clear and evocative black-and-white illustrations by Tim Rickard.

Morgan tells these stories as if they are actual stories (much like Nancy Roberts) rather than recountings of local history or legends (as Morgan claims they are in his introduction). There is at least one that is historical, retelling the local stories surrounding the area’s experience of the massive 1886 earthquake of Charleston, SC. Some of the entries in the final section, though (such as the tale of an enchanted pipe whose smoke can show strange new worlds or the morality tale about Lucifer the crow), seem entirely fictional.

Some are also just plain funny, like the tale of the drunken turkeys (from still mash) who are accidentally plucked by a housewife who thought they were dead. They then give everyone a scare when they show up on the doorstep, naked and hungover, but very much alive.

Morgan spins a good yarn (particularly memorable are the monster baby and the skilled horsewoman who takes revenge on the creepy suitor/stalker who murdered her) and some of these are new. There’s a Phantom Hitchhiker tale of an old woman who walks along a lonely stretch of dirt track with her laundry on her head until a traveling preacher takes pity on her and picks her up. In another traveling preacher tale, the minister takes home a grieving mother whom he finds lying on her dead baby’s grave, only to find when he gets there that she, too, has died. He was giving a ride to a ghost. In another traveler tale, visiting midwives are felt up over the bedclothes by a ghost in a haunted porch room (an exterior room of the porch made up for visitors in old country houses).

There are also several tales about African Americans back in the day, such as Celia Easely and her husband Old Free Harry, who once worked their way up to owning 400 acres in the Uwharries during the 19th century. Then there’s the odd story of Old John, an old man with a magic ball who may have originally come from Ancient Egypt.

One of the creepiest is the very strange tale about the squeaky pines of Rocky Hill Road in Rocky River. Those passing by a certain spot in their carts would see the ghost of a hanged man before being accosted by three witches and five goblins, intent on murder. A country doctor on an emergency call finally busted through with his assistant. This apparently broke the spell, but for years afterward, people saw three crows harassing five field mice in the area. One theory advanced in the story is that the goblins were the ghosts of five slaves who once lynched a cruel slave master and the witches were the ghosts of the slave master’s sisters, who sought revenge on the slaves, but never got it in life. But in truth, the mystery is never fully explained. It’s just straight-up creepy.


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


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Lilly-Bowyer, Karen C. The “Wettest & Wickedest” Town: An Illustrated Guide to the Legends & Ghosts of Salisbury, North Carolina. Frank Chodl, photos. 2011.


I was pleased to find this book while attending a conference in Salisbury a couple of years ago. It’s the kind of local, indie book that is very hard to find outside of its own location. You’d probably have to call the South Main Book Company in Salisbury (where I bought the book) to get a copy. It’s self-published (with the ring-binder, that shows), and it’s short (73 pages), but the sepia photographs look really nice on glossy paper and there are ghost stories here you won’t find anywhere else.

You know a town has a pretty dark history when one of the ugliest “legends” (an extremely notorious group lynching that put Salisbury on the map for a time in the worst possible way) is just cold, hard fact. There’s a lot more to Salisbury than that, but the chilling unsolved ax murder of a family and the three unfortunate men whose lynching for the crime made international news in 1906 is probably its most famous tale. As with most lynchings during this time period, race was a major factor and the real murderers of the family (possibly the oldest two children, who survived) got away with it, as did the mob. At least, in a court of law. In the court of international opinion, Salisbury was thoroughly condemned.

The crime still resonates today. Just this year, the town council has been considering two resolutions that themselves thoroughly condemn the lynching and they’ve generated a lot of controversy, even in 2018.

The tree is still there.

But there are other tales, too. There are 14 in all from the author’s ghost tours in Salisbury. Though some of them follow folkloric tropes (such as the ghost of a little girl spotted in an upstairs window in the Wrenn House), you’re not likely to see very many in other collections. For example, there’s the quote used in the title. Salisbury began as a county courthouse and a tavern (known as an “ordinary”) in 1755. A century later, it had so many whiskey distilleries, saloons and whorehouses that it was considered “the ‘Wettest and Wickedest’ town in the state.” Prohibition had little effect on the town other than to drive its activities underground.

The Sessions House, on land once owned by the rich slave trader Maxwell Chambers, is built over the family graveyard and belongs to a nearby church. It’s speculated Chambers felt guilt late in life about his profession and wanted a connection to the church, but why are the graves under the house and covered by stone slabs? The author floats a more sinister theory – that Chambers feared the family’s bodies would be stolen by medical students looking for cadavers.

Unsurprisingly, the local cemeteries get an entry (some going back to the 18th century). In addition to being the cemetery for a former Confederate prison, one also has possible Masonic graves. Lutheran Cemetery has an odd ring around one tree of permanently trampled earth, reminiscent of the Devil’s Tramping Ground in Chatham County. The author also mentions legends of pirates and of tunnels under the town (some of which may actually have existed as escape tunnels from the prison).

All in all, Salisbury has a fascinating history and folklore. Even Lilly-Bowyer admits that this book just scratches the surface of the folklore, but it’s a good effort that adds some unique material to the North Carolina collection of ghost stories.


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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 #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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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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