Tag Archives: North Carolina

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


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Brown, Cynthia Moore. Pirates and Ghosts of the Carolinas’ Coast. Schiffer Publishing, Ltd., 2014.


Arrr, me hearties, and a Happy Halloween t’ye all!

I decided to end my grand (albeit not comprehensive) tour of North Carolina ghost story books with one set on the coast because it has pirates, and a somewhat unusual structure (the last chapter has a section on Carolina seafood recipes, along with some space to include your own), and I hadn’t covered the author before, and – oh, yeah – pirates.

This is not Cynthia Brown’s first ghost story collection. She also co-wrote Folktales and Ghost Stories of North Carolina’s Piedmont and Folklore and Food: Folktales that Center on Family, Food, and Down-Home Cooking (hence the presence of a recipes chapter for this one) with Theresa Bane. Bane has also solo-published Haunted Historic Greensboro, among others. I interviewed her for Innsmouth Free Press, not just once but twice, a while back about that collection and one of her vampire folklore books.

Brown is a retired librarian and co-founder of the North Carolina Storytelling Guild. That tells you right off the bat her approach to the material. The book also includes an introduction written by another local folklorist (from Washington County), Terry A. Rollins.

You would think that after all the books I’ve reviewed this month, we’d have exhausted what the Coastal Carolinas had to offer, but nope. There are some original tales in here, too. Yes, there’s stuff about Blackbeard and Theodosia Burr, and the Maco Light, and a less-fatal version of the “I Could Slap the Life Out of Her” tale from Cursed in the Carolinas. “The Live Oak Tree” is the buried alive story from Wilmington with, again, a somewhat happier ending. In “Stella,” the fatal love triangle, where the wife murders the mistress from beyond the grave, from Barefoot’s Haunted Hundred trilogy gets a spooky and more detailed, but also lighter, twist.

But Brown puts her own spin on the stories by telling about her own experiences with the areas connected to these historical figures. I also like that she breaks the stories up into thematic groups, such as tales about pirates and ones about lost love. It’s nice that she uses a lot of photographs to give the reader an idea about the area and to break up the text.

But then, as I said, there are also some new stories. For example, the very first story, “Spirits of the Fog,” is about Highway 17 South (AKA the Ole Plank Road) near Wilmington. The legend Brown recounts is that the fog along the highway contains mystery lights and spirits – voracious shadow figures that attack and kill unsuspecting travelers. Shadow people creep me right out, so that one definitely worked for Yours Truly.

Another one from Wilmington, about a Boogeyman figure called “The Hairy Man,” is good for a scare. And in her chapter about Stede Bonnet, Brown talks about visiting the old jail in Charleston and experiencing a distinct and unusual chill.

All in all, despite being a fairly short book, Pirates and Ghosts of the Carolinas’ Coast has some enjoyable meat on its rattling bones, especially for this time of year. Recommended.

As I said, this is the last day for the NC folklore tour. But I’ll be doing a little bonus coda here of some ghost story books from other places for All Saints’ Day (November 1) and All Souls’ Day (November 2). After that, I’ll continue reading and reviewing ghost story books from NC (at a much gentler pace) over on Patreon. I also have stories from North Carolina history and what I find in my own investigations. You can join up and check them out over there, get some perks, and help support my spooky research!

Happy Halloween! Be safe!


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


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Carter, Catherine T. Ghost Tales of the Moratoc. John F. Blair, Publisher, 1992.


This is another one from the publisher John F. Blair, dating to 1992. It consists of 18 tales and is the author’s only collection. Most of the tales incline toward the romantic or sentimental in the telling, notably the two about Somerset Place in Washington County (“Charlotte, Ghost of Somerset,” which inspired the cover illustration, and “Blood on the Floor”) and Native American tales like the Tuscaroran “White Feather,” from Bertie County. I was a bit confused by how the two Somerset stories fit together, as they were each told without mentioning the events of the other, despite occurring in about the same time period.

It was nice to see some Tuscarora influence, for once, but odd to see a Cherokee tale about Spearfinger (“The Witch Hag of the Roanoke” from Martin County) so far east, albeit with new details related to the Colonial period. The same period also produced the Zorro-like “Phantom of the Forest.”

“Moratoc,” according to the author, is an old word for the Roanoke River, which originates in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and comes down through the northeastern Coastal Plain of NC to the coast. The name comes from a large tribe that once lived on the river’s banks.

There are several other stories that contain common folkloric tropes seen in other parts of NC. There’s a story from Bertie County of desecrated Native American bones in “The Restless Skull.” An ugly 1920s love triangle in “May She Rest in Peace” results in both women dead and the “spiteful” wife’s ghost blamed for hastening the mistress’ death. The author does not fill out the rather obvious Bluebeard-like subtext in the survival of the husband who played the two women against each other before marrying them in turn.

“The Oyster Shells” from post-Civil War Washington County is a somewhat more elaborate version of the “Fork on the Grave” trope, where a mean and ungrateful son is apparently frightened to death by his mother’s apparition.

You’ve got the “Mystery Lights of Tyrrell County,” also known as “The Death Light” or “The Doom Light,” as well as the lights of “Dymond City, Ghost Town of Martin County.” Washington County also has a spectral “Coach of Death” and a “Hanging Church” where mysterious tramps have been wont to kill themselves.

But not every story follows the usual NC tropes, especially the unclassifiably whimsical Christmas story of “Aunt Liza and the Sweet Baby Jesus,” from Washington County, and also the two creepiest tales. “The Little Red Man” in this collection should not be confused with the more-famous Little Red Man of Old Salem. The vicious being (which may or may not have been a ghost) that drives a poor family from their new home in Martin County bears a lot more resemblance to Redcap from Scottish fairy lore than the benign Moravian brother who plays gentle pranks on the living.

“The Rag Doll and the Knife” runs like a Twilight Zone episode and dates from the same period. It’s not necessary to believe the person who stabbed a rag doll on a pillow in lieu of a young girl hiding under a bed in Beaufort County was a ghost. The non-supernatural explanation is, if anything, even more disturbing than the supernatural one.

Another largely non-supernatural tale is “Brotherly Love.” It’s a gruesome 1950s true crime story about a Cain-and-Abel-style murder-suicide in Washington County, with a few ghost stories tacked on the end. Of all these tales, this one may be the most tragic because the tragedy was both unnecessary and inevitable, considering the personalities of the two brothers involved.


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


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Barefoot, Daniel W. Haints of the Hills. North Carolina’s Haunted Hundred, Vol. 3. John F. Blair, Publisher, 2002.


So, this is the third volume in Daniel Barefoot’s hundred-county experiment and we finish up in Appalachia. The alliterative title may seem redundant, but it’s actually not. “Haint” is believed to be a folkloric entity originally from the African American Gullah people on the Carolina coast. In South Carolina, it’s a specifically evil entity that haunts children, but this isn’t true everywhere. I talked earlier about this bit of folklore when discussing the use of paint in “haint blue.” The title, therefore, is specifically stating that these haints (or “hanks” as they may be called in Virginia) are from the mountains and not the coast.

Since the Mountain region is very popular with folklorists and ghost storytellers, it should be no surprise that several of these stories would be familiar. You’ve got Tom Dula and his love quadrangle representing Caldwell County, the giant leech of Cherokee County, and the unfortunate hanging ghost of Dan Keith for Rutherford County. But even in these familiar tales, there may be some new angles. For example, the tale of the newlyweds lost in a storm from Cursed in the Carolinas gets a location (Mount Pisgah in Buncombe County) and a rough period (late 19th or early 20th century).

In the Dan Keith chapter, there’s an eerie coda to the original haunting. Historic preservationists failed to save the old jail where he was hanged from demolition in 1971 (still not an uncommon occurrence, as the case of a developer with more money than brains, who demolished the only Frank Lloyd Wright house in Montana earlier this year, basically just because he could, can attest). Every business established in the new building built on the site (at least, up to 2002) has failed miserably. And some employees began to report seeing a shadow of a hanged on the wall – again.

Some omissions are rather puzzling, not just because of choices Barefoot made, but because they reflect equally puzzling omissions made by other popular ghost storytellers. Barefoot gives us a rather abrupt and uninteresting story, of a gold prospector who hit it rich and disappeared on his way to Connecticut, for Burke County. This ignores what is probably the most notorious story for that county – the night in 1831 Frankie Silver killed her husband with an ax and burned him in the fireplace. The only woman ever hanged in Burke County, Silver was railroaded through a two-day trial by her angry in-laws, despite possible evidence that her husband had been abusive and her crime self-defense. Ghost story collections don’t tend to carry the Frankie Silver story (which I first encountered on Investigation Discovery’s Deadly Women), even though a famous ballad and at least one recent ghost story are attributed to her.

True to form, Barefoot gives us more stories of witches (Alleghany, Haywood and Macon counties), Native Americans (Jackson and Swain counties), a haunted college theater (Catawba County), Bigfoot (Yancey County) and the Devil. In fact, possibly the creepiest chapter in the entire series hails from Ashe County. This chapter focuses on a natural feature called the Devil’s Stairs. It’s pretty common in the western part of the state to call particularly rugged terrain (especially if it has a lot of Cherokee lore about it) after the Devil. Barefoot even mentions some of these features. But he claims that the Devil’s Stairs (a manmade formation created by dynamite blasting in 1914 during the building of the railroad) is the most haunted of them all. It’s got fatal railway accidents, infanticide, ghostly coffins, Phantom Hitchhikers, and at least one guy who died of a quick wasting illness after supposedly encountering Old Scratch himself. Tough to top that.


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


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Barefoot, Daniel W. Piedmont Phantoms. North Carolina’s Haunted Hundred, Vol. 2. John F. Blair, Publisher, 2002.


This second volume is the longest of the three in Daniel Barefoot’s North Carolina’s Haunted Hundred trilogy. It’s 187 pages to the other two’s 130 each. There is actually a good reason for this. As I’ve said before, North Carolina is divided up into different distinct regions. But there are four, not three: The Coast, the Coastal Plain, the Piedmont, and the Mountains, and they are separated along geological lines. Basically, the Coast is the current coast. The Coastal Plain is what was under water up almost to Raleigh not so long ago and may end up under water again if the oceans continue to rise. The Piedmont is an area of metamorphic, disrupted rock from when continents were jamming together and pulling apart, creating the Appalachian Mountains, which comprise the Mountain region. The Uwharries lie in the Piedmont. This has relevance to Barefoot’s material, since the regions affect the folklore due to natural features and resources. The Coast has lots of stories about haunted marshes and ghost ships. The Coastal Plain and the Piedmont have stories about gold rushes, plantations, and the Revolutionary War. The Mountains have a lot of Appalachian lore. And so on.

I guess Barefoot (or his publisher, John F. Blair, which also published Whedbee’s collections) decided he preferred a trilogy over a tetralogy. Since Barefoot was doing that, he had to fit one of those regions into at least one of the other books. That “lost” region turned out to be the Coastal Plain, where I live. It is also sadly neglected by North Carolina ghost story books in general, even though we actually have some pretty distinctive stories of our own.

The Coastal Plain is a curiously diverse place, further divided into the Outer and Inner Coastal Plains, or into the Upper and Lower Coastal Plains (though apparently not both at once, since one division is more environmental and the other is more political). I live on the Inner and Upper Coastal Plain.

For Volume 1, Seaside Spectres, Barefoot included the Outer Coastal Plain as part of the coast, but he also included parts of the Inner Coastal Plain (such as Edgecombe and Halifax Counties). For Volume 2, he includes the eastern parts of the Inner Coastal Plain (such as Nash, Wilson, Johnston and Franklin counties) in the Piedmont section. The methodology is confusing, but I guess it kept the books more or less within shouting distance of equal length.

As with Volume 1, there are a lot of witch stories (and also one about the Devil’s footprint in Largo, Warren County). In part, that’s because NC has a lot of witch stories. In part, I suspect Barefoot just likes them. He gets to decide which stories to include, after all.

I was glad to see some African American ones in this volume. As I mentioned in my reviews on the two folklore articles about witchcraft and Guilford County, African Americans have contributed quite a lot of NC lore, frequently without much recognition of that fact. Despite this contribution, their presence in popular ghost story collections has been scant. Curiously, Barefoot shows no knowledge of the Guilfort County article, choosing instead to discuss a haunted theater for that chapter.

Barefoot manages to stuff in two witch stories from Person County, involving encounters with children. The general impression I got from this chapter was that children can be terribly cruel (not a shocking revelation to me, considering I got bullied mercilessly as a child) and you have to school that out of them with some lessons about appearances and compassion. In the first section, two young boys balk at helping an old woman who seems, to them, to be a teleporting witch. The folkloric motif that Carolina witches and ghosts are not necessarily a separate category appears here.

In the second section (which shows the shamanistic aspect of NC witches in the powers of shapeshifting and flight), a bunch of children brutally bully an elderly African American field hand (it’s implied the children are white). Finally, she snaps. She beats them and curses them by predicting “sudden and horrible deaths” for them. The brats tattle on her and get her fired. This causes her to curse the whole lot of them, kids and parents.

Soon after, two of the kids die of mysterious illnesses. Historically speaking, this was the kind of thing that led to a lynching, but the witch in this story gains herself a happy ending of sorts. When a mob of men confront her at her cabin, the old woman coolly faces them with a large owl perched on her shoulder. When they attack her, she escapes them by turning into a bird and flying away. Unnerved, some of the families move out of the area. Moral of the story: Don’t be a bully. You might end up cursed by a witch.

The story for Nash County is rather blah (another Theodosia-in-Distress story? Really?), but the Wilson County one is quite intriguing. North Carolina used to be a lot larger than it is now, even after splitting from South Carolina, because its original borders extended to the West Coast, encompassing what is now Tennessee. This means that certain famous figures (like the Harpe Brothers) and legends (like the Bell Witch) from points further west had their origins in NC. The story of the Bell Witch, in fact, begins in Wilson County. That’s where the Bell family came from.

It’s probably not a huge surprise that Barefoot chooses the Bentonville Battlefield for Johnston County. Not only is it a famous site that’s appeared in other collections I reviewed this month, but it’s also quite haunted. The Franklin County section eschews the numerous college hauntings in Louisburg for a story about a traveler (known only as the Lady in Blue) who died at a plantation house in Belford in 1835. She continued to appear as a ghost for another century until she managed to save the owners of the house from a devastating fire. Her final purpose fulfilled, she appeared no more.

Tomorrow, I’ll review the third volume about the Mountain region, Haints of the Hills.


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


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Barefoot, Daniel W. Seaside Spectres. North Carolina’s Haunted Hundred, Vol. 1. John F. Blair, Publisher, 2002.


Remember how I said (when I reviewed the book that claimed to contain every known ghost story in North Carolina) that there was no way there could be less than a hundred ghost stories in NC? This book (which is part of a trilogy) is how I know. The neat conceit of the trilogy is that the author picks a folkloric story from each of the hundred counties in North Carolina and retells it. Collectively, these three books have 100 stories in them. Therefore, there have to be at least a hundred ghost stories and legends in NC because that’s how many there are in this book. And since I know for a fact that Barefoot left many out (because he could only choose one for each county), I happen to know that there are, in fact, many more than a hundred.

And that’s the really cool thing about this trilogy.
The trilogy breaks things up into three regions: the Coast, the Piedmont area, and the Mountains. This first one is for the Coast.

Some of these stories, I already knew. The Edgecombe one was fairly disappointing, for example, as not only was I well aware of the Banshee legend, but I already knew all those details. And there are some others from that county that might have been more fun.

There are some quite-creepy stories in here (Barefoot knows how to give you a chill). There are, for example, several stories of ghost lights (some including pretty close encounters with what sounds almost like a fireball) such as the Cove City Light and the Pactolus Light. One story from Bladen County also involves a brief case of multiple spontaneous combustion (though no one died).

Several about the Devil show up (a few new to me, though not all of them). The book starts off with the curse of Bath in Beaufort County by the Reverend Whitefield early in the 18th century (and a quick segue to include the Devil’s Hoofprints, also of Bath). The creepiest is probably the rather-less-lucky Reverend Glendinning’s being plagued by a short demon while he was staying with a family in Halifax County a few decades later. The demon would knock at the door and yell at him through the window. North Carolina used to be a real tough crowd for itinerant preachers.

Witches show up in several tales, though they often are as sinned against (as in “The Evil That Will Not Die” from Dare County) as sinning (“The Bewitched Miller” from Chowan County and “Bewitched in Currituck” in Currituck County). In Tyrrell County, you get an alleged Native American legend (though it sounds more like an especially misogynistic Victorian romance) about a young Native American girl who was burned as a witch simply because she was beautiful and spoiled, and wouldn’t marry anyone. Naturally, since this is the coast, you’ve got a fair bit of cursed coastline, with a haunted island in Carteret County and a haunted coastal woods in Martin County called Devil’s Gut Creek. One of the nastiest stories is a cursed house in Pasquotank County.

Many of these are just legends with few facts to support them (especially since history on the coast goes all the way back to the 1580s). But some are based on actual, recorded tragedies. One of the most notable is the murder of inventor Henry Gatling in Hertford County. Gatling was working on an early version of an airplane some three decades before the Wright Brothers when he was murdered in 1879 by a man who claimed he was angry at Gatling for refusing him a ride the day before. Gatling’s ghost reportedly still haunts the area, though the house has long been torn down.

Obviously, a book like this is worth a read. There are no other projects of this type that systematically include at least one legend from every county in NC. And Barefoot is a good storyteller who also often includes a fair number of facts, certainly enough to go do your own research. While some of these may be rather overexposed and oft-told, there are also some more obscure gems. Check it out.


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


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Ault, Marie. Ghost Stories and Legends of Murphy, NC. 2015.


Murphy is the county seat in Cherokee County, in the Mountain region of the far-western part of North Carolina. The county is so-named because it was heavily populated by the Cherokee, most (but not all) of whom were forced to leave on the Trail of Tears. It has a lot of Appalachian history to it.

I wasn’t too sure what to make of this one, at first, whether it was genuinely a collection of ghost stories, a novel, a family memoir, or what. It turned out to be a collection in two main sections with a distinct literary conceit, and a non-fiction epilogue.

In part one, several children taking refuge upstairs in a house during a storm in the 1920s (for fear of the many floods that used to plague the area before several dams were built) decide to tell each other ghost stories to pass the time. One of the saddest tales involves a haunting sparked by a mother and her son who were swept away by a waterspout in 1906.

Many decades later, in part two, a bunch of teenagers around a campfire decide to trade some updated versions of these stories, as well as some new ones. The creepiest one, by far, in the second section, Prohibition era “Moonshiners and Police Shootout,” the author later exposes as mostly an urban legend. The shootout occurred, but though the legend has the moonshiners dying in a swamp and haunting/guarding it in a most deadly manner, it turns out they were later captured and put on trial for killing two policemen. So, no lethal ghosts as the two who appear in the story.

I’m not a huge fan of heavily fictionalized folklore (as is probably clear at this point), but something about using a campfire tale frame works for this book. Ghost stories, after all, are told and retold over the years, changing as they go. It helps immensely that while the characters Ault has tell the tales are fictional (she makes this clear at the beginning), the details they mention come from the research the author includes and discusses at length at the end. If you are looking for a folkloric and historical background to Murphy and Cherokee County, so the stories make more sense, you could do worse than to read the last part first.

Some of the stories are well-known, particularly the Cherokee legends of the Moon-Eyed People, the Great Leech, and Spearfinger. But even so, Ault manages to dig up some new details. There’s a photo of a sculpture in a nearby museum allegedly by/of the Moon-Eyed People and I didn’t realize Spearfinger had a male counterpart known as Stone Man (Nun’yunu’wi). Nor had I heard of the Legend of Hanging Dog, where a hungry young Cherokee hunter chooses to give up a chance to track down a wounded deer to save his trapped dog. He is then rewarded for his kindness when the grateful dog promptly finds the deer for him.

But there is more to this collection than Cherokee legends. For one thing, Ault digs fairly deeply into the checkered Civil War history of the area (the residents were about evenly divided between Union and Confederate, and bushwacker gangs terrorized the area during and immediately after the war). She also relates its bloody history of lynchings and even which trees for famous for their occurrence. Unsurprisingly, these parts of Murphy and its environs are reputed to be extremely haunted, usually by hanging specters.

Probably the ugliest story (though “Carson Lane Ghost” gives it a run for its money) is about a local slaver, Joshua Harshaw. Slavery was apparently unusual in Murphy, so Harshaw’s reputation was perhaps not the best with his neighbors. A legend that grew up after his death didn’t do it any favors. Like a real-life Ramsay Bolton, he reputedly would set his dogs to hunt down and eat alive slaves who were too old and/or weak to work. This may have been confirmed as a real story by recent archeological digs in a local cemetery that discovered bones gnawed by dogs.

It’s kind of a shame the author self-published, not because self-publishing is bad (I do it where it works for the material), but because the book looks self-published. The cover’s a bit too 1970s conspiracy theorist paperback basic, some of the typesetting is a little wonky (especially where the photos come in, though I liked their inclusion), and it could have used a good copy edit. I can’t help imagining this getting the Cursed in the Carolinas or the Haunted Hills.

Nonetheless, there’s a lot of good stuff in here, with sources, and Ault is an engaging writer (now I’m all curious about the one she did about Helen, Georgia). If you’re looking for a good overview of the history and folklore of the area, or just a good and creepy campfire tale, pick up this book.


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


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Whedbee, Charles Harry. Legends of the Outer Banks and Tar Heel Tidewater. John F. Blair, 1966 (20th printing 2005).


Charles Harry Whedbee (1911-1990) was a judge from Greenville, NC who developed a life-long fascination with North Carolina’s Outer Banks at a young age. He visited and wrote about them every chance he got, even telling beach stories on an early morning TV talk show he hosted in the early 1960s. Published in 1966, this was the first of his five collections of stories about the area.

I had my reservations about reading Legends of the Outer Banks and Tar Heel Tidewater, since Whedbee was both contemporaneous with Nancy Roberts and equally famous for popularizing NC folklore. Those reservations were initially borne out by the second story, which is basically an unattributed synopsis of Sallie Southall Cotten’s The White Doe: The Fate of Virginia Dare, an Indian Legend from 1901. That book is a cheesy, late-Victorian romance I discussed yesterday as the origin of the White Doe legend. He was fortunate Cotten died in 1929, or she might have sued him for copyright infringement.

Whedbee has a tendency to embroider his stories – a lot – but I didn’t encounter any tales that seemed like pure invention on his part. His storytelling hook was that his stories came in three categories – ones he’d experienced himself (like a personal experience with the Devil’s Hoofprints of Bath), ones told him by trusted and reliable informants, and ones he’d only heard about – but he wouldn’t tell his readers which were which.

Beechland, for example, is a real place, with an established academic historiography discussing its possible connections to the Lost Colony. I know some of the more outrageous tales, like the floating church of Swan Quarter, are real history, because really strange stuff can happen on the coast at high tide in the middle of a hurricane. And then there’s the odd tale (illustrated on the cover) of the harbor porpoise that used to guide ships to safety in the 18th century.

But there were some stories (like the aforementioned Virginia Dare fantasy) I was familiar enough with to know he added a whole lot of detail to someone else’s already-tall tale, or a story where we really just have the bare bones of the facts.

Fortunately, things improved later in the book, and Whedbee’s affection for the Outer Banks and its people is infectious. At his worst (which is mostly near the beginning), Whedbee has a florid, overwritten style as a storyteller that greatly dates his material. At his best, he can be both dramatic and laugh-out-loud funny.

“The Boozhyot” and “The Boozhyot Apocrypha” is a hysterically funny pair of Prohibition era tales (where all of the names have been judiciously changed or left out to protect the totally guilty) about what happened when a rum runner accidentally dumped its load off the shore of a small Outer Banks village. Personally, I’m a tad skeptical of Whedbee’s arch insistence in the latter story that the Outer Banks residents were too honest to swindle a bunch of big city gangsters. I’ve read about Buffalo City, the nearby Inner Banks town that was a bootlegging capital at this time. But Whedbee’s retelling is still a hoot.

It’s also hard to fault a man who has a soft spot for cats. My personal favorite of the stories is “The Witch of Nag’s Head Woods.” It’s the story of an elderly female hermit from the early 20th century who told neighborhood children’s fortunes, and kept herself and her clowder of black cats in fish with a coyly not-quite-professed talent for controlling winds. Whedbee recounts the tale with a wry sympathy toward the title character and her cats not usually found in North Carolina storytellers when it comes to witches (or cats), real or otherwise.

Whedbee also goes into some detail about the only known survivor of the Carroll A. Deering wreck of 1921 – a ship’s cat found by Coast Guardsmen when they boarded the boat, after it ran aground on a sand bank one winter morning, and found it deserted by the crew (who were never seen again). The rescuers took the cat with them. I’m not sure if Whedbee found these details or made them up, but he describes the cat as gray, well-fed and friendly when they found it in the dining saloon, and that it was subsequently named “Carroll.” An odd detail with this story is that Whedbee repeats the same error as John Harden in The Devil’s Tramping Ground from 1949, in that he calls the ship the Carroll M. Deering. Makes me wonder where that error originally came from.

Even though Whedbee calls these tales “legends,” most of them are not at all scary and some are not even supernatural in nature. Strangely enough, the eeriest one is the Carroll A. Deering chapter. For some reason, abandoned ghost ship mysteries are extremely creepy. But the book is still a good way to pass the time and get acquainted with some of the Outer Banks’ stranger stories.


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


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Arner, Robert D. The Lost Colony in Literature. America’s Four Hundredth Anniversary Committee. North Carolina Division of Archives and History, 1985.


At first, I debated over whether to include anything about the Lost Colony. There is quite the cottage industry devoted to what happened to the first English colony in North America (technically, it was the second) after they vanished from their impromptu settlement on Roanoke Island c.1590, during Elizabeth’s war with Spain, leaving only a cryptic clue or two in the form of a name (“Croatoan”) carved into a tree. I could probably spend a month on books about this legend alone.

But the thing is, the Lost Colony is the very beginning of the English history and folklore in North Carolina. It’s one of the first non-Native American legends, the first big mystery. And it keeps popping up in the ghost collections I’ve been reading due to some paranormal elements having been attached to it later on. So, let’s check this one out.

I picked The Lost Colony in Literature because it deals with all of these myths and how they grew up over the centuries. Theoretical reasons for the Lost Colony’s disappearance range all the way from death by hostile locals to assimilation by friendly locals to starvation to drowning in a storm while trying to evacuate to nearby Hatteras Island to disease to aliens (yes, aliens).

Supernatural did an episode called “Croatoan” in season two that implied the colony fell prey to demons using it for a hellish kind of germ warfare (a theory the Elizabethan era English probably would have endorsed, since many early English settlers believed North America was Satan’s realm). Sleepy Hollow even did an episode in season one where the ghosts of the Lost Colonists showed up, speaking (of all things) Chaucerian English, and suffering from the bubonic plague that killed them.

Since this short academic chapbook came out in 1985, as part of the 400th anniversary of English settlement in North Carolina, it doesn’t cover the more recent theories (including the alien abduction one). But it does do a pretty thorough overview in three areas: the initial reports of the colony’s disappearance and the contemporary reaction in England (more brief and muted than you might think now), the revival and romanticization of the mystery during the Victorian era, and the commercialization of that romantic myth in the 20th century.

Arner has some rather acid things to say about how, like the first Thanksgiving, the Lost Colony was forgotten as an early failure until the young United States’ concerns with creating new origin myths brought it back to life early in the 19th century. The Lost Colony was elevated from a doomed experiment of dumping a bunch of working class Englishpeople on a hostile shore to a heroic first planting of English roots in American soil.

One particular set of legends centers around the first English baby born in North Carolina – Virginia Dare. There were older children who came with the expedition, and one other baby born shortly after Virginia, but Virginia was the granddaughter of the expedition’s leader, so she gets all the limelight. We never hear about the other kids.

The Victorian era and 20th century stories Arner writes about ignore the harsh realities of Elizabethan child mortality rates when they rhapsodize on and on about a Virginia Dare who grew up in the wilds of North Carolina, a white Pocahontas (or her mother), the perfect English pioneer princess gone native. The cold statistical reality that Virginia, more than likely, didn’t survive infancy, is carefully ignored. She still dies tragically in these stories (and a virgin). She just does so after she’s hit puberty.

The legend of her as a ghostly white doe first appears in Sallie Southall Cotten’s The White Doe: The Fate of Virginia Dare in 1901. In the story, she is wooed by a heroic young Native American. A jealous sorcerer of the tribe turns her into a white doe. Just as her young beau shoots her with an arrow to change her back, a third man shoots her with an arrow that kills her as soon as she does. No problematical marriage night for Virginia. Since then, the story has evolved that you might still see Virginia roaming about as a ghost deer.

As she dies in the story, her blood creates the sweet Scuppernong grape, famous for getting North Carolinians drunk since before the English ever set foot on its shores. Victorian literary cheese at its finest.

Dare County on the Outer Banks (where you’ll find Roanoke Island) is named after her family.


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


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Wilson, Patty A. Cursed in the Carolinas: Stories of the Damned. Globe Pequot, 2017.


This one looked promising. It’s certainly appropriate for the Carolinas after two major hurricanes this fall. It was the third-most-recently published book I’ve got hold of. The cover is creepy as hell and the presentation is really nice. It’s well-edited. No illustrations, but the typesetting is large and clear. It’s very easy to read this book in the physical sense. I’d enjoyed a similar book in the past, Joe Citro’s Cursed in New England, and Wilson does tell a coherent tale, so I had hopes. The book covers both North and South Carolina, much like Nancy Roberts’ Ghosts from the Coast.

Sadly, the scariest thing by far about Cursed in the Carolinas is that cover. For a start, Wilson uses an extremely broad definition of “curse.” Pretty much any haunting can gain the designation because it was the result of a tragic death. Which is nice and all, but that’s not really the same as an actual curse. There are a few in here that are genuine curses, such as the Reverend Whitefield’s legendary curse of Bath, but most of these are a big stretch. It doesn’t help that Wilson pushes it with a final paragraph in each section, driving home a moral that serves doubly as an excuse for why a ghost story is in a book about curses.

I also was bothered by her using this definition for fairly recent events. I don’t think the surviving band members and relatives of Lynyrd Skynyrd would be too thrilled to hear that all their troubles boiled down to some vague curse of “fame” and the following story about a 1980s Episcopal priest who left the priesthood under the cloud of some undefined “sin” was just plain abrupt and unsatisfying.

Part of the problem is that despite the fact she has a list of some 13 books (one of them her own) in the back, most of her sources are websites. That wouldn’t be a big deal if she evaluated these sources at any great depth (lots of new folklore is generated online these days), but such exploration of the background to these tales ranges from cursory to nonexistent.

Another part of the problem is that it’s pretty clear from the more famous tales that she embellishes quite a bit and makes out that it’s part of the legend. “The Cursed Dwarf of Amos Road” in the South Carolina section has a lot more of The Hunchback of Notre Dame to it than the Carolinas. And “When Mary Lydia Died” twists the Lydia’s Bridge story almost out of recognition.

I’ve come to expect the usual nonsense for Blackbeard and the like, but when she turned around and made out in the intro to the South Carolina section that South Carolina split from North Carolina (which was almost completely wilderness at the time) to seek its own freedom in 1729, I rolled my eyes pretty hard. In “The Huguenot Curse” section, she also acts as though the French were the first to settle in North America, just because they stuck a fort in North Carolina a few years before the Spanish did. This blatantly ignores the fact that the Spanish had already established permanent settlements in the Caribbean by the end of the 1490s, over half a century before the French landed (briefly) in NC.

There are the kinds of problems with gender and race I’d expect from a book written in 1967 rather than 2017. The “Tecumseh” section is embarrassingly loaded with Noble Savage stereotypes – also, some wonky dates. Tecumseh was apparently only five years old when he fought in his first battle in 1791 (I think she accidentally interposed 1786 for 1768).

The only African American characters of any significance turn up in two stories. There are the two hapless slaves who are murdered to protect a treasure in “The Money Pit,” also from the South Carolina section. And earlier on, in the North Carolina section, you’ve got the Mammy and Jezebel stereotypes of Jo and Cissy in “‘I Could Slap the Life Out of Her!'” paired with the dated idea that slavery wasn’t so bad because some masters were “nicer” to their slaves than others. Yuck.

Then there is how she writes women. It’s especially bad in the South Carolina section. I’m not quite sure who started the trend of writing South Carolina ghost stories in a style reminiscent of Margaret Mitchell, but Gee Willikers, I wish they’d stop. It’s especially bad in “Poor Alice Flagg” and “The Tragic Ghost of Fenwick Hall Plantation.” Some whispy young aristocratic thing falls in love with The Wrong Boy and her male relatives decide to put a stop to it. Naturally, that does not end well because we are talking about ghost stories and curses, here. And if they’re not rich and dying of a broken heart, they’re poor and getting burned or hanged to death as a witch (as in “The Curse of Twenty-One”). Women don’t get a lot of agency (or luck) in the stories Wilson chooses. She even manages to reduce the formidable Theodosia Burr to a tragic suicide.

Of course, very few books of this type are entirely worthless. I hadn’t heard about “The Cursed Slave Cabin” at the Brown-Cowles House in Wilkes County before. And the one about the couple who ended up freezing to death in the hills was a new one to me, as well. Plus, she mentions a book I hadn’t run across, yet. But this is definitely one of those cases where you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, even if it’s a great cover.


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


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Mosley, Sean. Ghost Stories In North Carolina: Every Haunted Place In North Carolina. Booktango, 2012.


In light of the fact that this ebook (solely found on Google Books, for some reason) is only 59 pages long and only has 22 stories in it, I think that after three weeks’ worth of North Carolina ghost story book reviewing, we can all conclude the subtitle is both wildly optimistic and inaccurate. Yes, the author also discusses these stories as examples of folklore tropes, but the other examples he lists don’t even come close to the grand total North Carolina has (I suspect the true number may top five hundred, or even a thousand, but don’t quote me on that). I’ve got a trilogy by Daniel Barefoot on my pile, called “The Haunted Hundred,” that includes one story for each of North Carolina’s hundred counties. And even that’s just a survey collection.

So, yeah, this book is not comprehensive.

I’ll give Mosley points for covering as much territory as possible in a short space. There are no witch tales, ghost ship legends, myths about Judaculla, ghost stories about the Capitol building in Raleigh, or bootlegger yarns, but he does manage to include many of the most famous NC tales, from the Maco Light to Boojum to Lydia’s Bridge. He also especially likes Devil tales. This naturally perked me up, considering my present research focus.

For the most part, Mosley doesn’t embellish all that much. He tells the tale, but he largely sticks to what’s already in the legend. Then he concludes a section by picking apart its origins, its development, and what historical basis it may or may not have. In this, he’s reasonably consistent and efficient.

There are also places where his tendency to make lists proves useful and informative. For example, in his section on the Moon Eyed People (a legendary group from Cherokee folklore), he also mentions the Nunnehi (whom I’ve discussed in a previous review) and the Yunwi Tsunsdi (whom I had not previously heard about).

In his section on the Devil’s Tramping Ground, he talks about the Reformation era Scotch-Irish tendency to name natural features after the Devil (my research indicates it’s a bit more complicated than that, but yes, that’s one possible source), and lists several such features in the NC landscape.

He also gives a short version of the literary bibliography of Virginia Dare (the first English child born in North America in the Lost Colony) and how she became known as a ghostly white doe. And he discusses one of the popularizers of the Little Red Man legend, Richard Walser’s, influence on the growth of that story.

Unfortunately, the text could have used a good edit. There are numerous spelling and grammatical errors. Some of the formatting is wonky, though whether that’s my computer having issues with Google Books, I couldn’t say. Also, the black-and-white cover lacks context and seems a bit blah.

Overall, though, the typesetting is easy to read and the book is worth a look for the extra details and connections Mosley brings to these oft-told tales.


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