Tag Archives: Outer Banks

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 #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.


Did you enjoy this review? You can help keep the project going by contributing monthly via Patreon (which includes perks), making a one-time donation through Paypal, or buying us a coffee. And don’t forget to check out my ghostly folklore notes all month on Patreon!