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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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Halloween in North Carolina, Day #21: Looking for “Lydia”: The Thirty-Year Search for the Jamestown Hitchhiker (2018)


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Renegar, Michael and Amy Greer. Looking for “Lydia”: The Thirty-Year Search for the Jamestown Hitchhiker. Cary Press, International, 2018.


To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t expecting a whole lot from this one. The cover, though eerie, is also a bit cheesy in that 1980s-Public-Access-TV sort of way captured so well by The Last Broadcast. The title makes the book sound more like an urban fantasy quest than a serious exploration of the topic. I was expecting some breathless “expose” loaded with hair-brained conspiracy theory and not a whole lot of fact.

To be really honest, I got and reviewed this because it’s the newest NC ghost story collection I could find. Mysterious Tales of North Carolina came out on April 16, 2018. This came out May 6. I wanted to have as broad a chronological range as possible.

Color me pleasantly surprised, then, to find out that this is actually the most rigorous and indepth investigation of a ghost legend, besides Ghost Stories from the American South and Tales from the Haunted South, I’ve read so far. While it doesn’t take the academic, sociological route that McNeil and Miles do, it does work through the story like a journalistic investigation. Renegar has spent decades looking into the Lydia legend and his work actually shows.

I’ve mentioned this legend in the past – it’s the Phantom Hitchhiker tale of Lydia’s Bridge, near Greensboro. In the story, a teenage girl named Lydia is coming home with her boyfriend when he loses control of the car. In the ensuing crash, she is killed. Since then, on rainy nights, she flags down unsuspecting drivers, trying to find her way home.

Renegar says that he first encountered it in Nancy Robert’s retelling of the story from 1959, but it’s an older story than that (he also mentions other prominent NC ghost storytellers). There were stories of people encountering “Lydia” that go back to the 1940s. Renegar met Roberts before her death and she confirmed that the name of the young man who saw Lydia home was a pseudonym, at the witness’ request.

After years of research into old newspaper accounts and interviews with possible descendants of the principles, the authors found a crash from 1920 that matched in many of the particulars. But in the process, they also discovered stories about more than one spirit at the site. They go over how these stories have evolved (and a possible source for the second story) and how they may have gotten mixed up.

They also talk about some other Greensboro legends (notably, Payne Road), albeit mainly to show how this one evolved. The focus on one legend helps show how such a story can change over time, almost beyond recognition in terms of the original tale. One of the more intriguing detours is into a discussion about how the show Supernatural dealt with the Phantom Hitchhiker legend in its pilot episode, and the episode “Hell House” (the creation of a tulpa), during the authors’ exploration of what kind of spirit Lydia might be (that was a rather creepy section).

There were a few things I’d have liked to have seen done differently. For example, I’d have preferred they had started out with the various encounters over the years rather than the identification of the original accident and who Lydia may have been in life. I also wish they had discussed the evolution of Phantom Hitchhiker stories, particularly since the advent of the automobile, over time a bit more.

The switch of the stories (and their re-intensification after a lull) over to the new bridge underpass could have used more discussion, as well. I also was never quite sure what the authors were getting at when they kept talking about how none of the drivers who drove Lydia home ever gave an address, even though there have been reports of complaints to the police by some homeowners about random strangers showing up at their doors.

It may seem odd that Renegar has a co-author on this one. I was saddened to find out this was because he has been having health problems in the past few years. He could probably do worse than to have this book be his last, but I hope he feels better soon.


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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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Supernatural: Season 13


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Contribute monthly via Patreon (which includes perks), make a one-time donation through Paypal, or buy us a coffee. I’m posting reviews here of North Carolina ghost story books, and notes about my research all month long in October on Patreon.

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

Here are all my live recaps and reviews in one, handy-dandy spot, for Season 13.


The Official “Lost and Found” (13.01 – Season Premiere) Live Recap Thread

The Official “The Rising Son” (13.02) Live Recap Thread

The Official “Patience” (13.03) Live Recap Thread

The Official “The Big Empty” (13.04) Live Recap Thread

The Official “Advanced Thanatology” (13.05) Live Recap Thread

The Official “Tombstone” (13.06) Live Recap Thread

The Official “War of the Worlds” (13.07) Live Recap Thread

The Official “The Scorpion and the Frog” (13.08) Live Recap Thread

The Official “The Bad Place” (13.09 – pre-Christmas finale) Live Recap Thread

The Official Supernatural: “Wayward Sisters” (13.10) Live Recap Thread

The Official Supernatural: “Breakdown” (13.11) Live Recap Thread

The Official Supernatural: “Various and Sundry Villains” (13.12) Live Recap Thread

The Official Supernatural: “Devil’s Bargain” (13.13) Live Recap Thread

The Official Supernatural: “Good Intentions” (13.14) Live Recap Thread

The Official Supernatural: “A Most Holy Man” (13.15) Live Recap Thread

The Official Supernatural: “ScoobyNatural” (13.16) Live Recap Thread

The Official Supernatural: “The Thing” (13.17) Live Recap Thread

The Official Supernatural: “Bring ’em Back Alive” (13.18) Live Recap Thread

The Official Supernatural: “Funeralia” (13.19) Live Recap Thread

The Official Supernatural: “Unfinished Business” (13.20) Live Recap Thread

The Official Supernatural: “Beat the Devil” (13.21) Live Recap Thread

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

The Official Supernatural: “Let the Good Times Roll” (13.23 – Season Finale) Live Recap Thread


Season 12

Season 14


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Supernatural: Season 12


We need your help!

Contribute monthly via Patreon (which includes perks), make a one-time donation through Paypal, or buy us a coffee. I’m posting reviews here of North Carolina ghost story books, and notes about my research all month long in October on Patreon.

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

Here are all my live recaps and reviews in one, handy-dandy spot, for the second half of Season 12 (after the IMdB boards went bye-bye).


Recap and Review: Supernatural 12.10: Lily Sunder Has Some Regrets

The Official Family Feud (Ep. 12.13) Recap Discussion Thread

The Official The Raid (12.14) Recap Discussion Thread

The Official Ladies Drink Free (12.16) Recap Discussion Thread

The Official The British Invasion (12.17) Recap Discussion Thread

The Official “The Memory Remains” (12.18) Live Recap Thread

The Official “The Future” (12.19) Live Recap Thread

The Official “Twigs and Twine and Tasha Banes” (12.20) Live Recap Thread

The Official “There’s Something About Mary” (12.21) Live Recap Thread

The Official “Who We Are/All Along the Watchtower” (12.22-12.23 – Season Finale) Live Recap Thread

Articles

Supernatural: Why the British Men of Letters Just Don’t Work


Season 13

Season 14


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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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