Tag Archives: witches

Halloween in North Carolina, All Souls’ Day: Bonus Round #2: Scottish Ghosts (1999)


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Seafield, Lily. Scottish Ghosts. Lomond Books, 1999.


So, as promised, I’ve continued my reviews through All Souls’ Day (today), but with the twist that the last two days, since they’re in November, are reviews of ghost stories from other regions than North Carolina. But possibly, these are regions that may have influenced or have similar tropes to what you find in NC.

I picked this one up at the bus station in Glasgow almost two decades ago. It’s one of several books I have of Scottish folklore. The cover above is very nice, but the edition I picked up actually looks like this:

Kinda cheesy, I know. The apparent editorial excuse is that this edition is for kids. It might be a bit too creepy and historical for American kids, though.

Also, for such a short book, it has a whole lot of stories in it – over 150. Each one is maybe a page or two, though the entry on Second Sight in the “Signs, Prophecies and Curses” section is (appropriately) several pages long, as Second Sight is a major part of Scottish folklore. With most entries, the author gets in, gets out, and then moves on to the next, grouping them thematically into several sections, such as “Military Ghosts,” “Fairies, Green Ladies and Devilish Struggles,” and “Poltergeists.” The stories are sometimes sad, sometimes horrifying, sometimes educational. But they’re also mostly fun.

My favorites, of course, tend to be about St Andrews, where I lived for six years. Alas, there are really only two stories (for some reason, the very haunted St Andrews Castle didn’t make it into the “Ghostly Castles” section). St Andrews Cathedral, for example, has a Lady in White and a ghostly monk who haunts St Rule’s Tower. The late-11th century St Rule’s Tower is the tallest (and probably oldest) building in St Andrews. It’s pretty much the only remaining intact structure for St Andrews Cathedral. It’s a bit of a hike that I’ve done a few times, but sadly (or not?), I’ve never seen the monk.

Stories range from the humorous to the creepy to the quite-disturbing. One of the funniest is the large “Demon Crab” of Dundee that crawls out of a drowned ferryman’s coat after he washes up on the beach. The Devil doesn’t last long in that guise, as he is quickly snatched up by a fishwife who happily cooks him for her dinner. One of the creepier ones is a story of a pair of eyes (just eyes) haunting a room in Crail, down the coast from Dundee, in the section, “Ghosts in the House.” And then there’s the scary tale from the “Mind How You Go” section of the Big Grey Man who haunts the mists of Ben MacDuibh in the Cairngorms (Scotland’s mountain range) and attacks anyone who visits it.

The witchcrazes of the 16th and 17th centuries hit Scotland especially hard. It’s believed that thousands were accused and over a thousand executed (by burning at the stake) as a result. You can see the scars of that and the rest of the Covenanters’ repressions to this day on the Scottish landscape (never been fan of John Knox).

The author is sympathetic to the doomed accused witches. She discusses the witchcrazes in her introduction, but also writes about some witch tales more sympathetically than how they appear in North Carolina folklore. The interesting thing is that you can see some Scottish influence (North Carolina has had quite a few Scottish settlers in its early history) on NC folklore.

For example, the famous tale of “The Miller’s Wife” ends fatally in North Carolina lore, with the blame clearly laid on the witchy wife (despite the Miller character being kind of an idiot). In Scotland, you get “The Cursed Mill.” In this story, set near Newtonmore in the Highlands, an old woman curses a miller and his mill. It’s never stated what the insult was, but you start to get some clues as the story progresses.

The first miller dies in a fire. The one after him contracts a fatal illness and the mill burns down. After the mill is rebuilt (because mills were critical to a town or village’s life), the witch relents a little and changes the curse. People can now use the mill for all except one day of the year. The mill runs well once subsequent millers follow these instructions.

However, long after the witch dies, the mill comes into the hands of an ambitious, grasping man who believes the curse is just superstition. So, he uses the mill on that one forbidden day of the year. Predictably, the mill grinds to a standstill. The miller tries again the next year, but this time, rats eat up all his corn. He gives up and sells the mill, but has no fortune in his business ventures thereafter and dies of a wasting illness.

The mill then goes to another man who is kind and gets the mill working again with the help of a young Traveler boy he adopts. After the man dies, the Traveler has to be recalled to get the mill working again. Once he dies, it falls apart for good.

This tale bears a lot of resemblance to the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden, but in this instance, the sin is a refusal to observe a single Sabbath day of rest in the year. We humans just can’t resist crossing boundaries we just shouldn’t cross and that we don’t need to cross. There is also a clear subtext that when the mill is run with kindness rather than covetousness, all goes well. It’s only when the mill is run meanly, with greed, that everything comes to a screeching halt. Here, you can see the mill as a metaphor for Scottish society.

This indicates that the witch’s original grievance was a sound one and the curse not due to an evil nature. It also shows the witch as a productive member of society who brings necessary justice to those who transgress by treating others badly (very different from how witches were perceived back in the Convenanters’ day!). Scottish folklore often shows a balance in the Scottish cultural psyche between great generosity of spirit and the kind of miserliness for which the Scots have too-often become famous (even when it wasn’t true) worldwide. This story is a classic example.

The plan from here on out is to continue reading NC folklore and reviewing the books, just at a slower pace and over on Patreon. If you found these enjoyable, and want to follow my research plans, you can do so there. I’ll still be posting stuff here (including my Supernatural recaps and possibly reviews), but it will involve another one of my projects this month (likely, my mom’s family cookbook). I got a lot done on the NC folklore stuff in October and now that I am thoroughly creeped out, I need to do some other stuff.


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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 #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 #20: Mountain Ghost Stories (1988)


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Russell, Randy and Janet Barnett. Mountain Ghost Stories and Curious Tales of Western North Carolina. John F. Blair, Publisher, 1988 (13th printing, 2014).


The authors of this one hail from Kansas City, MO and first visited the mountains of NC on their honeymoon. Randy Russell (1964-?) is a poet and mystery writer who also wrote three other collections about haunted hospitals, ghost cats, and ghost dogs, all in the South. His wife Janet assisted him as his researcher and co-author for his stories. She also collaborated with him on The Granny Curse and Other Ghosts and Legends from East Tennessee in 1999.

Randy was active at least as late as 2014, doing a book signing as a “ghostlorist” in Asheville, where he then lived, for his latest book. As far as I know, he’s still with us. Janet Barnett appears with him as late as 2009.

It’s interesting to read books ghost story books from different periods. They tend to show distinct trends and styles that other periods don’t. Mountain Ghost Stories, which came out in 1988, is like Harden, Morgan and Roberts’ books in that it focuses more on telling a good yarn than on investigating the history behind the legends. You’ll find no paranormal investigations with bell, book and EMF meter here.

These are stories set in the Appalachian “Mountain” region of North Carolina, west of the Piedmont. There’s quite a bit of overlap with Haunted Hills, though the latter goes a lot more into digging up facts and history (including period photographs). Mountain Ghost Stories is more about legends. But that’s not to say it’s lacking in worth or just retreads what other collections have done, before or since.

The authors retell several classic Cherokee myths and legends. Notable is their version of Spearfinger (“The Wicked Witch of Nantahala”). “Ulagu, the Giant Yellow Jacket,” whom we met previously in Monsters of North Carolina, also appears, as does the famous tale of the maiden Wenonah and her beloved’s leap from Blowing Rock in Watauga County, in “A Lover Lives to Leap Again.”

But Dagul-ku (a goose spirit) and his theft of tobacco from the Cherokee, in “The Magic that Brought Back Tobacco,” was new to me, as were the Nunnehi (Cherokee mountain spirits) from “Fairy Crosses and the Immortal Nunnehi.” There is a ghost story (not in this book), about the vicious 18th century serial/spree killer Micajah Harpe, that refers to his being cursed for desecrating a clearing on the Natchez Trace where Cherokee witches danced. This may be a later distortion of the Nunnehi legend.

Even in stories that date from the time of European settlement in the area, starting in the 18th century, the authors like to include some Cherokee legends. “The Phantom Choir of Roan [Mountain]” in Mitchell County, where some people can hear a roaring like a great battle, has stories going back to the Cherokee period. Later witnesses were in disagreement whether the armies in battle were heavenly or hellish. Similarly, Chimney Rock Mountain near Hickory Nut Gap, has a legend going back to the gold rush days of a ghostly battle. But Chimney Rock Mountain also has Pre-Columbian legends that the mountain was inhabited by a host of evil spirits. Like Roan Mountain, which has a bald (a place where grass, but no trees, grows) at the top, Chimney Rock Mountain has features and legends related to the Devil.

The Brown Mountain Lights, of course, also appear, along with a murder mystery that allegedly occurred during the 19th century. A man murdered his wife and newborn baby, so that he could run off with another woman. But he was found out by the spirits of his wife and child, who appeared as ghost lights and led the local women to their bones. And then there’s the story from Rutherfordton of Daniel Keith, which appears in other Mountain region collections, how he was unjustly hanged and his shadow lingered on the jail’s outside wall until the last person responsible for his hanging died many years later.

Finally, the cover illustration is for the story, “Hannibal Heaton Hears a Hoot,” about High Hampton Inn. A version of this story also appeared in Haunted Hills. When General Heaton decided to sell the house, his wife told him she would kill herself if he did. He didn’t believe her, but she was good as her word and he arrived home from the sale to find her hanging from a tree. Later, he claimed she returned as a white owl that hooted by his window every night. He left town soon after and was not heard from again.


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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 #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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