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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5 thoughts on “Halloween in North Carolina, Day #16: Haunted Uwharries (2009)”

  1. Okay, Paula. Since you’re on the subject of ghost stories this month, I have another question for you. I’m a little embarrassed to ask this, but what do you think of orbs?

    The reason I ask is this. Two years ago, we went down to Milwaukee to Marquette University to see a showing of JRR Tolkien’s manuscripts. While we were there, we stopped in and saw the Joan of Arc chapel, which was supposedly the original brought over and reconstructed.

    It was pretty cool, with lots of antiques and Mark and I took lots of pictures on our phones, though about half an hour apart. When I looked at them later, I saw that I had taken one of the vaulted stone ceiling above the altar, and up near the top is a bright, white, opaque circle of light, that I totally can’t explain. And when I looked at Mark’s pictures, on a separate camera/phone, he caught it too, though the light flared a bit more on his.

    I know that these are usually explained by the scatter of light on particles of dust or moisture. But it was a cold dry day in March. The church was fairly dark, though there was electric lighting towards the back. I don’t recall any light source up front except some candles on the altar, and the ceiling was kind of in shadow. When I enlarge the pictures, I can’t see any obvious source of light like a light bulb or candle hanging from the ceiling.

    And we weren’t using flash, since we’d been asked not to. I’d think it was a glitch in my phone, but its never happened before or since, and Mark caught it on his phone too. I suspect there’s a good explanation for this somewhere, but whenever I try . . . I’ve got nothing.

    1. Ah, orbs. I’ve been meaning to do a blog post about them at some point.

      Okay, from what I’ve been able to gather, the vast majority of orbs have a perfectly logical option from a small constellation of perfectly logical explanations. The biggies are: dust motes, water vapor/droplets, bugs, and a lens flare or other internal camera reflection.

      But every so often, you get one that you can’t explain. Out of thousands of photos taken at a variety of historic sites with a digital camera, I have captured precisely two legitimately puzzling orbs. I’ve captured rather more logically explainable lens flares/internal reflections, but these two I can’t make out.

      I will say, from experimenting when I’ve noticed something like this, that if you are standing in the same spot and you can replicate the orb in the same position with the same lighting–it’s a light reflection. May seem like a really odd one, but it is.

      However, of the two I’ve found, as with yours, it was dry, there was no dust, there was no moisture, there were no insects (with one, it was 40 degrees out inside a well-lit cellar), and there was no obvious light reflective source. So, those are far more puzzling.

      What they are, as with much of the unexplained? Who knows? Could be something supernatural. Could be something scientific that is a bit beyond our understanding.

      1. It had occurred to me that it could be a reflection of small crystals within the stonework, and if we’d been using flash or the church had better lighting, I would have written it off as such and not thought twice. I guess I’ll relegate it to my list of things I’ll never satisfactorily explain.

        1. Personally, I’m comfortable with letting a phenomenon be unexplained until I find an explanation that fits well, rather than trying to shove a square peg into a round hole. Some scientists hate to admit this, but we’ve actually learned quite a lot from the parapsychology field over the years and some genuinely new phenomena (such as the psychological effects of subsonics and intense EM fields) have been discovered as a result.

          Try reading this book: https://www.amazon.com/Seeing-Sky-Activities-Explorations-Astronomy-ebook/dp/B00EHZESAC/

          There’s some really cool stuff in there about atmospheric optics and other phenomena that explained for me where most UFOs probably come from.

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