Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #20: Myths and Mysteries of North Carolina

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Pitzer, Sara. Myths and Mysteries of North Carolina: True Stories Of The Unsolved And Unexplained. Myths and Mysteries Series. Globe Pequot, December 21, 2010.

This one surprised me. I put off reading it for quite some time because my expectations for it were low. The cover is cheerfully garish in a My Boyfriend Was Kidnapped By Ripley’s Believe It Or Not-Obsessed Aliens sort of way. I figured what I would be getting was a rehashed version of various familiar legends, with little new content.

So, I was pleasantly disabused of this notion by the author bringing in some new (or, at least, lesser-known) stories along with the old standards. For example, there’s an entire chapter on Salisbury, with some stories not in The Wettest and Wickedest Town” (which I reviewed last year), though I was disappointed that she didn’t touch on the infamous 1906 lynchings there. Salisbury is one of those towns that always end up inexplicably ignored in state-wide ghost story books.

But even more impressive was that she did her own homework on these tales and came up with some fresh twists. The only disappointment on that score was the chapter on the Lost Colony. Nice to see a detailed bibliography at the end, too. And it’s a quick read.

The author lives in the Piedmont (or did at the time the book came out), so it probably shouldn’t be a surprise that her stories heavily favor the western part of the state. Even so, we do start off on the coast before heading west. There, she deals with ballad regulars Frankie Silver and Tom Dula, as well as a pretty detailed history of the railroad in the NC mountains, in her chapter on the Cowee Tunnel (which is, of course, haunted).

My favorite chapters involved Native American sites Judaculla Rock and the Pee Dee tribe. Judaculla Rock is a large surviving example of petroglyph (carved) rock art in Jackson County. No one knows its age, what it says, or who made it. The pre-Columbian Cherokee attributed it to their thunder god Tsul ‘Kalu, the “Slant-Eyed Giant.” In other words, they didn’t make it and they didn’t know who did, either.

The Pee Dee chapter is about an archaeological site surrounding the surviving Town Creek Indian Mound in Montgomery County. The Pee Dee (not what they called themselves) were a South Appalachian Mississippian Culture who flourished in what is now North Carolina and Tennessee in the half-century before the arrival of Europeans and who appear to have been wiped out in the 18th century. Several tribes claim descent from them.

Pitzer goes into a fair bit of detail about the Pee Dee culture and the archaeological finds at Town Creek. I’m a little surprised that she doesn’t mention Joara in either these chapters or the Lost Colony one. Archaeologists were looking for the settlement at the time, but as this book came out in 2010 and they didn’t discover the Joara site until 2013, perhaps she simply didn’t know about it.

This is a fun collection, with a bit more heft than I first thought. It also has info about paranormal investigators who were active in NC in 2010 and some of their investigations. Recommended.

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