Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #21: Ghostly Spirits of Warren County, North Carolina & Beyond

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Bice, Arlene S. Ghostly Spirits of Warren County, North Carolina & Beyond: Extrordinary True Stories Told By Ordinary People. 2016.

Perhaps I should have seen the misspelling (not mine) of “extraordinary” in the title as a bad sign. But as I’ve said in the past, self-published local collections of ghostlore can be good, despite the need for a decent proofreader or copy editor in some (most?) of them. This one, however, was more in the category of requiring a substantive editor. This is a revised version, too. Go figure.

I’ll admit to being a bit more salty than usual with this book. I paid over twice as much as I generally would for a Kindle book (this one cost $5.99 in Kindle format, $14.00 in paperback). If you’re going to charge me for that, at least deliver a final product with some decent editing.

A big problem is that the author just tosses a lot of stuff in that not only includes the kitchen sink, but the plumbing all the way out to the septic tank, for good measure. For example, she reproduces interviews with owners of Warren County Antebellum mansions, in their entirety. She does things like, “Mr. X continues, ‘As soon as we finished the renovation, the ghosts came back.” Cue a long and rambling account, with plenty of side trips well outside the county. This is standard for the way people interview, but it should have been incorporated more coherently into the book itself.

That’s too bad, because the section on Traveler’s Rest (AKA the Devil’s Den) that comprises the first quarter of the book could have been quite fascinating. The city itself (which is near the northern border of North Carolina) got its official name from being an important stop for travelers from the 18th century onward. Kind of like Natchez down in Mississippi, but in the North Carolina mountains.

We get the story behind both names. A respectable woman forced to stay at Traveler’s Tavern (now The Marshall-Moore House), sometime after it was built in 1788, referred to the tavern after her night there as “the Devil’s Den.” Guess it wasn’t to her taste.

The house’s reputation has continued into the 21st century (though it’s funny how what started out as an Early American den of ill repute has come up in the world by dint of sheer survival over nearly two and a half centuries). A “clairvoyant” student of one of the owners Bice interviewed declared about the house, “The walls are full of black snakes and the house is full of spirits!”

That said, the spirits don’t seem to get up to an awful lot of specific things that the snakes and bugs in the walls don’t. Keys go missing. Doors are found open. The smell of roses occasionally appears. More interesting is the nearby roadside revenant, a gentle haunt that appears as the ghost of a white mule. This spirit goes back to the days of the horse and buggy, when it would appear, peeking over the side of the wagon, to the astonishment of the occupants.

We get a lot about haunted Antebellum piles like Oakley Hall Plantation in Ridgeway (owned by the same people who owned and renovated The Marshall-Moore House) or the Somerville-Graham House in Warrenton. There’s also a very odd chapter on a woman Bice met while doing jury duty who had visions of angels and shadow people, protecting her from harm or trying to get her to do evil. In another chapter, the author is invited to a ghostly children’s tea party at the Putnam House (also in Warrenton).

The chapters tend to be of different lengths and they ramble quite a bit. Lots of family history is stuffed in, with a mind-numbing parade of names and dates of the biblical “begat” variety. Yet, basic info like the house’s location by town and how long it’s been there is buried in the text. These are quite-famous houses, too, so protecting the owners’ privacy doesn’t seem to be the reason.

In these chapters, house owners do renovations that rev up the spirits. Then they talk to them, reason with them, yell at them, do cleansings and banishings with sage, bring in psychic investigators, and so on. Dealing with the ghosts becomes part of dealing with the general environment of the house.

Here and there appear photos taken at the sites by the author. Some of them have rather … odd … photographic anomalies. You decide for yourself what they may entail. Personally, I found them intriguing and creepy. I would have liked some more info on them.

There is also an interview late in the book, with Michael La Chiana from The Heritage Hunters Society (THHS), a paranormal investigation group out of Raleigh, that probably should have appeared earlier. The chapter also references G.H.O.S.T.S and NC Hags, both also out of Raleigh. The group did an investigation on The Putnam House.

The Legends section talks about Person’s Ordinary (c.1770) in Littleton. An ordinary was a stagecoach stop/inn for lower-class people who could not get introductions to the nicer mansions of the rich when they traveled. Stains on the floor allegedly come from an assassination attempt on the visiting (incognito) General Lafayette, who killed the assassin in the struggle. The other story is about a local ghost light called Bragg Light, named after a prominent local Antebellum family.

The author runs out of steam about two-thirds of the way through. To pad the book up a bit, she includes a final section about Lake Gaston – but it’s not actually about Lake Gaston. It’s stories told by people who visit Lake Gaston from other places, who had experiences in those other places. This greatly disappointed me, as I would have liked to have heard some tales about the lake.

Bice does include a short bibliography at the end that has some sources I hadn’t seen before. So, there’s that. I just wish the content that came before it had been better organized.

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