Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #8: Dead and Gone: Classic Crimes of North Carolina

Check out the rest of the month’s reviews here, and last year’s reviews here. If you enjoyed this review and want to help out with my folklore research, head on over to my Patreon page and join up, make a one-time donation on this site or directly through Paypal, or send me a coffee.

Wellman, Manly Wade. Dead and Gone: Classic Crimes of North Carolina. University of North Carolina Press, 1954, 1980.

Apologies for this being so late in the day. As some of you may have noticed, the site has been down since last night. Basically, it was a case of WordPress and my service provider not talking to each other, an issue that crops up now and again. Anyhoo, it’s fixed now.

So, what to say about this book? Let’s start with the easy stuff. Manly Wade Wellman (1903-1986) was a reasonably famous and successful Pulp writer during most of his lifetime, about the level of contemporary Seabury Quinn. He was best known for his story collection Who Fears the Devil? (1963) about a recurring wandering protagonist known as Silver John the Balladeer.

Wellman was celebrated in his day, winning two Edgars, two World Fantasy and Locus Awards each, and a British Fantasy Award. He was also nominated for several others, including a Hugo. He was inducted into the North Carolina Writers’ Network Literary Hall of Fame in 1996.

He was friends with noted Mythos writer Karl Edward Wagner and, it appears, Harlan Ellison (who knew him well enough that Ellison had an unpublished story from him after he died in 1986; Ellison also acted as the auctioneer for his literary estate). His fiction tended to pastiche and crossovers for characters from such writers as Lovecraft and Conan Doyle. That’s okay. A lot of us have done that.

Dead and Gone won him a Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award in 1956, in the category of Best Fact Crime Story. Despite what I’m about to say down-review, it probably deserved it, especially in 1956. It’s well-written in the Pulp style of the day and has been greatly influential on the subsequent folklore for the ten stories he covers in nine chapters. There’s even a ghost story postscript to one (the Reverend George Washington Carawan, convicted murderer and possible serial killer of the Bluebeard variety, who shot himself in court in 1853). It was an important tick off my list.

This true crime collection is likely his best-known book now. At any rate, it’s the one you can most easily buy at the bookstore here in North Carolina (though born in Angola to missionary parents, Wellman died in Chapel Hill after many years in NC). Though there seems to be a bit of a revival of interest in his stuff (at least about a decade ago), along with the general resurgence of interest in Pulp and Golden Age weird fiction, he has largely fallen into obscurity outside NC.

Wellman loved his adopted state and that comes through in the prose in this book. He writes with a clear and easy style, for the most part – pulpy and engaging. The book is pretty well organized (though thematically rather than chronologically, which can be confusing). Wellman’s conceit was that he didn’t do any stories from after 1900 to avoid embarrassing the living. He didn’t do any before 1800, either – perhaps because he didn’t feel there would be enough concrete evidence from which to tell the tale.

Not that facts ever stopped Wellman from telling a good story. His considerable embellishments and frequent failure to cite any credible sources are rather the least of my concerns with this book. But you’ll see in a minute why I felt a need to mention them first.

You see, this book also makes it abundantly, painfully, scarily clear that Manly Wade Wellman, beloved (if somewhat forgotten) Pulp fantasy writer, was an unapologetic and vigorous fanboy of the Ku Klux Klan.

Yes, you heard me right. There is nothing subtextual about it, either. Not only does Wellman go into a long-ish explanation in the book about how he despises the 20th century revivals of the KKK, but thinks the Reconstruction era Klan was a heroic band of outlaws dispensing vigilante justice to miscreant rivals (who are always described in not-so-vaguely homophobic terms), but he tells two stories in this collection about these vigilante murders. Namely, the lynchings of William Parker and John “Chicken” Stephens. And they are rhapsodic in their praise of … the murderers. It’s ugly.

The Ku Klux Klan of Reconstruction times was operating in North Carolina. This order, not to be confused with the twentieth-century disturbers of peace who filched the name and the sheeted regalia, was seen riding in the gloom of Yanceyville evenings – “‘those here to day gone tomorrow ‘ gentlemen with flowing white robes, those speechless spirits,” they were described by A.J. Stedman, the Danbury editor. Dead and Gone, p. 142-3.

When looking at this sort of thing, especially in the current political atmosphere, it’s useful to consider two things. First, is this attitude racist? I would say, well, yes. Second, is it a dog whistle? Sadly, I’m inclined to think that Wellman was freely using the dog whistles of the Lost Cause here. In 1956 (another racially inflammatory time), that was, at the absolute best, dangerously irresponsible.

What’s astonishing is how little this is discussed even now. One 2013 Tor retrospective refers to him as “multicultural” due to his missionary background and claim to be part Native American. Um … no. Not even close. African Americans barely appear as more than scenery in this collection and when they do, they are thoroughly stereotypical.

That hasn’t dated well. But the Klan adoration society thing … that is so far over the line of “okay” that it Superman-flies over that line, lobs a nuclear grenade back onto it, pours on a little plasma from a neutron star, and then sets it on fire. There is no excuse or justification for this. Even “for the times,” it was pretty bad.

What is truly shocking is not his racism. Lots of Pulp writers were racist. Just look at Lovecraft.

It’s that people who, even at the time, claimed to be racially progressive (you know, like Ellison, who aggressively turned his political progressiveness into a huge part of his writing persona) either completely blanked Wellman’s clearly-stated bigotry or excused it with “Oh, tee-hee, that Manly, such a Southern gentleman. What a card.” Some of them are even still doing it. Even though he was espousing this attitude, in a book, during a time when the Klan was actively murdering people who just wanted to be able to live their lives in peace. And vote.

I shouldn’t leave out the fact that Wellman is downright vicious about the female murderers in his stories – notably Ida Bell Warren and poor Frankie Silver (who was most likely a victim of domestic violence and her dead husband’s vindictive family). No apologia for these gals. It’s okay if white women stay in their place, silent and demure, but God forbid they have sexual desires or just plain want to avoid being beaten to death. And it’s not like Wellman is any kinder to murder victims “Poor ‘Omi” or Laura Foster, who get slut-shamed even in the grave.

The thing is that this book is still in print. You can get it on Kindle. It’s charming and engaging in the storytelling, and it continues to influence how some perceive the ten crimes outlined in its pages. Wellman said he didn’t want to cause harm to anyone living when he chose crimes with no living participants. But I don’t think he tried hard enough.

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Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #7: North Carolina Ghost Lights and Legends

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Gritzner, Charles F. North Carolina Ghost Lights and Legends. Blair (June 25, 2019).

I’ve been collecting stories about ghost lights for a while, and had even thought about working up a long article or chapbook about them. I was therefore eager to read and review this book. I was pleased to see that it had some 20 more examples than I had collected (or had at least listed as ghost lights), with a grand total of 54 for his book.

Gritzner has a set format (that’s a good thing) in which he lists each light, first by region, then by county and town, as well as by folkloric motif. Then he sets out the nature and known history of the light. He’s visited a bunch of these sites. Where he has, he discusses his visit there and the terrain.

He also brings up possible theories, most of them scientific (personally, I think some of these lights are a natural phenomenon that is currently unknown but possibly related to the local electromagnetic fields). He even has photos of the sites and maps of their general distribution in the state.

I wanted to like this book more than I ended up doing so. For a start, I found the Kindle version really frustrating to work with. Usually, I can access my Kindle library from the site remotely, but I had to download this one onto my old computer, which meant that scrolling through the book took forever. I’ve seen the print version, which is nicely laid out. I will probably just pick up a copy of that for future reference. It’s easier than working with the Kindle version.

For another, despite the author’s claim in his introduction, his list has some significant holes and I also had a few issues with his methodology. For example, while he lists Teach’s Light on the Outer Banks in Hyde County, he’s missing the famous annual Flaming Ship of Ocracoke from the same area. He talks about the Momeyer Light in Nash County, but misses two Middlesex Lights two towns over (one of them a railroad light and one a death omen). He also doesn’t discuss Vollis Simpson‘s whirligig folk art, or how it influenced local urban legends like Acid Park, in Wilson County. Coverage of indoor ghost lights is also pretty spotty, especially in the capital.

Gritzner talks about his background in teaching geography for five decades, yet divides up the state in some strange ways. He does so roughly along the giant crossroad of I-95 (north-south) and U.S. 64 (east-west). Some of these ghost light stories (especially the Maco Light-type railroad legend of the headless conductor, which appears in several forms across the state) go back at least to the 19th century, yet 95 didn’t exist before 1958 and 64 before 1926.

So, why would a geographer divide the state up that way, instead of the traditional geological way of Coast (Outer and Inner Banks), Upper and Lower Coastal Plain, Piedmont, and Mountains? This leads to some puzzling conclusions like Gritzner’s claim that the Northeast has few railroad lights relative to the Southeast, even though Ahoskie (in the former region) has two major examples of that motif.

He makes some other odd assertions, such as that ghost lights occur only in remote rural places. But there are lights that appear inside houses and this condition is not even universally true for outside lights. Ahoskie and Tarboro, for example, are pretty large and established towns.

Gritzner’s research also comes across as a bit shallow. For example, he cites popular ghost story books as sources, yet shows little-to-no knowledge of local history books like those for Nash County that mention the Middlesex Lights. He mentions volume seven of The Frank C. Brown Collection, yet seems unaware that said book is part of a larger collection. This makes his conclusion that North Carolina has an unusually large number of ghost light stories (as opposed to the probability that North Carolina simply has a much larger and more coherent published collection of folklore than other states) questionable.

Further, there’s no mention of the ECU Folklore Archive, or the UNC Folklore Program at Chapel Hill, let alone the Rhine Research Center (in Parapsychology) in Durham. There’s no in-depth look at the geology of the regions and sites studied to get an idea of what kind of natural phenomena might relate to these lights. The author does look into the possibility of car lights in some areas, but doesn’t really look into how long ago the railroad may have put, say, street lights next to the tracks. Nor does he get into the complexities of possible double-refractions and other optical illusions, so his speculations mostly remain just that – speculations.

I’d still recommend getting this book. For all of its flaws, it is a handy reference, in a lot of ways, that hasn’t previously existed. I just wish it had a bit more methodological depth and range.

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Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #6: North Carolina’s Supernatural Phenomenons

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Granato, Sherri. North Carolina’s Supernatural Phenomenons. 2018.

Before we get much further into the month, I need to address some of the dodgier practices in ghost stories and folklore writing (particularly of the self-published variety) to this date. They seem to come in two forms. The first is when a book (like The Beast of Rickards Road and the Ghost of Payne Road: True Ghost Stories of North Carolina or State of Horror: North Carolina) is actually fiction, either a novel or a collection of short stories, but presents itself as folkloric ghost stories.

I have no objections whatsoever to reading fiction based on folklore, and I will grant you that the line can get pretty fuzzy with some writers (Nancy Roberts, lookin’ at you). But there’s a line that authors like Roberts don’t cross, one in which the folklore is still the folklore and not a fictional story with completely fictional characters and a plot that is only inspired by the folklore tale. When I am looking for folklore, I want to read folklore, and I want to know that’s what I’m getting. As a reader, I don’t like being lied to and I don’t like it when authors waste my time. Or my money.

The other problem is when you get the bun, but little or no meat. North Carolina’s Supernatural Phenomenons is of the latter variety. It’s a smartly written book (though it could use a decent copy editor and typesetter – “phenomena” not “phenomenons”). It’s also recent. It even has a few stories about the folklore of the Coast and Inner Banks that I had not yet run across, so I can’t say it was a total waste. I did like the author’s writing style, which is both chatty and spooky where necessary.

But it is also ten pages long. And it’s a fairly padded ten pages, too. To add insult to injury, if I hadn’t been able to get it through Kindle Unlimited, it would have cost me $2.99. That’s a lot of money for ten pages of mostly fluff.

So, what do you get? Well, you get a few pages on the Brown Mountain Lights, ghost walks and haunted pub crawls in Old Wilmington, and an investigation of ghost children by a local ghost hunters group (North Carolina Paranormal Researchers) in Elizabeth City, and … that’s it.

If this were part of a regular-sized collection of a hundred pages (or even eighty) pages or so, I’d be fine with the book. The author includes some nice perks like what exit to take to find the vantage points for viewing the Brown Mountain Lights and where to find the haunted pub crawl in Wilmington. And knowing who is doing ghost research in Elizabeth City is also nice.

But that’s not a whole book. That’s basically a chapter being sold as a book. Looking at the author’s other works for the state (I don’t think she’s from around here), most of them aren’t much longer. It feels as though this one was written over a few evenings as a quickie cash grab. No one likes a wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am when they were looking for dinner and movie, first.

If you want to check this out, I’d suggest doing so on Kindle Unlimited. You’ll get a nice quick read. But if you’re going to pay for it, be forewarned about what you’re getting.

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Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #5: North Carolina Ghosts & Legends

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Roberts, Nancy. North Carolina Ghosts & Legends. University of South Carolina Press, 1959, 1967, 1992 (second edition).

We’re back with another Nancy Roberts book (according to her introduction, she had done ten by 1992). This one, however, is a special one for her. It’s her first book (originally titled An Illustrated Guide to Ghosts & Mysterious Occurrences in the Old North State) from 1959, but with a new introduction and six new stories. Otherwise, everything appears to be the same as the original.

Case in point: Remember that book I reviewed last year that investigated the Haunted Hitchhiker legend of Lydia? That story is here in its most famous early form as “The Lovely Apparition.” In retrospect, it’s not terribly hard to dope out that “Burke Hardison” is a fake name for the supposed informant (the young man who drove her home).

Lydia is not the only familiar ghost between these covers. The Maco Light, the Devil’s Tramping Ground, the Music of Roan Mountain, the Hoofprints of Bath, the Dromgoole legend, and the Little Red Man of Salem, among others, are all here and likely in the form that many North Carolinians read for the first time. There is also the story of the old slave who killed his master and buried him under a bridge, that I mentioned the other day.

In Roberts’ defense, her book was one of the earliest popular ghost story collections for North Carolina, at least for the 20th century. Her ex-husband’s atmospheric photos no doubt helped seal the deal for a lot of readers looking for an October chill. I would be very surprised if she had not pillaged the (then very recent, and not quite complete) Frank C. Brown Collection of North Carolina Folklore for fresh material.

I rode pretty hard on Roberts last year, especially her newer collection, but there’s little doubt about the influence she had on the spread of popular North Carolina folklore in the past half-century. I also have to say that her storytelling was better early on, albeit it was always high on atmosphere and low on concrete facts.

One thing that bothers me a tad about this revised edition is that it’s not entirely clear which stories are new and which aren’t. It appears that all of the coastal tales are new (I guess this includes the Blackbeard one). Maybe I’ll get a hold of the first edition and see how it differs from this one.

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Supernatural: Season 15


We need your help!

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It’s been a tough summer, so I’m way behind on my recaps and reviews. As of this review, I now have 51 episodes left to finish for previous seasons, plus the 20 for the final (15th) season that starts on October 10. That’s 71 total by next April. I currently have 149 coffees at $3 each on Ko-Fi (many thanks to those who have contributed so far!). If I get 300 coffees total, I will commit to doing one recap/review per week (retro or Season 15). If I get 400 coffees, I will commit to two. If I get 500 coffees, three reviews. If I get 600 coffees, four reviews. If I get 700 coffees, five reviews per week.

Other that that, any and all contributions are welcome! You can still find my reviews here of North Carolina ghost story books, and notes about my folklore research on Patreon.

My collected recaps and reviews of season one, which first appeared on Innsmouth Free Press, are up (with a few extras) on Kindle. The Kindle version is available through Amazon. 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 15.


The Official Supernatural: “Back and To the Future” (15.01-Season Premiere) Live Recap Thread

The Official Supernatural: “Raising Hell” (15.02) Live Recap Thread

The Official Supernatural: “The Rupture” (15.03) Live Recap Thread

The Official Supernatural: “Atomic Monsters” (15.04) Live Recap Thread

The Official Supernatural: “Proverbs 17:3” (15.05) Live Recap Thread

The Official Supernatural: “Golden Time” (15.06) Live Recap Thread

The Official Supernatural: “Last Call” (15.07) Live Recap Thread

The Official Supernatural: “Our Father, Who Aren’t in Heaven” (15.08) Live Recap Thread

The Official Supernatural: “The Trap” (15.09) Live Recap Thread

The Official Supernatural: “The Heroes’ Journey” (15.10) Live Recap Thread

The Official Supernatural: “The Gamblers” (15.11) Live Recap Thread

The Official Supernatural: “Galaxy Brain” (15.12) Live Recap Thread

The Official Supernatural: “Destiny’s Child” (15.13) Live Recap Thread

The Official Supernatural: “Last Holiday” (15.14) Live Recap Thread

The Official Supernatural: “Gimme Shelter” (15.15) Live Recap Thread

The Official Supernatural: “Drag Me Away (From You)” (15.16) Live Recap Thread

The Official Supernatural: “Unity” (15.17) Live Recap Thread

The Official Supernatural: “Despair” (15.18) Live Recap Thread

The Official Supernatural: “Inherit the Earth” (15.19) Live Recap Thread

The Official Supernatural: “Carry On” (15.20 – Series Finale) Live Recap Thread


The Kripke Years

Season 1

Season 2

Season 3

Season 4

Season 5

The Gamble Years

Season 6 (with Kripke)

Season 7

The Carver Years

Season 8

Season 9

Season 10

Season 11

The Dabb Years

Season 12

Season 13

Season 14

Season 15


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Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #4: Whispers from the Past: A Collection of Folklore by North Carolina Students

Check out the rest of the month’s reviews here, and last year’s reviews here. If you enjoyed this review and want to help out with my folklore research, head on over to my Patreon page and join up, make a one-time donation on this site or directly through Paypal, or send me a coffee.

Whispers from the Past: A Collection of Folklore by North Carolina Students. North Carolina Heritage Week 1990: “The Arts: From the Past into the Future.” North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, Raleigh, 1990.

It’s funny that the quaintest and most dated part of this collection is the “future” part. One major conceit of the introduction is the idea that the students were collecting stories about the past and recording/submitting them on the media of the future – namely, floppy disks.

The mission statement reads:

As a part of the 1990 Heritage Week Celebration, all North Carolina schools were invited to participate in an innovative project known as “Tales and Technology.” Students were asked to talk with relatives and friends and to gather folk tales about traditions, family stories, names of places or tall tales that had been passed from one person to another.

One unique aspect of this project involved submission of the tales to the Department of Public Instruction through telecommunications or as text files on a computer diskette. This process gave students an opportunity to inform others about the PAST through the technology of the FUTURE. The invitation drew a response from 600 students, representing 77 schools and 43 school systems.

The project was a splendid example of integrated learning. Students gathered folktales (arts) on their past (history), wrote out the stories (communication skills), and relayed the information through technology (computer skills).

I try to remind myself that this was 1990, after all (our tech will look equally quaint three decades from now), and that I can hardly talk when I lived through that period and was already an adult in 1990. But reading this mission statement, my very first thought was Oh, that’s adorable! Which I’m pretty sure was not the intended effect. The “future tech” angle now feels like opening a time capsule. In a bad way.

There is, however, something timeless about kids from one generation interviewing their elders about the Way Things Were Way Back When. This isn’t the only such collection I’ve run across for this year’s folklore run and I hope to find more. There appear to be things that older people in a community are willing, even eager, to share with their cultural heirs that they would never tell an outside adult. At first, I wasn’t sure these collections would have much folkloric value, but I have definitely changed my mind.

The book is broken down into five sections: Horror Stories, Legends, Tall Tales, Place Names, and Personal Experiences (easily the longest at over half the book, with plenty of thematic overlap with the others). There’s a county index, but no table of contents for some reason. These stories were collected from all over North Carolina. There are even a few from my area. Some are familiar and well-known. Some are a little odd. Some you may not see anywhere else.

Some of these stories seem a tad advanced for the child writing them down, even allowing for the interviewing process. In one case from Morganton, it’s outright admitted that the child’s father, a Son of the Confederacy member, dictated it. That said, I’m here for the themes and the hints of new stuff.

And there is some new stuff. Yes, there are multiple versions of the Vanishing Hitchhiker, the Headless Railroad Conductor, and the Devil’s Tramping Ground, along with various lynchings and Civil War tales. But there are also several about otherwise-forgotten local colorful personalities, family ghosts (usually Grandma), an entire section on place names, and the odd creepy story.

For example, it’s an open secret in Edgecombe and Halifax counties that Seven Bridges Road (Edgecombe) and Thirteen Bridges Road (Halifax) are seriously haunted, including a roadside revenant or two, and a serial killer who may or may not have been caught a few years back. But details are generally lacking, aside from the often-repeated story of how you see seven bridges going one way and only six bridges coming back on Seven Bridges Road.

Fortunately, we get two from Halifax in this collection about Thirteen Bridges Road. One is about a homicidal roadside revenant of an accident victim and the other is a headless horse (which may derive from Scottish fairy folklore). The headless horse story harks back to very old versions of phantom revenants in which a ghost weighs down the traveler’s transportation until the traveler reaches a certain point in the road. In the old days, it was a horse or mule. In this version, it’s a car.

There’s even a witch story (one of only two from Nash County). I’m pretty sure I’ve seen this tale related in another local folklore book about Nash County. She must have left quite an impression.

The other story is about the ghost of a woman haunting Rocky Mount Mills, spotted by the storyteller’s grandfather at 3:30am (the Witching Hour) in 1965. The storyteller appears to mean the old cotton gin on Tar River (what local people generally call Rocky Mount Mills) rather than the old tobacco factory (now the Imperial Centre) on Church St. Both buildings are said to be very haunted.

There are also several ghost lights (usually, but not always, related the Headless Conductor legend). But not all of the more dramatic stories involve the supernatural. One girl claims to have survived a near-miss with a waterspout while her family was at the beach. There is also a section about old-time folkways in which the kids interviewed an elder in their family. There’s even a cute story about a frog in a church that ended a revival meeting early and one about an elastic-eating cat (folks, don’t let your fur-kids do this at home). In another story reminiscent of an urban legend supposedly from pioneer days, a blind grandmother is saved from a homicidal burglar by her watchdog, but no one realizes it until her daughter visits the next day.

In addition to the perennial state favorite, the Civil War, some stories talk about the Great Depression, World War II and more local events such as a 1916 flood of Clear Creek in McDowell County. Some of these stories see the past through rose-colored glasses. Others, however, have a grimmer, more hardscrabble view, especially of the Depression. Life in North Carolina back in the day could be very hard if you were an orphan, poor, black, or all three.

Curiously, the book does not discuss race at all. Nor does it discuss Segregration, which had only officially ended 16 years before the book came out. There are occasional accounts (such as one by a child whose great-something grandmother used to tell stories about being sold as a slave) that indicate the child is African-American, but no actual discussion of what it was like to grow up African-American in North Carolina back in the day.

I suppose that this was perceived to be too controversial a topic for a folklore book by children, but it’s still major blind spot. African-Americans are still the second-largest racial demographic in North Carolina, with nearly twice the national average at 21.48%. In some counties, the African-American population is over 50%. I’m not sure who ultimately decided to whitewash the book’s subject matter, but I think that was a mistake.

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Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #3: Black Spirits: The Ghostlore of Afro-American Slaves


Check out the rest of the month’s reviews here, and last year’s reviews here. If you enjoyed this review and want to help out with my folklore research, head on over to my Patreon page and join up, make a one-time donation on this site or directly through Paypal, or send me a coffee.

Gorn, Elliot J. “Black Spirits: The Ghostlore of Afro-American Slaves.” American Quarterly, vol. 36, no. 4 (Autumn 1984), pp. 549-565.

As historian Tiya Miles notes in her book Tales from the Haunted South (reviewed here last year), ghost story books and the dark tourism industry in general tend to ignore African-Americans or, at best, use them as exotic scenery or set pieces. African-American ghost stories certainly exist, but you have to dig a bit to find ones that are actually told by African-Americans.

Elliot Gorn is white, but this is an important article in terms of discussing Antebellum slave ghostlore and I don’t have a copy of John Mason Brewer’s classic Worser Times and Better Days: The Folklore of the North Carolina Negro (1965), yet.

The first part of the article is mainly devoted to discussing the late Gladys-Marie Fry‘s then-recent book, Night Riders in Black Folk History (1975). Gorn disagrees with Dr. Fry’s thesis that Antebellum slave owners intentionally used ghost stories to terrorize and control their slaves, but agrees with her that they most certainly tried to do so with recently freed African-Americans during Reconstruction (one example may be the story of the old slave who killed his master in self-defense, buried him under a bridge, confessed on his deathbed, and now haunts the bridge, still beaten by his abusive master).

For the former, Gorn cites a lack of evidence, among the voluminous source material of methods of control slave owners used and discussed, of using “hant” stories as one such method. Obviously, this situation was different in the post-War period, when one reason the Ku Klux Klan dressed in white hoods and robes was to pretend they were Civil War ghosts to frighten African-American ex-slaves. Gorn is skeptical, however, that very many of the slaves were taken in by this charade. The actual violence the Klan freely engaged in was far more persuasive.

Gorn notes that part of the difficulty in collecting African-American ghostlore from ex-slaves was their general reticence in sharing pretty much anything personal with white interviewers. They had learned the hard way not to overshare with whites, although some admitted to WPA interviewers during the 1930s that slave owners had not encouraged beliefs in, or discussion of, such lore. Slaves learned not to trust their masters – or any white person – and to limit unnecessary contact (or even discussion) with them well beyond the point of death.

Also, while they were not necessarily taken in by living white men pretending to be dead, some slaves found some particularly brutal masters so terrifying that they imagined them coming back from the dead in a classic example of abuse-generated PTSD. But there is a humorous side to “hant” lore that sends up overly superstitious people who see everything as supernatural. Gorn also notes that a major function of ghostlore was to strengthen strained familial ties with helpful ghostly ancestors, since the institution of slavery did not legally recognize any bond save that between the slave and the master.

Much of the rest of his article is a review of the literature on the topic. He notes the theory that African-American slaves held a largely animistic view underneath an imposed, but superficial, white Christian theology. He also notes that slaves tended to perceive ghosts as restless unless placated by grave goods and largely malevolent. This was in contrast to Anglo-American white views of ghosts as largely benevolent. The article ignores the fact that slave owners also included whites from French, Dutch, Spanish, and Celtic backgrounds (despite several mentions of New Orleans ghostlore), and that these could have radically different views on ghostlore than the English.

Celtic lore, for example, freely mixes ghostlore with fairy lore (some sources claim that fairies were the unbaptized dead). The Colonial Era Dutch-American Ichabod Crane is terrified by the Headless Horseman specifically because that figure is a powerful death omen for anyone who sees it. In Celtic lore, headless men (and especially those on horses) were some of the deadliest members of the Unseelie (Dark Fairy) Court. African-American and Celtic lore are both full of headless men, black dogs, restless dead who must be pinned into their graves, and spirits/fairies who can’t cross water. There are differences to be sure (for example, black dogs are seen as helper figures in some West African lore, whereas they are terrifying demons in Celtic lore), but not all Antebellum white culture was diametrically opposed to black culture.

There are not many stories specific to North Carolina in the article, though the author does cite the Frank C. Brown Collection early on. One story does appear about the ghost of a man who was whipped to death, that returns to haunt the plantation where he died. In another, a black woman is beaten to death by two white men and returns to haunt their sleep with her screams.

Gorn puts these tales in the category of avengers who strike from beyond the grave, freed from all earthly bonds and consequences by death. Even though they did little beyond beg or stare in mute reproach, these ghosts could be as terrifying to those they were avenging as to the targets of their revenge. They had a tendency to return to their masters’/killers’ plantation houses and drive them out, effectively taking over the house for their own. In a few stories, however, slave spirits came back to kill their masters outright.

Since the article came out in 1984, it is inevitably a bit dated. Though Gorn tries to put his work in context with other folkloric research, he doesn’t mention Jan Harold Brunvand’s classic popular study of modern urban legends, The Vanishing Hitchhiker (1981). Obviously, there is no discussion of the internet or how these old stories might have spread on it, either, since the World Wide Web did not yet exist.

More puzzling is Gorn’s avoidance of any discussion of Lost Cause mythology. Since he spends a good part of his article discussing Dr. Fry’s book, this is a pretty big omission. Lost Cause mythology was a major attempt by Southern white elites to recapture the post-Civil War narrative. In the context of their trying to intimidate ex-slaves with ghostlore, it would have made sense to discuss how the Lost Cause narrative fit into that effort. Ah, well.

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Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #2: Ghost Cats of the South

Check out the rest of the month’s reviews here, and last year’s reviews here. If you enjoyed this review and want to help out with my folklore research, head on over to my Patreon page and join up, make a one-time donation on this site or directly through Paypal, or send me a coffee.

Russell, Randy. Ghost Cats of the South. John F. Blair, Publisher, 2011.

This one comes from half of the duo that gave us Mountain Ghost Stories from last year. It’s exactly as advertised – supernatural stories of cats from all over the South, including photographic illustrations. The author did a similar one for dogs, as well.

It has many of the same strengths and weaknesses as Mountain Ghost Stories. There is basically no investigation of the folkloric background to these tales, despite an introduction by the author that discusses his work as a “ghostlorist.” In fact, it’s hard to tell the original legend in some of them (and some even sound like thinly veiled fiction). Russell claims that the South has older stories than any other region of the U.S. But even those two oldest that he claims for this collection (the Cherokee Wampus Cat and the 1740s San Marcos Cat of “Rose Perfume” from St. Augustine, FL) are not likely as old as those of New England and Eastern Canada.

Perhaps the most outrageous in folkloric terms is also the creepiest – an eternally hungry cat ghost called “Eat-Your-Face Cat” from Tunica, MS that haunts a 1956 Chevy Bel-Air. “Butcher Cat” from Tuscaloosa, AL sounds downright terrifying (albeit its story is told from the impossible viewpoint of a victim). So do the malevolent Voodoo haint “Chimney Cats” of Savannah, GA. And “Run-Over-Flat Cats” from Birmingham, AL gets downright metaphysical with its two Schrodinger-like cats, pet(s) of a lonely longhaul trucker.

The book is also pretty lacking in North Carolina content. There are only 3 NC stories out of the 22 in the book and they’re all from the Mountain region. One (“Camp Cats”) is from Black Mountain in the west and I was fairly disappointed at the lack of markers for further research in it. It is a sweet story, though, about a young girl who misses her dead cat so much that she brings the kitty’s ashes with her to summer camp. After she dies relatively young in a car wreck, she and the cat come back in feline form as a benign haunting of the place she loved so much.

Another from Hot Springs, “Wedding Cat,” is about a bridesmaid who makes an inadvertent stop in a holler after her car breaks down. In gratitude to the old widower who puts her up for the night, she agrees to take an old “Wampus” mask, that once belonged to his wife, with her to the nuptials. This has the unexpected effect of “birthing” a mischievous ghost cat at the service that figuratively gets the bride’s tongue.

The one from Sylva, NC (“Cat Cookies”) is also a tad vague in historical or folkloric detail, but is gentle in tone. In it, an old spinster (who may or may not be a witch), uses magic cookies to find homes for her many kitties on Halloween among the local children. This one got a “d’awww” from me.

Others deal with witches, too, but those tend to be rather misogynistic (whether the author’s writing or the original source material, I wasn’t sure). The one from Gatlinburg, TN (though most of the locations in the story are near Judaculla Rock in NC) is about the Native American legend of the Wampus Cat (“Slivers of Bone”). Taken from a story by Davey Arch, a contributor to Living Stories of the Cherokee, it involves a Cherokee woman who is cursed for putting on a cougar skin to spy on the menfolk during their night war meetings against the Colonial settlers.

In “Lightning Cat” from Baton Rouge, LA, a luckless witch caught in a storm is eventually forced to take shelter in a tree, where she is trapped (perhaps eternally) by a bolt of lightning striking the tree. Her attempts to escape cause a periodic discharge that locals mistake for ball lightning. I ended up feeling sorry for her.

If you don’t like feline fatality, this may be one to avoid. Almost all of the cats in the stories end up dead, some of them gruesomely in the manner of urban legends (though usually with a more tragic than comic spin to the storytelling, except in the case of the boisterous “Cat Shine” from Edgefield, SC). My favorite part of the book, though, was the collection of vintage black-and-white photos of cats (and their owners) interleaved with the stories. These ranged from adorable to gravely gorgeous. I wish there were more historical information on them.

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Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #1: Dixie Spirits

Check out the rest of the month’s reviews here, and last year’s reviews here. If you enjoyed this review and want to help out with my folklore research, head on over to my Patreon page and join up, make a one-time donation on this site or directly through Paypal, or send me a coffee.

Coleman, Christopher K. Dixie Spirits: True Tales of the Strange and Supernatural in the South. Cumberland House, 2008 (2nd edition).

I decided to start out general, as this has given me a lot of insight into the difference between regional lore and stories specific to North Carolina. Dixie Spirits does have a North Carolina section, but (as is often the case with these regional ghost story books), it’s a bit thin and the lore obvious.

This is the second, revised version of the book (the original came out in 2002). Contrary to the image of the Antebellum plantation house on the cover, Coleman addresses a pretty wide variety of subjects and situations. There’s a good fair bit of outdoor campfire tales. Despite my misgivings that the book would turn out to be a tedious read through a Hoary History of Old Houses like last year’s The Haunted South (yeah, I’m still a bit salty about that), Coleman’s book is an entertaining and quick read for its length (nearly 300 pages). Admittedly, he’s not so hot at providing sources, and the stories I knew the best had some distinctly literary origins of the Victorian variety, but the book itself is a fun read. Especially for this time of year.

Easily my favorite chapter is the one on Marie Laveau (“The Witch Queen of New Orleans” in the Louisiana section). I was expecting the usual attention paid to Creole monster slave owner Madame LaLaurie. Actually getting a chapter-length bio on Laveau instead was a refreshing change.

I don’t know how many of Coleman’s “facts” are taken from contemporary sources, but he does a pretty even-handed take on her. He puts her in context in both the New Orleans overall culture of the 19th century, and her role in the growth and evolution of Voodoo culture in the American South.

She appears to have been quite the enigma in contrasts – a devoted wife and mother, and devout Catholic, who was also a feared witch queen (who died in bed rather than at the stake). A black woman who dressed the hair of rich white women, yet knew more about the affairs of her city than any of the rich elites and who ended up living alongside them as their equal. A ruthless woman who died wealthy, but beloved thanks to her decades of charity. I think she deserves more attention than just in ghost story collections at Halloween.

Another good chapter is the third (“Graveyard Shift: The Haunting of Sloss Furnaces”) about the post-Civil War iron works that grew up around Birmingham, AL. It’s a different kind of site for a haunting than the usual sprawling mansion or college or hospital (as Coleman himself points out in the chapter’s introduction). This setting has led to stories of some unsettling and even malevolent ghosts, especially a scorched and vengeful foreman who was much-hated in life and may have been hastened to his death. Equally disturbing is chapter one (“The Face in the Courthouse Window”) about a near-lynching that may have ended in a quiet murder. This story bears a remarkable resemblance to the contemporary accounts about the last hanging in Nash County (on March 15, 1900), despite the tale hailing from Columbus, AL.

The chapter about Natchez (“The Devil’s Backbone: Ghosts and Haunts of Natchez and the Natchez Trace”) is early Western history at its darkest and bloodiest. There’s surprisingly little about the infamous Harpe Brothers of the Early Republic, but Coleman gets into plenty of detail about other river pirates and dastardly deeds.

There are some inaccuracies in there, though. For example, while Big Harpe was known for killing at least two infants (one of them his own daughter), neither murder occurred in a Natchez, as one story claims. In fact, the Brothers appear to have avoided civilization (even what passed for it in Natchez), and mostly kept to Kentucky and Tennessee.

Another flub pops up in “Savannah Specters,” with that old time-traveling tale from Nancy Roberts of Blackbeard visiting a Savannah pub that wasn’t built into 16 years after his death. And, unfortunately, North Carolina is largely represented by Sallie Southall’s bathetic (and vaguely racist) invented story of Virginia Dare as a white doe. All of the Native American tales in the story suffer from similar levels of Victorian cheese.

Coleman is pretty sympathetic toward the Lost Cause, but he mostly keeps it on the back burner except for the chapter on Robert E. Lee (“The Haunted Homes of Robert E. Lee”), which turns into a Lost Cause paean to the Civil War general. Needless to say, we get no mention of Lee’s brutal pre-War treatment of his wife’s slaves or the blunders laid at his door by more recent Civil War historians. In the process, a nascent and potentially fascinating discussion of the origins of Arlington Cemetery gets derailed.

The previous Virginia chapter about accused “witch” Grace Sherwood (“The Devil’s Dominion”) is fun, though. She sounds like a spitfire along the lines of 19th century Yorkshire noblewoman Anne Lister.

Alas, the book ends with a serious turn for the weird – and not in a good way. The creepy Mothman mystery of West Virginia (“Cornstalk’s Curse: The Mothman Enigma”) is worth including, but a lot of this legend’s mystery stems from confusion over how to classify it. Reports of it were largely cryptozoological for years until the shocking and fatal collapse of the Silver Bridge to Ohio on December 15, 1967. After the disaster, the Mothman phenomenon essentially faded away and many later perceived a pattern of predictive warnings for the collapse in the Mothman’s appearances.

Unfortunately, Coleman then lets himself get mired in a discussion about UFOs, which continues in the next and final chapter. As some reviewers on Goodreads have pointed out, this is an abrupt change in tone from the rest of the book. Also, the incident the last chapter centers on sounds an awful lot like a meteorite paired up with mass hysteria and a general ignorance of astronomy. Not the best way to end a book on ghost stories.

Did you enjoy this review? You can help keep this project going by contributing monthly via Patreon (which includes perks), making a one-time donation through Paypal, or buying us a coffee. And don’t forget to check out my ghostly folklore notes all month on Patreon!

Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina

We’re baaaaaaack. Welcome to the second year of Halloween in North Carolina. All month long leading up to Halloween, All Saints Day and All Souls Day, just like last year, I’ll be reviewing more ghost story and folklore books about the state of North Carolina – the creepy, the crawly, the scary. You can still find last year’s reviews here (and you can find the source for this year’s cover pic here).

Again, this won’t be a comprehensive list. For a big start, I still haven’t had time to read all the way through the Frank C. Brown collection. That will just have to wait until next year. For another, on top of all the books I didn’t get to last year, new ones have come out since then. But I have deliberately gone for a wider spread of subject matter and area within the state this time round. Some of it is self-published and very local, so these are stories you may not ever have heard before, even if you’ve read a lot of ghost stories about the Old North State. We’ve got stuff about haunted hospitals, theaters and libraries, photographic studies, and studies of local folklore made in the 1980s. We may even throw in one or two about urban legends.

My current main focus is to write up my collection of Nash County tales and legends by the end of this year. If you know of any tales from Nash, Edgecombe or Wilson counties, please feel free to drop me a line.

Again, this stuff takes time and money to do. If you’re interested in helping me with this research (and would like an early copy when it’s ready), head on over to my Patreon page and join up. I’ll be sharing some chilling tales on there, exclusively for my patrons, all October. You can also help by making a one-time donation on this site or directly through Paypal, or sending me a coffee.

Happy Ghost Hunting!

The reviews:

Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #1: Dixie Spirits (2008)

Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #2: Ghost Cats of the South

Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #3: Black Spirits: The Ghostlore of Afro-American Slaves

Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #4: Whispers from the Past: A Collection of Folklore by North Carolina Students

Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #5: North Carolina Ghosts & Legends

Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #6: North Carolina’s Supernatural Phenomenons

Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #7: North Carolina Ghost Lights and Legends

Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #8: Dead and Gone: Classic Crimes of North Carolina

Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #9: Haunted Theaters of the Carolinas

Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #10: Ghosts of America – North Carolina: True Accounts of Ghosts from North Carolina

Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #11: Our Family Trouble: The Story of the Bell Witch of Tennessee

Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #12: Cape Fear Ghosts

Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #13: Ghosthunting North Carolina

Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #14: Haunted Fort Fisher

Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #15: Haunted Broughton: Tales from the Graveyard Shift

Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #16: Haunted Watauga County, North Carolina

Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #17: Spirits of Stonewall

Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #18: Watch Out for the Hallway: Our Two-Year Investigation of the Most Haunted Library in North Carolina

Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #19: Weird Tales of Martin County

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

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

Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #22: Ghosts of the Triad: Tales from the Haunted Heart of the Piedmont

Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #23: Smoky Mountain Tales, True and Tall, Volume II

Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #24: Haunted Plantations

Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #25: Folk Arts and Folklife in and around Pitt County

Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #26: Spooky North Carolina