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

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Renegar Michael, and Amy Spease. Ghosts of the Triad: Tales from the Haunted Heart of the Piedmont. Haunted America, 2011 (ebook edition: 2013).

When I saw one of the authors of this was Michael Renegar and the other was Amy Spease (Greer), I perked right up, despite having read several books about this area, already. Although I haven’t yet got hold of Roadside Revenants, I thoroughly enjoyed Looking for Lydia: The Thirty-Year Search for the Jamestown Hitchhiker and Tar Heel Terrors last year. I had a feeling I would be in for a good, well-researched yarn and I was not disappointed.

First things first – let’s establish where the Triad is. The authors do a solid job of this in their first chapter. Which is good because I initially confused the Triad with the Triangle. The Research Triangle is an urban region of three cities in Wake, Durham, Orange and Chatham counties: Raleigh (the capital), Durham and Chapel Hill. These are more-or-less in the center, in the Piedmont region. Where I am about an hour east is known as the much-more-rural Tri-County area of Nash, Edgecombe and Wilson counties on the Upper Coastal Plain. But then you’ve got Tri-County Community College in the western part of the state, which serves Cherokee, Clay and Graham counties.

So, the Triad is points further west of Raleigh, rather than east. It comprises Winston-Salem, Greensboro and High Point, in Forsyth and Guilford counties. As the authors note, it’s smack dab in the middle of the Piedmont. Hence the subtitle.

If you’ve been reading my reviews, you’ll already know about a fair number of famous ghosts from Moravian Old Salem. The authors start right off with the most famous one – the Little Red Man. Contrary to his sinister name, which evokes the vicious Scottish Borders goblin Redcap, Andreas Kremser was a real person. This cheerful shoemaker and Moravian brother died horribly when a cellar caved in on him in 1786. He is (or was, since a visiting, rather intolerant minister reportedly exorcised him about a century ago) a mischievous, but friendly, spirit who likes to play pranks on people, but won’t hurt anyone.

The authors also discuss the tavern ghost in Old Salem of a man who died without identification, but visited the innkeeper after his death to send a message to his brother in Texas. The message duly sent and received, and the man’s family arrived to retrieve his possessions, the ghost never haunted the inn again.

Spease tells of a house her parents bought in the Historic Waughtown District (Winston-Salem), before moving away. After moving back in as an adult, she didn’t mind the hauntings at first. The resident ghost was a benign elderly lady. But the house later became infested by a darker aura and the appearance of shadow people. She met her co-author Michael Renegar in the process of trying to figure out what was going on and they tried several ways of “cleansing” the house. Nothing worked, at least not for long. Eventually, after a particularly scary dream involving coffins, she was forced to move out. Her stepfather still owned it, but no one lived in it, at the time of publication (2011).

The chapter on the bizarre life and mysterious shooting of tobacco empire heir Zachary Smith Reynolds (1911-1932) at Reynolda House in Winston-Salem is almost a textbook case in how you write the family history of an old house in an interesting way. The shocking case of Reynolds’ Jazz Age death (murder? Suicide? Misadventure? The jury remains out) actually overshadows reports of the path outside the house being haunted by Reynolds’ mother, Katharine.

Other famous sites like Korner’s Folly in Kernersville get a look-in, and there are several haunted theaters and inns. But some of these tales come about from the authors’ own experiences or their investigations of historic houses as Camel City Spirit Seekers. This results in a lot of talk about EVPs and we get to see folkloric stories at various stages in their development.

For example, Spease reports a haunting of a backyard that started after one of her neighbors hanged himself outside his house. There are stories of ghostly encounters with phantom soldiers at the site of The Battle of Guilford Courthouse (1781) in the National Military Park in Greensboro. Lydia gets a chapter, but she’s not the only roadside revenant. And then there’s Spookywoods Haunted Attraction in Archdale, near High Point, which is allegedly really haunted by ghost lights and other shadowy figures. It’s open this time of year, so you can go check it out for yourself.

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

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The Skewarkians. Weird Tales of Martin County. Junior Historian Club. Bear Grass School, Williamston, NC, 1980.

So, remember the student compilation of statewide folklore from 1990, Whispers from the Past, that I reviewed a week or so ago? Well, this is a decade older, was done by a students’ club in a school two counties over, and is confined to just one county (though being a bit longer). They’ve also done a history of tobacco in the county. Personally, I like this one better. Not that Whispers from the Past was bad, but it lacked the focus of this collection and was stage-managed by adults in state government.

It’s weird to think that the kids who did this compilation are now my age and that most of the community elders they interviewed are probably now dead. But this is part of the value of these collections. The most amusing part is the rant in the introduction by one of their teachers about how a book like this is necessary in a day and age when kids are distracted by modern technology and don’t listen to their elders, anymore. Oh, those darn TV sets! Some things never change.

This collection has a big focus on “forgotten” history, beginning with the history of “Bear Grass” as a name in the county. The story is that the name is for the Yucca plant, which grows abundantly in Martin County. Local Native Americans used it to cure bear meat – hence, Bear Grass (the town) and Bear Grass Swamp as place names for the local community now.

Since Martin County is so near to the coast (and is part of the Coastal Plain region), much of its folklore has coastal motifs. There are several stories about witches and conjurers, including one about a witch cat. Ghosts, of course, appear in several stories. Slavery is also a recurring theme.

There is a ghost light (Swinson’s Light) in Bear Grass Swamp. The students trace it back to the 18th century and claim it is the oldest legend in the region (mmm … maybe, but wouldn’t the name “Bear Grass” be older?). The light is traced to an early settler named John Swinson who received a land grant from the Earl of Granville in 1761. The legend is that Swinson buried a treasure somewhere on the land and the light is now his ghost guarding it. Charles Gritzner cites the book and its version of this legend in his book, North Carolina Ghost Lights and Legends.

Then there is the Legend of the Screaming Bridge (which I first heard about from local author Jim Lee – thanks, Jim!). This dates back to the Civil War. A young girl from a prominent family named Yarrow was drowned near or under a bridge that crossed Sweetened Water Creek. The mystery is that it’s unclear if this was an accident, suicide or muuuuuurrrrrder. But sometimes, during a New Moon, people can hear her ghost near the bridge, screaming, or sitting nearby. The story is headlined by a photo of the bridge as it was in 1980, in Griffin’s Township.

There is also a story that connects 19th century horse racing (which generally occurred on Sunday) with the Devil. This one is called “The Phantom Rider.” In this one, the Devil (or a prankster dressed up in a dark coat and hat) appears at one such race, wins, and disappears with a “fiendish” laugh without collecting his winnings. Unless you assume, as some of the spectators did, that he came to collect their souls.

This legend did not actually stop horse racing in Martin County. Or ghost story telling, it seems. This one’s online (I put a link up top), so go ahead and check it out. The kids done good.

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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

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Madia, Tonya and Joey Madia. Watch Out for the Hallway: Our Two-Year Investigation of the Most Haunted Library in North Carolina. Visionary Living, Inc., September 25, 2018.

When I first discovered this book, I got pretty excited about it. Basically, my first impression was that this book was like what Haunted Broughton turned out to be and Haunted Broughton would be like what this turned out to be. Go figure.

So, I was thinking, “Hey! Now I have a book of hauntings related to a specific hospital and one related to a specific library! Yay!” The library in question, by the way, is the Webb Memorial Library in Morehead City, which is down near Beaufort on the southeastern coast of the state.

Now, some of the book is actually pretty decent. The chapter about the spirits upstairs (even though the whole extended infodump about the “vortex” theory is silly) is pretty scary. In fact, the title is an alleged quote from a warning by one of the friendly ghosts about the upstairs hallway.

There’s a lot about the history of the library and all the events that probably caused the haunting folklore. The courtyard coming into the library, for example, is apparently quite haunted and people not-infrequently see things from the street such as lights going on and figures in the windows.

The “investigation” of the library occurred over a two-year period roughly 2016-7. This is something of a misnomer/exaggeration. What the authors actually did was conduct regular ghost tours at the library and keep detailed records about them. That’s hardly nothing, but bringing groups of civilians through a place like that doesn’t strike me as something nearly as professional as an investigation.

Lord, was this book tedious and bloated in parts. Stories in the chapters wander and twist and take a long time getting to the point. The authors go into a lot of detail about Tonya’s alleged psychic gifts. As I said in my review of Ghosthunting North Carolina, I’m not into that. I feel that if you’re going to create your own New Age narratives about the local folklore, at least tell me about the original stuff you’re riffing from, first.

There’s an embarrassing moment in the introduction when the authors are talking about their experiences prior to coming to the library. They once set up a Lakota sweat lodge outside their house in West Virginia and then experienced an increase in paranormal activity. A Shawnee friend pointed out that no Lakota had never lived in that area, so the local spirits might be a bit miffed. Cultural appropriation at its most well-intentioned, but obtuse.

One of the most frustrating parts of the authors incessantly going on about their psychic abilities was that the writing often made it unclear whether someone sitting in a chair in the library was a living member of a ghost tour, a ghost everyone could see, or just a strong impression one of the Madias had of them. It’s deceptive because a lot of the communication actually occurs via flashing lights on instruments. This vagueness had a tendency to “Scooby-Doo” the very ghost encounters that are the intended selling point of the book.

Ultimately, yes, there’s a lot of info about the library’s (and neighborhood’s) folklore and ghost stories. But boy, is it a wade to get to it in some cases.

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

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Ricks, T.E. “Spirits of Stonewall – Good and Otherwise.” Dec. 1996.

“Spirits of Stonewall” is a short article on ghost folklore surrounding Stonewall Manor by the late local historian T.E. Ricks (1931-2006). A realtor most of his life, he was also considered the “unofficial historian of Nash County.”

Theophilus Edward Ricks, by his own admission, was not a believer in ghosts. But he was asked by the Nash County Historical Association to write up the known folklore for Stonewall Manor in 1996 and so, he did. Despite his protestations, these stories even included an experience or two of his own. In the process, he managed to pack quite a lot of ghost storytelling into two and a half pages, single-spaced.

A short explanation about Stonewall Manor and why it’s important: Stonewall Manor is currently one of the two oldest houses in Rocky Mount, NC, on the Nash County side. It is an antebellum Greek Revival mansion right off U.S. 64 and Benvenue Avenue. The mansion is a little hard to see due to the trees from Benvenue, but you can see it lit up like a Christmas tree at night from 64.

The first owner of Stonewall, Bennett Bunn, owned most of the surrounding area as part of his plantation when he built the house around 1830. The house was later bought by nearby Rocky Mount Mills (another reputedly haunted site) as a superintendent’s house. Stonewall has seen a lot of history and unfortunately, it is now in so much disrepair that it’s not open to the public (I have been inside it, though).

Just due to its age, it’s no surprise that Stonewall has a reputation for being haunted. But if you should run across the odd story about it (it’s not a common stop on the usual statewide, book-length ghost tour), you’re liable to trace most of them back to this article. That’s not to say that Ricks made it all up, so much as he was the first person to delve into the topic and write down all the local oral history about the mansion’s ghostlore.

The most notable motif (not surprising in light of how inaccessible the interior of the house has become) is that of teenagers coming up to visit the grounds at night and seeing ghostly figures in the windows. One of Ricks’ sources reported a woman cradling a baby in one window and another woman who screams blue murder from a balcony and then vanishes.

Ricks’ own experiences center around a door on the second floor that seemed to unlock itself no matter how many times he locked it, despite the house being otherwise deserted. At one point, he came upstairs and found the entire doorknob out and lying on the floor nearby – with parts missing.

Perhaps the most intriguing ghost, however, is that of a young boy. He was seen by a young “soldier” in a Civil War reenactment, who was in the house with Ricks at the time, not long before Ricks wrote the article. The reenactor walked into a room and saw a spectral little boy crouched near the window, who looked at him and whispered, “You came. You came.”

Ricks was able to track down the history behind the haunting and discover a gentle soul named Ronald E. Stevens Jr., who died of meningitis at age five in 1938. “Ronnie” is buried in town with his parents, in Pineview Cemetery. Ricks was even able to track down Ronald’s sister and get some reminiscences from her about him. The soldier witnessed the boy’s apparition just two weeks before the 58th anniversary of his death on November 23.

November is coming up next month. If you’re curious, you may drive up to Stonewall some night to see if little Ronnie still wants to play.

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

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Bullard, Tim. Haunted Watauga County, North Carolina. Haunted America, The History Press, 2011.

Here’s another entry from the Haunted America series at The History Press. This one is a series of folkloric reminiscences about Watauga County in the western part of the state. Like other entries in the series, Haunted Watauga appears not to have had much in the way of editing. That’s by far it’s biggest flaw.

I really wanted to like it, especially since the author was a reporter for a long time in the area. He has personal reminiscences and acquaintances in law enforcement and EMS going back to the 1970s (he even mentions the Frank C. Brown Collection). There’s a lot of potentially intriguing stuff in here, but it’s chaotically told. It feels like a closet full of potential treasures that were just casually tossed in, willy-nilly. The author will start telling a story about, say, witches and then wander off to talk about mountain climbing and then a bit of history about something completely unrelated. A lot of it reads like stream-of-consciousness.

Bullard’s storytelling flaws stand out the most in the two longest and most intriguing stories. One of them is a piece of research journalism about the Durham Family murders in 1972 and the other is a mostly-eyewitness account of the capture of some escaped cons. Bullard was on the case during their siege.

The first story, a chilling true crime tale, is about the triple murder of two parents and their son on February 3, 1972 near Boone. The wife was strangled with a rope, while the husband and son were drowned in the bathtub. The case officially remains unsolved, though you get the impression that the police knew exactly who did it. They just can’t prove it.

The chapter is very well-researched. It is not well-written. Bullard wanders from time period to time period and from witness interview to witness interview. He throws in everything, including the kitchen sink. One of these elements, though, appears to be unique to the book. He interviewed people now living in the house where the murders occurred and they claim it is indisputably haunted.

The second story with the convicts involves a phlegmatic cameraman straight out of central casting. I’ll be he was fun to work with. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have much of a climax because the author missed the actual capture. This, along with the recurring semi-finished folklore about witches, is probably the most frustrating part of the book.

I think the best part is the chapter about a long-running theater play (similar to the Lost Colony play in Manteo) called Horn in the West about the life of Daniel Boone. The town of Boone in the county is named after him. Glenn Causey played the title role for 41 straight seasons. There’s also a Haunted Horn in the West version for Halloween. Causey doesn’t haunt the stage now that he’s passed on, but another named Charles Elledge (he’s a benevolent spirit) does.

I hadn’t known about this play and it doesn’t appear in the usual collections, let alone the haunting connected to it. It’s an example of all the unique material in the book. I just wish this one had been written up and presented better.

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


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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 52 episodes left to finish for previous seasons, plus the 19 after this one 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.

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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.

Scroll down to find links to all of my recaps and reviews of all seasons up to this point.

Really long recap (nearly two minutes) of random (maybe) stuff from previous seasons and one for last season that includes Dean-Michael and Mary’s death for a hot minute. We also get a quick bit of EVOL!Kaia fighting, but not Jody or Donna, or any other Wayward Sister we might care about. But it mostly lingers on the Jacknatural plot. For a painfully prolonged time. It’s all set to Bob Seger’s “The Famous Final Scene.”

Cut to Now as the song continues in the middle of the night Chuck either suddenly created out of a bright, sunny afternoon or time traveled TFW into. The camera pulls back from Jack’s face with its burned-out eye sockets to the fight going on around him. Sam, Dean and Castiel are defending themselves from a horde of zombies. Whenever they stab or smite them, the spirits inside the bodies flame red and flare out in a new special effect that … well … doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Are they being destroyed? Shouldn’t they all be demons by now? Ah, Dabb, you and your LOL!Canon.

Eventually, TFW are able to grab Jack’s body (because, as Game of Thrones demonstrated in season eight, the smartest thing to do in a fight with zombies is to grab a recently dead body and go hide out with some other dead bodies) and retreat to a nearby mausoleum.

Cue title cards of some sort of hurricane bullet wound. Or something.

So, they’re in the crypt, trying to figure out how to get out. Well … the Brothers are trying to figure out how to get out. Castiel is moping over Jack’s dead, eyeless body, ’cause that’s useful.

After circling round and not finding a way out (aside from a window that’s way too close to the zombie-laden Forest Lawn they just escaped, the Brothers return to Jack’s body and mope briefly over it, too.

“He didn’t deserve this,” Dean says, before moving on to figuring out how not to join him. Mmm, yeah, he really did, Dean, but okay. Sam asks Castiel if he can heal Jack (from a Chuck smiting? Don’t think so, Sam).

Dean tries to figure out this new version of zombies while facing the prospect of starving to death (they’d actually die of thirst, first). Sam and Castiel both speculate that the zombies are Hell souls who leaped into any body they could find.

This … quite irritates me. For one thing, a graveyard like that isn’t going to have a whole lot of bodies left because bodies decompose relatively quickly in relation to how quickly your average cemetery in a small town fills up. For another, all souls that go to Hell turn into demons (per Ruby, who was a lying demon, yes, but was never proven wrong on that one) and they do it pretty quickly.

So, the evil ghosts the Brothers have vanquished actually ought to be demons by now, not ordinary ghosts. Or superghosts. Or whatever the hell Dabb is trying to make them out to be now.

But hey. Why should the showrunner pay any attention to his show’s own canon, amirite?

Anyhoo, Dean grumbles that he never trusted Chuck. This is true. Maybe everyone else should have listened to him about that.

Meanwhile, Sam has found an area of the wall near the floor that has the sound of running water in some kind of French drain pipe (in a crypt?). So, they start breaking up the wall and the brick behind it to see if they can crawl out (while Castiel just stands there).

Alas, the zombies have somehow figured out this route first and crawled in because … well, who the hell even knows? What did you have in mind, here, Dabb?

Castiel finally steps in and brains the zombie (which causes the skeletal spirit inside to ghost out), but it appears whatever barrier kept the souls out has been broken. Jack suddenly stands up behind them. Only, it’s not Jack. It’s a demon using his meatsuit.

The demon introduces itself as Belphegor, then checks out their gear to find some sunglasses to cover Jack’s burned-out eyes. At this point, Castiel grabs Belphegor, shoves him against the wall, and demands – at angel-sword-point – that he vacate Jack’s body.

Belphegor’s counter is that he can help them escape the crypt. That’s a pretty good counter. Dean pulls Castiel off, saying they need all the help they can get (and if the demon doesn’t help, they’ll just kill him). Sam, for once, backs Dean up.

Sam starts to introduce himself and Dean, but Belphegor cuts them off. He knows they’re the Winchesters and he knows what that means. He immediately assumes Dean was the one who opened all of Hell and is surprised when Castiel sets him straight that it was actually Chuck (while Dean looks nonplussed and Sam confirms Castiel’s claim with grim look).

Belphegor explains that he’s not a CRD or a BED (in mythology, he’s a Prince of Hell, but the show already killed them off so … not in this story?). He’s just an ordinary demon Joe who likes being in Hell, tormenting souls. He wants to get back to business as usual, which means he’s on the Winchesters’ side, at least for now.

Sam asks if Belphegor can “fix this” (meaning: Put all the zombies back). The demon says he can’t, but that he can get them out of the crypt. Dean asks how. Belphegor gets together some grave dirt and angel blood (from a reluctant Castiel) and then claps his bloodied/dirty hands together. The incessant growling of the zombies outside stops, as if cut off. When TFW go outside, they find bodies everywhere.

Castiel says the ghosts must have all died – I mean, again. Belphegor corrects him on that. He just blasted them out of the bodies. Dean asks, Where are they now?

Cut to two girls (one black and one white – this is very relevant) playing dress-up in the white girl’s bedroom (except that later, we will see pictures on the wall of the black girl, so I guess it’s her house?), while Extreme Music’s “Gimme What I Want” plays.

It’s not actually a bad song, but I get the impression the show is using it here to emphasize the girls immaturity and innocence. Dabb writes them as stereotypical pre-teens (giggling, big smiles and talking in popular catchphrases), but the actresses look quite a bit older. Which just underscores how poorly he writes women.

Anyhoo, we get a few lines about how the white girl’s mom is buying her lots of stuff out of guilt over divorcing her dad/step-dad. As the black girl turns back to the mirror, Bloody Mary (who had previous stuck her hand out of a mirror the white girl turned away from) starts to mimic her. First, she makes the girl’s reflection’s eyes bleed, then the girl’s eyes. But then, as the girl turns around, she pulls the skin off her own face as she screams and that’s not part of the whole Bloody Mary thing, so LOL!Canon strikes again.

Also, yep, the Person of Color dies first and worst. Thanks so much for grinding that old horror-movie cliche in a little more, Dabb.

Upon seeing her friend drop dead, White Girl turns to flee, but sees Bloody Mary blocking her path. She lets out a hearty horror-movie scream.

Cut to the Impala, still in Chuck’s imposed night. Castiel and Belphegor are in the backseat, which is mighty uncomfortable for the angel. Belphegor is saying he looks good with the glasses, but demons whose vessels have burned-out eyes can’t see (per the waitress demon in season four’s premiere, “Lazarus Rising”).

Sam is looking online for any sign of the “ghosts” and can’t find any (wouldn’t people also be confused by day suddenly turning to night?). Belphegor says the “souls” will resurface eventually, as they have to go somewhere. He can contain them, though, in a mile-wide radius near the cemetery (but doesn’t this conversation imply they blasted all over the world – oh, never mind). He just needs to use a spell. When asked how many souls there are in Hell, he says 2-3 billion. Um, really? If there were that many in Hell, then why did Crowley believe in season six that the tens of millions of monster souls in Purgatory would ever help him against Raphael?

Castiel points out that this circle would encompass the nearby town of Harlan, KS, so now TFW has to go back in and get everyone out (assuming they’re not already dead or possessed by ghosts).

They see a car up ahead. It’s deserted, with blood on the windshield and the radio playing “Too Good to Be True” by Lon Rodgers and the Soul Blenders. Dean immediately recognizes this as the MO of a Woman in White. Sam confirms that there is more than one Woman in White type of ghost in the SPNverse when he guesses this might be their Woman in White. At that point, Dean realizes that all the souls they ever vanquished are back out of Hell and roaming the earth.

Cut to a viciously disrupted birthday party (it’s heavily implied that there were child casualties). There are only two survivors – a woman and her daughter. The woman, who is happily quite resourceful, carries her child out to the garage. But a ghost clown chasing them has put the whole house on supernatural lockdown and they can’t get out. The woman calls out to a man outside, walking his dog, but he doesn’t hear her. She and her daughter hide as the ghost (of John Wayne Gacy from “Lebanon” last season) stalks through the garage, looking for them and cackling.

Cut to daytime, with the Brothers arriving in the Impala in town. Sam gets out to convince the sheriff that he has to evacuate the town (some barmy lie about a benzene pipeline outside town that “sprung a leak”). Sam and Dean are wearing FBI jackets.

Meanwhile, Dean tries to detail Castiel out to the job of getting Belphegor his ingredients, but Castiel can’t even angel-up enough to look at Belphegor and gets out of the car. Hey, remember when Dean was reaaaallly upset about Jack murdering his mom and Castiel wanted him to get over it in a hot minute? Yeah.

So, in the car, Belphegor is saying he’s been downstairs since he died and that the last time he was topside, people were very ugly and they “worshiped a giant penis” (the expressions from Jensen Ackles to stay in character – and likely to keep from laughing – are priceless). This is a reference to Belphegor’s real-world mythology as the god Baal-Peor in Ancient Canaanite religion. He was worshiped by the Moabites in the form of a stone penis. Really. It’s all in Belphegor’s pretty-short Wikipedia page, which is probably the only research Dabb did on the subject.

In the show, this version has a wee crush on Dean. Dean mostly shrugs this off and gets out of the demon that there are only two key ingredients to his spell – rock salt and a human heart. So, basically Ruby’s spell from season three’s “Jus in Bello,” but missing the “kills all demons” part.

Meanwhile, Sam and Castiel have convinced the sheriff to evacuate the town and they are going into houses to get people out. Castiel happens to enter the one with the two girls (Bloody Mary is still there in the mirrors and looking smug). Sam goes into the one where the woman is still hiding with her daughter in the garage from Gacy Clown.

Rather than let her mom get her down from the high shelf they were hiding behind, Sam stupidly puts down his saltgun and gets her down himself. Then he starts reassuring her while still not picking up the gun. This, unsurprisingly, results in GC appearing behind him and slashing him.

Fortunately, Castiel shows up and blasts the ghost with rock salt. Then he heals Sam of the ghost’s slash wound. They then have a conversation about Sam’s ricochet wound from shooting Chuck, right in front of the mom and daughter, while the clown ghost is still in the vicinity. As you do.

Castiel tries to heal the bullet wound, but instead gets a vision of Sam apparently possessed by Lucifer in the Bunker while it’s on lockdown and possibly a shot of Dean collapsing as if dead, while we hear him say, “Sammy, please.”

Castiel then says there’s an “energy” in the wound that he has never, ever, pinky-swear felt before. I roll my eyes, because did we really need a final round of Sam Done Come Back Wrong? Really, Show? That’s the best you can do with this character in his final season?

Meanwhile, Dean is getting off the phone with Rowena (“Get your exquisite ass over here” he tells her after being told off for saying only “Get your ass over here”) and handing Belphegor his salt. Belphegor then admits that he’s a major fan (and he does use that word) of the torturer Dean was in Hell, that what Dean did there was “art.” He just didn’t want to say that in front of the rest of TFW.

Whoo, does that make Dean uncomfortable. But when Dean asks Belphegor what it was like when Hell burst open, he is shocked to hear that every door opened up and confirms that this included the Cage. Michael hadn’t left the Cage when Belphegor was cast out (up?), but if he were to do that, well ….

Meanwhile, the sheriff is finishing up clearing the town out and gets killed in a parking lot right after talking to Sam, by the Woman in White (not played by Sarah Shahi this time). Conveniently (and uncharacteristically), she leaves the heart, which means Belphegor can now use it for his spell without too much guilt for TFW. The Woman in White shows up and hits Dean after saying “I remember you. You took me home.” Nooooo, Dabb, honey. That was Sam. She also slashes Belphegor because that’s now a thing ghosts can do to demons, I guess.

Sam and Castiel are leaving the house as GC watches them from the garage. The little girl decides to wander over to a pond and stare into it until Bloody Mary shows up because … plot reasons. Mom gets grabbed as she tries to get her daughter away. Meanwhile, Sam is up against GC and Castiel against Lizzie Borden for some random reason. There’s also some other random tall dude. Actually, Castiel does most of the vanquishing and Sam accidentally shoots him with rock salt at one point (to Castiel’s annoyance). But Sam does get to shoot Bloody Mary, and save Mom and her stupid daughter. So, there’s that.

This is interspersed with Belphegor doing the spell in Latin (a bit mangled in pronunciation): “Animae infernorum, spiritus abyssi surrecti defigo, vos intra confinia, vinciamini,” which basically means, “Spirits of Hell, resurrected spirits of the abyss, I enchant/strike [you] dumb; within this boundary, I confine you.”

A large, glowing red line spreads out around the town. Sam and Castiel see it and Sam realizes it’s the spell. He and Castiel, along with the mom and daughter, start running. Funnily enough, instead of doing their usual thing of teleporting, the spirits … run after them. In broad daylight. Really.

So, the humans make it through the boundary (after Sam first tries to hold off the ghosts with an empty saltgun). GC howls in rage and Sam tells to clown to “shut up.”

Afterward, as they get dropped off in a nearby town, Mom and Daughter thank TFW, who tell them it might be best if they don’t tell anybody about all this. I concur.

Dean asks Castiel if he’s okay. Castiel says yes, but before he can go into any detail (warming up more than he has recently toward Dean), Dean says that’s good and coldly turns his back on him. Just in case we weren’t sure what this was supposed to mean, Belphegor casually rimshots it as an intentional snub. Castiel rebuffs Belphegor’s offer to cry on his shoulder.

At the very end, Sam says they’re on a deadline. What happens when the real FBI shows up? Dean gets Sam to show him his wound and cleans it (distracting him with a knock-knock joke, just as when they were kids). Because surely, after an angel couldn’t do anything, a little alcohol will do the trick. He notes there’s no exit wound. Well, yeah, but it wasn’t a gun that, strictly speaking, fired bullets, anyway.

Sam brings up Chuck saying it was “the end” in last season’s finale. Dean says they were just “rats in a maze” all along, with no meaningful choice. Sam says they saved people, but Dean asks what is the point, when Chuck will just throw another apocalypse at them? Sam, though, thinks that Chuck is gone (um … because why, now?), that Chuck has given up on this story and moved on to another one. So, if they can beat this apocalypse, maybe it will be the last one.

As they turn back to the trunk (in a mirror of the end of the Pilot), Dean says, “Well, you know what that means.”

Sam: We got work to do.

As Sam reaches up to close the trunk, we get an actual flashback to his doing it in the Pilot.

Credits.

The show came back slightly higher in demo (0.4/2) than the season 14 finale (0.3/2) and slightly lower (1.23 million vs. 1.30 million) in audience. What that probably means is that it skewed a bit younger this week than in last season’s finale. This put it in fourth place for the week on the network (including against brand-new show Batwoman). I haven’t seen DVR numbers yet for the show.

For comparison, Supernatural‘s lead-out Legacies came back with an unimpressive 0.3/3 and 0.80 million, which put Legacies third-from-last for the week, only ahead of Friday shows Charmed and Dynasty. Sure, CW. Tell us again how Legacies and Charmed were such better ideas than that Wayward Sisters spin-off.

The preview for next week is up.

Review: Well. That happened.

For those of you hoping the showrunners would clean up their act this final season, it was a nice thought. Let’s put it that way.

This episode had some nice ideas and clip-clopped along at enough of a rate that it might even have been scary in an old-school, fairly simplistic-but-eerie way, if both the writer and director hadn’t been phoning it all in. Not a good sign of things to come when both showrunners are so mentally checked out in the very first episode of their last season.

It was a typical Dabb script – shallow, insipid and chaotic, yet painfully linear, loaded with walking cliches in place of characters, random plot holes, poor or nonexistent foreshadowing, and many unnecessary errors in canon.

Singer’s direction was obvious and plodding, taking the cheapest, easiest and least imaginative approach to the script. I got some amusement out of the traditional Belphegor being an example of laziness and sloth in Reformation era demonology. What a perfect metaphor for the current showrunners and their bad attitude. It’s possible this was Dabb’s sly dig at critical fans, but with everything else in the episode being banged home with verbal rimshots, I doubt he had anything so subtle in mind.

A major example in the episode itself is the central MOTW – the ghosts. There’s a moment at the climax that highlights the errors in a glaring way. That’s when Sam and Castiel, and their two civilian charges are running from the ghosts who are … running after them. Say, what?

Now, sure, in the beginning of the episode, the ghosts are lumbering after TFW, but that’s because they are inside dead meatsuits. Why they are inside dead meatsuits isn’t entirely clear. Is that something Chuck just randomly made up?

Okay, fine, but how is that satisfying storytelling? Just because a monster mash-up sounds cool on paper, that doesn’t mean it’s gonna work out onscreen (it sure didn’t here). And if it’s not satisfying storytelling, why would Chuck do it in the first place? Just because he’s God, that doesn’t mean his behavior has no limits or pattern. He likes good stories. Even if he is (as I continue to suspect) actually the Empty Entity, he’s still gotta act in character and doing so means “writing” a good puppet show.

The thing that Dabb forgets, over and over, in this episode is that a big part of what made classic ghosts like Bloody Mary and the Woman in White so frightening was how the limits of their urban legend backstories actually made them more dangerous, not less. It made their behavior unsettling and unpredictable, even once you figured out their pattern.

When they would hit such a limit in their parameters, they’d bounce off in some random direction and come at you sideways, or from behind. Sure, the pattern would be obvious after their attack, but by then, someone would usually be dead. Their backstories gave them a mystery, a mystique, that made them truly frightening. Take away their traditional limits and they become generic monsters, and much, much less scary.

The thing that Singer forgets is that ghosts are scary because they operate in the dark, in shadows (where you can’t really see them or what they’re doing), and because they no longer move or act like human beings. They flicker and teleport. They appear and disappear at random. They twist and distort. They flow like liquid, blow like gas. They appear in multiple forms. They are lethally ethereal.

What they are not is a group of live human actors in dress-up, running after Our Heroes across an open street, in broad daylight, on a bright and sunny day. If you’re gonna go with that setting, do some friggin’ shadow people flickering along the house walls and doors, instead. That would be scary.

At the climactic point in the episode, the ghosts have been kicked out of their bodies and are, again, just ghosts. There is simply no reason for ghosts to run. In point of fact, we never see them run in other episodes (except for the justly forgotten “Of Grave Importance,” where they even forget they can pass through walls and floors and ceilings). There is nothing scary about ghosts running like living people.

Speaking of which, why are they still just ghosts? They should long since have been demonized by now. Yet, we only meet one demon – Belphegor. And the way Belphegor talks about being in Hell, it appears the show has, once again, forgotten all about the canon established in season-freakin’-four that Hell time moves much faster than earth time – in the same scene where Belphegor is referencing Dean’s 40 years in Hell, no less.

Or, that there shouldn’t be that many souls left in Hell, demonized or not, after Amara’s eating rampage. Or, if there were lots more than that before she chowed down on them, why was Crowley so hot to get a mere 20-30 million monster souls from Purgatory in season six?

One could argue that some of this retconning is just reinterpreting canon, rather than changing it up. And I’d be fine with that if the replacement canon were better, or at least took the story in intriguing new directions, but it’s not and it doesn’t. It’s just lazy.

There is no reason, for example, for the Woman in White to claim that Dean took her home. That’s as dumb as the Nepotism Duo claiming that Lucifer was the oldest archangel. The Pilot’s climax makes it obvious this was Sam’s plan (to the point that Dean complains afterward about Sam driving the car into the house). Sam even says what he’s about to do to Constance (the Pilot’s Woman in White) right before he does it. And Dean is treated by both of them as little more than an afterthought, even though he “shot Casper in the face, you freak,” as Sam so memorably puts it.

Further, while I can see a fandemon like Belphegor believing that Dean was behind opening the gates of Hell, it makes no sense from a story point of view. Aside from Dean, only a few angels and demons even know that Dean was the First Seal. That leaves Sam and Castiel duking it out for the top spot of Number One Public Champ in Starting Apocalypses.

I find it curious that these two “accomplishments” (one minor, one highly negative) are incorrectly attributed to Dean, while Sam gets the limpest, lamest version of Speshul Sauce Sammy subplot yet. He’s got VISIONS FROM GOD, Y’ALL. Though it would be more accurate to say that Castiel’s attempt to heal his wound meant the wound sparked visions in Castiel because Sam acts completely unaware of them when interacting with Dean later on. But the upshot is that once again, we have something SPECIAL about Sam that really has nothing to do with Sam and doesn’t grow his personality in any significant way.

Not helping is the constant handholding and training wheels that the episode gives Sam. Sam is a grown-ass adult and experienced Hunter of no small renown, yet he’s presented here as barely able to carry a saltgun by the correct end. Castiel has to rescue him almost incessantly from his own stupidity and the big, mean ghosts Sam has been fighting his entire life. I mean, I get that clowns scare him, but come on. He acts dumb even before he tangles with Gacy Clown.

Granted, everyone in that climactic ghost chase scene (especially that little girl) is hit by so many plot stupid anvils that it’s a wonder they won’t have concussions for the rest of the season. The little girl was so dumb, I kept expecting her to be possessed by a ghost. Hell, somebody should have been possessed by a ghost in all the shenanigans.

Castiel, I wanted to smack with a rotten mackerel for much of the episode. He’s been acting pissy toward Dean for a while, for various plot reasons (for a start, he was mad at Dean last season for saying yes to Michael, even though Castiel had said yes to Lucifer under not-dissimilar conditions). His latest thing was being upset that Dean wasn’t properly “mourning” Jack, but as Dean put it in the episode, Jack was dead and they had an apocalypse to survive.

Castiel seems to have had a change of heart after seeing the vision of Sam apparently murdering Dean. I think. Unlike everything else in the episode, including Dean’s stinging rejection of Castiel’s proffered olive branch (complete with verbal rimshot from Belphegor, standing nearby), it wasn’t made REALLY OBVIOUS. Yet, Castiel did act distinctly warmer toward Dean in the episode’s coda and it did follow directly on his vision of Dean’s death at Sam’s hands in some probably-near future.

[Update: According to an interview today (10/17) with Andrew Dabb (though keep in mind that interviews are never canon and the writers frequently lie or fudge what actually appears on the show, all the time), Sam was the one who had the vision, not Castiel, and Castiel didn’t actually see anything. I don’t know what to tell y’all about that, since Sam didn’t react to the vision (aside from looking in pain) and Castiel did. If Dabb and Singer really did intend to convey that it was Sam’s vision and not Castiel’s, then they did a piss-poor job of it.]

Alas, Dean wasn’t feeling the reconciliation. Well, that might have something to do with Castiel’s little meltdown in the middle of the episode. Castiel wasn’t happy at all with Dean’s being willing to work with a demon inside Jack’s meatsuit and was pretty nasty about it. Yet, he was all about Dean insta-forgiving Jack for murdering Mary and just moving on from his own mother’s (second) death. Keep in mind that only occurred days ago in the story’s timeline.

From Dean’s POV, that’s going to look an awful lot like Castiel feeling “bad” about Mary, but not really. In wallowing in his own grief and anger over Jack’s death, Castiel made it abundantly clear that his love and grief over Mary was all pretty academic, and that he wasn’t willing to respect Dean’s grief in the way he expected Dean to respect his own (in the middle of an all-hands-on-deck emergency, no less). And that’s gonna make Dean pretty salty.

Well, I left Belphegor for last. I’m not really sure what to think of him. I liked him okay initially, though I found Alex Calvert’s performance a little rough. He did improve a bit on rewatch, though, and it’s common for fan favorites to have rocky starts in their first episode.

I currently have two problems with him. One is that his powers and skills were a little bit too convenient for the needs of TFW and the story. That Sued him up a bit, even allowing for the probability that he is playing TFW (Dean even acknowledged this likelihood while accepting his help). The other is that I don’t see much reason to get used to him as a character, since I doubt he’ll last long. The show seems obsessed with bring Jack Sue back, with all that entails, so that makes Belphegor just a placeholder character who keeps Alex Calvert onscreen and Calvert fans happy for now. Ah, well.


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 #15: Haunted Broughton: Tales from the Graveyard Shift

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.

Langley, Margaret M. Haunted Broughton: Tales from the Graveyard Shift. October 2, 2009.

This is my other favorite of the month so far. It’s a veritable self-published diamond in the rough, the first in a trilogy of ghost story collections about Broughton Hospital, a psychiatric facility in Morganton, NC (in the Mountain region). Despite having an editor named along with the author on the book cover, I’m afraid that this book suffers from a cornucopia of copy editing errors and weird formatting. Nonetheless, I recommend wading through them because the content is worth the effort.

So, why is that? For a start, there’s the setting. Psychiatric hospitals, especially the earlier ones built in the Victorian and Edwardian eras, are perennial chill-givers, particularly this time of year. They have propped up many a creaky B-movie.

The idea of being trapped as a patient or working in such asylums in their heyday is unsettling enough, but if they were haunted, too? Yikes. American Horror Story did an entire season based just on that premise and one of Supernatural‘s most famous (and famously scary) episodes is season one’s “Asylum.”

But most of these tales are set in that fuzzy time of Back in the Day. Even non-supernatural accounts about the real-life hospitals are told from a distance of decades. Most of them were closed down in the 1960s and 1970s, with some making it into the 90s.

So, it’s rare (even unique, as I can’t think of any comparable such collection) to find a book of ghost stories that is not only about a psych hospital still in operation, but one that has been collated and told by one of its current staff (and boy, do we EMS folks have some doozies to tell). Forget moldy old urban legends at fifth or sixth-hand. This is living oral history being recorded as it occurs.

Langley herself recognizes this. In the introduction, she says, “These stories are essentially time capsules, if you will; memories of conditions and happenings around Broughton Hospital that will be lost forever if someone doesn’t record them. Sadly, many people have not told their story to me, for fear of being thought ‘crazy.’ Imagine, working in a mental hospital and telling people you saw a ghost? So, for that reason, all submitters will remain anonymous.”

This is not necessarily a problem in terms of folkloric reliability, since Langley herself is one of the people who have experienced paranormal phenomena. So, even though she is telling other people’s stories as well as hers, it’s still a first-hand account. Also, by keeping anonymity for everyone (including possible identities of even ghosts of patients), she doesn’t violate HIPAA rules. In general, she demonstrates a lot of compassion for those patients, both living and dead.

The first part, about the history of the hospital, is on the tedious side. Bear with it. As with the intro for Haunted Theaters of the Carolinas, which I reviewed earlier this month, it’s necessary to the understanding the sometimes complicated background and layout of the hospital. You’ll get more out of the stories if you understand their setting.

Annnd then we get into the creepy stuff. There is, for example a haunted laundry that no one on the staff likes going into at night. Ditto a haunted recreation hall in the same building (fittingly called Ward 13) that is just fine and dandy in the daytime, cheery and bright, but a whole other story at 3am.

See, Ward 13 is the second-oldest building still in existence on campus. Built in 1887, it may have been used in experiments on patients, but it seems no one actually knows why it’s haunted, just that it is. People have reported hearing screams when they get sodas out of the vending machine, whistling, ghostly conversations, and being touched in the elevator. A cat who lives on the grounds sometimes disappears for hours, only to appear out of the deserted Ward 13 elevator or show up with chilly fur.

Ward 13 is also a building where the author reports having seen shadows of people passing in the hallway when it was deserted. In the Bates Building, she heard the disembodied voice of a colleague (recently murdered by her husband) call her name. When Langley told her supervisor, the supervisor admitted that on nights when she was doing paperwork in her office in the Bates Building, she would see reflections on her door of people passing in the hallway, but no one was there. For some reason, that’s the story that comes back to me when I’m in bed at night.

Langley also heard a story from the same building about a crying baby and a haunted doll. In a nearby building can sometimes be heard piano music.

As if that’s not bad enough, there’s a haunted tunnel through which dead patients were once carried (much like the famous Waverly Asylum) and a nearby graveyard that’s seriously haunted. This book is full of stories and there are two more books (which I still intend to read). That’s a grand total of some 400 pages in all.

An interesting footnote is that one Amazon reviewer named “littlejo” (Susan Amond Todd from White Lake, NC in her profile) gave the book two stars on February 4, 2011. She claimed to have worked at the hospital for 15 years and that her mother worked there for 37 years. She insisted that while some hauntings had occurred, the author had greatly exaggerated them and that the reviewer’s mother disagreed about some of the stories.

On the other hand, a reviewer from Alabama named Joe L. Carpenter gave it four stars on July 16, 2015. He claimed in a review on the second book that his father and neighbors experienced many of the same stories as Langley tells, while working at the hospital, themselves. I’m not sure what the background is on all that, especially considering the easy anonymity of internet criticism, but it’s intriguing that even the reviews add to the folkloric story.

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

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Gray, Mark. Haunted Fort Fisher: Ghosts on the Cape Fear. 2014.

Fair warning: This is one of my favorite books that I’ve read so far for this project – not just for this year, either. The premise is simple – it’s a self-published picture book of ghost photos. The author decided in 2002 (this book came out in 2014) to start taking digital photographs around Fort Fisher to see if he could catch any ghostly phenomena. He also recorded for EVPs at the same time (Electronic Voice Phenomena: voices and sounds caught on a sound recorder that have no known cause and were not heard by observers at the time).

I’ve mentioned Fort Fisher on the Cape Fear River in previous reviews. Fort Fisher is one of the most haunted sites in North Carolina, if not the most haunted, and some of the reported encounters have been quite frightening to the observers. This is most likely due to the two Civil War battles in 1864 and 1865 that led to the storming and capture of the Confederate fort by Union forces. Fort Fisher had been a major military target because it defended the one Confederate port late in the War – Wilmington. When Fort Fisher fell, so did Wilmington and the War was pretty much won (or lost, depending on your point of view).

This book is a condensed account of 12 years of Gray’s best photographs. Being a computer and AV tech, he goes into quite a lot of useful detail about what type of camera he used, and why, and its capabilities. Some of these pictures are pretty grainy, but in a way, that makes them creepier.

One thing I like about Gray’s observations is that he keeps them very grounded. He talks about how he’s only ever been able to get EVP’s at Shepard’s Battery and that the only ghost photos he’s been able to get were from the Sally Port (facing north) into the woods. Most of them have been in the woods. That he has observed these conditions adds to his sincerity and his observation skills. The only psychic sense he makes any claim to is having an idea when and where would be a good day to take creepy photos. Which, considering he’d done this for 12 years at the same spot by the time the book came out, isn’t that hard to swallow.

Gray also makes no bones about having taken a whole lot of photographs, but that only a few have ever turned out … odd. He also is not shy about putting his photos up, in the raw as it were, for readers to evaluate. And it’s true that some of these look like a straightforward case of pareidolia (like the cover photo). But then there are the others.

By far the most unsettling are the shadows and the photos where something is blocking the view of the background. Maybe the shadows are just sunlight coming down through the trees in odd ways (but they sure do look like people) and maybe the weird fuzzy things are just camera artifacts. But they’re not any artifacts I’ve ever seen in a digital camera.

At any rate, this was not a book I wanted to review at night. Even though it’s short, those photos creeped me right out. Just looking for what is supposed to be odd about them lent a strange kind of menace to them.

I don’t know what the author has captured here. I do, however, think it’s a worthwhile project because he spent so much time, over several years, in the same areas, photographing the same spots with the same type of equipment. At the very least, that lends itself to a cool study about light reflection and refraction, internal and external, in digital cameras. It also involves the kind of scientific method that too-often isn’t used properly by either believers or debunkers. I’m curious to see what Gray finds next. Just … don’t make me read it at night.

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Blog for scifi writer and medieval historian Paula R. Stiles