Traveling to Myrtle Beach from our home in Greensboro was always a magical journey for me when I was a little boy. And one of the first things I looked for once we started getting close to the coast were the big oak trees that I called “grandfather oaks”. I called them that because of the “beards” that hung from their branches.
Go to any coastal town in the South and you’ll see huge, centuries-old live oaks with limbs covered in Spanish moss. From Myrtle Beach down through Charleston and Savannah, and on into Florida, the huge trees are the last living elements of the Antebellum South. These old sentinels even predate most of the haints that roam through the southern countryside, or rattle chains in the attics of our homes.
This brings us to the story of Alice Riley and her connection to Spanish moss. Alice and her husband Richard worked as servants for a wealthy Savannah businessman named William Wise in the early 1700’s. Mr. Wise was tyrant, abusive to both Alice and her husband until one day Mr. Wise was found strangled to death in his home. The day was January 19, 1735.
Alice and her husband were the prime suspects. They fled Savannah but were caught hiding out on a nearby island and promptly hauled back to the courthouse where they received a speedy trial and an even speedier sentence – both were sentenced to be hanged by the neck until dead.
Richard was the first to go to the gallows in Wright Square in downtown Savannah. Alice, being pregnant at the time, was allowed to give birth before taking her trip to the gallows, the logic being that only she had received the death sentence, not her child. Alice used her last breath to proclaim her innocence but it was to no avail. The hangman carried out the sentence and her body hung in Wright Square for three days before it was taken down and buried.
The ghost of Alice Riley is said to haunt Wright Square. She sometimes appears on the evening of January 19 and roams the square for three days searching for her lost child. To this day no one knows if she was really innocent or not. But one thing that is known is that trees of Wright Square, unlike all the other trees in Savannah, bear no Spanish moss.
As legend has it, Spanish moss will not grow where innocent blood has been spilled.
One of the most famous hauntings in the history of the South occurred in the early 1870’s in the town of Surrency, a small hamlet located about sixty miles southwest of Savannah, Georgia.
Allen Surrency, founder of the town, built his family a large, two-story farmhouse near the railroad tracks and set up his household. But not long after moving in it became horrifyingly apparent to the family that they were not alone in the house. Things started to happen, strange things, and before long the family realized their house was nothing more than a den of angry, restless spirits.
It was a violent haunting witnessed by every member of the family. No one was spared the rage of the ghost, or ghosts that inhabited the house. Windows slammed shut, doors opened and closed and the clock on the wall spun wildly. Silverware flew from the drawers, along with pots, pans, and anything else lying around the house. Wailing voices and angry screams pierced the night while the family tried in vain to sleep. Boots worn by invisible feet walked down the darkened hallway outside the bedrooms.
What makes the Surrency haunting so unique is that it was one of the most verified hauntings in American history. Word traveled across the county about the small town and its haunted house, and visitors came from all over to witness the haunting firsthand. Few were disappointed as the Surrency ghosts were anything but shy.
The haunting went on for several years until one night, after his son was chased down the hall by a floating andiron wielded by unseen hands, Allen decided enough was enough and moved his family out of the house. But the ghosts followed the family to their new home.
Strangely enough, the Surrency haunting ended when Allen Surrency died in 1877. Were the ghosts finally satisfied that they had their man, or was it a coincidence? Rumors spread that Allen had dabbling in the dark religion, or had committed some other heinous sin that warranted the haunting. No one knows for sure.
Few people talk of the Surrency ghosts anymore. All the witnesses to the haunting have long since passed and the story has almost been lost to time. The town is still there, located where highways 341 and 121 cross but Allen’s house is long gone, having burned to the ground in 1925.
Most people that grow up in North Carolina have visited Blowing Rock at one time or another in their lives. Along with Tweetsie Railroad and the “mile high swinging bridge” at nearby Grandfather Mountain, Blowing Rock is a popular destination for anyone that visits the Blue Ridge Mountains.
But few people know the story behind Blowing Rock.
As a child I once stood on the observation deck at Blowing Rock and wondered if the stories I had heard were true – that if you tossed your hat off the rock that the wind would return it to your hands. I decided to take a chance and removed my brand new engineer’s cap that my mom had bought me at a gift shop at Tweetsie Railroad and gave it a toss, reluctantly, into the valley below. To my surprise, the hat was returned to me by the wind. Well, almost. It didn’t exactly return to my hands, but was instead blown into the face of an innocent bystander fifty or so feet down the walkway. Red-faced with embarrassment, I quickly apologized and my beloved engineer’s cap was returned to me where it stayed tucked in my back pocket until we got back to the car.
It is said that the wind blows up from the valley below with such a steady intensity that in the wintertime the snow blows up past Blowing Rock instead of falling down from above. As with any folktale in North Carolina, especially one borne in the mountains, there is a story behind the wind.
The story goes that two young Native American lovers, knowing their love was forbidden since their tribes were about to go to war with each other, met at the rock and swore to each other that their love would transcend the coming fight between their people and conquer all, as true love often does. But when the red sky signaled the start of the war, the young man made a horrible decision. Facing the shame of not returning to fight with his tribe, or the heartbreak of leaving his true love, he chose instead to jump to his death into the valley below.
But all was not lost. As the young girl watched her lover jump from the rock, she quickly prayed to the spirits of the mountain for his life to be spared. Legend has it that the wind, blowing steady and strong up from the valley below just as it continues to do this day, returned her lover to her arms.
So if you ever find yourself in the Blue Ridge Mountains, pay a visit to Blowing Rock. You can even bring a hat and test the wind’s ability to return it to you. But if I were you, I wouldn’t trust the wind any farther than that, as a young maiden once did hundreds of years ago.
The Tar River flows into the Pamlico Sound after crossing much of the northeast part of North Carolina. The river meanders through the fields and small towns on its way to the Sound and was once a major shipping route for tar-laden barges. And as it goes with just about everything in the South, the Tar River is said to be haunted.
During the Revolutionary War, British soldiers captured and killed an Irish patriot fighting against British rule. It is said that the soldiers shot the patriot on the banks of the Tar River and then forced him into the water near the now defunct port village of Old Sparta. As the water turned red with his blood, the patriot swore to the soldiers that he would have his revenge on them, and that they would each be visited by a Banshee that would foretell their deaths.
True to the patriot’s word all three of the British soldiers were soon visited by a female apparition not long after that fateful night on the banks of the river. It is said that the soldiers were awakened by the sorrowful wailing of the Banshee who then told them that they would all die in battle within a fortnight. Not long after, the soldiers were all shot and killed in a skirmish with North Carolina militiamen near the town of New Bern.
Legend has it that the Banshee did not rest after the deaths of the British soldiers. To this day, anyone unlucky enough to wade into the water where the patriot died over two hundred years ago will be visited by the Banshee, who will wail her sorrowful moan into the night and foretell their deaths.
Now enjoy all three spine-tingling novels of The Summerland Trilogy in one complete collection.
Book I – The Ties That Bind:
When a grieving widow strikes a bargain with a mysterious woman in a moonlit cemetery in the small town of Solomon, NC, she has no idea that she is about to set into motion a chain of events that will curse her family forever. But she can’t take the grief any longer, and is prepared to do anything for just one more chance with the man lying in the grave beneath her.
Over twenty years later, the woman’s son has married his college sweetheart. They seem to have it all – college degrees in hand and a bright future ahead of them. But little does the young couple know that a day of reckoning is fast approaching, and that a dark family secret is about to be revealed.
When the ghostly messenger arrives to settle the bargain struck on that cold November night so long ago, the young couple will soon realize that every soul has a price, and that there may be no way for them to escape from the ties that bind.
Book II – Wicked Izzy:
After swerving to miss the ghostly specter standing in the road, JoAnna Stedford finds herself stranded in the town of Solomon, a tiny hamlet deep in the heart of the swamps of eastern North Carolina.
Befriended by a young waitress at the diner next to her motel, JoAnna slowly begins to learn of the secrets that Solomon holds, and of the strange link the town has to her husband’s troubled past.
It is in Solomon where JoAnna will meet Isabelle Pearl, a mysterious woman that lives on the edge of town, a woman the locals call Wicked Izzy. JoAnna will find out that Isabelle Pearl holds the key to her destiny, as well as a remedy for her grieving heart.
Because in the town of Solomon when someone needs to speak to the dead they go see the town psychic. But when they need something more, they pay a visit to Isabelle Pearl.
And they soon learn that what Isabelle Pearl offers comes with a price.
Book III – Summerland:
After escaping the town of Solomon, JoAnna Stedford sets off on a journey back to Charleston, SC, and to the house she once shared with her husband Paul, a house now sitting abandoned on a lonely road outside of town.
And despite her doubts, JoAnna knows what waits for her in the attic of her old home. And she knows that once she finds it she will have to settle up with Isabelle Pearl and pay the price that she demands.
Today I’m pleased to offer a guest post by Rachel Ratliff, a reader from Tennessee who has an interesting story to tell about her great-great grandmother, a woman known affectionately as “Ma Grooms”.
Victoria Scott was born at the turn of the century – the summer of 1900 – in Cocke County, Tennessee. Grassy Fork could hardly even be called a community at the time. It wasn’t until the 2000 Census the population broke eight hundred souls. At the age of fourteen, she was married to Ruldolph Grooms, fourteen years her senior, and they moved by horse and wagon over the Great Smoky Mountains into Cataloochee, North Carolina. Five generations later, Victoria was known to most simply as Ma Grooms or Mom Mom. She was my Great-Great-Grandmother.
Ma Grooms lived her entire life tucked back in the mountains. I’ve been told a year or more would pass at a time that Ma Grooms didn’t come down off The Mountain. Rudolph saw to it that they had what he thought they needed, and saw no need for her to leave. I never knew where the Old House was, just that it was on The Mountain – and a far piece from any neighbors or the store. Ma Grooms differentiated the timeline of her life by that Mountain – when we lived on The Mountain, and after we moved off The Mountain.
Ma Grooms enjoyed a simple life. She cooked and heated with an old wood stove, and refused to have indoor plumbing until she was almost ninety. She used electricity only for the necessities. When Rudolph brought home an old television, Ma Grooms refused to watch it. While he watched television, she would sit in her rocking chair with her back to the television and read her Bible. Ma Grooms kept a close walk with the Lord all her life. She read her Bible every day, went to church when she could get there. Her faith was so strong God allowed her to cure sick babies.
My grandmother says that people from miles around would bring their sick babies to Ma Grooms. They carried them through the woods, rain or shine, even hiking through the snow in freezing weather because they knew she had a gift. Whatever the ailment, Ma Grooms would bring the child close to her, and taking their tiny hands in her calloused and wrinkled ones, she would cup their hands over their mouth, recite a scripture, and breath through their cupped hands into the child’s mouth. Whatever the scripture, whatever the prayer, it was between Ma Grooms, the Lord, and the child in front of her. She never told anyone what she said. It wasn’t about the words – the words alone were powerless. It was about her faith and God’s power.
In 1952, Ma Grooms and Rudolph moved down off The Mountain on doctor’s orders for Rudolph’s health. By that time, Rudolph was having heart problems, and their house on The Mountain had no phone, and was too far away from any hospital to make it in time if there were an emergency. The last house she lived in was little more than a wood shack that sat with its back against the side of a mountain and the Little East Fork River in the front yard. Crossing a rickety wooden footbridge over the river was the only way to access the house. If the river was up, there was no getting out.
Six years after moving off the mountain, Rudolph passed away. Til the day she died, Ma Grooms said the Lord told her it was going to happen. One day, when Rudolph was out digging a new outhouse, Ma Grooms went out to call him in for lunch. Standing down in the hole he was digging, Rudolph reached his hand up and asked Ma to help him out. In the instant she clasped his hand, Ma Grooms said the Lord spoke to her very clearly and said, “You can pull him out of the ground today, but this time tomorrow you won’t be able to.” Still pondering the Lord’s words in her mind and heart, the two went inside and sat down to lunch. Rudolph died sitting at the table that very meal.
Even with Rudolph gone, Ma Grooms stayed in the little house by the river. She never came to trust electricity or indoor plumbing. She valued her independence so highly she refused any help from her children and grandchildren to improve the house or move somewhere better. She owned her little house free and clear, meager as it was. Eventually the local community held a fundraiser to get running water and plumbing for her, but Ma Grooms still went down to the river every day and filled old milk jugs with the cold clear water. There were never less than two dozen jugs of water stored on her porch ready to use.
The house still had no telephone, and never would. The day she was bitten by a copperhead snake while working outside, Ma Grooms did the only thing she could – she crawled across the yard, over the old footbridge, and over to the main road where she waited until help came in the form of a passing car. Still, she valued her independence far above any comforts a new home could offer.
As far back as anyone can remember, Ma Grooms refused to say “goodbye” to anyone. If anyone told her ‘bye, she would say, “No, it’s not goodbye, it’s just so long. It’s never goodbye with the Lord, just see you later.” For almost a century, through five generations of children and grandchildren… and great grandchildren… and great-great grandchildren, and finally a great-great-great-grandchild, Ma Grooms was steadfast in her faith, and in her simple life, until at the age of ninety-seven, the Lord took her to the only better home she would have ever moved for – the one He prepared for her.
Most Civil War battlefields are haunted by the restless souls of fallen soldiers. And of all the battles of the war, Cold Harbor ranks as one of the bloodiest. In less than thirty minutes, Grant lost over 7000 troops at the hands of Lee’s Army of Virginia, a loss that would haunt him for the rest of his life.
But of all the restless souls that wander this historic battlefield, both Union and Confederate, one ghost stands out from the rest. She is known as The Child Ghost of Cold Harbor.
Visitors to Cold Harbor, located in Mechanicsburg, Virginia, often remark of hearing phantom cannon fire, screams of wounded men, and calls from commanders still leading their men into a battle that occurred over 150 years ago. Some visitors even say they can smell smoke from the cannons and hear the distant hoof beats of charging cavalry.
And they also talk of seeing the ghost of a little girl in a white dress and bonnet wandering through meadows and graveyards that border the battlefield, or peering at them from the windows of the Garthright House, a historic home that sits on the edge of the Cold Harbor battlefield.
The Garthright House was once used as a field hospital for wounded troops. It’s rumored that the little girl, thought to be the daughter of a local gravedigger, fell to her death from one of the windows as the battle raged around her in the surrounding fields.
Most visitors understand the presence of the souls of Civil War dead when they visit one of the battlefields. The Civil War was a violent, horrible conflict that took the lives of hundreds of thousands of men. But the Child Ghost of Cold Harbor reminds us that children often perished, sometimes in great numbers, during the four years of the war.
And sometimes the ghosts of these children stay behind, a sorrowful reminder of the terrible price of war.
Of all the ghosts, ghouls and goblins that grace the pages of horror novels, the haunted doll is probably responsible for more sleepless
nights among readers than any other object. They haunt our dreams, our closets, our attics and even the basement. There probably isn’t a single house in America that doesn’t have at least one old doll stuffed away in a box or sitting on a shelf in a closet, its eyes staring blankly into the darkness.
When I was little I was sure there was a monster living under my bed. It was so real that I even thought I could hear it breathing in the middle of the night. When I finally worked up the courage to look I found out, to my relief, that there was nothing there. But almost every closet in my house had some sort of old doll sitting on the top shelf. It seemed that my mother and grandmother never met a doll they didn’t like and felt the need to give all of them a home. Some of the dolls had hand-made dresses, long hair and glass eyes. And that’s what always did it for me – the eyes. Nothing is more frightening to an eight year old kid than the eyes of a doll staring back at him from a dark closet.
Who hasn’t climbed into the attic in search of a box of junk only to find a creepy doll sitting in the corner? My wife still talks about when she was a little girl and her mother sent her to the attic to get the box of Christmas decorations for their tree. Going into the attic was bad enough, but what she saw when she got there scared the living daylights out of her. When she clicked on the attic light the first thing she saw was one of her older sister’s dolls sitting on top of a box just a few feet away. She swears to this day that the doll’s head moved when she turned on the light. At that instant she forgot all about the box of decorations and climbed as fast as she could back down the ladder, never to go in the attic again. When she told her mother about it she only replied, “did you put it back in the box?” What..? Put it back in the box? Exactly how did it get out of the box in the first place?
Ghosts in the house are one thing. Most of us have at least one dead relative wandering around the house who refuses to move on to the hereafter. Sometimes they make noises in the middle of the night but we just dismiss it. But a doll standing in the doorway of your bedroom late at night, or one sitting on a dresser that turns its head when you walk into the room is the stuff of nightmares. Horror novelists know this, and waste no time exploiting our fear of haunted dolls, often portraying them as nothing more than receptacles of the souls of the dead.
So the next time you’re rummaging around in the attic or in the closet of the back bedroom and you come across a creepy doll, just throw it away. I dare you. Just remember, throwing it away might not do any good. The doll may just return later that night to stand by the foot of your bed, its eyes aglow with the anger of being tossed aside.