Tag Archives: North Carolina Ghosts

The Ghost of Virginia Dare

In 1587 an expedition directed by Sir Walter Raleigh and led by John White  attempted to establish the first permanent English settlement in the New World. Originally bound for the Chesapeake Bay, the settlers landed on Roanoke Island, NC where they set about the hard and laborious task of finding a way to survive. Life was hard.

John White was appointed governor of the colony but left soon after to return to England to gather additional supplies. Among the 115 colonists he left behind was his infant granddaughter Virginia Dare, the first child born to English parents in the New World.

Due to England’s war with Spain, White was not able to return to Roanoke Island until 1590. When he arrived he found that all of the colonists had disappeared. The only trace of evidence that he found was the word “Croatoan” carved in the trunk of a tree.

Legend has it that the colonists assimilated into the local Croatan tribe of Native Americans that inhabited the island. Virginia Dare grew into a beautiful young woman who attracted the attention of Okisko and Chico, two prominent warriors of the tribe.

But Virginia only had eyes for Okisko, and when she rejected the advances of Chico it is said that he grew angry and vowed that if he could not have Virginia then no one could have her. Borrowing from the old adage “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”, which apparently could be extended to male warriors of the day, Chico set about with his plan to deny Okisko the love of his beautiful maiden.

A depiction of Virginia Dare

Enlisting the help of one of the sorcerers of the tribe, Chico cast a spell on Virginia that turned her into a white doe. When Okisko saw this his heart was broken and he immediately began searching for a way to reverse the spell that had been cast on Virginia. Orisko had a sorcerer friend as well who advised him to make an arrowhead out of Mother of Pearl and to then shoot the doe through the heart with it. The sorcerer convinced Orisko that the special arrowhead would instantly reverse the curse and return Virginia to human form.

Enter Wanchese, another chieftain in the tribe. Unaware of the true identity of the white doe, Wanchese devised a plan kill the doe in an effort to showcase his hunting skills. Wanchese knew that an animal with such an unusual appearance would require a special arrowhead, so he fashioned one out of pure silver for the task.

On the day of the hunt, Okisko and Wanchese spotted the white doe and let loose their arrows at precisely the same instant. Both arrows found their mark and pierced the heart of the doe. Just as Okisko’s sorcerer had promised, the Mother of Pearl arrowhead transformed the animal back to his beloved Virginia Dare. But the silver arrow from Wanchese took her life as soon as she changed back to human form.

While no traces of the Lost Colony have ever been found, legend has it that the ghost of one of the colonists can still be seen on Roanoke island. The ghost of Virginia Dare is said to wander the woods of the island in the form of a white doe, searching in vain for her lost love Orisko.

The Tar River Ghost

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.

A Banshee from Irish Folklore

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.

The Bedside Ghost of Edenton, NC

Nestled on the banks of the Albemarle Sound in a remote part of eastern North Carolina lies the small town of Edenton. Incorporated in 1722, Edenton was the first capital of colonial North Carolina and as such has a rich history dating back to its early days as a maritime seaport of pre-Revolutionary War America.

old tombstonesGiven the age of some of the historical homes and buildings in Edenton, not to mention that there are graveyards with graves dating to the early 1700’s, its not hard to believe, in fact, it’s almost expected that Edenton is haunted by the restless souls of its past.

The Cupola House in 1920

On a recent visit to the town with my wife we had the opportunity to see firsthand evidence of the presence of one of Edenton’s many colonial ghosts.

Edenton has several very old homes that have been painstakingly restored to their previous glory. One of these is the Cupola House. Built in 1758 and occupied for 141 years by the Dickinson Family, the Cupola House now stands empty, and can be toured by appointment.

The house as it stands today.

When my wife and I toured the house on a guided tour, we found out, along with the rest of our group, that we were not necessarily the only people in the house.

While taking us through the Cupola House, our tour guide rather nonchalantly pointed to the bed in one of the upstairs bedrooms and explained that a ghost routinely sits at the foot of the bed. On the edge of the bed we could see an indentation in the mattress. It looked exactly like what one would expect to see if someone had been sitting at the foot of the bed.

IMG_2806Keep in mind that the beds in the house have period-correct goose feather mattresses covered with handmade quilts. They wrinkle easily and the mattresses, which are basically just big bags of feathers, do not recover easily from being sat down on like today’s mattresses.

IMG_2807Our guide explained that no matter what anyone does to the mattress and quilt during the day that the indentation will always return by the next morning. There are several volunteers that routinely unlock the house and dust the furniture and they all report the same thing – when they clean the house and smooth out the quilt on the bed, the indentation always returns once the house is locked up and left for the night.

It is believed that a dying child once occupied the bedroom, and that the ghost of the child’s mother now returns to sit at the edge of the bed to grieve. It is believed that it is her ghost that causes the indentation in the sheets. None of the other beds in the house are affected by this bedside ghost.

So if you’re in the mood to stroll the sidewalks of a quaint little town full of history, I highly recommend a visit to Edenton. You can take a boat ride along the historic shoreline of the town, as well as a trolley ride through the tree-lined streets. And don’t forget to take the walking tour, which includes a visit to the Cupola House where you will be able to see the evidence of the bedside ghost of Edenton with your own eyes.

The Brown Mountain Lights

Near the town of Morganton, NC in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains lies Brown Mountain. As far back as the early 1900’s, people have observed a ghostly phenomenon in the skies around the mountain that has become known as the Brown Mountain Lights.

Ghost hunting is a popular sport among paranormal enthusiasts, especially in the South. Many people pay good money to take tours of haunted houses or spooky graveyards in the hopes of seeing the elusive ghosts that haunt them. Down South, there is a better chance to see a ghost since Southern land is known to be haunted by the restless souls of its tortured past. But even though the ghosts are there, they often do not want to be seen and many paying visitors often walk away disappointed. Not so for the Brown Mountain Lights. Unlike most ghosts they are anything but shy.

The Brown Mountain Lights are so dependable that visitors come from miles around to see them. The best time is reportedly in the fall months from September to December. The ghostly lightshow is so dependable that overlooks have been constructed on the highways around Brown Mountain to give visitors a place to stop and see the lights. Mile post 310 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Brown Mountain Overlook on NC Highway 181, and one of the best vantage points, Wiseman’s View near Linville Falls are some of the best places to see the lights.

To this day, no one has been able to figure out exactly what causes the Brown Mountain Lights. The lights have been blamed on the reflections of locomotive headlamps, campfires, moonshiners, UFO’s and all other manner of physical anomalies. The US Geological Survey has conducted investigations into the lights but has never found a plausible reason for them to exist.

Legend has it that two warring Indian tribes fought on Brown Mountain hundreds of years ago and that the lights are said to be the ghosts of the wives of the warriors that died in the battle. But as with most ghost legends, it depends on who you ask as to how the story goes.

One thing is for certain when it comes to the Brown Mountain Lights – most efforts to see them will be rewarded. So if you’re ever in the area near the mountain, stop by one of the many overlooks on a dark, clear night.

What you will see just might surprise you.

The Thieving Haint of Belshire Lane

When my wife was in high school she was convinced that she lived in a haunted house. Her mother felt the same way. Small objects in the house would vanish without a trace, never to be seen again, and the only explanation they could come up with was that their house had to be haunted.

Since there were only three people living in the house at the time – my wife and her two parents, they were convinced that a thieving “haint” had taken up residence in their house. Being from the South, they all knew that ghosts were real and that it was perfectly reasonable to assume that the ghost of a dead relative had decided to pay them an extended visit. And maybe, just maybe they reasoned, that ghost had sticky fingers. As a result of this my wife and her mother dubbed the ghost “the thieving haint of Belshire Lane”, after the name of the street they lived on at the time.

The problem was that every time my wife’s mother would buy fingernail polish, the bottle would vanish within a day or two. She would often sit in her chair in the living room and paint her nails while the whole family watched TV and when she was done she would leave the bottle of fingernail polish on the coffee table. The next day the bottle would be gone, never to be seen again.

At first my future mother-in-law accused her daughter, the girl who at the time had no idea that she was destined to be the love of my life, of stealing the bottles of fingernail polish. My wife always denied stealing the fingernail polish and would often show her unpainted fingernails as proof that she was not the thief. This went on for several years. My future father-in-law could only look on in amazement as his wife and daughter fought over the missing bottles of fingernail polish. Oftentimes he would try to lighten the mood by showing them his unpainted fingernails as proof that he was also not the thief.

Finally my mother-in-law gave up and resigned herself to the fact that she would at best get only one use from a new bottle of fingernail polish. No matter where she left the little bottle – the coffee table in the family room or the nightstand in her bedroom, the bottle always vanished within a day or two of her using it.

The Bean. The eyes are in there somewhere.

The mystery of the thieving haint of Belshire Lane was finally solved one evening during my wife’s senior year of high school while the family was watching TV together. A brand-new bottle of fingernail polish was sitting on the coffee table when Jellybean, the family dog, walked into the room. The family then watched in amazement as “the Bean”, as they called her, got up on her hind legs at the edge of the coffee table and took the fingernail polish bottle into her mouth. Then the Bean strutted across the living room to the couch and dropped the bottle of fingernail polish on the floor. She then laid down on her side and took her paw and pushed the bottle of fingernail polish underneath the edge of the couch.

The family could only look at each other in amazement. My wife’s father then got up, walked over and lifted up one side of the couch. Hidden underneath was a large collection of fingernail polish bottles. Dozens of them.

The thieving haint of Belshire Lane turned out to be a Kleptomaniac Lhasa Apso with very sticky paws. After that night my mother-in-law always placed her new fingernail polish out of the reach of the Bean and as a result the bottles stopped vanishing. But anytime something else vanished, like the car keys, a makeup compact or the latest copy of Reader’s Digest, everyone knew that the thieving haint of Belshire Lane was back, and that the first place to look for the missing item was underneath the couch.

The Funeral On Cemetery Road

The house was located on Cemetery Road. It’s gone now, but I will never forget the night we visited the house for the funeral of a close relative. Forty years later I can still remember that night.

I was born and raised in the city, but I  have the good fortune to come from a long line of people that were born and raised in the mountains of North Carolina. They were good, hard-working country folk that knew how to fend for themselves. And they knew how to raise their own food. When they had chicken for dinner, chances are that chicken had been walking around in their barnyard the day before.

When I was growing up we traveled back to those mountains often, and I remember them as being cold, dark and spooky. And I remember going to the funerals… They were never at the funeral home.

In the mountains of North Carolina when a loved one dies they are brought home to their house. And the family then sits up with the corpse all night long chewing the fat about how the person lived and how they died. Mountain people know how to take care of their dead.

My great-grandmother often told horror stories about sitting up all night with a dead body in the “front room” of a house. Sometimes she would talk about seeing the body twitch and move in the open coffin due to the decomposition gases building up inside the corpse, which may or may not have been embalmed. If something like that happened nowadays people would clear the room like the house was on fire. But back when my great-grandmother was a little girl it was a normal thing to see.

When I was about eight years old a cousin of mine drove his car off the road and into a tree. He was only sixteen years old at the time. The crash was pretty bad but they managed to get him out of the twisted wreckage and into a coffin all in one piece. I remember my grandmother announcing that we were driving up to Ronda, which is a tiny hamlet outside of North Wilkesboro, to attend his funeral. She didn’t need to say that we weren’t going to a funeral home. We all knew we were going to Aunt Mary’s house to see the body. When she told us how my cousin had died I can remember hoping that the coffin would be closed when we got there.

Aunt Mary’s house was old and had a large barn and barnyard next to it. And to make matters worse, it really was located on Cemetery Road. As if things couldn’t get any creepier.

We arrived late that evening. It was already dark, which didn’t help the mood in the house. Aunt Mary had made a large pot of homemade vegetable soup, my favorite, and the smell of that soup had filled the house. All I wanted to do was have a big bowl of that soup and then go home. But I knew there was business to take care of before we could all sit down and eat. Out of the corner of my eye I could see the open coffin in the front room. A small lamp had been placed nearby to provide illumination. It was the only light in the room.

My grandmother led me into the front room where the family had gathered. She was a tough old bird that had beheaded her fair share of chickens for Sunday dinner. She didn’t seem to care that I was only eight years old and probably not ready to see a corpse with a face sewn together with mortuary thread. I remember her saying, “Josh, dyin’ is just part of livin’,” as we walked towards the coffin. She loved to call me Josh for some reason.

Like I said, I was only about eight years old at the time so I was just tall enough to see over the edge of the open coffin.  I took a deep breath and then peeked over the edge and looked at my cousin.

The small lamp gave his corpse a ghoulish appearance.  The stiff material of my Sears Toughskin jeans was probably the only thing that kept my knees from buckling when I peeked over the edge of the coffin. I took one look at my cousin and then quickly closed my eyes. But it was too late. The image of his sewn-together face had been burned into my permanent memory forever.

By the time we sat down to have some of Aunt Mary’s soup, I had all but lost my appetite. After that night I didn’t sleep for a week. The image of my cousin’s face danced in my nightmares. In one of my nightmares his eyes opened when I was looking at him in the coffin. In another his hand suddenly reached up and grabbed me by my wrist. And one night he even walked down the hallway and knocked on the door of my bedroom. I can still hear the sound of his knuckles on the door.

There were more funerals after that night. Someone was always dying it seemed. But none of them ever came close to that dark, frightful night on Cemetery Road.

A Ghostly Visit In The Night

“My people came see me last night,” my great-grandmother said as she sat in her chair working her needlepoint. Nick, my pet cockatiel, was sitting on the back of her chair watching her hands as she moved the needle and string through the cloth.

I was twelve years old and lying on the floor watching Star Trek on the television. I was so engrossed in the show that it took a moment for me to realize what she was talking about. Then it dawned on me what she was saying. I knew that all of her “people” were dead people, and that she often liked to talk about them visiting her at night.

“They said they needed me to come with them.”

When she said this, Nick sidestepped along the back of her chair until he was in pecking distance of the earring dangling from her ear. He gave it a few pecks and then turned his head sideways so he could watch it swing back and forth. “Grannanny,” as I called her, quickly turned her head and fussed at Nick, who retreated to his original position on the back of the chair. Then he settled in for the story. He liked to hear Grannanny talk about the ghosts of her dead relatives as much as I did.

“Who was it this time?” I said as I turned my head and looked up at her.

“It was Florine, John, my little boy Rudd and Nance. I woke up last night and they were standing in the corner of my bedroom. They wanted me to come with them.”

“What did you tell them, Grannanny?”

When I asked this, Nick turned his head and looked at Grannanny while the little tuft of plumage fanned out on top of his head. Nick got a little scared when Grannanny talked about ghosts visiting her in the night.

Grannanny said, “I told them I wasn’t ready. I told them I couldn’t go with them because you and Geneva need me.”

Geneva was my grandmother. We all three lived in the house together. Us and Nick, I should say. But Nick had grown accustomed to the idea of our house being haunted with the ghosts of Grannanny’s dead relatives.

When you’re born and raised in the mountains of North Carolina like my great-grandmother was, dead relatives visiting you in the night is often taken as a sign that your time has come. It’s as if the Grim Reaper contracts out the soul gathering duties to the dead relatives in a family. He doesn’t come for you in the night but instead sends close family members that have already gone on to the great beyond. They come for you instead.

On that night, Grannanny told her “people” that she wasn’t ready to go. For whatever reason they agreed and Grannanny was allowed to stay. But on one dark and lonely night years later, they would visit Grannanny again.

And on that night she went with them.

The Wandering Ghost of Stokes County, NC

Photo by Bob Nichols, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

Stokes County, NC lies in the heart of tobacco country. Back in the heyday of the Golden Leaf, as tobacco was once called, almost every man in Stokes county farmed tobacco or had some kind of connection to it. And the most infamous tobacco farmer of them all was a man by the name of Charlie Lawson.

It is said that Charlie Lawson’s crimes are so horrible that his soul is not even welcome in Hell. As a result, some local residents say his ghost still wanders the road in Stokes County near the place where his farm was once located. A man has to be pretty evil when even the Devil won’t take his soul.

On Christmas Day, 1929, Charlie Lawson took a shotgun and murdered his wife and six of his seven children. His children ranged in age from four months old to 17 years of age. One of his children, a boy 16 years of age, was off on an errand and as a result his life was spared. He came home later that day to find his entire family dead.

Charlie murdered his two young daughters after lying in wait for them to return from a neighbor’s house. He put their bodies in his tobacco barn and put a stone under each one’s head to act as a pillow. He then entered the house, shot his wife, older daughter, two young sons and his baby. Then he went out into the woods and shot himself.

Photo by Berean Hunter

Over the years rumors have circulated about what drove Charlie to commit the most heinous mass murder in North Carolina’s history. The most popular theory is that he was having an incestuous relationship with his 17 year old daughter, who some say was pregnant with his child at the time of her death. Others say that he was just a patsy who was framed for the murders. It all depends on who you ask.

But twenty years ago I was the stepchild in a family that claimed to share distant roots with Charlie Lawson. To prove this to me we took a family outing one Sunday afternoon to visit the gravesite of Charlie and his murdered family. The grave is in a small cemetery just outside of the tiny hamlet of Walnut Cove, NC. I was living in Kernersville at the time and had just gotten married, so you can imagine how I felt when I told my new bride that we had been invited to go on a road trip with my parents so that we could see the grave of a distant relative that, decades before, had killed his entire family on Christmas Day. I’m lucky she didn’t file for divorce the next day when the courthouse opened for business.

It was a short drive up to the intersection of NC Highway 8 and Brook Cove road. The gravesite of Charlie and his family is a mass grave that was dug as one big rectangular hole, or so we were all told by my paternal step-grandmother who had come along for the ride. She remembered all the details of the Lawson killings, and claimed that Charlie was her distant cousin. This was in the days before the Internet and I remember her talking about the raisons on the cake that Charlie’s oldest daughter was icing when he shot her, how he killed his baby and then shoved the body underneath the wood stove, and how the son that survived died years later in a truck accident. And she knew that the baby had been buried in its mother’s arms. She had heard these stories first-hand from people that had been alive at the time and had visited the murder scene on that cold, snowy Christmas Day in 1929.

But my step-grandmother had a different take on why Charlie did it. She claimed that Charlie went crazy because he worked in a slaughterhouse killing hogs all day long, and one day just lost the ability to know the difference between killing a hog and killing his kin. This runs counter to the story that Charlie was a tobacco farmer who got his daughter pregnant and felt that murdering his family and himself was the only proper way to deal with the shame.

The grave was all we could see that day. Charlie’s house has long since been torn down and nothing remains of his farm. After we finished looking at the grave we drove into Walnut Cove to visit relatives, some of which I had never met before. I sat and listened to their stories about the Lawson killings and how Charlie’s ghost was routinely spotted walking up Brook Cove road. This was from people who had lived in the area their entire lives – good, honest country folk who knew, like all Southerners do, that sometimes the souls of the dead are a little slow when it comes to moving on from the physical world.

In the end, the only person that knows why Charlie Lawson murdered his family is Charlie himself. But if you really want to know why he did it, take a drive up Brook Cove road and you just might be able to ask him for yourself.