Tag Archives: Southern Ghost Folklore

The Haunting of Isabelle Pearl

Deep in the swamps of eastern North Carolina lies the small town of Solomon. Once a thriving factory town with a finishing mill that employed most of the townsfolk, Solomon is now nothing more than a sleepy little hamlet forgotten by most of the world. Over the years many of the residents have left, but some have chosen to remain. One of those residents is a woman who goes by the name of Isabelle Pearl. Known to the locals as Wicked Izzy, she has lived in a small farmhouse on the outskirts of town for as long as anyone can remember.

Legend has it that Isabelle moved to Solomon in 1916 and took up residence with her husband in the very farmhouse she lives in to this day. When the fighting of World War I claimed the life of her husband, Isabelle was so consumed with grief that she left her farmhouse late one evening and wandered into the nearby woods. Lost in the darkness and unable to find her way back to her home, Isabelle lit a campfire and decided to wait out the night with the hopes that she would be able to find her way home once dawn arrived.

Alone and scared, Isabelle sat by her campfire trying to make it through the cold night. Sadness engulfed her and as the darkness closed in around her she began to call out his name.

Desperate for just one more glimpse of the man she loved, Isabelle screamed into the darkness. She knew she would do anything to have her husband returned to her. According to legend, it was then that a man walked out of the darkness and sat down by the fire. Isabelle had never seen him before and when she saw the fire dancing in the man’s eyes her first instinct was to rise and flee into the woods. But the darkness clawing at the edge of the circle of light thrown out by the fire told Isabelle that she had best stay close and listen to what the man had to say.

Once the man finished explaining the terms of the deal to Isabelle he produced a scroll of parchment from his weathered leather jacket. He unrolled the ancient paper and handed it to her. Then he opened his pocketknife, instructing her to prick her finger with the tip of the blade. She hesitated at first but then did as she was told. When she pressed the bloody pad of her finger to the old parchment, she sealed her fate for eternity.

The man smiled, knowing the Isabelle’s soul now belong to him. He flicked the spent butt of his cigarette into the fire and rose to his feet. He rolled up the parchment and tucked it away inside his jacket, tipped his hat and disappeared into the darkness.

In the morning Isabelle and her husband walked out of the woods together and back to their farmhouse. Most of the townsfolk thought he had returned unharmed from the fighting overseas. No one in town knew the truth – that Isabelle’s husband had died in the war.

Isabelle and her husband kept their secret safe. They lived together for several more years in their farmhouse until he died a second time, crushed beneath his farm tractor when it overturned during the cotton harvest.

To this day, Isabelle Pearl still lives in her farmhouse on the outskirts of Solomon. She remains as beautiful as she was in her youth and continues to do the bidding of the man she met that night by the fire almost a hundred years ago. And the terms of the deal she offers to those brave enough to pay her a visit remains the same.

Every soul has a price.

Isabelle Pearl is a central character in The Summerland Trilogy.

The Folktale Of Blowing Rock, NC

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.

Our fascination with haunted dolls

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.

Photo by Heidi Sue Hittle

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?

Photo by Heidi Sue Hittle

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.

The South’s Most Infamous Prostitute

The Deep South has a rich and colorful history, as well as a dark and tortured one. People born and raised in Dixie, as the South is often called, know better than anyone that southern land is haunted by restless souls that wander through the night. Some of these souls are benevolent and do no harm other than to scare people out of their wits. As for the rest of the wandering souls in the South, be warned, they are not to be messed with. One such ghost that comes to mind is the ghost of the South’s most infamous prostitute, a woman who went by the name of Molly Hatchet. Men that crossed paths with her were known to lose their heads in the process.

Cropped MollyThe legend of Molly Hatchet dates back to the Civil War. In 1864 a Confederate soldier went missing from his unit just outside of Cold Harbor, Va. He was later found in a local boardinghouse, his body on the bed and his head on the floor. Witnesses said they had seen him in the company of a beautiful young woman just hours before his headless body was found.

In 1879 in the small harbor town of Beaufort, SC, sailors from the ships that visited the port were told stories about a mysterious woman outside of town whose business was to deal in the pleasures of the flesh. They were all warned by their captains to stay away from her. Many of them did, but on one fateful night a sailor from a visiting steamship, lonely from months at sea and in dire need of a woman, decided to pay Molly a visit. The next morning his headless body was found lying in an alley behind the local saloon. His head was never found.

Three years after the 1879 beheading, Molly was seen again setting up shop near Boone, a small town nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Mountain men at the time were known to be lonely and Molly cashed in on this loneliness by collecting their heads. Five headless bodies were found before Molly disappeared from town in 1881.

Many Southerners that lived during the time of Molly Hatchet believed that she was a ghost, a demon of sorts, sent to punish the men of the South for their participation in the Civil War. Others felt that she was sent to punish men in general for the wickedness that existed in society during the Reconstruction years. No one knows for sure. But no woman ever lost her head at the hands of Molly Hatchet. Only men bore the brunt of her rage.

It was said that Molly Hatchet possessed such striking beauty, as well as a body no man could resist, that she had no trouble luring men into her parlor despite the rumors that circulated about her. And no one knows if Molly Hatchet actually let her clients enjoy her body before beheading them. The only people that know the answer to that question are her victims, and like the pirates used to say, dead men tell no tales.

Dirty Woman's Hand Holding A Bloody AxeLegend has it that the ghost of Molly Hatchet can be summoned even today. Her ghost is said to fancy dark and lonely stretches of railroad tracks throughout the South. If a man is so inclined, he need only walk the tracks in the dead of night and call out her name.

He won’t be the first man to lose his head over a woman.

The Mysterious Color of Haint Blue

In my last post I told you about the legend of the Southern Bottle Tree and why there are so many of them in the yards of Southern homes.

Photo by Jocelyne Deneau

With the South as haunted as it is, a bottle tree is one of the best ways to catch and destroy the evil spirits that wander the Southern countryside. But often a bottle tree is not enough and as a result many Southerners have learned to employ additional methods to keep these wandering “haints” from taking up residence in their homes.

One of those methods is the use of the color known as “haint blue”.

haint blue2Travel to any of the old Southern cities in the Deep South and you will see a curious shade of light blue painted on the porches of many of the older homes. Charleston and Savannah, both of which are brimming with haints, are two cities that come to mind. In order to ward off evil spirits, residents of these two cities often paint the floors and ceilings of their front porches with a light shade of blue that has become known over the years as haint blue.

Photo By Shelly Rowell

The idea behind haint blue is that it mimics the color of water. According to Gullah tradition, haints cannot move across water and therein lies the protective power of the color. If the front porch of a home is painted with haint blue it is believed that no spirit will cross over and enter the house.

Southerners are not the first to use color to ward off evil spirits. There are many traditions throughout the world that deal with color and its effects on the souls of the dearly departed. haint blue1But down south we have to deal with an inordinate amount of wandering haints due to the history of our land. Bottle trees and porches and doors painted with haint blue can often offer protection, but as any Southerner knows there are times when an overly persistent haint will still get through and make its way into the home.

And once inside it will often decide to stay awhile.

The Legend of the Southern Bottle Tree

The countryside of the American South is haunted. Given the history of the region, it is not hard to understand why.

A bottle tree made from a simple wooden post

If you travel across the South from the Lowcountry of Charleston to the Mississippi Delta you will find many superstitions about the dead, and you will see firsthand some of the ways that Southerners protect their homes from the souls that have not moved on from the physical world and have chosen instead to wander in the night.

One of the tools used by Southerners to deal with evil spirits and wandering “haints”, as they are often called, is the bottle tree.

The bottle tree can be traced to African slaves brought to the Charleston area in the 1700’s. The descendants of these slaves, known as the Gullah, still reside along the coastal regions of South Carolina and Georgia and they still practice many of the traditions taught to them through the generations. Their ancestors were some of the first people in the South to use bottle trees to protect their homes from evil spirits. The tradition has spread and now bottle trees can be seen adorning yards from Virginia to Mississippi.

The idea behind the bottle tree is relatively simple. Originally, the branches of a Crepe Myrtle tree were cut short and empty bottles were placed upside down on the stubby limbs. The Crepe Myrtle was chosen because it symbolized freedom from bondage and life in the Promised Land. But nowadays you will see bottle trees that come in many forms, some made from real trees and other made from wrought iron or just simple wooden posts. But it doesn’t really matter what is used for the tree. What is important are the bottles.

The legend goes that evil spirits are drawn to the bottles when the light of the moon reflects off the glass. The spirits enter the bottles and become trapped inside where they are forced to stay for the rest of the night. To signal their displeasure at being confined they can often be heard moaning when the wind blows through the bottle tree. When the sun rises the next morning, the sunlight burns and destroys the evil spirits trapped inside the bottles. The empty bottles are then free to lie in wait for the next wandering soul that may happen by when nightfall arrives.

You will see bottle trees made from bottles of many colors, but the deep cobalt blue bottle is often the most preferred color since that color is thought to symbolize the crossroads between the realm of the living and that of the dead. It is believed that it is in this realm where wayward souls reside.

To someone not born and raised in the South, the legend of the bottle tree may seem a bit ridiculous. But Southern land carries many scars. Given slavery, the bloodshed of the Civil War and the poverty and hard times that followed, it is not hard to believe that there may be more than a few restless souls wandering through the night in the Southern countryside.

And many of them may not have the best of intentions.