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Ghosts from the Coast
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Ghosts from the Coast
By Nancy Roberts
The University of North Carolina PressCopyright © 2001 University of North Carolina Press
All right reserved.
Preface"How did you become interested in writing ghost stories?" readers often ask. I will tell you. It all began during a visit to my mother in Maxton, North Carolina, when she told me about the supernatural experience of an old friend of hers-a Presbyterian minister.
"Did I ever mention Dr. John Allen McLean's story to you-his seeing a ghost in the old Slocumb home in Fayetteville?" she began.
"You certainly didn't," I replied, recalling Dr. McLean stopping by the house to see Mother once when I was a child. What a solemn-faced man he had been. His interest was certainly not in children but all in talking to her, so I soon escaped to go out and play. But teams of wild horses could not have dragged me away had I known this austere bespectacled gentleman had seen a ghost!
Now some fifteen years later, Mother chose to tell me about it. It occurred during a party at a beautiful old pre-Civil War home in Fayetteville. Dr. McLean was standing alone in the center hall, or reception room as it was then called, debating a drastic career change. Should he continue his practice of law or enter the ministry? As he stood deep in thought, he glanced up and was surprised to see a beautiful young girl descending the stairs. Assuming that she was one of the guests he had not met, he watched her reach the last step and survey the room as if searching for someone.
Then, with an expression of sadness on her face, she turned and went slowly back up to the landing. There she paused and once more looked out over the room below. Then, as he stared, the edges of the girl grew dim and within seconds she had vanished. For the first time he realized he had not been watching a live young woman but an apparition!
I was writing travel features for The Charlotte Observer at the time, but I was so excited by this story that I made a trip to Fayetteville that very weekend to research it. I learned that the ghost Dr. McLean saw in the A. S. Slocumb house has been reported for more than a century. And it may be still appearing!
The girl on the stairs became the first of a series in The Charlotte Observer based on supernatural experiences North Carolinians shared with me. In the meantime, a reporter was assigned to do a profile on Carl Sandburg, who was then living near Hendersonville, North Carolina. Mr. Sandburg asked her to deliver an amazing message to me. His words were, "Tell Nancy Roberts that I like her ghost stories and I think they should be published in a book."
Mr. Sandburg's praise and encouragement have led to twenty-five books-about half of them collections of ghost stories and legends. Three regional books were followed in fast succession by seven books for Doubleday, two for Crowell-Collier, and later books for the University of South Carolina Press, John F. Blair, Globe-Pequot Press, and Narwhal Press.
Readers also ask why half of my books have been about ghosts. Because stories about ghosts, miracles, and the supernatural fascinate me. They show intentionality regarding the outcome of events-a loving and directing intelligence behind our own lives. This is the primary reason for hope and assurance of reward.
Despite my early journalistic skepticism about ghosts, and particularly the famous Pawleys Island, South Carolina, gray man, I later came to believe that certain families really had been warned by the gray man to leave the island before some of the worst hurricanes. I believe in battlefield apparition experiences as described in my book Civil War Ghost Stories and Legends. Also that the house at 507 East St. Julian Street in Savannah-which Jim Williams attempted to have exorcised and which I wrote about in Georgia Ghosts-really may be America's most haunted house!
Another question frequently asked is, "What are your eeriest stories?" This is a matter of personal opinion, but for me they have been "The Ghost Hand" in South Carolina Ghosts from the Coast to the Mountains, "The Dreaded Meeting" at the mansion built by tobacco tycoon James Buchanan Duke in Charlotte, North Carolina, and "The Ghost Lover," a story from Springfield, Massachusetts. These last two appeared in Haunted Houses-Chilling Tales from 24 American Homes.
But what shall I say about this new book-Ghosts from the Coast? A collection from three states, the stories I found eeriest to write were "Blackbeard's House," set in Beaufort, North Carolina; "The Hilton Head Specter" from Hilton Head Island, South Carolina; and "The Hanged Man at Churchill's Pub" in Savannah. The pub story is about a bare-knuckle fight. Although today illegal, these brutal events still take place secretly in remote areas of the South. Hopefully, with the watchfulness of the law, these gory spectacles may cease like the gladiator contests of ancient Rome.
Ghosts from the Coast takes place against the backdrop of the random violence of the ocean, towering waves charging toward the beach, and the steady hypnotic roar of the surf along the coast of the Carolinas and Georgia. Save for the desert, the sea, more than any force I know, shapes and bends and sometimes breaks the lives of those who live beside it. A woman recently contacted me sharing her own chilling experience at Hilton Head. (She had been amazed to read a similar story in my South Carolina book.) She wrote: "The hairs on my arms rose as I read your account." The hairs on my arms rose too as I read her account describing what she had seen on the beach one August night in 1997. "The Hilton Head Specter," which you will find in this book, is based on her experience.
I would like to thank the people of the coast for their encouragement and cooperation in regard to these stories and for their many wonderful letters sharing their experiences. These new stories of the Carolinas and Georgia have yielded discoveries as exciting for me as those in my first book. I never tire of writing about the supernatural and the miraculous and am grateful for this opportunity once more.
Excerpted from Ghosts from the Coast by Nancy Roberts Copyright © 2001 by University of North Carolina Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Among the late Nancy Roberts's many books are Civil War Ghost Stories and Legends, Blackbeard and Other Pirates of the Atlantic Coast, and Haunted Houses: Chilling Tales from American Homes. A storyteller dedicated to inspiring students to read, she performed at seminars, on radio and television, and at hundreds of schools and libraries across the South.
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