I’ve not been a believer in ghosts, poltergeists, tommy knockers, imps, apparitions, phantasmas, or any other such phantom phenomena since I was very young. But with an impending hurricane I can’t help but remember one that was very nearly believable.
My family and I every summer spent a week at Pawley’s Island, SC at the same inn from the time I was about two until I went off to college. In the early years when people were careful about such things at the end of each week we had fireworks, a huge bonfire on the beach, and ghost stories. The last and favorite story was always the tale of the Gray Man.
As happens with famous and favored stories this one had many versions. The most often-told one was that of a young man returning to his family’s summer home at Pawley’s from travel abroad in the 19th century. His fiancee lived on a small island south, Dubordieu and he was riding there, very fast, to reunite with her. As he crossed the small inlet between the islands he was thrown from his horse and disappeared rapidly into quicksand. His fiancee was beside herself and, not long after his death a terrible hurricane –the Great Storm of 1822– was approaching the tiny island. She was out walking the beaches mourning her loss when at a distance she spotted a slim, gray figure of a man just ahead. As she neared him he looked more like her lost beloved until, nearly upon him she knew it was he. She reached for him.
Rushing home, the storm now nearly upon them, she and her family left the island to the safety of the mainland. After the storm passed they returned to so much devastation and wreckage she was certain there would be nothing left of her family’s beloved home. To their amazed surprise the house was there, completely intact. Not a shingle missing.
The apparition is said to still be spotted by some, even today. The stories are that, if there is a storm and you are fortunate enough to see him, when you return to your home which you left in such a rush to save life and limb, even the clothes will still be on the line, just as you left them.
So with hurricane Matthew bearing upon us here on the North Carolina coast my rescue dogs Lily and Lulu and I ventured forth to the beach a couple of mornings this week to see whether or not we might catch a glimpse of the Grey Man. There was seafog, blowing sand, but no ghost.
Not that we could see, anyway.
As I write this the skies are a slate grey, intermittent showers. It is humid and the air is hardly moving at all. This must be the calm before the storm. This hurricane is now still a very dangerous threat to Georgia and South Carolina but I do not believe it will be as strong when it finally reaches Cape Fear.
See you on the other side.
The Return of the Gray Man, Bolick, Julian Stevenson. (c) 1961. Pgs. 106-112. “The Gray Man of 1893”