DAY ONE: I left for my next spooky adventure right from work, hoping to get at least halfway to North Carolina tonight. The weather was cold, but sunny, and the massive George Washington Bridge gleamed in the westering sunlight as I zipped across. I am amazed at the size and beauty of this bridge every time I cross it.
Then I was out of New York, heading across Jersey and through the gorgeous Delaware Water Gap into Pennsylvania. One of the reasons I enjoy road trips like this are the memories of other Spooky trips I have. Traveling through Wilkes-Barre, PA, I remember collecting the story of a coal-miner minstral who returned from the grave to say good-bye to an old friend. Driving past Allentown, I remembered the ghost I actually “met” – or at least heard – while staying at my cousin’s house and visiting her haunted toy room. And of course, passing the battlefields of Gettysburg and Antietam, I remembered the ghost of George Washington who appeared at Little Round Top and the very creepy feeling I had staring at the haunte bridge in Antietam.
What stories, I wondered as I pulled into my Virginia hotel around 9 pm, would North Carolina have for me? I can’t wait to find out!!
Today’s drive was through Virginia, paralleling and sometimes crossing the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains to Roanoke. South of Roanoke, I turned onto Blue Ridge Parkway — against the express wishes of my brand new GPS — and along the top of the mountains into North Carolina. Hurrah! I actually cheered aloud when I saw the sign. It was only then that I felt my Spooky Trip had truly begun.
I spent the rest of my journey pulling off at scenic overlooking after scenic overlook, gawking at the view. When I wasn’t gazing at the scenery, I was outwitting my new GPS unit, which kept trying to take me off the scenic parkway onto a faster route to Boone. The Blue Ridge mountains are so lovely — even in winter time — that they took my breathe away. The truly do fade into a deep blue distance. Up close, the roads were clear of winter snow but the rocks and outcroppings alongside the road dripped with amazing ice cycles that sparkled in the sun. As the road wound this way and that, the car would enter the shadow depths of pine and laurel, darkened by the massive mountain peaks touring hundreds of feet overhead, and then would zip out into the sunlight as I climbed two, three thousand feet and came upon yet another amazing vista. My only complaint about the parkway — no rest stops!
Not quite sure of how soon it would grow dark, I reluctantly allowed the recalcitrant GPS to have its own way and turned down off the ridge. And found myself driving through a new wonder — the high mountain farmlands and back hill country of North Carolina, where the homes range from back-country shacks and trailers to multi-million dollar chalets. I passed cattled siloutetted in gold by the setting sun and shaggy ponies cropping by a stream. Wonderful gray rail fences lined the farmland, and hundreds of small trees set in rows declared place after place as tree-farms. Then I found myself on the highway to Boone, and soon after pulling into my hotel to the triumph of my poor, beleaguered GPS unit.
As I checked into my hotel, I mentioned to the two lovely fellows manning the front desk the spooky purpose of my journey. Embracing my task as their own, they proceeded to give me all the gossip about the area’s ghosts: The widow of Cone House who wanders the Widows walk long after death, the phantom hiker of Grandfather mountain — whom one of the men had met in person while out on a day-trip with his backpacking buddies; the haunted basement of East Dorm in the Appalachian State University. And the phantom beast that harrasses anyone attempting to camp on the site of the old ruined house just off the Blue Ridge Parkway. Exciting stuff. I also got a tip that ASU had a fantastic Appalachian folklore collection that I needed to see in the morning.
After a lovely meal at a steak house — my second choice for the evening (I got lost trying to find the first place, and my faithful GPS unit refused to believe the restaurant existed, in spite of the evidence both of the local map and the helpful guys on the front desk) — I slipped down to the pool to have a swim. And found myself talking for an hour with a family from Charleston South Carolina about spooky Charleston ghosts, photography, and what it was like to travel places hunting for ghost stories. What a fantastic start to my trip! I got some great South Carolina ghost stories for my web site, and an invitation to dinner any time I find myself in Charleston.
I also learned from the Charleston family that the flight I had originally planned to take today from La Guardia to Charlotte — until I changed my mind and opted to drive — had crashed in the Hudson River earlier in the day! Yikes! Fortunately, everyone survived the crash, due to some excellent piloting. Scary stuff. Boy am I glad I decided to drive!
I woke this morning to bitter, bitter cold (about 7 degrees Fahrenheit). I was also restless in spirit. I’d planned a leisure explore of Boone and Blowing Rock in the morning, followed by a trip up Grandfather Mountain and then along the Blue Ridge Parkway to Cherokee. But the tip from the guys at the front desk about the Appalachian folklore archive was too good to pass up. By the time I finished breakfast, I had decided: I was going to spend the morning in the archive and cancel some of my other plans. Not an easy choice to make.
After meandering my way to the Appalachian State University, I rode up to the fourth floor archive and met a great librarian who promptly took me under his wing and led me to many spooky books, articles, and even contributed a first hand ghost story he’d experienced himself! Apparently, the old library building was haunted by a researcher who felt the need to browse the collection long after he/she parted this veil of tears. Frequently, student assistants manning the collection alone at night would retreat to the well-light hallway rather than spend the evening alone in the haunted stacks, and one young woman phoned our librarian friend in tears because she could hear the shelves creaking and books moving all by themselves. Well, one night, my librarian friend was working at his desk with a student assistant when they heard the click that signified some had come through the entry gate with its rotating bar. They heard footsteps going down the hall, and then the sound of someone settling themselves into one of the lounge chairs set out for the students. Librarian and assistant both turned to look at the chairs to see who had entered the library. No one was there! Serious creeped-out, they both approached the chair hesitantly, but still saw nothing. They beat a hasty retreat back to the office, and spent the rest of the evening ignoring the shuffling of books as they moved by themselves on the shelves. Strange stuff!!
I spent a happy morning in the archive, reading old folklore books and photocopying old newspaper articles about headless ghosts, spectral dogs, mountain witches, and the pink lady of Asheville (I’ve heard of white ladies and gray ladies and the girl in the lavender dress, but this is the first female spirit I’ve ever read about who favored the color pink!)
Much to my annoyance, when I reached my car, I found the metered time had run out and some zealous campus officer had given me a parking ticket. Not wanting to go on the run from the student police, I headed right over to the office to pay my bill. And darn it all, before I could relieve my feelings with a dry comment or two, the sweet gentleman behind the desk forgave the ticket and even gave me directions to his favorite cafeteria for lunch. It is impossible
to be mad at such southern hospitality, though I was so flummoxed by such a sudden change in my feelings over the matter that I nearly burst into tears!
To avoid crying like a goose, I jumped back into the car and headed out of town, pausing just long enough at the local car wash to get all the salt from the PA blizzard off my car (which looked like a wreck compared to all the nice North Carolina cars which did not have to contend with snow and salt and black ice.) Then I drove to the town of Blowing Rock, which was the inspiration for Jan Karon’s mythical town of Mitford in the bestselling series. Being a big fan of Mitford and its quirky characters, I had to take a ride through town. It was as quaint and lovely as I’d pictured it, though the resort nature of Boone had bled into the outskirts of town. Still, it had a wonderful small-town feeling. I got gas at the local Exxon station (mentioned in the Mitford novels) and had lunch at the local grill (not the fancy ones that had sprung up since Karon put the town on the map, but the old-time grill that was started back in the 50s and was the hangout of the locals. I stuck out like a sore thumb — of course — but was swiftly invited into the conversation between the staff and the regulars, and was a source of much interest to them. Soon I was chatting to them about my trip, and before I left I got a wonderful true story about a dog ghost that the fellow running the place had experienced himself. Definitely one for the book!
After presenting the fellow who gave me the dog story with one of the books in the Spooky Series as a thank-you for sharing his story, I headed out to explore Grandfather Mountain on my way to Cherokee. I did not expect the state road I was on to have more twists and turns and scary corners than just about any other road I’ve ever been on — and that counts the Going to the Sun road in Glacier National Park, Montana — which has a terrible reputation! I think the person who planned the road must have followed a snake up and over the mountains!! No way — NO WAY — could you go fast on that road. Slow and steady — that’s the ticket.
At last — at around five thousand feet in elevation — I reached the park for Grandfather mountain where lay the little museum and the mile-high bridge (my ultimate goal). And the hiking trail to the bridge was closed. And the museum was only 15 minutes from closing!! Oh RATS! Disappointed, I backtracked along the highway and took the Blue Ridge Parkway back a few miles to the scenic overlook and the Lin Ville viaduct — a 1243 foot long S shaped viaduct around the “head” of Grandfather Mountain — considered an engineering marvel since there is nothing else like it in the entire world. It is a 7650 ton roadbed built like a bridge around the outer edge of the mountain. It actually conforms to the contours of the mountain — the only viaduct ever built to do so — and no two sections are alike. It was put together like a big jigsaw puzzle made out of wire cables and epoxy glue — seriously — but you’d never guess any of hese things when you drive on it. It is a big long curve out over — well — nothing! Your car swoops around the face of the Grandfather like a bird swooping from point a to point b. Very cool. The viaduct and the scenery made up a little for not being able to walk on a suspension bridge a mile high!
After that, I followed my faithful GPS units directions through the Blue Ridge mountains down to Asheville and then west to Cherokee — enjoying the amazing mountains — which reminded me in places of Montana — and watching a gorgeous sunset. The last forty-five minutes were driven up and over the Smokey Mountains to Cherokee in complete darkness. Another winding road fifteen minutes up and twenty minutes down. A truck was tailgating me all the way down, which was irritating. Come on, folks! Do you really think I am going to go down a dark and narrow and very steep and very winding road I’ve never been on before at top speed? Get real!! It was a relief to be back down in the valley on the far side of the mountain, and my GPS and I had a tiff over where the hotel was supposed to be. (I won the debate, and now the GPS isn’t speaking to me.)
Having eaten on the road, I happily settled into my hotel — which had coffee and tea laid out for visitors and some scrumptious home made oatmeal cookies. As I write this, I am finishing up a cup of vanilla chai tea and am planning an early night. After all, I had a busy day!
I was up bright and early today, eager to get started on my adventures. After a lovely breakfast at the hotel, I headed out toward the Smoky Mountains National Park. It was only about ten minutes from my hotel, through downtown Cherokee. I was a bit overwhelmed by the downtown, which — aside from a gorgeous park with a river running through it — was full of gimmicky stores trying to sell folks everything from baskets and moccasins to bingo cards – all with a Native American theme — this being the Cherokee reservation, after all. I’m not really into all the touristy type shopping, so I did my best to ignore it, looking for what lay behind the glitter. And lo and behold, my first glimpse was of the Indian affairs office, followed by a quiet but compelling showcase of carved and painted bears stand at least five feet at the shoulder, posed here and there along the main street of the town. Something to look at closely when I returned from the park.
Then I was in a sweeping valley surrounded by the Smoky Mountains, with a replica Mountain Farm museum behind a big rail fence (build horse-high, hog-tight, and ull-strong, according to local tradition.) A lovely visitor center sat among the pine trees and laurel bushes, and I swept into the parking lot and went inside to talk to the kind employees inside. They quickly directed me to several picturesque spots for photography, and guided me into the bookstore for folklore. There, the woman who waited on me had a fabulous tale of her own to tell. While not spooky, it certainly reflected the spirit of the mountains.
The woman and her husband, after raising a family, had decided to live their dream. So they sold their house and came to stay in a cabin here in the mountains, living from day to day in this place they had come to love on their many vacations here. Just about the time money was getting low and they were discussing possible part-time work to supplement, the husband started getting a weak leg that forced him to lie down at a Memorial Day Party. Worried, they took him to the ER, and from there right into brain surgery. He had an absess that broke as soon as the skull was opened. According to the doctors, only 11% of people with this condition survive — and her husband was one of them. Told he would never get out of a wheel chair, the two of them kept fighting together, and a year later he was up and walking, stiff but movable. And now they own a little house on a hill and she works in the park they both love so much, and they are as happy as can be. How amazing!
I spent a blissful hour after this photographing the farm museum and reading about life in the Smoky Mountains. Tough, rough, and family-oriented. From honey to apples to cabbage to meat, they did everything on the farm. Self-sufficient. The hogs ran wild during the summer and were only captured and penned when it came time to fatten them up.
While I was reading all this, I came upong a chicken in the apple house. I peaked in the door, and there he was, staring at me suspiciously. I greeted him and kept going, aware of a racket down by the barn. Some alien creature was yammering in a high pitch, agressive screech, followed by a bunch of sqwaking. There was a faintly rhythmic qualit
y to the screech and answering chorus, and I was getting curious. I grinned amiably at a yellow hen who waddled past me on her way to the corn house, but kept going, propelled by curiousity. As I set foot in the barn, eager to see what the screeching creature really was, everything went suddenly silent. I felt myself the focus of many eyes As my own eyes adjusted, I looked up through the beams of the loft and saw a big black and white stripe rooster staring down at me. make that two roosters. No — there was another head popping out of a corner. Three. Something stirred in the dust at my feet. Two more roosters came around the side of an old, painted carriage and blinked at me in the dusty mots of the sunbeam in which they stood. No one said a word. “Aw, come on guys. You were singing before,” I complained. “Say something.” Nothing. One handsome gold and black fellow fluttered his feathers at me and then turned away. A fifth and then a sixth chicken wandered into the side hall in which I stood, gave me a look that said, quite plainly: “You don’t have food so you’re not interesting” and wandered away again.
After shooting a few pictures, I turned to go. And jumped about a mile when, right overhead, one of the roosters crowed. While he didn’t say “cock a doodle doo”, he did manage to convey that message using a screechy sort of ‘er’ sound: “Er-a-Ererer-er!” Happy to have someone begin the conversation, I crowed back at him. That did it. The roosters on the floor fluffed and croodled — no way can I begin to represent that sound in print — and wadded off enthusiastically toward the center hall of the barn. Bidding farewell to the crowing rooster, I followed them through the barn, trying to get a picture of them flapping their wings. I missed every flap, and had to bid farewell to them in the end when they went through a fence into territory forbidden to visitors.
By this time I was cold, so I nipped back into the visitor center to get warm by the crackling fire and inquire about the chickens. Then I headed up the road, first to photograph and old mill, and then an old Baptist church on a ridge deep in the woods. Then I was climbing thousands of feet up the side of the mountain to the gap, where a couple of inches of snow appeared to delight the folks from Tennessee, North Carolina and the other Southern states. I didn’t feel it necessary to mention I’d left more snow than that in my back yard. It was enough for me to see there absolute delight. The kids were so well wrapped they looked like they were heading to the Alaskan tundra, and they were shrieking with delight and throwing snow balls and sledding down small hills. Wonderful to watch — and they couldn’t have picked a more beautiful setting.
I headed into Cherokee for lunch, and happened upon a local hang-out, which was fun. Then I photographed every bear I could find, having learned that local artists had painted each of the huge creatures with a different message: Harmony of Life, Forefathers, Cherokee Sunset, Eagle Dance, Pottery, Legendary Sunrise, Patriot Bear, and more.
I finished up the day in the Museum of the Cherokee, making many notes about the way of life of this amazing people, and finding myself angry and so sad when I read about the Trail of Tears. They did everything we asked of them — everything! Many learned our ways, followed our demands, negotiated with us, some even became citizens in the attempt to stay on the land they had owned for thousands of years — and we still drove them off. What right did we have to say the lives of white settlers were more important than the lives of the Cherokee people? And so many of them died in their enforced exile. I was truly ashamed of our government and our ancestors for their treatment of these good people.
Shaken and moved by the exhibit, I purchased a few books to learn more about the Cherokee and their myths and legends, and then drove to Asheville for a relaxing dinner and an early night.
I spent last night in a suite that was nearly as big as my apartment at home. So comfortable and relaxed was I upon waking that I wandered about in most of the morning, relaxing, writing and eating breakfast. It was a real wrench to leave such a comfortable spot, but I had a big adventure in store for today, and so with reluctance, I repacked my bags and headed forth.
The Biltmore House was my destination this morning, and I traveled through some lovely mountain scenery to get there. Of course, my GPS refused to believe the house was my true destination. it wanted me to go to the village, and it sulked all the way to the ticket center. Really, it is like having a bossy, recalcitrant child in the car with me! Fortunately, this particular child has a volume button!
After driving through some smashing wooded grounds (Boy do I wish this place was closer! i’d go hiking here every weekend!), I pulled into lot B3 and took the shuttle to the Biltmore House, since it pulled up right in front of me as I was getting out of my car.
Well, they call it a house. If we were in Europe, they’d call it a castle. Heavens to Betsy, the mansion was huge! A broad, dramatic sweep of lawn bordered on all four sides by a long driveway led to the front of the “house”. A few moments after the shuttle swept through the entry gate, I was standing in front of the 250-room French Renaissance mansion, staring up at the golden Indiana limestone sides with ornate windows, carvings of knights, dragons and gargoyles, and steeply pitched roof with a copper roofline with Vanderbilt’s initials carved into it. Pretty impressive. (And how can you help but love a house that has 43 bathrooms!)
I took the self-guided audio tour, wandering from room to room. Perhaps my favorite places in the whole mansion were the Winter Garden, which was inset into the center of the impressive front entranceway, a marvel of green plants, comfortable seats and a beautiful fountain, under a glass roof. And George Vanderbilt’s library. Oh that library. Two stories of books with an iron-railed walkway around the upper story. A massive fireplace. Tables and chairs set at comfortable intervals for reading, relaxing or studying. Movable staircases to help reach the top shelves. And more than 10,000 volumes lining the bookshelves. My dream library… If I keep acquiring books the way I do, I will need all that space and more for my own collection!
Also of note along the way: The massive banquet hall with its organ loft, tripple fireplace and feel of a medieval castle; a chess set and table owned by Napoleon; the gorgeous oval bedroom of Mrs. Edith Vanderbilt; two amazing paintings — one of George Vanderbilt and family on their way to the opera, and another of his grandson William A.V. Cecil and his family sitting underneath that same portrait many years later. Guest bedrooms were numerous and each uniquely decorated. Servant’s quarters on the fourth floor were fairly spacious and well set-up. And the basement…
Well, the basement deserves its own paragraph. Leading into the family part of the basement was an impressive, vaulted stone hallway. There was a bowling alley. And a swimming pool. And a weight room. And changing rooms. And a unique rectangular room called the “Halloween Room” where the Vanderbilts
once led their guests, gave them paint, and had them do what they liked with the walls! But what impressed me most about the basement were the working areas, where staff kept the house running. Refrigerators, walk-in pantries, three kitchens, servant bedrooms, two work rooms just for arranging flowers, and the laundry — one room just for hand-washing! I once read a book about the life of a servant working in the Undercroft of a great house, and it was dead on the mark with this place. Amazing! It was a whole world that the guests and owners would never see.
By this time I was exhausted from some much walking and climbing, listening and observing. I staggered out into the yard, and the local restaurant in the stable yard took pity upon my plight and got me seated right away. It took half a loaf of corn bread, a chicken potpie and about 6 diet sodas to get me back on my feet again! Then I was off to explore the gardens, camera in hand. (No photos were allowed in the house itself.)
I climbed up to the terraces first and took photo after photo of the house and the Smoky mountains. Then I wandered down to the Conservatory to look at the hothouse plants, before meandering my way through the English Walled Garden and finally to the top of the hill overlooking the house. i paused at a gazebo with Diana the Huntress in the center to take the traditional shot of Biltmore, and then wandered through lots A1 to A6, and then over to B1 and B2 before remembering that I’d parked my car in B3. Okay, I didn’t remember. It was the only lot left!
By this time, I was worn out from all the sightseeing. I set my GPS for Charlotte, and got on the road. Down out of the mountains I came, listening to Howl’s Moving Castle on audiobook as I made my way in the gloaming. Darkness had settle around the highway as – per the instructions of my faithful GPS — I began moving toward the right lane where my exit was fast approaching. And then I came up over a rise in the road and there were two cars stopped dead right in front of me. I hit the brake as hard as I have ever done, sure that I was too close to miss. Thank God for antilock. The car bucked and tried to swerve, antilock kicked in and stopped the skid, and I stopped a couple of feet from the back of the second car. Around me, cars were swerving desperately around the three of us as the lead car limped over the side of the road. I was sure I was going to be hit from behind, but by some miracle, every car made it out of the way. A heart-stopping moment later, the car in front started forward and I followed, limp with relief, my heart pounding painfully against my ribs.
I was so shocked and frightened by the incident that I checked in and spent an hour sitting in the chair staring blankly at the TV while I calmed down. I think it was a miracle I survived that little incident. I had to take a hot shower to work out all the soreness in my muscles, and then I went to bed to sleep it off. Hopefully, tomorrow will be a relaxing, fun, drama-free day! I need it!
While I was wandering through the breakfast line this morning, I started talking to one of the employees mannning the stations. She gave me some places to check out for spooky Charlotte folklore and introduced me to one of the hotel managers, who was a mine of spooky information, though sadly not for Charlotte. She had worked in a haunted hotel in San Diego, famed for its 1940 Big Band music. People staying in the penthouse suites would sometimes call the front desk in the middle of the night to complain about “loud music” coming from the ballroom below. Inevitably, the desk staff would politely tell them that there was no “big band” party going on, and when hotel staff and/or guests went to check things out, all was silent and still — the phantom music was gone! Creepy stuff!
Today was a relaxing sort of day. I drove around downtown Charlotte, admiring the stadium, the tall buildings, the artwork and statuary in front of the museums. Then I stopped at the Discovery Place to watch the children at play, take photos of the animals in the rainforest, and see and IMAX film. Then I did some more driving through Charlotte, seeking out spooky spots and trying to picture how the event’s of the story I wrote for the upcoming book (a story entitled Daddy’s Return), might have played out. This is a sad tale in which a Father’s suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning endangers the lives of his children, and his ghost returns to the hospital where his youngest child lays in a coma to wake her up.
After lunch, I sought out the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and found their famed greenhouses and gardens. It was a lovely place, filled with rooms of plants ranging from tropical to desert. And a room just devoted to orchids — many in full bloom. Then I roamed through the outdoor garden, one of which was magnificent in winteretime with still-blooming trees, Asian architecture, and birds everywhere. I took many pictures and hiked around until I was exhausted and ready to return to the hotel. There, I worked on Spooky North Carolina for a few hours before dinner, and spent the evening researching more spooky spots to look for tomorrow. A fun day!
I was thinking about the inauguration as I got up this morning, pondering what it might mean over time and how the world might look four years from now. Today is packed with activities — as usual on a spooky trip — but I planned to listen to the inauguration live, and watch it tonight on TV. Some things, you just have to be a part of.
In my email last night was a nice note from the Director of Sale with more details on the ghost story she told me yesterday, and asking me if I lost a white scarf which she found on the floor near the table where I had eaten breakfast. (No, I hadn’t lost a scarf.) As I was getting ready for bed, the Night Manager called me to ask me if I’d lost a white scarf. (Thanks so much for calling, but I still hadn’t lost a scarf.) In the elevator going down to breakfast, the Day Manager asked me if I had lost a white scarf. I showed him the white shawl I always wear with my coat — which was still attached to me. (How kind of you to ask, but really, I hadn’t lost a scarf.) I think I almost convinced him that I really didn’t need two scarves. At breakfast, the Director of Sales came bursting into the dining room with a white scarf clutched in her hands. It was a real pretty scarf too, but it still wasn’t mine. (Really. I mean it. I HAVEN’T LOST MY SCARF!) Just goes to show how kind and friendly folks in Charlotte can be. In New Jersey, where I really did lose my blue scarf, no one handed it in to lost and found, no one asked me about it. I’m assuming someone is now enjoying that blue scarf — but it isn’t me. Next time I lose a scarf, I plan to do it in Charlotte.
I drove to Winston-Salem after breakfast and stopped in the parking lot of the Salem college to listen to the inaugeration on the radio. At the conclusion of new President Barack Obama’s speech, I took my camera and went for a stroll through Old Salem. What a beautifully perserved old Moravian town. There were a large number of brick buildings – especially in the college, lovely clapboard houses with steeply pitched roofs, a few log cabins — including an old church in the far corner were standing side by side along the quiet streets.
The brick sidewalks were a herring bone pattern and were uneven and sometimes difficult to walk upon without tripping. (A fact I demonstrated at least four times!) Man of the lovely old houses had white picket fences surrounding yards full of lovely plants. A picturesque old barn with a woodpile at one side and large wooden barrells peeking out of the loft. You could easily picture the Moravian’s living and working in this setting. The men and women lived separately until marriage. Young people left home at 14 years and lived in dormitories, learning a trade. Marriage united men and women into families, but after death, men were buried in one part of the cemetery and women in another.
I had a traditional Moravian lunch of chicken pie and vegetables at the preserved Salem Tavern — a lovely old building with high ceilings, creaky floors and spooky shadows. Then I strolled through the rest of the town, snapping photographs of the houses, the unique fences and buildings along the street, and of course the giant coffeepot which stands on the line where Old Salem meets Winston-Salem. The large coffeepot is seven feet three inches tall (and then they stuck it on top of a metal pole!) It is made of tin by the Moravian brothers Samuel and Julius Micceky in 1858, presumably as an advertising ploy for their tin making business (either that or they just couldn’t get enough of their morning coffee!)
There’s an interesting ghost story associated with Old Salem. On the square — viewable from the place where I parked my car to listen to the inaugeration — there is a house known as the Single Brothers house that used to be the dormitory for unmarried men in the community. On a March evening in 1786, a shoemaker named Kresmer perished while excavating a new foundation for an addition to Brother’s house. Caught beneath a collapsing bank of earth, he died within a few hours, red cap still askew on his head. For many years thereafter, a red-capped little man would be see under the house or on the grounds of the Brother’s house, and folks would hear the tap-tap-tapping sound of a shoemaker’s hammer.
Late that afternoon, I drove to my hotel in Greensboro. After taking a cat-nap in the sun for half an hour, I headed to the local Walmart to stock up on supplies and then had a lovely steak dinner at Outback before returning to the hotel to watch the inauguration on TV.
Instead of a novel, I chose a book of North Carolina ghost stories for my bedtime reading. Big mistake. I am not often freaked-out by ghost stories these days (I’ve seen, read and experienced too much myself to be bothered by many reports.) But this particular Piedmont ghost really freaked me out. Apparently, there is a house in Forsyth County, North Carolina, that is haunted by the ghost of a young girl. The child would sit in the downstairs window each evening holding a candle and watching for her father to come home from work. One night, the sparks from the candle ignited the curtains at the window and the house went up in flames. The father died trying to rescue his wife — the girl’s stepmother, who for some reason was locked in her room. The child and her step-mother went to live in a small house adjacent to their estate, and the step mother, who didn’t get along with the daughter, left as soon as the girl was old enough to live on her own. The daughter lived all her life in that little house, always mourning for the home she had lost and the father she had inadvertently killed. Long after the daughter had passed on, her spirit whispered in the ears of people living in the small home where she had lived and died. Always, she wanted to go home. One day, an artist moved in, and the ghost persuaded her through a series of dreams to paint a picture of the old mansion where she once lived with her father. After the painting was complete, the artist hung it over the mantle piece and proudly showed it off to friends and neighbors who came to visit. As she showed it off to a neighbor who had known the daughter who died, both women suddenly realized that the face of a child holding a candle had mysteriously appeared in the downstairs window of the old mansion — right where the daughter always waited for her father to come home. The ghost had gone home at last.
Today was a free day — meaning all my prearranged plans fell through since snow closed down several historic buildings and even closed down the zoo! So I had leisure to relax and take my time heading down to breakfast. There were a bunch of folks in the breakfast room this morning who were returning home from Washington DC after attending the inauguration. It was fascinating to listen to their first-hand accounts of the day, and to see the pride they felt in the new President and the First Family. They were happy to sweep me up into their group and share their joy with me. It was a powerful moment.
After checking out of my hotel, I turned my car toward Raleigh, figuring I could check out the Capitol building and some of the major museums if nothing else came along. I intended to poke my nose into anything that looked interesting along the way, and sure enough, fifteen minutes down the road I saw the sign for a battlefield. I turned off the highway and went to check it out. It was a “pre-Revolution” rebellion site. I was the only guest on that snowy morning (about an inch fell during the night.) The two guides showed me a film about the battle — which was an uprising against a corrupt British government by starving farmers in the region. They formed themselves into a group called the Regulators, and after much petitioning and protesting, took up arms against them. The formal battle happened south of Burlington at the Alamance Battleground on May 16, 1771, where 2000 Regulators stood against the British militia. When ordered to fire, the militia hesitated because so many of the rebels were known to them, and their cause against the oppressors was a just one. In the end, they obeyed the orders of Royal Governor Tryon and fired, beginning a battle the Regulators had no hope of winning. The Regulators were defeated that day, but it was only a few years later that patriots in the North and the South took up their battle cry, and the American Revolution began in earnest.
As always on these serendipitous days, I stopped to speak with one of the historic site assistants, and he turned out to be a big fan of ghost stories and had actually read some of the Spooky Series. Greeting one another like long lost family, we swapped stories, and he gave me some excellent leads for ghost stories in the area, as well as telling me his own experience viewing the Brown Mountain lights (which he described as shooting upward like fireworks), and of his cousin’s experience with the Maco light, before the tracks were taken down. Very cool stuff.
After giving me a tour of the historic house on the battlefield property, the site assistant sent me in to Greensboro to the Guilford Courthouse battlefield which was part of the American Revolution. Apparently, a fairly new ghost story has arise surrounding this battlefield. There is a national park of part of the battlefield, but the rest of it has been slowly encroached upon by the housing needs of the city, and now several developments abut against the national park. And this has, apparently stirred up a ghost. According to the story, people living in the area have seen a soldier riding a horse through the streets at dusk (described as a ‘reenactor’ from the battlefield, though no reenactment is taking place). If addressed, the ghost will comment sadly that it is a shame that these houses have been built over the bodies of those slain on the battlefield. Then the rider vanishes into thin air. Spooky! I spent a couple of hours walking through the battlefield, and though I encountered no ghost myself, I had a wonderful time shooting photos of hawks and woodpeckers, woodlands and monuments.
By this time, it was late afternoon and I was cold after running around in the snow all day. So I headed to my hotel in Raleigh, checked in, and went to take pictures of the Capitol building in the sunset. A lovely end to the day.
I had to get up early this morning, since I had made an appointment to see the Duke University Lemur Center, a forty-five minute ride north of Raleigh. As usual, I tried to outwit my GPS unit and turned off on a side route that “looked faster” on the map. Ha! So much for short-cuts! There was a light on every corner of that road, and it started driving me up the wall. If I’d listen to my GPS, I could be cruisin’ on the highway. But I got stubborn. In the ongoing GPS-Sandy war, the GPS unit was definitely ahead!
Nonetheless, I made it with time to spare. Talk about off the beaten path! I entered the Duke Forest and took a restricted road back to along gravel driveway, through several intimidating gates, and back into a little resort-type area full of trees and low buildings painted dark brown. It looked more like a pleasant campground than a research center, until you noticed all the fences. I parked in a gravel lot to the left and wandered up the handicap ramp at the front of Lemur Landing, the gift shop and place where the tours started. There were two women at the top of the ramp, chatting happily together. As soon as they spotted me, they knew me for the guest come to take a tour. The only guest, as it turned out. Wonderful!
My guide – a lovely volunteer lady named Carol – was mad about lemurs, and I knew at once we’d get along great, since I was a bit crazy about lemurs too. She showed me a short film, and then we went outside to see the diurnal lemurs. In the summer, the wonderful creatures get to play in vast wood habitats – those I glimpsed over the fences – playing and eating and raising their young. In winter, they retreated into heated cages and guarded their boundaries zealously. Today, those cages were surrounded by plastic tenting to keep out the chilly winter cold (and it was only 27 degrees Fahrenheit on this particular morning.) The tent had a number of Plexiglas windows set at intervals along the cages, so visitors could look in at the lemurs.
Carol took me to the first set of cages and opened the windows so I could look inside and interact with the lemurs. It was obvious that she spent a great deal of time there, for the lemurs inside reacted at once to her presence, looking down at her, moving about. It was also obvious that they liked her, for none displayed any stress at her presence, and they quickly decided I was also harmless, for they soon came down to the dishes to eat and stare out at me with as much interest as I stared at them.
We went from window to window, and Carol told me stories about the individual lemurs as well as information about breed, habitat and endangered status. All the while I snapped pictures and enjoyed the antics of the inquisitive, lovely animals. By the time we reached the ring-tailed lemur cage (my all-time favorite lemur and the one I am determined to return as, should I get to return as an animal!), I heartily wished there was a lemur center in New York where I could volunteer. The work they are doing at this center is marvelous, both for preservation, successful breeding, and education about these wonderful creatures. A fact I found fascinating was the lemurs – when ill – seem to know which jungle plants they need to eat to cure themselves. Researchers believe we can find new medicines just by observing the eating habits of sick lemurs.
After a quick trip to the nocturnal unit to see the busybaby (another favorite of mine) and the aye-aye named Edgar Allan Poe, who popped his head out three or four times to get a look at me, I headed back to Lemur Landing visitor center and said farewell to my charming and informative guide.
During the afternoon, I drove to the Outer Banks, watching the rolling hills turn to farmland, and then to swamps and nature preserves. The smell of the approaching sea filled the air, and that amazing quality of light you can only find near the sea filled the pines and woodlands. I crossed one bridge – than two, through Roanoke Island where the Lost Colony once lived. And then I was heading through Nags Head to a lovely house in Southern Shores. I could not believe my luck when I pulled into the driveway and into three stories of gorgeous views, comfortable large rooms, every sort of recreational toy available – including two bikes!! Oh boy, am I going to have fun here! I had to remind myself I was in the Outer Banks to do research and not just to bike down to the beach! (Though I plan to do that too!)
Tomorrow will be a great day!
It was wonderful waking up in a lovely big house with balconies overlooking the sea. I watched the sun rising over the Atlantic and then spent leisurely morning researching into North Carolina folklore. Just before lunch, I headed down the road to Kitty Hawk and spent a delightful couple of hours with the Wright Brothers, learning all about their historic first flight – four flights really, two by Orville and two by Wilbur. I also so the large hill on which they conducted many of their earlier experiments with gliders. It was a glorious, sunny day and the temperature on the field was a balmy 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Perfect for being outdoors.
After visiting the museum and the NASA exhibit on the 100 years of flight, I strolled outside to the recreated flight hanger and home-away-from-home that the Wright Brother’s used during their stay in Kitty Hawk. Then I examined the places where the flights took place. I had not realized before that the first four flights took place in a flat part of the field, and that it was the fact that an engine propelled the plane off the ground, steered her, and landed her, that made it so historic. I marveled at the short distance of the first three flights. I could have jogged that far in under the time it took the first airplane to fly the same distance. Twelve seconds for the first two flights – Orville first, Wilbur flying second. Then Orville went 15 seconds on the next flight, and Wilbur made it all the way down the field – over 800 feet in 59 seconds – for the l
ast flight. Unfortunately, he crashed, and the first airplane was damaged beyond repair. But what a moment!
What I found the most astonishing of all was how rapidly the technology was embraced and developed once the first breakthrough was made. Sixty-six years after the first flight, Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon. Amazing!
I hiked up to the big monument on top of the hill in company with a lovely couple from Michigan, come to the Outer Banks to escape two feet of snow. Their golden retriever – Daisy – was convinced that I was going to throw a tennis ball for her. She kept dancing back down the hill with the ball, right past her owners, and thrust her head at me for a quick pat, and a pleading look – lifting the ball suggestively. Considering the slimy texture of the ball, her owners suggested I pass on the game of fetch. Deciding they were correct, I gave Daisy a good rub behind the ears instead!
I grabbed a quick lunch after leaving the Wright Brother’s Memorial, and then drove out to Bodie Island Lighthouse – a massive lighthouse stripe black and white — and then across the street to the beach to collect seashells and watch the seagulls playing in the surf. A couple were riding horses down the beach, and two different SUVs rolled through the packed sand and back up on the dunes while I strolled along in the wind and the sun. Several other folks – warmly wrapped against the chill wind – were also collecting shells and sea glass and anything else that took their fancy. I found many strange black hollow husks with four long tips, extending from each corner. I asked some of my fellow beachcombers about them, and they said they were the husks or shells from skate eggs. Apparently, they wash up on the beach all the time. I was fascinated. I’d never seen them before.
After a little more driving through the long, low dunes and scrub brush that characterized the parkland and one more beach stroll, I headed back to Nags Head for dinner and then home for an early night. Tomorrow I head down to Ocracoke!
I headed out early this morning – driving down to Ocracoke Island where Blackbeard the Pirate met his end. According to the stories handed down about this notorious pirate, Blackbeard had a long beard that nearly covered his face. To confound his enemies, he would stick cannon fuses under his hat, and lighting them during battle. Already tall and striking of appearance, he would add to his menacing demeanor by wearing a crimson coat with bandoleers full of pistols and knives crossed on his chest, and two sharp swords at his waist. The mere sight of him was enough to make most of his victims surrender without a fight. Folks that surrendered peacefully would have their valuables taken from them and be allowed to sail away with their lives. Folks that resisted were marooned and their ships were burnt.
Blackbeard – whose given name was apparently Edward Teach or Thatch (historians differ) — began his pirating career sometime after 1713. His flagship was a 14-gun, richly laden French slave ship called Concorde that he captured in the Caribbean and renamed Queen Anne’s Revenge. At the height of his activities, Blackbeard blockaded the port of Charleston, S.C. for a week in May of 1718. One week later, his flagship was lost at Beaufort Inlet. Blackbeard’s reign of piracy came to an end in November 1718. Governor Alexander Spotswood of Virginia sent a Royal Navy contingent to North Carolina, where Blackbeard was killed in a bloody battle at Ocracoke Inlet on November 22, 1718. The mighty pirate Blackbeard received five musket ball wounds and more than 20 sword lacerations before dying.
The drive through Pea Island Wildlife refuge and down through Cape Hatteras was lovely. Shore birds were plentiful and their antics were hilarious to watch. I saw brown pelicans flying overhead, seagulls bathing in sandy puddles beside the road, and a white egret stalked along a sand dune searching for breakfast. It was cloudy overhead, but not actively raining, and the wind whistled merrily over the roof of the car as the long grasses and low scrub of the sand dunes bent beneath the breeze and waves chopped up the waters of the sound and sprayed against the boats moored at the pier.
I reached the ferry landing at last and got online. Unsure what to do next, I stopped in the little shop next door and inquired about a fee for the ferry. To my delight, I found out it was free, and the kind gentleman loaded me up with information about Ocracoke and ferry schedules.
The ride to the island was marvelous. The wind was so cold I had to put on scarf and gloves, but there were so many photo opportunities with all the gulls flying around and above the ferry and all the ships and buoys around us, not to mention the picturesque shoreline. Once we reached the island, I drove down to see the wild ponies – now watched over by the National Park Service, and then had a relaxing lunch at a great local spot called Jason’s Restaurant. The kind waitress gave me directions to the lighthouse, which I photographed, and then I spent a few minutes taking pictures of the sailboats before stopping at the visitor’s center to pick up some more folklore books about the Outer Banks. A quick trip to the beach to collect sea shells and picture a wilder time long ago when Blackbeard’s ship – the Adventure – was forced ashore by Maynard’s two sloops. The pirate was lured aboard Lieutenant Maynard’s ship – Ranger – where most of the crew were hiding below decks. In a terrific battle between Maynard and Blackbeard, the pirate was killed and beheaded. According to legend, Blackbeard’s ghost can sometimes still be seen walking the shores of the island at dusk, carrying a lantern as he searches for his head.
On my way back to Southern Shores, I stopped at Cape Hatteras lighthouse to take pictures and walk along the beach. Then I drove home through a gorgeous sunset. What a beautiful way to end the day!
This is my final day in North Carolina. I have enjoyed myself so much. I cleaned house this morning and packed up the car. Au Sommet was a lovely place to stay in the Outer Banks, and I am reluctant to leave it. But there are still
a few adventures I’d like to have here in North Carolina before I head home.
After packing the car, I headed up through the small town of Duck to Corrolla, where stands the beautiful Currituck Beach lighthouse. There was a fence around the property, in which stood the massive red brick lighthouse and several other whitewashed clapboard houses, scattered through the trees and lovely grounds. A Springer spaniel wagged his way to the gate as I peered over it, hesitant to enter the grounds since a big message had been posted on the lighthouse sign saying everything was closed.
Having driven all this way, I wandered the road outside the fence, trying to get a good view of the lighthouse, but the trees kept getting in the way. Then I saw a girl enter the grounds with her camera, and decided if she could go in, so could I. I meandered back to the gate and was greeted with enthusiasm by the spaniel, who then trotted merrily away with a flap of the ears. Meekly, I wandered down the path and asked the girl if it was okay to take pictures, even though the lighthouse was closed. She gravely told me she had been given permission by the groundskeeper, and thought it was fine for me too. Then she told me the dog’s name was Henry, and went on to speak of her father, who had been in the armed forces in this region and had been assigned to help clean up and restore part of this lighthouse many years ago. It was the family connection that had brought her to the lighthouse this chilly day in January. As she completed her story, Henry came lopping up. I called his name and he raced over to nose me enthusiastically. The Navy man’s daughter threw a stick which Henry raced after and then made away with. We both laughed, and I headed deeper into the grounds to take photos while she departed.
After taking many pictures of the lighthouse – with a few self-portraits thrown in and a few pictures of Henry and the lighthouse too – I headed back through Corolla and Duck toward Roanoke Island. I wanted to see the place where the Lost Colony had once stood. I picked up lunch on the way, and arrived just in time to see a film about the Roanoke Colony.
The story of the Lost Colony is an intriguing one. Sir Walter Raleigh of England was looking for a place in the New World to build a colony. In 1584 he sent explorers out to search for an ideal location, and they settled on the Roanoke Island as a good place for the English to settle in North America. The low, narrow island lay between the treacherous Outer Banks and the mainland. It was protected against the harsh winds and pounding surf of the barrier islands, and was characterized by thick marshlands and stands of live oaks. Indeed, the island teemed with wildlife-and seemed a hospitable site for settlement. When the explorers returned to England with their report, Queen Elizabeth was impressed and she granted Raleigh a patent to all the lands he could occupy, naming the new land “Virginia”, in honor of the Virgin Queen.
Raleigh promptly sent a party of 100 soldiers, craftsmen and scholars to Roanoke Island to set up a garrison, but their efforts were doomed to failure. They arrived too late to plant, and Lane – the captain – alienated the Roanoke Indians and murdered their chief, Wingina over a stolen cup. By the time Sir Francis Drake stopped at Roanoke during one of his expeditions, Lane and his men had had enough. They abandoned the settlement and left behind a fort (a recreation of which can still be seen at Fort Raleigh National Historic Site today.)
Raleigh refused to give up. He recruited 117 men, women and children for a more permanent settlement, and appointed John White governor of the new “City of Raleigh”. Among the colonists were White’s pregnant daughter, Eleanor Dare, his son-in-law Annanias Dare, and the Indian chief Manteo, who had become an ally during his stay in England. In 1587, the colonists journeyed from England to Roanoke Island on North Carolina’s coast and established the first English settlement in America. They unloaded their belonging and supplies and repaired Lane’s fort. On August 18, 1587, Eleanor Dare gave birth to a daughter she named Virginia, thus earning the distinction of being the first English child born on American soil. Ten days later, the ship’s captain departed for England, taking along John White, who decided to return to England for much-needed supplies for the fledgling colony.
Upon his arrival in England, White found himself trapped there by the political situation (i.e. the impending invasion of the Spanish Armada). It wasn’t until three years later that he was able to return to Roanoke Island. He arrived on August 18, 1590–his grand daughter’s third birthday–and found the “City of Raleigh” deserted, plundered, and surrounded by a palisade of great trees, as if it were a fort. On one of the palisades, he found the single word “CROATOAN” carved into the surface, and the letters “CRO” carved into a nearby tree. Hoping this meant that the colony (and his family) had traveled to Chief Manteo’s home on present-day Hatteras Island, White was preparing to follow them when a great hurricane arose, damaging his ships and forcing him to return to England. He was never able to raise the funding to make the trip to America again, and he died never knowing what had happened to his family. Indeed, no one ever found out what happened to the Lost Colony. It remains a mystery to this day.
I toured the little museum, before walking the grounds and seeing the recreation of the old Fort built by Lane. It was easy to picture the colonists building here, settling here. Then I wandered through the stage set of the Lost Colony – a theatrical production put on in an outdoor amphitheater every summer. The stage backs right onto the Sound, which was windy and choppy and utterly gorgeous. Finally, satisfied with my roaming, I headed back to the parking lot in the company of a lovely retired couple from Arizona who were taking a cross-country road trip through the southern states and up into New York. Then I hopped in the car and programmed my GPS for this evenings destination – Salisbury, Maryland. It looked like a four hour trip, and I really should get started. But there was an intriguing sign for an Elizabethan Garden right next to Fort Raleigh, so I nipped over that way for a quick look. And boy was I glad I did. For a small fee, you could wander through a wonderland of gorgeous gardens with sculptures galore. A sunken garden had a 16th century fountain at the center. There was a rose garden next to a larger-than-life statue of Queen Elizabeth the First – complete with ruff around her neck!
One of my favorite places in that lovely garden was a thatched English gazebo overlooking the place where the Lost Colonists first set foot on Roanoke Island. Not far from it was a statue of the young Virginia Dare – about whom many folktales have arisen. The most romantic
of these is that she grew up among the Native Americans, and when she came of age – being beautiful of face and form – was much sought after by the young man. And old wizard also fell in love with her and turned her into a white deer so that she could not marry the warrior of her choice. After much searching, the warrior found out he could change her back if he shot her with a magic arrow. Unfortunately, the warrior and the magician both shot the white deer at the same moment, one to transform and one to kill. The lovely girl turned back into a human, but so greviously injured was she by the wizard’s shot that she died in her lovers arms. And thus ends the sad tale of Virginia Dare.
It was getting late, and I had a long drive ahead, so I reluctantly took my leave of the garden. What a lovely trip I have had, I mused as I headed North along the Outer Banks toward Virginia. I have gathered many new stories for my book, as well as making many new friends. A wonderful experience. With great reluctance, I crossed the border into Virginia and bade farewell to North Carolina. I’ll come again soon!