I was secretly thrilled with the tales, but was naturally a skeptic. I still am, and others find it unusual that a guy who likes and writes horror stories does not believe in the supernatural. I don’t find it odd at all. Maybe it’s because I’m drawn to the psychological and cultural significance of the tales. That’s an occupational hazard I think—as a psychologist and university professor I look for the natural, the observable, and the empirically based.
My wife and I have been visitors to the Outer Banks of North Carolina for over 20 years. A location like this is loaded with history, much of it sinister. The settlement of Roanoke Island in 1585 founded by Sir Walter Raleigh disappeared without a trace a few years later. Blackbeard, the notorious pirate, hid among the barrier islands and was later killed at Ocracoke. Scores of shipwrecks off the coast of the Outer Banks resulted in the area being referred to as the Graveyard of the Atlantic. From these historical counts came tales of specters, ghosts, strange lights, ghost ships, and the Gray Man who warns visitors to evacuate the coast when hurricanes approach.
While I loved the stories and the mythos of the area—which I tried to incorporate into my latest novel The Disembodied—I realized that these are more than just “stories”. These accounts explain the Outer Banks. The settlers and early residents made use of these accounts to make sense of a setting which, while beautiful, could be inhospitable. Brutal storms could but your life at risk if you did not take precautions. Want proof? Take a look at any of the stories. The individuals who did not take these warnings into account were foolhardy. And, those that did showed great judgment. They were survivors.
Ghost stories and folklore in this day and age reinforce the accounts of stamina and the struggles of the early residents. Tales of ghosts go along well with the Graveyard of the Atlantic, don’t you think? There is a sense of identity, a collective ancestry, that the area shares. This can be reduced to a smaller geographical area as well. The haunted house in a neighborhood—everyone has a story about it. Some bring the story-tellers back to their childhood.
The sense of lore can also be passed down within families and provide anchors for family history. My cousins still tell tales.
I found the image above from Ghetty Images (O. Donmaz).