What makes a spirit wander the earth long after their death? No living soul knows, but the ghosts that inhabit haunted places in North Carolina offer insight. Many of North Carolina's ghosts lived during tumultuous and difficult times, and their spirits may linger to tell their tales so that the turbulent history is never forgotten.
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse (1870s) in Buxton is the scene of several hauntings. Located in the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, the hauntings aren't restricted to inside the lighthouse. The spirit of Theodos Burr, an 1812 shipwreck victim wanders the shoreline of the lighthouse. The lighthouse mascot, a 20-pound ghost cat followed the lighthouse to its new location farther inland when it was moved in 1999 due to beach erosion. The playful ghost cat enjoys weaving between visitor's legs and is seen inside and outside the lighthouse. If you attempt to pick up the cat, it vanishes. The Grey Man of Hatteras walks along the beach near the lighthouse whenever a hurricane is brewing out at sea. If you try to approach him, the elusive ghost just fades away. The Cape Hatteras National Seashore is open year-round.
Phantom Rider of the Confederacy
Fletcher, a town just outside of Asheville, is haunted by a phantom woman riding a Palomino horse. According to legend, a young woman draped in a Confederate flag taunted Union soldiers so they would give chase. She then led the troops right into a Confederate army ambush. The surviving Union soldiers attempted to capture her, but she and her mount vanished into a mist. For years, people have seen the ghostly rider. A former church minister was startled when he encountered the ghost rider near the Calvary Episcopal Church in Fletcher. You may luck up and see the ghost rider along her 2.6 mile trek between the church in Fletcher and the next town, Arden. You never know when you might see her or where she might suddenly appear riding her ghost Palomino.
Chimney Rock Park
Chimney Rock was a privately owned park until 2007, when North Carolina State purchased the park. Chimney Rock has a wide range of paranormal and even bizarre activity. Stories told from the Cherokee of the Little People were enough to keep them from settling in the 13-mile river gorge and often avoiding it in their trade travels.
A peculiar case was documented in 1806, when six eyewitnesses saw tiny apparitions with winged beings of all ages floating and flying around the protruding rock. The entities eventually flew into the heavens and disappeared. In 1811, other eyewitnesses watched a battle in the sky between warriors on winged horses. The clashing metal sound of their swords echoed through the gorge.
From the author, Sally Painter:
"I lived in Chimney Rock for five years directly across the river from the Chimney. My family experienced multiple paranormal encounters that included various white shimmering apparitions. One summer night around 3:30 am, I woke to the sound of beating drums and chanting that was loud enough to be heard over the roar of the river. Thinking tourists had wandered down to the river behind our business/home, I peered out the window and saw seven full-bodied Native American apparitions glimmering as bright white beings.
"One sat by the river washing her long hair. A male entity sat on one of the larger boulders along the bank beating a drum and chanting. Another male farther away sat on top of a picnic table. An elderly woman sat at the picnic table closest to me, cradling her head in her hand. The other spirits sat scattered about the boulders, chanting to the beat of the drum. I watched the group for several minutes until one looked up where I was and saw me watching them. The old lady looked up at me followed by the other ghosts noticing me. The drumming and chanting stopped, and they slowly vanished into the night."
Ocracoke Island is a small sheltered harbor, Silver Lake. However, it's known as Teach's Hole since it was a favorite port of the pirate Blackbeard (Edward Teach). A fierce adversary who stood a towering 6'5", Blackbeard created a fearsome dramatic boarding of ships by lighting fuses woven into his beard. The Virginia governor sent John Maynard to kill Blackbeard, and he did just that, cutting off the pirate's head and hanging it from his ship's bowsprit. The pirate's body was tossed overboard, but according to legend, the beheaded body of the fearsome pirate swam around the boat three times before disappearing underneath the water's surface. Blackbeard's ghost in the form of a strange light courses underneath the water in Silver Lake in search of his severed head. Access to Ocracoke island is via ferry either from Cedar Island or Hatteras Island.
Reed Gold Mine
Before the California Gold Rush, there was the Carolina Gold Rush (1830s to 1840s). Reed Gold Mine is still operational today as a state historic site. Even in its earliest days, the mine was haunted. Mine neighbors Eugene and Eleanor Mills got into a fight. Eleanor shouted and cursed Eugene, who stormed off. Distraught, Eleanor started down the staircase, but she fell and broke her neck. When Eugene returned home and found her body, he was enraged when her ghost began shouting at him. Not to be outdone by a ghost, he found an excellent solution and tossed his wife's body down the mine shaft. Eleanor's ghost has been stuck in the shaft ever since. Visitors hear her disembodied shouts echoing from the mine shaft.
Devil's Tramping Ground
The Devil's Tramping Ground in Chatham County is a barren circle of about a 40 foot diameter. Settlers discovered the eerie circle where nothing grows, and anything placed inside the circle mysteriously disappears. The legend states that the ring was created by the devil stomping about during the night while he schemed and plotted his next evil move against humanity. Animals avoid the circle. Anyone attempting to take their dog into the ring is met with fierce resistance, with tail tucking, growls, barking, and howls. Rocks placed inside the ring are found the next morning on the outside of the ring.
Brown Mountain Lights
Brown Mountain Lights move about the mountain near Morganton at night. The lights vary in size and move over the mountain in a bobbing pattern that often is sporadic. The lights mysteriously appear, disappear, and then reappear. First recorded in 1850, different legends attempt to explain the lights.
One story tells of a young Indigenous American woman in love with a man from a nearby village. He made his way each night through the forest to see her. The couple decided to elope, and she hurried across the mountain to meet her lover, carrying a pine torch to light her way. Her betrothed never showed up. Heart-broken, the woman wandered with her torch into the forest night after night in search of her lover. Another legend tells of Cherokee warriors battling with a rival tribe along the slopes of Brown Mountain. When the men failed to return to the village, the women set out with blazing torches in search of them.
Scientists have struggled for decades to explain the mysterious lights that confound a scientific explanation. Brown mountain is a 1.5-mile-long ridge located in the Pisgah National Forest near Morganton, NC. The lights are best viewed from Linville Gap or Wiseman's Gap.
The state park of Grandfather Mountain near Linville takes its name from its shape of a bearded old man lying down and sleeping. It is 5, 946 feet above sea level, the highest point along the eastern ridge of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The Park has 11 hiking trails, and you may bump into the ghost that hikes those trails. The ghost hiker is an old man with a long beard. His face is weathered, and he is dressed in 20th century work clothes. He appears to be a serious hiker with a canvas army backpack over his shoulder and a long walking stick.
Seen at sunset, the ghost hiker keeps to himself. Even if you pass him on the trail, he won't appear to notice you. If he comes up behind you, he quickly passes you and before you can mutter a greeting, he vanishes. Legends abound about who the mysterious spirit is, but most conclude that he loved the beauty of Grandfather Mountain so much, it became his heaven after death. Grandfather Mountain is located just above Blowing Rock Highway, near Linville.
The Great Dismal Swamp State Park
The Great Dismal Swamp State Park near South Mills covers 112,000 acres and was an Indigenous American hunting ground for 13,000 years. It is one of the most haunted places in North Carolina. George Washington and his partners attempted to colonize the swamp but failed. Runaway enslaved people settled in the swamp. With 20 miles of trails and a 2,000-foot boardwalk, you end up engulfed by the Great Dismal Swamp that flows beyond the state line and into Virginia. Strange lights move through the swamp. Odd noises and creepy sounds pierce the night, and full-bodied apparitions wander about the swamp. The Native American legend of the Lady of the Lake tells the story of a forlorn woman searching the swamp for her lost lover. The maiden paddles a white canoe through the swamp and into Lake Drummond with a spook light shinning across the water's expanse.
Valle Crucis Ghost and Demon Dog
The unincorporated community of Valle Crucis (Vale of the Cross) is located where three streams/rivers converge into the shape of a cross. The community is on the National Register Historic Rural Community. Like most of North Carolina, signs of ancient human habitation were found by archaeologists who unearthed 10,000-year-old artifacts along the Watauga River. The find adds yet another layer to the paranormal activity in the community.
Aside from the typical full-bodied apparitions, the most terrifying phantom of Valle Crucis is a demon dog. The demon dog awaits you from his favorite perch, a headstone in the cemetery of St. John's Episcopal Church located along the ridge line. If you drive past the cemetery at night, the demon dog leaps from its hiding place and chases your vehicle, keeping pace beside you. The evil canine is huge, bears its long yellow teeth, and glares at you with its enormous red glowing eyes. Once you get to the bridge, the beast vanishes. The demon dog isn't the only paranormal activity happening at the cemetery. The full-bodied apparition of a woman dressed in white lingers near the gravestones, peering at anyone passing by. Does the demon dog belong to her?
Mordecai House and Mordecai Historic Park
Raleigh's Mordecai House and Mordecai Historic Park are haunted. The spirit of Mary Willis Mordecai Turk (1858 - 1937) haunts the Mordecai House. She manifests as a full-bodied apparition decked out in a gray dress from the 19th century. Mary still enjoys playing the piano and often treats visitors to a ghostly melody. The echoing phantom music beckons visitors to the drawing room. Sometimes, Mary simply appears as a gray mist that lingers by the piano.
Mary isn't the only ghost tied to the park. Several skirmishes took place on the land and near the house during the Civil War. Apparitions of Confederate and Union soldiers wander the grounds. The ghosts of nurses move about the house and outside as though administering to the wounded.
Built in 1785, the Mordecai House is the oldest house in Raleigh, and it still stands on its original site. Built by Moses Mordecai, his family lived in the house for over five generations. In 1964, the family bequeathed the estate to the city of Raleigh.
Scary Real Haunted Places in North Carolina
Frightening ghost stories of real haunted places in North Carolina include different types of specters. Whether you're in the mountains, the Piedmont, or on the coast, the spirits are anchored to these haunted places and refuse to move on to the next life.