Hurricanes and the Gray Man of South Carolina

Gray Man - Pawley's Island - foretelling disaster?The “Gray Man” (or, as many locals spell it, the “Grey Man”) has made another appearance. He’s a gray, ghostly figure that appears before each devastating hurricane in the Carolinas (USA).

According to most stories, he’s a young man who died in a devastating storm that – on September 27, 1822  – made landfall around Charleston, South Carolina.

The man been abroad for two years and was rushing home to his fiancée. Her family’s home was near Charleston.

But, seeing an approaching storm, the young man made a fatal decision. He took a shortcut to his fiancée’s home, and that shortcut included a piece of land with quicksand as deadly as landmines.

In his hurry, the young man drove his horse and carriage into quicksand, and – trying to save his horse as well as himself – both were lost. (In another version, his horse threw him, and the young man landed in quicksand. He died grasping at sand and grass, unable to save himself.)

Ever since then, his shadowy figure has appeared – usually around Pawleys Island, just south of Myrtle Beach – before every devastating hurricane. 

Credible stories date back to 1989 and 1954. Other stories – passed down from one generation to the next – describe the Grey Man’s appearance before every major storm that sweeps across the area.

Multiple Gray Man reports have surfaced in the past few days, as Hurricane Florence approaches. I hope it’s just an odd cast of the light, mixed with anxieties over the frightening hurricane approaching the Carolinas.

Who’s the Ghost?

Percival Pawley - Island gray man?Some people insist he’s Percival Pawley, the first settler. In 1711, he received land grants to develop Waccamaw Neck, including all the land from the river to the sea. Part of that land included Pawleys Island, named after Percival’s son.

Obviously, that Percival can’t be the young man who lost his life in 1822.  From my research, the original Percival (also spelled “Percivell”) Pawley died in South Carolina on 14 Nov 1721 (or 1723, in some records).

I also searched South Carolina death records, and the only Pawley who died in 1822 was Martha “Patsy” Pawley, a descendant of Percival Pawley.

Interesting note: The name “Percival Pawley” also appears in many records from Salem, Massachusetts, aka “Witch City.”

I think we can rule out Percival as the victim who died in quicksand.

Other speculate that the Grey Man is Edward Teach. Again, that’s a great story…  but impossible. Edward Teach – aka “Blackbeard” – died in North Carolina, and in 1718.

So, for now, the identity of Grey Man is a mystery. (And yes, I like the Grey spelling better.)

More Ghosts on Pawleys Island

One of the more famous ghosts of Pawleys Island makes a regular appearance at his former home, Litchfield Plantation. The ghost is Dr. Henry Norris, who renovated the house in the 1920.

Several ghosts – including two Boston Terrier dogs, a gray figure, and a woman dressed in gingham – have been reported at the Pelican Inn. (Some want to believe the gray figure is the Grey Man, but I think that’s unlikely. Spirits that appear at very specific times and places don’t usually show up in other locations, in the interim.)

A third ghost is Alice Flagg, whose spirit looks for the engagement ring her brother tore from her lifeless body, and discarded. She’s buried in All Saints Episcopal Church Cemetery on Pawleys Island, but she’s been seen in several nearby locations.

Other Spirits that Warn of Danger

The Grey Man isn’t the only spirit who warns of danger.

Of course, there are banshees, but they’re usually heard, not seen. Also, each of them “haunts” (I prefer to say protect) their descendants and relatives. In most cases, they don’t warn strangers of imminent disaster.

Green ladies” also predict danger and possible destruction, but they usually protect their former homes and castles.

Some ghosts not only warn of danger, but lend a hand when the location (or people) they protect is in danger. One example is the ghost of Ocean-Born Mary, who – according to reports – joined a bucket brigade to save her New Hampshire home during a late-night fire.

Other Grey Men

South Carolina’s Grey Man isn’t the only “Grey Man,” either.

In the Cairngorm Mountains of Scotland, people report a “Big Grey Man” (Fearlas Mor, aka Am Fear Liath Mòr) near the top of Ben MacDhui. He’s sensed, not seen.

The first written report was by Professor Norman Collie, who encountered the “Big Grey Man” in 1890. Much later, a similar story was confirmed by Dr. A. M. Kellas, though he and his brother, Henry, thought they saw a giant figure in the distance.

To me, that’s interesting. Most ghosts with a lengthy history have a name and a description that fits what people have seen and heard.

In the case of Scotland’s “Big Grey Man,” he’s heard and sensed as a presence. (Only a few, rumored sightings have ever been reported, and – to me – they sound like Bigfoot: tall and covered in short hair.  So, I question those stories’ credibility.)

That reminds me of a North Carolina creature dubbed the “Unseen Tracker.” Like Scotland’s “Big Grey Man,” this entity is heard and sensed, but not seen. According to the book, Monsters Among Us, North Carolina’s Unseen Tracker sounds as if he walks on two feet and is heavy. He’s heard/sensed around Charlotte, NC, in broad daylight, on land formerly held by the Catawba tribe.

What connects those stories? A consistent unexplained, emotional reaction. First, the person is uneasy, then feels a murky sense of depression, and then… panic. 

Many of the witnesses try to explain the depression in a variety of ways. To me, it sounds like they’re desperately grasping for a logical answer.

Note: In reports of “shadow people,” I don’t usually hear anything about depression. So, I don’t think the Grey Man is a typical shadow person.

But, that feeling of panic – a very deep “uh-oh,” beyond being startled by an unexpected figure – is consistent with 2018 reports of the Grey Man of Pawleys Island.

Let’s hope that – this once – the recent Pawleys Island sightings don’t predict devastation and destruction.  As I’m writing this, Hurricane Florence looks like a very dangerous storm, and it’s moving towards the Carolinas.

References

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Ghost Photography 101

Ghost Photography 101Ghost Photography 101, by Fiona Broome, was first published in 2011.

The first edition is now out-of-print.  A new, completely revised edition is scheduled for 2018.

In this book, I explained the startling results of my six years’ experimentation with film and digital cameras, in haunted and not-haunted sites. I wanted proof to support my skepticism about “orb photos” and other anomalies.

I’m only half-joking when I describe this book as “something to offend almost every paranormal investigator, from believers to skeptics.”

The main cause of false anomalies is not what I thought, and it’s a lot more difficult than I expected, to create convincing false orbs.

More information

Publisher’s book description

Ghost photos… are they real?

* Is that orb just dust or pollen or fog?
* Is that vortex actually a piece of hair, or a camera strap?
* Is that apparition really smoke?

Chances are, the answer is no.

Professional photographer (and paranormal researcher) Fiona Broome shows the results of over six years of experiments with a variety of cameras, testing the normal explanations for orbs, vortices, and eerie figures.

Her conclusions…? She — and many other experts — have been wrong about anomalies: As the subtitle says, it’s not just dust.

Whether you’re a believer or a skeptic, this book contains something to shock (or at least annoy) almost everyone who thought they understood ghost photos.

Written for beginning and intermediate ghost hunters, this 180+ page book tells you:

* How to select a camera.
* What settings to use.
* Where to take photos.
* How to decide if they’re really ghosts.

However, even professionals will find some unsettling ideas and disturbing evidence in this book.

Fiona invites you to try these same tests. Prove her wrong, if you can.

You may never look at “ghost photos” the same way, again.

BOOK ETA: Early 2018. Currently in revision.

Ghost Photos – False Anomaly Tests

The following are a few photos from more than six years’ tests, trying to fake convincing “ghost photos.” I tried to recreate circumstances I’d blamed for photos with orbs, apparent vortices, and so on.

All of these pictures were taken in low-light conditions. I always used the flash on my camera to try to highlight the deceptive object or issue. I wanted to create false anomalies.

 

The first group of photos are things that could look paranormal if you didn’t know what was in the picture. Half of the photos show a single piece of hair or a few strands of it. That could happen if a photographer has long hair (as I do) and doesn’t pin it back.

The other photos in this first group show camera straps. I used to think pictures of camera straps always showed both ends of the strap exiting the frame of the photo. Not true. Now I know the weird, textured shape can even seem suspended in front of the photographer.

Also, my camera strap is almost black. The reason it looks white is because the camera’s flash is very bright, and it highlights the camera strap.

About 90% of the “vortex” pictures I’ve seen were probably camera straps, or something like them. If you use a camera strap (recommended, especially in dark settings), be sure to loop it around your wrist or — if it’s a very long strap — over your arm or shoulder.

(Until the photo gallery is restored at this site, the following thumbnail illustrations show the kinds of pictures I’ve featured.)

Photos of hair and camera straps

The second group of photos shows how difficult it is to create convincing, fake “ghost orbs.”

The first few pictures are flash photos taken on a densely foggy morning. Even the one with the white lines (a spiderweb) doesn’t show convincing-looking orbs.

Next, you can see some smoke photos. Unless your camera is sensitive to smoke, you’d need to be surrounded by smokers for smoke to be a significant issue.  Regular cigarette smoke barely showed up. When we tested clove cigarettes (a different density of smoke), that was slightly more convincing.

Incense looked anomalous in my photos. However, unless your team is using a sage smudge, or the client burns lots of incense at home, I’m not certain we need to be concerned about smoke.

I could not get chimney smoke to show up in photos. Unless weather conditions are “just so,” hot air — and woodsmoke — rise into the atmosphere. Smoke is not likely to descend and remain thick enough to be an issue.  However, smoke from a nearby campfire could be an issue.

The remaining photos show some random samples of test photos, trying to create lens flares and fake orbs. Insects, house lights, and even sparkly, reflective jewelry didn’t produce anything noteworthy.

 

Attempts to create false orbs and anomalies

After years of study, using film and digital cameras, I finally had to admit that I’d been mistaken about false, ghostly anomalies.

  • Orbs are much harder to fake than I’d expected. Moisture, reflective surfaces, and even house lights rarely create convincing orbs. Most lens flares are too obvious to confuse with unexplained orbs, and lens flares are far more difficult to create in typical ghost hunting circumstances.
  • Camera straps can cause “vortex” images, even if one or two ends of the strap seem to vanish in the photo. Keep your camera strap wound around your wrist or arm.
  • Hair can cause weird looking lines and swirls, some of them dotted with an orb at the end. Wear a scarf if you’re taking ghost photos.
  • Cigarette smoke is very difficult to capture in a photo. We tried traditional cigarettes (it’s nearly invisible) and clove cigarettes (before the ban). Cloves gave better results, but still aren’t much to worry about.
  • Smoke from the right incense can appear ghostly. However, unless you’re using sage smudges at a site, I don’t think that’s an issue. Cone incense and incense on charcoal dispersed too quickly to photograph. Stick incense produced the best results, but it had to be waved right in front of the lens, even on a very still night.
  • Fog causes faint, repeating orbs. In hundreds of foggy photos, I saw nothing I’d confuse with a ghostly orb.
  • Jewelry, house lights, and spider webs don’t seem to create confusing images in photos.

Don’t take my word for it. That’s important. Run tests with your own cameras. Know how they respond to these kinds of issues. No two cameras have the same sensitivities.