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

Resources for More Research

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