As Hurricane Matthew slams through Florida right now and potentially South Carolina and North Carolina and maybe some of Virginia, before maybe heading more to sea, I decided to post a legend about the “Gray Man” that I've done before. One, because of the storm, two, as I have two articles on ghosts of Petersburg and Tri-Cities I have to write for the Petersburg newspaper due for end of October. Enjoy the legend and for those in harm's way, stay safe,
Pawley’s Island, the barrier island, the incorporated town and the unincorporated community, all of the same name, is about 26 miles south of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, along US Highway 17. It is here that the Gray Man haunts. The name of the island came from George Pawley, an early owner.
The area is one of the oldest resort areas along the east coast. Inland rice planters were believed to have constructed "summer cottages" on the island which, because of its consistent sea breezes, was less infested with mosquitoes, in the 19th century. In 2000 U.S. Census, it stated that there were 138 souls on the island, but that number may be incorrect. Locals claim there is an additional soul who appears from time to time, a soul whose sole occupation seems to be to warn residents of approaching storms.
"The Gray Man" is a good name for the apparition, as it appears to be the size of a man wearing drab, nondescript clothing. The apparition appears and vanishes within the blink of an eye. Sometimes the ghost speaks and sometimes it remains silent. The spirit has been seen along the beach at Pawley’s Island off and on now for almost two centuries.
The first appearance goes back to a hurricane that hit the region in 1822, which caused over 300 deaths.
Another sighting happened before a terrible storm called "The Sea Islands Hurricane." This storm made landfall near Savannah, Ga., on Aug. 27, 1893. With sustained winds of 120 mph, this hurricane killed 1,000 to 2,000 people and did, by 2010 U.S. dollars, $24.1 million in damages. Another hurricane from October of 1954, Hurricane Hazel, clobbered the Carolina coast, destroying some 15,000 homes and structures, killing 19 people, and doing $136 million in damage. Seventy-three miles up the coast at Holden Beach, N.C., all but 12 of 300 cottages were obliterated by winds estimated at between 125 and 150 mph.
Now, there was a couple of newlyweds on Pawley’s Island. They were supposedly warned by a "man in rumpled gray clothing." He awoke them when he knocked on their door early in the morning before the storm's arrival They prudently left the area as soon as they were able.
Other Pawley’s Island residents reportedly observed a solitary "gray man" ambling along the beach, just before a storm hit. When Hurricane Hugo roared through doing damage as far inland as the North Carolina piedmont in mid-September of 1989, it caused at least 76 deaths and did an estimated $10 billion in damages. Before this one appeared, to Pawley’s Island residents saw a man entirely dressed in gray on the beach. The lone pedestrian looked as if he was approaching the couple, but when they waved to him, he dissipated. Evidently they were familiar with the legend of the Gray Man, for they packed up and vacated the island two days before Hugo arrived.
Another facet of this legend, is that residences of those whom the Gray Man warns are often not touched by these storms which level surrounding neighborhoods. As with all such tales there are several variations-there are at least three-as to the origin of the ghost.
The one most folks know goes like this: It seems that there was this young engaged couple. The young man was separated from his beloved for several months, perhaps on a voyage across the Atlantic. When his ship finally put in at Georgetown, he rode a horse (some versions say he was accompanied by a friend or servant) back home to Pawley’s Island.
In a hurry to see his young lady, the rider decided to take a shortcut through the swamps. The betrothed young man and his horse became mired and were overcome by quicksand. His companion [if there was one] was unable to save him.
Later, after his funeral, his lady love saw an apparition resembling the young man when she was walking along the beach. The apparition warned her to take her family and flee the island. She did so and upon returning after the storm, found her home almost the sole surviving structure.
There is also a tale concerning a ghostly couple that are said to occasionally visit the Pelican Inn on the island. Whether the male of the duo is also the Gray Man has not been established.
The legend of the Gray Man of Pawley’s Island has been the subject of the TV program, "Unsolved Mysteries," and has been featured in many books about Carolina ghosts.