Interesting North Carolina Folklore: Myths, Legends And Unsolved Mysteries

North Carolina has a long and rich tradition of folklore and myths. The Tar Heel state’s history is steeped in strange stories and mysteries. We’ll take a look at five of these popular tales and enigmas.

The Tar Heel State

Most people know North Carolina’s nickname, the Tar Heel State. While the origin of the name is not a mystery, many people do not know how NC came by that name.

Well before North Carolina became an English colony on July 25, 1729, it had earned the nickname Tar Heel. Some say it was dubbed as early as 1720. North Carolina became a U.S. state on November 21, 1789. The nickname comes from tar, pitch, and rosin production from the large pine forest that covered most of the state. Maritime industries used tar and similar products. This was especially true for the English and later American navies at the time.

1. Brown Mountain lights

Brown Mountain is a low, 2,283 ft (696 m) rise located on the Burke-Caldwell county line, about half a mile west of Wilson Creek and northwest of Morganton. Here, an unexplained phenomenon appears just above the horizon. One to a dozen lights sometimes appear on clear summer evenings just after sunset. The lights are predominantly white but sometimes red, blue, or yellowish. They grow in size, hang in the air for a few minutes, and then disappear.

People have seen the mysterious lights for centuries, with the first recorded sighting in 1833. Scientists have investigated the phenomenon but have not found an answer.

Some explanations are doubtful, such as the refraction of train or vehicle headlights traversing the valley. No trains or well-lit vehicles were in the area in the early 1800s. Other explanations are plausible—they are simply a discharge of static electricity. Our favorite story comes from local folklore. The lights are a Native American warrior searching for his lost love by torchlight.

Brown Mountain lights don’t occur regularly. If you want to see them, your best bet is to take the Blue Ridge Parkway near mile marker 310. Pull into the Lost Cove overlook on the southeast side of the road, northeast of its junction with N.C. 181.

2. The Carroll A. Deering ghost ship

In January 1921, one of the greatest maritime mysteries began to unfold. It took place on Diamond Shoals, just off Cape Hatteras. The U.S. Coast Guard found the Carroll A. Deering, a five-masted commercial schooner, run aground here.

The Bath, Maine Boatworks built the Carrol A. Deering just two years before its loss. It was one of the last wooden schooners built before ironclad vessels became the norm.

The schooner was returning to Newport News from Brazil. The keeper at the Cape Lookout lightship spotted the Deering two days before discovering her wreck. In the dawn of January 31st, the Coast Guard found her run aground. The crew had deserted her with all of the lifeboats launched.

It wasn’t until four days later, when the weather settled, that the Coast Guard could safely approach the wreck. The Coast Guard confirmed the crew had abandoned the ship. The navigational tools, personal effects, and documents had also vanished. However, the Coast Guard also found a perplexing mystery. A meal was simmering on the stove, and the captain’s quarters were in disarray. A few months later, authorities dynamited the ship to prevent it from becoming a hazard to other ships.

The unexplained shipwreck soon became the subject of investigation. Even the FBI came in to solve the mystery. The investigations failed to find answers as to why the ship sank or what happened to the crew.

Many people wanted to add it as another unexplained Bermuda Triangle mystery. Others proposed more rational ideas, including Bolshevik pirates and mutiny. However intriguing the explanations, none of them held up under rigorous investigation.

To this day, no one knows why the crew abandoned the ship or where they went. The Carol A. Deering remains one of the greatest maritime mysteries of all time.

3. The blood shower

On February 25, 1884, Mrs. Kit Lasater was out for a walk near her house in New Hope Township, Chatham County. It was a cool, sunny day. The unexpected sound of a sudden hard rain compelled Mrs. Lasater to look skyward. The sky was clear. Puzzled, she continued walking, and when she looked down, she was shocked. She found the ground covered not in water from a hard rain but what she described as a “shower of pure blood.”

While untouched by what appeared to be a blood rain, the ground and trees 60 feet (or yards, accounts vary) in circumference from where she stood were drenched in it. She told neighbors and showed them the area, and all confirmed her story.

People collected some of the liquid and sent it to Dr. F. P. Venable, a professor at UNC. Dr. Venable confirmed that all but one sample of the liquid was blood. Venable offered no explanation other than the test results. When asked about the cause, he stated:

“the subject is quite a puzzle and offers a tempting field for the theorist blessed with a vivid imagination.”

4. Devil’s tramping ground

On the outskirts of Silver City, Chatham County, lies an ominous trail. This path, a ribbon of barren soil, leads to a 40-foot circle. Inside the circle, only a wiry grass grows. Inexplicably, on either side of the path and outside the circle, plants, trees, and grass flourish.

According to legend, this is Satan’s footpath, the place upon which he takes nightly walks and paces in a circle, considering his evil deeds.

Locals have tried transplanting the wiry grass to other soils, but it quickly withers and dies. Nearby plants, healthy and verdant, when moved to the path or circle, also withered and died. Even sticks stuck into the ground in the circle mysteriously disappear by the next day.

Some people say the circle was a meeting place for local Native Americans who compacted the soil during ceremonial dances.

Soil samples analyzed by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture indicate the soil contains an extremely high salt content, creating barren conditions. Natural salt licks are found in the area.

5. The Lost Colony of Roanoke

One of the most notorious mysteries in American history is the Lost Colony of Roanoke. English settlers established the colony In 1587. Shortly after their arrival, everyone mysteriously disappeared.

The settlers left cryptic clues before they vanished. They carved the word ‘Croatoan’ and the letters CRO into trees. A popular theory claims the colonists joined Native Americans on Croatoan (Hatteras) Island. There is some evidence for this, but researchers have not found anything conclusive.

We will likely never know why the colonists left the settlement or where they went.

About the Author

Walter Yuhl

Walter (Way) Yuhl is a freelance writer and business professor. Way has written for the Arizona Daily Sun, Flagstaff Business News, Bangkok University, and Shandong University of Science and Technology as well as edited content for the U.N., Thailand International airports, and other organizations. He has worked with Cantena Media since 2019.