Pawleys Island in South Carolina is one of the oldest summer resort towns on the East Coast. Located just 35 minutes south of Myrtle Beach, the seaside community is rife with stories of slave rebellions, agricultural plantations, and, as local folklore would have it, ghosts.
As Hurricane Florence approaches, spurring the governors of both North and South Carolina to issue a mandatory evacuation, rumbles of an old spirit have begun to sweep the Eastern Shore.
For the residents of Pawleys Island, the so-called Gray Man isn’t a boogeyman meant to scare children into listening to their parents. While the half-goat/half-demon folklore figure Krampus warns children in central Europe to behave at Christmas, and the Jersey Devil, who may have been created as an elaborate real estate hoax to frighten residents into selling their properties for cheap, the Gray Man allegedly serves a more selfless purpose: saving lives.
“It’s a story I heard growing up,” Rian Fontaine, a 23-year-old college student who still lives on Pawleys Island, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “I think everyone in the low country has heard the story, especially when hurricanes or tropical storms begin to form around our area. It’s always something you hear people bring up. He’s a friendly entity. … Not that it’s a good thing to see him, but when someone does claim to see him, it gives us locals an idea of what we’re dealing with.”
One of my regulars said he and a group of five people walking the beach said they saw the Gray Man on pawleys yesterday. Time to start packing my bags and head inland y’all.
— Rian Fontaine (@RianFontainee) September 9, 2018
According to legend, the Gray Man, a shadowy, translucent figure in a cloak, appears when a massive storm is due to hit the Carolina coast, and residents search for him as a sign to evacuate. Those who heed his warnings are not only safe from the storm, but once they return, they find that, while their neighbors’ homes may have been destroyed, theirs appears untouched.
The last big storm, Hurricane Hugo, from 1989, was before Fontaine’s time, but her parents remember it well. “They both left and went inland during the storm,” she says. “They had talked about … stories of the Gray Man.” When asked if she knew of anyone whose lives were affected by dismissing the Gray Man, she said, “Supposedly their houses were demolished or close to it.”
Over the past 200 years, five hurricanes have hit the shores of Pawleys Island, most notably Hurricane Hazel in 1954, with an estimated 95 fatalities in the US, and Hurricane Hugo in 1989, with an estimated 21 deaths in the US. According to locals, the Gray Man appeared before each of the storms.
Oh lordy, it's getting real now. I just read that there was a sighting of the Gray Man at Pawleys Island yesterday. South Carolina better get ready because he doesn't appear for nothing!
— Ciara Jade Dove Lee (@SCarolinaCiara) September 9, 2018
But who is the Gray Man?
One theory suggests the Gray Man was a man in love, who fell victim to a major storm that struck on Sept. 27, 1822, which made landfall near Charleston. The Gray Man was possibly a sailor, had been abroad for two years, and was eager to see his fiancé to set a wedding date. Sadly, due to the storm, he drove he and his horse into a pool of quicksand and was lost.
His grief-stricken fiancée wandered the shore for hours but eventually spied a shadowy figure. She recognized it as her love, but soon he disappeared into thin air. That night, she saw him in her dreams and was overcome with sorrow. Her father brought her and her family inland, perhaps for a doctor to look after her.
The next day, a hurricane destroyed the area, leaving neighbors dead and their home destroyed. But the fiancé’s family home remained intact.
Whether or not you believe in spirits, if you see a translucent figure on your beach vacation, maybe take it as a sign to leave the coast.
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