It would be a shame to leave Pawleys again without sharing one of its most famous ghosts…to leave it behind without recognition from us. He is, of course, The Gray Man of Pawleys Island.
As a child, I remember delighting in reading low country legends and ghost stories while at the beach with large family groups and sometimes just individual family members…usually renting a place at Myrtle Beach or one of the surrounding smaller beaches. I always took my trusty flashlight along so I could read secretly in bed. Nothing was more fun than reading a ghost story during a rainstorm at night (at the beach)…shivering with delight.
The Legend of the Gray Man of Pawleys Island was one of my most favorite apparitions to read. Little did I know then that I would have the opportunity decades later to actually stay at this legendary beach for a week each year. Life is funny that way, isn’t it? And that isn’t the only strange coincidence I have with the Gray Man…but more about that in a minute!
Legend holds that the Gray Man is the ghost of a young man traveling from Charleston to see his fiancée. On the way, he and his horse were caught in quicksand-like pluff mud in the marshes before Pawley’s Island, and died. His spirit has haunted the shore nearby ever since, looking for the girl he loved…returning once to her and her family to warn them to leave the island quickly….a hurricane was approaching. The warning saved the girl and her family’s lives.
Some stories have conflicted on his identity, but three ideas include:
- Percival Pawley, the island’s namesake
- Plowden Charles Jeannerette Weston, an early resident who owned the home that is now Pelican Inn (or perhaps his son)
- Edward Teach, the pirate better known as Blackbeard
Although there are, also, many variations of the legend, most say the Gray Man was first seen in 1822, three years before the town government was incorporated. The last sighting was just before Hurricane Hugo hit the area in 1989.
Author and professor Charles Joyner’s research on the subject, concluded that the legend appeared to have originated in a book of ghost stories by Julian Stevenson Bolick, published in 1956. The original book was Georgetown Ghosts of the South Carolina Lowcounty followed by Return of the Gray Man.
The Gray Man got national attention just after Hurricane Hugo when residents Jim and Clara Moore were interviewed on the television show “Unsolved Mysteries.” They told their story about seeing the man on the beach and how he disappeared when they waved. Their house was spared in the storm while the homes of their neighbors were heavily damaged.
(Others, also, who have encountered the spirit have credited him with saving them or their homes. Either they have come ashore or left the area and return to find their homes and belongings unscathed by severe storms. *The Gray Man never returns to the same location…so one warning or luck of the draw, when it comes to hurricanes, is all one gets.)
He has been described as a man wearing gray clothing, a long coat, dressed “like a pirate” and sometimes as having no legs. Others says he is just a gray shadowy outline.
The most recent national story was aired by the National Weather Channel (2014) on a program called American Supernatural...featuring the Gray Man of Pawleys.
Sightings of the Gray Man come from three distinct historical inns…one of which no longer exists.
- The Pelican Inn– Brooke and I stopped to take this picture of the Pelican Inn and were saddened by its deteriorating, weathered condition.
2. The second site is the Sea View Inn, which has been the location for a sighting in one of Mr. Bolick’s stories…another charming but definitely “aged” inn on Pawleys.
(* Another cat in the picture…looking away…perhaps seeing The Gray Man himself…since we felt like we were blowing away last Friday and Saturday.)
3. The third inn (sadly for the Dingle family) was the Tip Top Inn – another location where a sighting of the Gray Man was reported right before Hurricane Hazel in October of 1954. (It got swept out to sea during Hurricane Hugo…what a beauty it once was…perhaps it is better to just remember it the “way it was.”
(Besides it had already gotten its warning once before from The Gray Man and did survive Hurricane Hazel in 1954. No small feat. It then underwent months of repair but stayed open another 35 years…Way to go Gray Man and thanks!) *Picture of the Tip Top Inn (below) taken shortly after October 15, 1954…when Hurricane Hazel hit.
To finish up…here is my personal link with the Gray Man… indirectly. The summer before my senior year in high school, late sixties, I got an intern job working for Julian Stevenson Bolick…the original author and creator of The Gray Man! How cool was that?
(My high school graduation picture taken the following summer after I worked for Mr. Julian Bolick.)
I seem to remember his office was above another building downtown, over a store or bank or something. He lived in Clinton, SC but worked in Laurens where I lived…(As the crow flies…probably only 10 to 15 miles apart or a few short “crow” minutes.)
He needed extra help that summer because his earlier books on the Gray Man legends and other low country tales were going into second and third publication while he was busy at work selecting some stories from each (while adding a few new ones) for his upcoming book – Ghosts from the Coast…A Collection of 12 stories from Georgetown County, SC) This book was going into publication that summer.
I tried to pull a picture of him off Google to refresh my own sixteen-year-old mental image of him. Unfortunately I could not find one. Being sixteen I regarded him as an “elder statesman” definitely ( Just figured out he was about my age now when I worked for him:) He had thinning hair, was quite tall, with the beginning stages of a slight ‘noble pouch.’ He had aristocratic facial features and a ‘funny’ gait…as if his feet hurt all the time. (Being the same age now…they probably did!)
He was a quiet man who loved history. Part of my job that summer was taking messages from civic organizations who called wanting him to come talk to them about the history of Laurens County or to read one of his low country tales…He was much sought after…our most famous local historian at the time.
My greatest honor was when he let me read three or four different stories and then tell him which was my favorite. He was down to his final selection and the local publisher (Presses of Jacob Brothers…Clinton SC) was ready to go to press. He concurred with my selection and it was put into the Ghosts from the Coast.
I was in college when mother called me one night (about three years later) to let me know Mr. Bolick had passed. I was shocked, yet at the same time…his strange gait, soft-spoken voice, and rather harried appearance of a man trying to complete his life’s goals quickly…started to make sense to me. He must have known his health wasn’t good.
*This is a ‘little late’ Mr. Bolick…but I still want you to know…You were one of the major factors for me deciding to major in history in college. Your love of history was contagious that summer and opened my eyes to my own passion for it.
So until tomorrow…May our lessons and memories from the past makes us better people in the present…remembering to recognize those who came before.
“Today is my favorite day” Winnie the Pooh
Yesterday I had the strangest, most beautiful experience! I entered my bedroom “office” and looked out the window by the desk computer. It was early…around 7:00 am…and the slanted early morning light made the scene outside the window (lots and lots of azalea bushes blooming now) blend together like a water color painting…It took my breath away.
When the winds picked up last Friday…to the point that just opening the front door to the porch knocked you back in a foot or two…I told Libby that I took a picture of the swing rocking back and forth…as if someone was in it…perhaps it was The Gray Man trying to tell us that it was definitely blustery…but we were safe and sound.
Linda and Sherrod Eadon…Once again I can not thank you both enough for allowing us to return each year for our winter retreat…It seems like each time we return… we need it more and more…Plus we discover new adventures! So from all of the Ya’s….THANK YOU!
Kaitlyn sent me some pictures from the big surprise party Mollie threw Walsh last Saturday for his Big 40..it looks like Eloise was the most popular gift around…everyone wanted to wrap around her!