Remembering the Gray Man’s ghost this hurricane season
I’d like to think I’ve had paranormal encounters, but if I’m being honest, I’m not a believer.
I’d love to experience the whimsy of having faith in the otherworldly, like one of my co-workers, who swears that ghosts and aliens exist. However, a belief in the supernatural isn’t something of which I am capable.
Luckily, I can still enjoy the cultural impacts of folklore. Regional ghost stories rooted in South Carolina history bring a little bit of needed weirdness into my life. The Pawleys Island Gray Man has been a community icon since the early 1800s.
A popular version of the story holds that after many moons at sea, a young sailor finally began his journey home to his lover on Pawleys Island with plans to propose. Once on land, he rode to her by horseback. However, an unexpected storm approached, and both he and his horse were driven off of the road by the downpour.
The weather worsened, and soon there was a hurricane. Thrown from horseback, the sailor drowned in the marsh. His would-be fiancee awaited his return but was later devastated to learn the news. Some time later, she was walking along the beach at Pawleys thinking of him.
Then, in the distance, she saw a figure. As she approached it, she realized that she was seeing the impossible: her deceased love. He was gray and translucent with visible concern on his face. She began to speak to him, but before she could, he warned her of danger on the island and vanished. She and her family evacuated. When they returned, everything except for their home had been destroyed. Many believe that seeing the Gray Man on the beach is a sign of an approaching storm and to this day, people heed his warnings.
My family vacations at Pawleys for a week as a generational tradition. Sometimes there would be rainy days, and it was during those times when I would peek outside hoping to see him. The Gray Man is a gentle ghost marked with tragedy. Maybe he appeals to so many because of South Carolina’s susceptibility to devastation at the hands of the elements.
Last year, four lives were lost to Hurricane Irma. I saw the homes of family friends devastated in Joaquin. Throughout many parts of the state, even Hugo’s impact still lingers. The Gray Man signals a communal desire for safety. If you see him, your family and your home will be spared.
The Atlantic hurricane season is from June 1 to Nov. 30. Whether the Gray Man visits you or not, you can help keep your home and loved ones safe during a storm.