While Wilmington visitors will arguably enjoy the best views of the Cape Fear River, this distinctive river actually spreads out throughout most of the coastal and piedmont regions of North Carolina, originating in the town of Haywood, just north of Greensboro, NC, and flowing all the way to the Atlantic Ocean.
Perhaps the most frequently told ghost story in Georgetown County is that of the Grey Man. According to numerous documented accounts, he appears on the beach at Pawleys Island prior to hurricanes. Everyone who has seen the Grey Man says that he warns them to leave the island.
Residents who are wise enough to heed the Grey Man's warning always find their homes undamaged after the storm. Encounters with the Grey Man have taken place before every major hurricane that has struck the island for more than a hundred years.
The Grey Man is unquestionably a permanent resident of Pawleys Island, but what causes this kind spirit to warn unsuspecting residents of approaching danger? The answer may lie in one of three different accounts that exist about the origin of the Grey Man.
According to one legend, a young woman was walking the windswept, lonely beach not far from her parent's Pawleys Island home. She was in mourning for her childhood sweetheart who had recently died in a tragic accident on the island.
Her love had returned to Georgetown by ship after an absence of several months. He was so eager to see his beloved fiancee that, rather than wasting one more precious moment away from her, he took a shortcut across previously untraveled marshland.
With his faithful manservant riding a short distance behind, the eager fellow and his horse came to a sudden stop and began to sink rapidly into a patch of deadly quicksand. His manservant watched in horror, unable to help his young master, as the young man and his horse disappeared into the mire. When the young woman heard of her finance's tragic death, she was heartbroken.
After the funeral, she took to walking the stretch of beach where she and her beau used to stroll in happier times. This particular day was windier than most, but it suited her recent mood. She was alone with her sadness in the whipping wind, with the ocean crashing by her side.
Suddenly, a figure appeared ahead. As she walked closer, the young woman could have sworn it was her finance. With no fear, she walked toward him. "Leave the island at once," he said. "You are in danger. Leave the island!"
Then he disappeared.
The young lady hurried home to tell her father and mother about the strange, unsettling experience. Upon hearing their daughter's strange story, her parents immediately began making plans to leave Pawleys Island for their inland home. They did not know what danger they were fleeing, but they did know that their daughter was a sensible person and not prone to flights of fancy.
The family left Pawleys Island before dawn the following morning. That night, as they lay sleeping in the safety of their inland home, a fierce hurricane ravaged Pawleys Island. The hurricane destroyed most of the homes on Pawleys Island, but the home of the young woman's family was undamaged.
Another legend about the Grey Man claims that he is the spirit of Plowden Charles Jeannerette Weston, the original owner of the house on Pawleys Island now known as the Pelican Inn.
Born in 1819, Plowden was a member of a wealthy Georgetown rice plantation dynasty. He spent his early years at Laurel Hill Plantation, where he was privately educated by a British tutor.
At the age of twelve, Plowden's family temporarily moved to England so that their son could attend school there. Although the boy's father was adamantly anti-British, he wanted Plowden to have a proper, classical English education.
Eventually, the Weston family returned to the Georgetown area, but Plowden stayed on to study at Cambridge. There, he fell deeply in love with Emily Frances Esdaile, the beautiful sister of one of his close friends.
Emily's father was a English baronet. Plowden feared that his father would not approve of his plans to marry Emily because of his anti-British sentiments and his disdain for British aristocracy. Plowden sailed back to Georgetown to discuss his marriage plans face to face with his father.
Plowden's father agreed to the wedding but trouble soon appeared on the horizon. Emily's father and Plowden's father began to compete to see who could give the young couple the finest wedding present. Emily's father opened the battle by giving them a dowry of seven thousand pounds. Plowden's father arrogantly replied that he would give the couple seventy thousand pounds, a house in London, and one in Geneva. Emily's father quickly realized that he could not compete with the astonishingly rich rice planter.
Despite the animosity between their fathers, Plowden and Emily were married in August of 1847. They established their residence at Hagley Plantation, another gift from Plowden's father. Hagley was by far the finest gift of all. Its lands included vast acres of fertile rice fields which extended from the black, cypress-lined Waccamaw River to the Atlantic Ocean.
Just off the shore of Hagley Plantation was Pawleys Island, the golden gem of the Waccamaw Neck. Soon after the wedding, Plowden and Emily made plans to build a summer home there.
For years, low country planters made their summer homes on the sea islands to escape the malaria-carrying mosquitoes that plagued the plantations. Plowden and Emily were acclimated to England's cooler weather and were especially anxious to escape the subtropical humidity and intense heat of the plantation summers. They also sought a home where they could take refuge from the social and work-related demands of Hagley Plantation. The house they built is now known as Pelican Inn.
Renty Tucker, Hagley's master carpenter, was in charge of construction for the Pelican Inn. Every piece of lumber for the island home was hand-hewn and numbered at Hagley before it was taken by boat to Pawleys. One of the few homes on Pawleys at that time, Pelican Inn was lovingly planned.
Its elevated, strong-timbered foundation and the lower floor were nestled behind the dunes in a tangle of sea oats, cedars, and myrtles. The upper portion of the house rose high above the trees and sheltering dunes. Handmade arches and columns adorned the wide porch that surrounded the lower floor.
The second-floor piazza faced the Atlantic. This porch was accessible from the bedrooms on the upper floor. Plowden and Emily spent many peaceful hours on this high and secluded piazza, gazing at the night sky and the Atlantic Ocean.
Splitting their time between Hagley and their beloved island retreat, the young Westons led a happy, productive, and sometimes secluded, existence. Plowden and Emily had an exquisite chapel built on Hagley Plantation. The chapel could seat up to two hundred slaves at a time. One of thirteen slave chapels on the Waccamaw Neck, Saint Mary's of Hagley was by far the most lovely. The chapel was adorned with stained-glass windows handcrafted in England, hand-carved oak choir stalls, and a granite baptismal font. Plowden and Emily spent the first decade of their married lives absorbed in each other, the intricate workings of their plantation, and their scholarly pursuits.
By the late 1850s, however, Plowden began to feel that their productive paradise would not last forever. In the years before the war, Plowden, a published South Carolina historian, turned his literary and oratory skills toward the dissension that was growing between the North and South. He gave many fiery and prophetic speeches warning of the impending confrontation. Yet, his support always lay with the Southern cause.
When the Civil War began, Plowden turned his attention away from oration and towards battle, He became company commander of the Georgetown Rifle Guard, Company A of the Tenth Regiment. He personally armed, uniformed and supplied gear to the 150 men that were in his charge.
During the early part of the war, when the future of the Confederacy was more that a hopeful dream, he and Emily entertained many of the regiment's men and their ladies at the Pelican Inn.
Later in the war, an alarm arose for the Rifle Guard to gather within a few miles of Hagley Plantation. When the threat turned into a false alarm, Plowden came up with a wonderful idea. He sent word to Hagley that his entire company would be arriving that night for dinner. Soon the weary group was enjoying a luxurious three-course dinner, served with family silver, crystal and fine chine for all. Each course arrived with a different vintage of wine from the Hagley cellar.
Near the end of the war, Plowden contracted tuberculosis. Eventually, it worsened to the point that his life was in danger. Fearing that they would lose him, Plowden's friends in the state legislature intervened. They knew Plowden would not leave his command, so these concerned lawmakers elected their old friend to the office of lieutenant governor.
Plowden gave up his command to accept this office, but he was unable to serve for long. By the end of January 1864, the tuberculosis he contracted during his service to the Confederate army worsened, and it became evident that he would die.
At Plowden's request, each of the Hagley servants traveled to Conway, South Carolina, where he lay dying. There they received from him, one at a time, a small personal gift of remembrance.
His last moments were spent with the love of his life, his adoring Emily. He asked her to arrange for two of their devoted servants to transport his body by canoe down the Waccamaw River to Hagley. He also asked her to see that he was buried next to his father in the churchyard of All Saints' Waccamaw Episcopal Church, the place where he and Emily were married.
It is because of Plowden's faithful service to his beloved home, and those who live on it, that many believe that he is the Grey Man. The same Plowden Charles Jeannerette Weston who warned his neighbors of the risks of war and later fought for his cherished homeland, now roams the beach near his beloved island home warning residents of impending danger.
Still another version of the legend of the Grey Man exists.
Mrs. Eileen Weaver, who owned Pelican Inn for many years, has seen the Grey Man many times, but she believes he is someone else --someone she identified from a nineteenth century photograph.
The first time Mrs. Weaver saw a spirit at Pelican Inn she was in the kitchen with her cook, preparing homemade bread. The two women were absorbed in kneading the heavy dough when Mrs. Weaver turned to see a lady standing behind her, arms akimbo and eyes fixed sternly on the breadmaking process. Her features, Mrs. Weaver said, were French and she wore a disapproving expression. She seemed to be scrutinizing the making of the bread as if to say, "You better do it right." The woman's dress was made of a material like gingham, patterned in a little grey-and-white check. Her bodice was fronted with tiny pearl buttons, and a long apron was tied at her waist.
Despite the woman's clarity of appearance, Mrs. Weaver could tell the figure standing before her was not a living human. "You knew the features were not earthly, but they were clear," Weaver explained.
This was only the first of many appearances by the spirit of the woman. She became a somewhat familiar and anticipated sight at Pelican Inn. Mrs. Weaver recalls that some of her guests would wait on the sofa in the spacious sitting room on balmy summer evenings and watch for the woman to walk up the stairs. Many guests did not realize she was a spirit the first time they saw her.
Mrs. Weaver's first encounter with the spirit she believes to be the Grey Man was as abrupt as her first encounter with the woman. One day, he suddenly appeared in front of her, wearing clothes from the nineteenth century. The male figure also began to appear regularly, and Mrs. Weaver and her family grew used to the two spirits that shared their home.
Mrs. Weaver's daughter relates this occurrence:
During spring cleaning one year, my sister-in-law, Gayle, was helping my mother get the inn in shape for the summer guests. Her job involved cleaning the upstairs bedroom and hallway. Mother always had magazines and books on a long reading table in the hallway for the enjoyment of the guests. Usually, at the end of the season, all of the magazines would be discarded, but some comic books remained this time from the previous year. Gayle reached to thumb through one. Finding it interesting, she leaned back against the table. This apparently did not set well with the ghosts of the house because after a few moments, Gayle felt a tug at her shirt tail.
Thinking it was one of us teasing her, she ignored the tug and continued to read. Again there was a tug at her shirt tail, ant this time she turned around to see who was there. She realized that the wood floors made it impossible for anyone so sneak up on her without being heard. Whoever it was got the message across, because Gayle quickly laid the comic book down and went back to work. It took Gayle some time to tell us this story, but we never doubted that it happened. This type of thing happened on regular basis around the house.
Mrs. Weaver told her experiences at Pelican Inn to the late chronicler of Georgetown's history, Julian Stevenson Bolick.
He brought her an assortment of nineteenth-century photographs and asked her to look through them. From the many photographs, Mrs. Weaver identified a picture of a woman and another picture of a man who looked unmistakably like the spirits in her home. The pictures she had chosen were photographs of Mr. and Mrs. Mazyck, cousins of Plowden and Emily Weston.
The Westons did not have any children, and when Emily Weston died, the Mazycks inherited the Pelican Inn. The Mazycks lovingly operated the home as a bed-and-breakfast inn for many years. Mrs. Weaver believes the spirit of Mr. Mazyck is the Grey Man.
Whoever the Grey Man is, he continues to patrol the beach of windswept Pawleys Island, appearing prior to deadly hurricanes to warn those who live on the island of impending danger.
John F. Blair, Publisher