Living in the part of the United States that is frequently hit by hurricanes can be difficult enough, but what if a kind-hearted man from beyond the grave warned the residents before disaster could strike? That’s one of several stories we’re exploring today that take place on Pawleys Island in South Carolina. If you saw the Gray Man, would you take it as a warning like the locals do? You might just end up in the eye of the storm, if you don’t.
Pawleys Island is an Atlantic ocean barrier island on the coast of South Carolina, with a town of the same name perched upon the island. The town boasts approximately 103 year-round residents. It’s a resort town nowadays, with the reputation beginning all the way back in the 1700s as plots of land were sold to wealthy rice-farmers in SC to build luxurious summer homes to get out of the heat and mosquitoes. Twelve of the original residences that date back to the 1700s still stand.
On the edge of the Grand Strand part of sunny SC, Pawleys island is known for the excellent restaurants, fishing, leisure activities and of course, the famous Pawleys Island rope hammock, still sold to tourists and patrons from all over the world. Vacation rentals are plentiful, and the island feels like a quiet and comfortable place on the edge of the unforgiving Atlantic ocean. Shipwrecks and pirates were almost common in the golden age of piracy on the high seas.
Parts of the island have been destroyed by hurricanes in the past, but a lot of the life that could have been lost was spared by the interference of one specter on the island. The Gray Man is a tale nearly as old as the Pawleys community, with his first sighting dating back to the early 1800s. He’s said to be a warning, a man wearing all gray walking the shores of the island. Legend says that if you see the Gray Man, you’d better get outta dodge quickly as hurricanes tend to hit after every sighting of the ghost.
A legend says that a young woman on the island was preparing for her fiance to come home when a tragic horseback riding accident happened near the coast. Her fiance was buried in quicksand-like mud and was unable to escape, succumbing to his death on the shoreline. That week, the first sighting of the Gray Man was reported and the family of the young woman took the omen to leave the island, right before a devastating hurricane hit in 1822 and leveled much of the community. The woman’s family home, however, was spared.
Sightings of the Gray Man continue to modern times, with the last reported sighting being just before Hurricane Florence hit in 2018. Prior to that, there was another sighting in 1989 before the island was rocked by Hurricane Hugo. Local residents see the ghost as a protector, as those who see his omen for the hurricane seem to get less damage in the storm than their neighbors around them.
Pawley’s Island has many other spirits and tales from its rich history, with fiercely loyal residents that rebuild after every storm. An Inn on the island is reportedly haunted by the spirit of a young girl lost at sea. One of the beaches has seen blood and horror from the age of pirates, and some still say they see a ghost ship from the 1700s coasting on quiet waters at night. One thing is for certain, you might just see a ghost if you visit this resort town, but be sure that if you see the Gray Man, you heed his warning and head for higher land.
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Born in Death Valley and raised on the prairie, Deborah is a Wyoming-based paranormal researcher and a senior at the University of Wyoming, studying Communication. Her interests lie in folklore, history, rhetorical analysis and research. With an obvious love for ghost stories, frequently those interests combine with her work on Ghostlandia.