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The Gray Man's Ghostly Warnings
Pawley’s Island is one of the oldest resort areas along the east coast. The island, about 25 miles south of Myrtle Beach, SC, was named after George Pawley who owned the island during the colonial era.
Rice planting in the area during the 1800s was done by African slaves. With them came malaria, so the island became a good place to plant their crops since mosquitoes were more or less kept at bay by the breeze off the ocean. Pawley sold portions of his island to other planters who were also having problems with malaria outbreaks.
In addition to its rice plantations Pawley’s Island is also home to one of the Carolinas classic ghosts, "The Gray Man." The first sighting of the drably dressed, nondescript ghost was in 1822 shortly before a hurricane hit the area. He was spotted again just before another hurricane made landfall close to Savannah, GA in 1893. It seems Pawley’s Island residents had their own early storm warning system in the Gray Man.
In fact the Gray Man’s sole purpose seems to be warning people a destructive storm is eminent. In just about every major hurricane or destructive storm there have been reports of the Gray Man appearing. Apparently sometimes he speaks and sometimes he doesn’t.
One account tells about a couple of newlyweds on the island who reported they were awakened by a man in wrinkled gray clothes early one morning knocking on their door. Fortunately, they knew about the local legend and left before it arrived. Other local residents have also claimed to have seen the apparition walking along the beach before a storm hits.
When Hurricane Hugo ravaged the Carolina’s in 1989, there were an estimated 80 deaths.
Two Pawley’s Island residents, Jim and Clara Moore, say they saw a man dressed in gray approach them as they were walking along the beach. When they waved to him, he vanished. The Moore’s realized he must have been the Gray Man giving them warning of the approaching hurricane. They left two days before Hugo arrived. When they returned their house had been left unscathed.
Phil Buchanan had lived on the island during his youth. His high pressure job in Atlanta as a newspaperman was taking a toll on him so he decided to take time off work to revisit his boyhood home along with his family. One breezy, misty morning he decided to relax with a stroll along the beach. During his walk he began to get the feeling he wasn’t alone. He turned to look back and saw what appeared to be a shadowy gray clothed person briskly coming up behind him.
Slightly unnerved Phil picked up his pace. He turned to look once more and found the figure closing in on him. Phil decided to stand his ground and find out why this fellow was following him. However, when he stopped and turned around he saw the figure standing on top of a sand dune looking down at him…then he suddenly vanished.
The next evening a strong thunderstorm was rocking the island and the power went out. Sometime during the night he suddenly awoke remembering the legend of the Gray man. He packed up the family and left deciding to return after the storm had abated. When they returned, they were amazed to find their home untouched. However, homes only a few yards away were completely demolished.
There are several accounts explaining the origin of the ghost. Many believe he may have been the original owner of the Pelican Inn on Pawley’s Island. However, the most common version tells the story of a young couple engaged to be married. The young man was forced to separate from his lover for several months to forego an ocean voyage across the Atlantic. On his return he arrived at Georgetown, and from there planned to complete his journey by horseback. Unfortunately, he and his horse became mired in quicksand and perished.
Following his funeral, his mourning fiancé saw an apparition resembling her lost love as she walked along the beach. The apparition warned her to leave the island as soon as possible. She did and after the storm found her home the only structure left untouched.