South Carolina ghost story of the famed Gray Man Ghost of Pawley’s Island whose appearance is seen as a warning by locals of an upcoming hurricane. Adapted from folklore by Craig Dominey.
The Buchanan family had owned a beach house on South Carolina’s Pawleys Island for many years. The youngest son, Phil, had fond childhood memories of sunning on the beach, eating mouth-watering seafood and smelling the salty air. He also remembered the charming, tight-knit community of villagers who called Pawleys home. To Phil, it seemed like one of the few places left where people still kept an eye on one another.
Phil had just turned 40 in October when he decided to return to Pawleys for the first time since his childhood. His high stress job as a newspaperman in Atlanta had slowly worn him down, and was beginning to affect both his health and his relationship with his family. He needed a quiet place like Pawleys to energize himself and reflect on his life.
His co-workers were surprised that Phil “Burn-the-Midnight- Oil” Buchanan was finally taking a vacation. What’s more, he had chosen the height of hurricane season to do it. But Phil knew that the tourists would be long gone from Pawleys, and he could achieve the solitude that he so desperately craved. After work Thursday, Phil piled his wife, Susan, and two young daughters in the car and headed toward the island.
Phil was pleased to find his family’s picturesque beach house practically untouched since his last visit. The heavy timber walls, gabled roof and around-the-house porch distinguished the old home from the newer resort houses that had sprung up on the South Carolina coast like mushrooms.
The same boardwalk extended from the house onto the beach. Phil remembered walking onto the beach every morning to watch the spectacular Pawleys sunrise. Before dawn the next day, Phil grabbed a cup of coffee, put on some warm clothes and a windbreaker and walked down to the beach to relive the magic.
The sunrise that morning was indeed beautiful – a blazing red orb that set the sky ablaze in colors of orange and pink. But Phil didn’t seem to notice, for his thoughts now consumed him. He knew that, although Pawleys remained unchanged, he was strikingly different. Years had passed him by in the blink of an eye. Friends, lovers and family had come and gone. Like many people his age, Phil found himself questioning his place in the world. What would people remember about him when he was gone? He knew that his malaise was beginning to affect his family, especially his wife, who said only recently that he had become a virtual stranger to her.
As Phil continued walking, a cold, grayish mist suddenly blew in from the sea, slowly dampening his mood. He wondered if it was such a good idea to come back here after all – this place of youth and invincibility.
Before he knew it, Phil reached the end of the island. But as he turned back toward home, he began to get the strange feeling that he wasn’t alone on the beach.
He turned around and saw that his intuition was right. For he could see a figure in the distance, walking toward him along the edge of the water with a determined pace.
Phil turned back toward home, but found himself stopping again a minute or so later and looking over his shoulder. The shadowy figure behind him was closer now, walking at the same relentless pace. Phil thought he looked like a man of medium build, covered in gray from head to toe, his arms swinging at his sides.
An uneasy feeling gripped Phil. He walked a bit faster toward his home. But as he looked back, he saw that the shadow figure had also picked up the pace, moving closer and closer toward him. The mist swirled around them and made it hard for Phil to make out any of the man’s features. Was he a local fisherman? A jogger? A mugger?
The faster Phil walked, the faster the shadow figure followed. Phil’s heart began to race. His home was still a great distance away. He thought about running, then immediately felt foolish in even thinking about it. He was a big city newspaperman now, after all, and he dealt with crime on a daily basis.
With equal parts adrenaline and fear, Phil whirled around to confront the man. But the shadow figure had stopped on top of a sand dune, and was looking out over the agitated waters. Then, to Phil’s utter amazement, the man slowly turned and looked in his direction – only to disappear into the mist!
Phil couldn’t believe his eyes. He ran back to the dunes and searched for what seemed like hours, yet found no sign of the mysterious man. But something else made his blood run cold. For when Phil retraced his steps, he could only find one pair of footprints walking up the beach – his own.
Later that evening, a heavy thunderstorm knocked out power across the island. As Susan lit candles around the house, Phil was still trying to rationalize what he had seen that morning on the beach. One thing that kept coming back to him was a piece of island folklore passed down through the community for generations: the story of the Gray Man, Pawleys Island’s resident ghost. It was said that his appearance was a warning of impending disaster, and that he was most likely to show himself during the hurricane months of September and October.
Phil had always chuckled at this quaint tale. When Susan asked what was bothering him, he even joked about the story with her. Of course, when his two young daughters heard this, they immediately jumped up and down with excitement.
“Tell us a ghost story, Daddy!” screamed one. “Tell us about the Gray Man!”
“Gray Man! Gray Man! Gray Man!” yelled the other.
Phil was in no mood to tell ghost stories. But he could see his daughters’ eyes twinkling with excitement, and he knew that it had been a while since they had spent meaningful time together. He smiled, sat them both on the couch and told them the tale his own father had spun many years before:
“A long time ago, back before the Civil War, Pawleys Island used to be the summer home of the plantation families. They spent most of the year growing rice crops back on their plantations. But when summer came, they’d row across the water to Pawleys so they could get away from the heat and the terrible mosquitoes back home. They built beautiful summer homes all across the island. In fact, some local people you’ve seen around here are direct descendants of these first plantation families.
Now, in one of these fancy summer homes, there once lived a beautiful young girl named Jane. She had a boyfriend named Beauregard who had been overseas for a long time, and she missed him terribly. Well, one day she got word that her beloved Beauregard was finally sailing home. She was very excited. She began decorating her house with greenery and flowers, and asked her servants to prepare Beauregard’s favorite meals.
Beauregard was very excited to see her as well. In fact, he was so excited that, when he got back to South Carolina, he challenged his accompanying servant to a horse race down the beach toward her house. The servant accepted, and they took off, their horses sprinting down the beach at top speed, neck and neck! The two men yelled and laughed at one another, having a great time.
As they got halfway down the beach, Beauregard spotted a short cut through a marshy area and decided to take it. But when they got deep in the marsh, his horse suddenly stumbled. Beauregard flew off his saddle and landed in a thick bed of quicksand. As hard as he tried, Beauregard couldn’t free himself.
His servant saw what happened and rushed over to save him. But Beauregard was so far out in the quicksand that his servant couldn’t find any pole or branch long enough to reach him. Instead, the servant could only stand by helplessly as his master sank into the muck. Before long, he was gone.
Needless to say, Jane was grief stricken when she heard the news. She cried and cried for days. She began wandering the beach every morning in an endless daze, as if still expecting her Beauregard to come home.
One morning, she thought she spotted a man in the distance dressed entirely in gray, staring out over the water from atop a sand dune. As she moved closer toward him, her heart began to race, for he seemed to resemble Beauregard! But when she was only a few feet from him, a grayish mist suddenly crept up from the ocean and swirled around him. Before she could reach him, he had vanished.
That night, she had a horrible nightmare in which she was floating in a small boat being tossed about on stormy seas. On a distant sand dune, she could see Beauregard dressed entirely in gray, beckoning her toward him. But try as she might, she could not reach him.
When she told her family about this dream and her encounter with the gray figure on the beach, they became very concerned. They thought that her shock from Beauregard’s death was beginning to affect her mind, and her father insisted that she see a doctor in Charleston. The entire family accompanied the young girl to Charleston the next day.
While they were gone, a huge hurricane roared into the island, destroying everything. Lots of people died. When Jane’s family returned to Pawleys to see the damage, she realized that it was the appearance of Beauregard in her dream and on the beach that morning that had saved the lives of both herself and her family. She was then finally able to get on with her life, for she knew that, even though Beauregard was dead, his spirit would always be around to protect her.”
“And that’s the story of the Gray Man of Pawleys Island,” Phil said as he wrapped up the well-worn tale. The girls were utterly enraptured, and Phil knew that he now faced the daunting task of getting them to bed.
The next evening, the thunderstorm intensified. As the wooden walls moaned and creaked and the shutters banged loudly from the strengthening winds, Phil had second thoughts about the Gray Man story. They had forgotten to bring a portable radio, and were still without power. If it is a hurricane, Phil thought, what harm would it do if they left the island for a night? If everything turned out okay, they could have a good laugh about it in the morning. Within a few hours, Phil drove his family off Pawleys Island.</p> <p>Soon after they left, what would later become known as Hurricane Hazel hit the island hard, washing away houses, uprooting trees and flattening sand dunes. It would become one of the worst storms in Pawleys’s history, wiping out nearly every home on the island’s south end.
Phil and his family returned to Pawleys after the storm, fearful of what Hazel had done to the beach house. The debris-filled streets made Pawleys look like a war zone, and Phil was almost too frightened to look at what damage had been done to his precious family home so full of memories.
Phil’s jaw dropped as they reached the beach. The Buchanan home somehow remained untouched. Homes located only a few yards away lay in complete ruin. Some towels they had hung out to dry even remained on the line! Phil then remembered something else about the legend of the Gray Man – that no harm comes to those who see him and heed his warning.
Phil grabbed his wife and kissed her hard, just like they’d done when they were courting. He then grabbed his two young daughters and squeezed them tight.
“What’s wrong, Daddy?” one of them asked.
“Nothing, honey,” he replied, staring out over the water with tears welling in his eyes, the magnitude of his decision now apparent.
In the following years, Phil Buchanan spent less time at work and more time with his family. Every year, he’d set aside two weeks to spend with his family back on Pawleys Island. And every day of those two weeks, he’d get up at sunrise and walk out over the dunes to the beach, to watch for the friend who had not only saved his life, but made it worth living – the Gray Man of Pawleys Island.
If you happen to visit Pawleys Island during hurricane season and spot the Gray Man on the beach one morning, take his appearance seriously. For he brings you a warning.
- THE END –
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