I was sure that the ghosts of pirates wandered my beach, just on the other side of the dune, walking up on moonlit nights to find long lost buried treasure.
Little did I know just how right I was. Life and death are friends on the Outer Banks. Rarely did a person die of old age. It was a hard life, noble, but often cut short. Lack of medical care, stress, the damage done to a body by the invisible hand of disease, all these things meant a person probably moved on before they were ready. And often they didn't entirely move on.
So it's no wonder there are stories of ghosts all over the Outer Banks. I grew up on them. They were literary mother's milk to us kids, a chilling terror that gave us wonderful fears, and helped us deal with the darkness and the things within it. Because we were scared, we became less scared.
The ghost tales also helped islanders cope. Like I said, people didn't die of old age. Losing a person before the family was ready was extremely difficult. Not only was there the loss, but this was a time when work could not stop. When a father died, the son did the job the next day. Perhaps seeing a ghost meant that our family was not entirely gone, that they still were there to help and encourage.
Other ghosts were less helpful. One of the strangest legends I found takes place in Nags Head. Long ago, shipwrecks abound. It was partly how the Bankers survived, by scavenging the wrecks and using the wood from broken ships. But those ships held people, lost at sea or found, dead and waterlogged, unnamed. Bodies wouldn't last long in the Summer heat, or a Spring wind, and most corpses were buried where they were found. Unmarked graves and scattered bones were as prevalent as sea shells. It is said that the spirits of those people were never at rest. No words were said at their passing, and their families never knew what had happened to them. They were just lost, their remains scattered by the next storm.
So, in the old part of Nags Head, the old Unpainted Aristocracy, these fallen passengers are known to rise up out of the foam and waves and walk the beach. Ghostly vapors have been seen, cloudy figures that trudge the beach at twilight, into darkness. They are drawn to shore, hoping to find something. Perhaps they seek their ship, the wooden remains now used to prop up the old homes, in order to continue sailing to their home. Or they look for peace, as they try in vain to gather their physical remains from a beach now long changed from almost two hundred years ago. But they walk, a slow, dark, trudging line, clouds of smoke in the darkness, always looking with eyeless faces, always hoping to find what they search, until darkness overcomes them and they vanish into the salty mists.
If you like this story, and want more like it, be sure to check out my book, Haunting The Outer Banks, available on this site in autographed form, or from your favorite book seller or Amazon.