'Tis the era of Paranormal Activity, and it's time for a new approach to ghost stories. We sit in dark movie theaters or basements and cling dramatically to our friends while our nightmares are realized on screen. We shut our eyes and call the shivers snaking down our spines a thrill. But what if those ghost stories were labeled "history"?
That's precisely what famed storyteller Sherman Carmichael has set out to do. A self-proclaimed researcher, Carmichael steps over the raving pack of ghost hunters to bring us his new book, Legends and Lore of South Carolina. After more than a year of research spirited him from his home in Johnsonville, S.C. and across every terrain the state has to offer, Carmichael has compiled 80 stories showcasing tales and encounters both unusual and supernatural.
"In most of the ghost stories that you hear told, the ghost is doing the same thing over and over and over in the same locations," Carmichael says. "They're walking down the halls or they're walking through the graveyard." But researchers, Carmichael included, have pulled the sheet off of other proposals. "The theory now is that maybe you're not actually seeing the soul of that dead person, but you're actually getting a glimpse back in time."
This moment is the experience of "a rip in time." The observer views a snippet of an incident that happened at that exact time during a separate year in history. "For whatever reason, you're getting a glimpse back into the past." These glimpses are spotlighted in Carmichael's book, which is based on tales, such as that of the Gray Man of Pawley's Island, that have appeared in other literature. The author, who has dabbled in the paranormal for 40 years, has also slipped in stories that have never been published.
Carmichael says, "A lot of these tales have been handed down and I just research them as far back as I can go to where they started." His method satisfies those who seek the hair-raising elements of a traditional ghost story as well as those who crave historical data. He covers a wide area, including Salem Black River Church in Mayesville, White Wolf Road in Blacksburg, and the Strawberry Shipwreck in Charleston.
But why focus on areas in this state when, according to reality TV shows like Ghost Hunters International, paranormal activity is happening all over the globe? The author says, "I think South Carolina is probably, as far as ghost stories go, the most haunted state in the United States." After a childhood spent in Hemingway, S.C., he first got this feeling at age 17 when he picked up a copy of Fate Magazine. The publication looks at topics ranging from aliens and UFOs to true mystic experiences. Since then, Carmichael has worked in the fields of photography and law enforcement without forgetting his passion. He has produced a 26-episode series on YouTube and a book, Forgotten Tales, about unusual phenomena.
"I am not a ghost hunter," he says. "I like to go to the place and see what I can see and see what I can find out about it and do the research on it. But I'm not one of these ghost hunters that runs around out there with a handful of equipment and just screams, 'I found the ghost.'"
Sherman Carmichael will sign copies of his book on Sat. Aug. 18 from 12-3 p.m. at the Old Exchange Building (122 East Bay St.). Call (843) 727-2165 for more info.