Do you believe in ghosts?

Published 6:05 pm Tuesday, October 25, 2022

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While there are plenty of stories etched in mystery – some even too morbid to share – they always seem to attract more attention as Halloween approaches.

Even Halloween itself is steeped in a deep, dark history. It dates back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off ghosts. The Celts believed that on the night before the new year (which was Nov. 1 some 2,000 years ago), the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. On the night of October 31 they celebrated Samhain (All Hallows Eve) when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth.

There are such tales still alive today. One is of local lore: The Brown Lady of Chowan University. It is said that she visits her old dormitory (the historic Columns Building) every Halloween night. There, it’s said the sounds of her brown taffeta skirts can be heard rustling through the corridors.

According to Chowan legend, Eolene Davidson was the beloved daughter of a wealthy family from Northampton County. Eolene was reportedly beautiful, friendly, kind, and loving, and with her family’s fortune she could easily have led a life of leisure. But she was determined to pursue an education and make something of her life. And so, in 1885, she enrolled at the Chowan Baptist Female Institute.

In the summer prior to starting classes at Chowan, Miss Davidson visited a friend in New York City. There she met a young attorney by the name of James Lorrene. They fell deeply in love, prompting James to propose marriage. She agreed, but only after completing her education back home.

Back at Chowan, Davidson was a popular student and was also quite fashionable, especially known for wearing brown silk dresses.

It was during her sophomore year when Davidson became ill in early October. As she lay dying in bed, she asked for a telegram to be sent to James, urging him to hurry to Murfreesboro from New York. He did, arriving on Nov. 1 only to discover that his beloved Eolene had died the night before.

And so it began….the sound of rustling silk dresses moving through the hallways of the Columns Building on the night of Halloween. Some say that it was her spirit still waiting for her fiancé to arrive. Others believe that once her spirit left her body, she quietly got up and resumed her studies.

While it’s not linked to the Halloween time period, there’s another eerily famous local story. This one involves the Light at Early Station near Ahoskie.

While there are several versions of the story about this mysterious light, the one I find most interesting comes from that shares the tale of a railroad conductor known as James Pearce. He’s onboard a train making its nightly run to Ahoskie when, coming out of a sharp bend in the tracks, his train meets another head on.

Pearce immediately applies the brake, but he knows it’s too late and braces for impact. Then, at the last instant, the second train veers off and Pearce sees what appears to be a phantom train, lights and all, passing mere feet away from his car, apparently heading to Aulander.

After arriving safely at Early Station, Pearce file a report about seeing the phantom train. As expected, his tale is met with laughter, but later that evening, while Pearce’s train continued northward, it jumped the switch, killing him and severely injuring several others on board.

Today, it is said that the eerie light approaching the rail crossing at Early’s is Pearce trying to get back to the now demolished station and complete his report. That light grows brighter until it suddenly disappears just before reaching the road where the depot used to stand. Others believe that light is similar to someone swinging a lantern or two, sometimes white, sometimes red, as though they are trying to warn the approaching train that the switch is not clear.

And there are others who say the light is a lantern that the ghost of Pearce is using to find his head that was severed when his train jumped the switch and crashed in the woods.

Whatever the case, there is a strange light there on some nights….I’ve seen it myself on numerous occasions. Once, in my younger years, I as sitting inside a car parked at the Early’s rail crossing and that light drew closer and closer. It was as big as a washtub before vanishing.

Also close to home is the tale of mysterious lights in the Great Dismal Swamp, part of which is in Gates County. It is known that the swamp was once used by slaves as a place to hide out after escaping captivity. There are stories of communities dotting the landscape of the swamp.

There are tales of mysterious lights seen floating through the woods and over the waters at night. Hunters have passed down stories of shooting a bear or a deer, only to find that the body has vanished and left no trace, not even a drop of blood, when they go to retrieve it.

There are stories of people encountering phantom figures in the woods of the swamp, people dressed in everything from colonial-era clothing to that of early 20th century lumberman.

Are those the spirits of deceased slaves who are reaching out to others in an effort to hide them?

There are another famous tales of mystery throughout our state. Perhaps I’ll choose to share a few of those in another column.

In the meantime, it’s my wish that the only ghosts and goblins you encounter on Halloween this year are just local children begging for treats!

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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