The Gray Man

The Gray Man has to be South Carolina’s most famous ghost.  The spirit of John C. Calhoun himself could not top the Gray Man’s long enduring history and tragic legend.  Pawleys Island sits along the coast and is home to small cottage homes, inns, and one very famous spirit.  The story is always the same - the Gray Man warns residents to flee the island from an impending hurricane.

My favorite version of this legend tells a tragic love story.  A young man returning from a long absence was eager to see his fiancee.  He rode on horseback from Georgetown, SC to Pawleys Island.  The young man was so eager to see his beloved young girl that he decided not to follow the road, but take a short-cut across the marsh.  In this untraveled marsh the young man’s horse fell in quicksand, both horse and rider were killed.  The young girl was devastated and began to forlornly walk the beach, mourning her lover.  One windy summer day, she saw a man dressed all in gray approach her and recognized him as her dead fiance.  He told her to get off the island immediately because there was danger.  Without another word, he vanished.  The young woman told her parents what she had seen and they fled to the mainland.  That night the hurricane came ashore destroying nearly every home on the island.  The home of the young woman was left somehow untouched by the storm as though it had been protected by an unseen force.

The first recorded sighting of the Gray Man is from the hurricane of 1822 that hit Charleston and caused over 300 deaths on the outlying islands.

In 1893 the Gray Man appeared to the Lachicotte family.  He was silent, but his meaning was clear.  The family fled the island and survived the storm.  This hurricane, called the Sea Islands Hurricane, killed an estimated 1,500 people and Lachicotte’s surely would have been part of that tragic number.

October 1954 found Bill Collins and his new bride honeymooning on the island.  Around 5 AM Bill heard a knock at their door.  Too early to be anything unimportant, Bill answered the door.  Before him stood a man in rumpled gray clothing and a gray hat which hid his features.  He said that the Red Cross had sent him to tell them to leave because a big storm was coming.  Bill could smell salty brine on the man’s clothing and heard the urgency in his voice.  Suddenly the man in gray disappeared leaving Bill stunned and shaken.  Bill and his new wife left the island and Hurricane Hazel struck soon after as a Category 4 storm.  Hazel eventually killed 95 people and destroyed 15,000 homes.

September 19, 1989 residents of Pawleys Island, Clara and Jack Moore were walking along the beach.  They saw a man dressed all in gray suddenly appear among the dunes.  He approached them, then vanished.  This was warning enough for Clara.  She and Jack packed bags and fled inland.  Two days later Hurricane Hugo struck the coast as a Category 4 storm killing 76 people along its path and causing $10 Billion in damage.

Often when the Gray Man is seen the homes of his audience will be left completely untouched by the storm while the neighboring homes are decimated.  Is the Gray Man somehow protecting these homes?  If his warnings were not heeded, would the homes and residents truly be destroyed?  For people who have seen the Gray Man it is without question - he came to warn them and if they hadn’t listened their lives would’ve been taken by the storm.