The Gray Man has to be South Carolinas most famous ghost. The spirit of John C. Calhoun himself could not top the Gray Mans long enduring history and tragic legend. Others believe it is the lover of a Charleston Belle that was sent away to France because their relationship was not acceptable to their parents. Rumor has it that the two were cousins and that the man was a scoundrel of sorts. The lover vowed to return and make her his wife. Time passed and it was reported that he had died in a duel. Grief stricken the woman mourned. Another man who had recently been widowed drew the woman out of her grief later. They married making the island their summer home from May through October each year. In 1778 the husband joined the Army to fight in the American Revolution. During his absence, a hurricane hit the island sinking a brigatine off the islands shore. All were believed to have perished. However, a lone figure was seen struggling along the shore. A manservant helped the surviving man to his Mistress' door advising that the Master was gone to war but his Mistress would look after him. When she opened the door and saw her lover there she fainted. The man realizing that his love had married another fled. He died alone on the mainland of a deadly fever. The Belle resumed her life but she was frequently troubled by the presence of a gray figure that watched her from the dunes. He appeared to her prior to a hurricane, advised her to leave immediately. When she returned her house had been the only one spared the devastation wrought by the hurricane.
Another candidate as the Gray Man is Plowden Charles Jeannerette Weston who loved his home and the island faithfully. He died of tuberculosis but is said to appear to residents to warn them of impending storms. No one can identify the Gray Man as he does not have a face and is not clearly seen. Even someone coming face to face with him cannot make out his facial details, as they are a blur, almost like a silhouette. Whoever the Gray Man is or was he continues to warn residents of hurricanes. The spirits who remain behind do so for various reasons. Some because they don't want to believe they are dead, some who died tragically, and those who love someone or something so great they feel a need to be the guard for eternity. Sometimes there is no explanation only faith. We have faith that someone will watch over us and keep us safe.
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.
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 mans 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 Lachicottes surely would have been part of that tragic number.
October 1954 found Bill Collins & his new bride honeymooning on the island. Around 5:00 a.m. 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 mans 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.