The Faceless Gray Man of Pawleys Island is a legend of an APPARITION of a gray man with no face who appears just before hurricanes strike at Pawleys Island off the coast of South Carolina. In times past, before modern technology enabled advance warning of hurricanes, the Gray Man was credited with saving thousands of lives.
The identity of the Gray Man is unknown. It is believed by some that he is the ghost of Percival Pawley, the first to settle the island and name it. Another popular explanation is that the ghost is that of an 18th-century Charleston belle’s cousin and lover.
According to legend, the Charleston belle was beautiful, gracious and accomplished, and could have had her pick of fine husbands. She disappointed her family by falling in love with a cousin, a young man who was a bit of a scoundrel. The parents of both agreed to break up the romance by sending the young man off to France. Although he swore he would return and marry the belle, she was informed several months later that he had been killed in a dual. Grief stricken, she withdrew from the world.
She was drawn out of her grief by a male friend who had recently been widowed. The two married and took up residency on a plantation near Charleston. From May to October, they lived on Pawleys Island, where sea breezes kept away the mosquitoes that spread malaria on the coastal mainland.
The husband joined the army during the American Revolution, and in 1778 was away fighting with Francis Marion, the “Swamp Fox.” Meanwhile, his wife left for Pawleys Island when the “fever months” arrived.
While she was there, a hurricane arose and sank a brigantine off the island’s shore. It was thought that everyone aboard was drowned. That night, however, a man made it to shore and arrived at the young woman’s house, seeking shelter. When she opened the door, she was horrified to see that it was her cousin, who had not died in a duel after all. The cousin fled. He later reached the mainland, where he died of fever.
The young woman resumed her life with her husband, which appeared normal in every respect. Whenever they went to Pawleys Island, however, she was troubled by a gray figure who lurked about in the dunes, watching her. Once she drew close enough to see that the figure was that of a man who had no face.
The apparition soon became visible to others, and established the pattern of appearing before hurricanes. Residents say the Gray Man appeared before the hurricanes of 1822, 1893, 1916, 1954, and 1955.
- Anderson, Jean. The Haunting of America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1973.
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