HomeBooksThe South’s Custodian of The Twilight Zone

The South’s Custodian of The Twilight Zone

Late storyteller Nancy Roberts’ ghost story books have been revised and reissued by University of South Carolina Press this month.

Nancy Roberts’ favorite ghost story as told by her late mother of the same name is called “Swamp Girl.” It’s about a nicely dressed girl who appears to drivers late at night on a highway in the South Carolina swamp asking for a ride home. She gives the driver her address, but when his wife turns around later to talk to her, she’s gone. The driver visits the address the girl gave him and her brother opens the door to tell him the story of how his sister died in a car wreck three years before and that today is the anniversary of her death.

Roberts says this story represents a “fundamental human desire,” and it’s the human side of ghost stories and their tellers that her mother aimed to capture for more than 40 years.

Nancy Roberts was called the “custodian of the twilight zone” by Southern Living magazine and also the “first lady of folklore” during her time. She recorded stories, legends and supernatural experiences about things like the Brown Mountain Lights, Gray Man and Bell Witch. “She loved these stories, and she loved being able to share them with people,” says her daughter. “She was very much a storyteller.”

Roberts’ family had been in North Carolina since the early 1700s, but she was born in 1924 in Wisconsin and grew up in the Midwest. She moved to Charlotte as a young adult and started writing articles for the Charlotte Observer. These led to a series of books begun in 1958 because Carl Sandburg had read her stories in the newspaper and suggested she compile them into something larger.

“She just loved North Carolina, the South and the history,” says the younger Roberts. “She started exploring and writing down stories that she heard from people in the area. She loved visiting different places and talking to the people who lived there.”

Roberts says her mother was also a frequent visitor to local libraries to find out more about the people and history she recounts in her stories. She used the library for research before going on location to see the place for herself. Her husband, Bruce Roberts, accompanied her to take photographs for many of her books, and sometimes her daughter went along too.

While the ghost stories Roberts recorded in her more than 25 books weren’t new, she was possibly the first person to put them in writing and make them available to the public. “She wanted to save the stories and preserve them, because she felt like they were really fundamental truths about human nature,” says Roberts.

Roberts isn’t sure whether her mother believed in ghosts herself, but her mother did tell her that she’d seen the Brown Mountain Lights. “She didn’t discount any of it, and I think she believed the people she spoke with had seen something,” she says. “She felt like those people had some credibility to what they were telling her.”

Nancy Roberts passed away in 2008 at the age of 84. She was still writing a few weeks before she died. Her daughter, an attorney in Charlotte, is now the custodian of her mother’s stories. She makes local presentations about her mother and manages the website nancyrobertsbooks.com in an effort to keep the stories alive.

The University of South Carolina Press has also revised six of Roberts’ ghost story books, including those on the Civil War, Carolinas, Southern Mountains and Appalachia and The Haunted South in new versions out this month. They are available in both paperback and as e-books.

“It’s something you can take and read and enjoy and get scared, but it’s not blood and guts,” Roberts adds about her mother’s books. “I want them to keep going.”

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  • Chere Coen / October 31, 2019

    I checked into the Galvez Hotel in Galveston and headed to the third floor. My room faced the Gulf so I was really excited about staying at this historic hotel. When I walked in, my Ipad went off. It was Cat Steven’s “And I Might Die Tonight.” I thought the place might be haunted (ya think?) but I also figured it might be bad Wifi. The ipad did it again. Then I heard a group going by my door and peered out. It was a ghost tour and that area of the third floor had the most notorious story.

    I was hoping to see something but nothing else happened while I was there. My friend one door down, however, had her chest of drawers open and close in the night.

    • Hunter / November 6, 2019

      I’ve not experienced Many ghosts myself, but I have told many stories and read many more. I have a deep fondness for the tales. Also I would like this pretty collection of books.

  • Vicki Wurgler / October 31, 2019

    my favorite would be The Lovely Bones

  • jennifer beck / October 31, 2019

    I saw a ghost once in my bedroom . I asked my Dad to forgive me for something I had done before he passed. Then I saw someone standing in door way looking at me . I got very scared at first and covered my head . then I thought that was my dad it was tall and had a cowboy hat on.

  • Grace Henley / October 31, 2019

    My Dad Told us that after his sister was murdered, she came to visit him to tell him she was O.K., he was a young teenager at the time, and said she did not look like a Ghost, she looked as real as any other person. But after talking with him she just vanished.

  • Jenny Ham / November 6, 2019

    My favorite is Ghost Story from when I was a kid it was called “The man with the Golden arm”. My favorite ghost stories as an adult come from a book called “Haunted Kansas”.
    My recent ghost story or not??
    While in New York we had dinner at the Ace Hotel it was part of the prize. The hotel is VERY dark when you go in and lots of people sitting around in the dark lobby.
    After dinner I told my friend I was running to the restroom it is in the basement. I went down to the basement very scary hallway no one around went to the old marble looking restroom the kind where people are killed in the movies. It was spooky no one in the restroom either. I am in the stall and I hear someone come in when I came out of the Stall no one was there. I hurried and washed my hands and got the heck out of there. So I think screw the stairs we walked a lot in NY I got on the elevator with a women that had a dog in her bag I looked at the dog and thought I think it is stuffed then I looked at the women and she had no expression. I said “where is the lobby button”. No response from the women. Then suddenly I see it and the women said “It will be alright” by now we have passed the lobby and are going to the 5th floor. She gets out says nothing I go back to the restaurant.
    My friend says she wants to go to the restroom I said “well that basement is scary.” So we go down there and while we are in the restroom I hear the door so I go over and open it and two women are just standing there on the other side looking at me. So my friend comes out and I said “see the stairs are right there” and we look through the window and see this on the stairs the words “Everything is going to be alright” Almost the same thing the lady on the elevator said to me I said to my friend “lets get out of here” and we ran to the elevator.
    We went outside and I said “something is not right about that hotel.”
    So back at the room later that night I looked up haunted hotels in NY and Holy Cannoli there it is was Ace Hotel where we had dinner.
    So my friend and I have decided the lady and the dog on the elevator were actually ghosts. Or maybe actors. I got to wondering people like to stay at haunted places and obviously they have made this place dark to fit the part. Maybe I did hear someone come into the bathroom or maybe people are placed around the hotel to mess with people.
    Either way I’m not going back any time soon.

  • stacey / November 6, 2019

    My sister and I stayed thee nights in a haunted house. I kept hearing someone walking around on the porch and something kept throwing rocks at us. when I was the only one awake I saw a white cloud hovering around in the corner.