The SE is known for many things: juicy peaches, slow talkers, kudzu, old plantation homes, humid weather, grits, magnolia trees, good football, beauty queens, friendly neighbors... and GHOST Stories! Since my mom’s side of the family was in South Carolina, we made pilgrimages from Illinois – across the sweet tea line – into SC a couple times each year.
During these journeys, we usually spent a few days in the “Low Country” (native term for Carolina Coastland). Visiting this area was like going through a time warp… surrounded by buildings built in the 1700’s, walking on cobble roads, ducking beneath Spanish moss hanging from trees. These trips to Charleston, Pawley’s Island, Myrtle Beach were enchanting; what a difference from the Chicago suburbs!
I can’t remember how it got started, maybe it was a history lesson of sorts… but, instead of your typical ‘prince saves the princess’ bedtime tales, Sarah and I begged my mom for Ghost Stories! Sally would climb in a bed between us, and recount paranormal legends… as if they were stories from her past. She told us about searching for ghosts in a graveyard with her college girlfriends; she detailed the stories of the “Gray Man,” and the tragic love loss of “Alice.” She had me so enthralled, that one night, I pleaded with my parents to drive me to Alice’s grave at midnight so I could see for myself. They were good sports, and waited patiently while I (along with my cousin, Lea… as if I’d go ghost hunting alone) snuck into the graveyard, summoned her spirit… and then came running & screaming back to the car… after seeing, what we swore was the ghost of Alice sitting in a tree.
To this day, I enjoy hearing a good ghost story… especially while sitting around a camp fire, roasting marshmallows for s’mores (oh, that sounds good: note to self, plan a camping trip). However, I thought my days of being scared of ghosts were over. WRONG.
This past Wednesday I rode with my friend, Brad, to Landrum, North Carolina. His coach, Katie, owns the cutest little house on Lake Lanier (right on the SC/NC border). Built like a 2 story dorm room, it’s right on the water… and perfect for open water swim training! The group: Katie, Brad, Chris, and I stripped down to our suites, grabbed goggles and bright-colored caps… then planned our route. Katie likes to swim along the shore for about 15 minutes before cutting across the lake, and following the bay area toward the dam. Well… it was a gorgeous day, so boat traffic was more of an issue than normal.
When we stopped the 1st time, I could see concern on Katie’s face. At first, I thought her anxiety was due to the boats crossing our path. Oh no, she had no problem with the boats… evidently, it was an underwater silo that really freaked her out. Yes, I repeat: underwater silo (as in the tall, cylindrical structure usually on land to hold crops and such). “I hate the silo,” she said.
“What, huh… silo… did you say silo,” I asked, while trying to catch my breath and keep my head above water.
“Yeah, there’s a silo under the water… right over there,” she points. “That’s why I like to cross over at this point, to avoid swimming near the silo. If I touch it, I’ll spaz-out.”
I rolled my eyes, and tried to concentrate on swimming. There was no room to think about creepy storage towers under the water. Well, because of the boats… we had to swim within feet of the eerie silo. No big deal, my thoughts were focused on keeping up with Katie.
We pushed hard toward the dam… and then waited for the guys (ha ha, sorry Brad… you know I had to mention something about Pink Caps leading the way ;). After regrouping, it was decided to go the same route back to her house. “No, not by the silo again,” she moaned. Again, I didn’t think much of it.
Katie set the pace, and I felt good, working hard to stay with her (well, toward the tail end of her anyway). Suddenly, she jerked to a stop… head above water, breathing hard. She was SPOOKED by the silo. Like a horse getting spooked on the trail. “Did I hit you?” I asked.
“No, I just hate seeing the stuff down there… silo stuff… it’s right below us. You can see wood and junk on the bottom of the lake,” she said.
Ok, here’s where I’m thinking… what-the-heck, let’s forget about the weird silo and swim on. To tell you the truth, I like that you can see to the bottom of the lake. Clear water is a GOOD thing. And if I have to see an old silo down there, at least I CAN see it.
Well, after being spooked… Katie TOOK OFF. I mean: bullet out of a gun, cannon from the barrel, horse from the gate, Britney from the paparazzi, kicking and pulling. I jumped on her feet, just trying my best to keep those bubbles in sight. It ended up being one of the best swim workouts ever!
We got back to her dock – and I had to say something about the “silo sprint.”
“Katie, I don’t know what’s going on with that silo… but, man that thing lights a fire under your butt.”
“Ashley, it’s a real silo down there (as opposed to what, I don’t know… anyone ever seen a fake silo?)… it used to be up on the shore. Teenagers used to play around on it. Then, one day there was some kind of accident. The silo actually toppled over and rolled into the lake, killing two of the kids in its path.”
GREAT. Now there’s a story to go with it. Before, I thought of the silo as some fish house under the deep blue. Now, it’s a symbolic memorial… it has history, and a past involving the death of teenagers. Yet another Southern Ghost Story. But, I’ll tell you what: Having seen “Alice” near her grave as a kid, I believe in ghosts. And the next time Katie and I swim near the silo… we’ll be sprinting together.