Nothin' could be finer than to be weird in Carolina

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 2, 2007

“Weird Carolinas,” by Roger Manley. Sterling Publishers, New York. 2007. 256 pp. $19.95.By Cynthia Murphy
Salisbury Post
Ah, summer. It’s the season when most of us at least think about hitting the highway in search of adventure. If you’re the type of person who would pull over to see the world’s largest ball of twine (and I certainly am), then Roger Manley’s “Weird Carolinas” is the travel guide for you.
Billed as “Your Travel Guide to North and South Carolina’s Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets” this book covers everything from a Whirligig Park to unusual cemetery finds and everything in between.
All of the stories came from locals, so the book has a folksy feeling. However, I do have one minor complaint. This book is awfully large for a travel guide. In its large, hardcover format, it’s almost big enough to ride shotgun on your road trip.
The illustrations do make up for the size of the book. Each story is laid out in a nice graphic format with many photographs and drawings. This makes “Weird Carolinas” a fun, easy read even if you don’t use it as a travel guide.
There is a wide range of “weirdness” covered here. Familiar tales such as “The Devil’s Tramping Ground” and “The Lost Colony” are included, as well as lesser known stories such as “The Witches of Fairfield, South Carolina.”
Some of the featured sites are nearby such as the grave of James A. Reid’s foot in the Old Lutheran Cemetery here in Salisbury and the Kannapolis Castle.
Classic Carolina ghost stories such as the “Grey Man of Pawleys Island” and “Lydia” (the vanishing hitchhiker) fill an interesting chapter that reminded me of how much fun a good ghost story can be. Another chapter is devoted to various monster sightings around the Carolinas. Both chapters feature terrific campfire stories.
Some of the most interesting stories in the book are really just stories of people following their dreams, no matter how quirky that dream may be.
I already knew a little about the Old West town of Love Valley, but it was nice to learn a few details about its creation. Love Valley actually seems commonplace when compared to some of the other unusual places built by Carolina dreamers.
Other idealists built wacky sites such as Concrete City in Orangeburg, S.C., and Haw River Animal Crossing in Bynum, N.C. Of all the crazy creations, my favorite manmade structure depicted has to be the UFO Welcome Center in Bowman, S.C. It’s sort of like a Motel 6 for aliens.
All of the usual roadside oddities are also included here, such as the Peachoid in Gaffney, S.C., and the world’s largest Duncan Phyfe chair in Thomasville. If you want to plan a tour of super-sized furniture or food items, you could easily do so from this book.
“Weird Carolinas” covers a lot of miles and a lot of wackiness. But its true charm lies in its ability to make the reader look at the world in a different way. Familiar stories feel fresh here and people who would often be dismissed as crazy seem like inspiring dreamers.
The creators of the Weird U.S. series refer to this as a “weird eye.” Whatever you call it, it makes you want to take a trip down the back roads of the Carolinas and really look at the wonderfully wacky world around you.
But I’d keep an eye out for the Lake Norman Monster, just to be safe.
Cynthia Murphy is an avid reader and sometime writer.