There’s something to the Name Game, but there are times when a legend plants itself so deep into the minds of residents it forces them to actually name the place for the odd folklore born there. We recently came across something like this with Bloody Bucket Road in Wachula, Florida, a road named after a story which then inspired a story which inspired an urban legend. We’ve also found our way to places informally named after the weird happenings there, like the Devil’s Tree and Thrill Hill. Rarely does a crazy story, known by the people living in the area if not fully believed, make the powers that be change the name of a place to reflect the popularity of a story.
The Devil’s Tramping Ground in Bear Creek, North Carolina is one of those places. As we heard more about the story, given our obsession at the time with all things named after the Devil, we knew if we were going to North Carolina to look for phantom trains and hitchhikers, we were going to have to stop in and see if we could glimpse something unknown and supernatural making circles in the middle of the woods.
It started with a search into an area of North Carolina known as the known as the Piedmonts. While looking for something else, I stumbled upon Craig Payst’s Web site North Carolina Ghost Stories. He has a whole section of his site dedicated to the odd stories from that area, including a weird legend that has gained popularity among the people there over the last few decades. Some of the details were familiar in that way a good piece of folklore should be, but one of the most interesting slants to the story was that the legend was shifting, adapting with the times to conform to changing ideas. As we changed as people, the little tale of a patch of land where nothing would grown changed with them.
The basics of the story should sound like something you’ve heard before. In the woods near an area known as Harper’s Crossing there is a patch of land where things would not grow. The infertile pattern was in an almost perfect circle, so people said there had to be something sinister and supernatural about it. The first stories, which is said to date back at least two hundred years, tell of the Devil himself cast down, or up, to earth to contemplate what evil deeds to commit against the people of the Piedmonts. Payst attributes this foundation to the strong religious ideas of the Scotch-Irish immigrants who made their way to the State. No reason is given as to why these people should be a target for him, but there he walked in a circle debating and scheming what to do and tearing up the ground as he walked.
Listen to Episode 17…Trips, Triangles, and North Carolina Folklore
There is more than just barren land in the story though. Men and beast avoid the spot for reasons they can’t explain. People who have dared to try and stay there at night have left with terrible visions. It is also said that anything placed in the middle of the circle, living or dead, will be cast out by unseen hands. Some have seen unexplained lights, and like many sites like this one, people have reported seeing hooded figures, either dark souls or Satanic cult members, walking the circle and the surrounding woods.
If that was end of the story, it would make for an interesting tale. But there is more to the story. In the past few years, every trend in the paranormal has been used to explain the site or offer up a backstory for the unexplained. According to Payst and some others who have looked into the stories, over the years the story has shifted to aliens, a witchcraft hotspot, and an ancient Indian burial location. Each variation reflects the fears and the interests of the people who are making the story their own, evidenced by the newer idea that the spot is actually a vortex. Whether to keep the deep folklore alive or just to claim a little ownership in the story, the little patch in the woods transforms itself into what people want.
This, along with the idea of being pushed by unseen hands drew us to the site.
When we got there is a warm summer day with clouds and a slight breeze. It was not hard to find, especially considering the street is named for the legend. We set up a stationary camera to capture the whole thing and walked the perimeter of the circle. It was littered with garbage, convenience store cups, and beer bottles. There was a metal chair set up roughly in the middle and a makeshift fire pit. Someone had been there recently, confirming the Devil’s Tramping Ground as a party place.
We walked a ways into the woods and found evidence of other activity. There were animal bones scattered in different locations, proof of either cult activity or people wanted it to look like there was cult activity. Other than the bones and tarps, there was not too much to the area itself. We spent time in the circle itself to see if we could feel anything trying to get rid of us, but our feet remained firmly planted. Natalie had the idea to make a cross out of some of the local vegetation to see if it would get tossed from the circle. We stayed for about an hour, mainly to say we had been there, and made our way to the hotel to get some much needed sleep.
The original plan was to go back that night and see if we could talk to some of the people who partied there or even interview the dark forces, but we spent too much time looking for the hitchhiking Lydia and were not able to get back. A follow-up the next day revealed nothing else out of the ordinary and our cross was in the same place. In fact, after the being molested by ghostly redheads in Greensboro and getting new Pukwudgie reports in Indiana, the Harper’s Crossing and the Devil’s Tramping Ground felt mundane.
It was not until we reviewed the camera some time later that things got eerie. One of the things I noticed, and we had not talked about it at the time of the trip, was how little time we spent in the middle of the circle. Most of the time we were there was spent trailing the woods, but we seemed to unconsciously avoid actually being where the Devil was believed to walked. It was subtle. We had travelled 1,000 miles and didn’t spend much time in the middle.
You can’t put your hands on that kind of idea or hold it up. It could just be an overactive mind wanting to justify having touched a legend. The camera, however, picked something up which almost defines the eye. At one point the lighting completely changes (perhaps due to the clouds overhead), but then several odd noises are heard. These climax with a clear clanging of metal. At that exact moment, something flies through the frame and out of the circle. We have broken it down and determined it was not a bird and was too big, even in perspective, to be an insect or something else hanging out in the woods. This, mixed with the sound heard right before the movement, leads us to believe one of those beer or soda cans was kicked out of the circle while we played in the woods.
Like the legend itself, there is no clear cut answer to what we saw. The Devil’s Tramping Ground has exist for decades, and if every bit of folklore is born from some truth, there might be more to the story than just some dead vegetation and some odd lights in the woods. People will continue to tell their stories about the place, odd first hand accounts with their choice of background to give it context. The legend will continue because we want it to, but just when you think it’s safe to sit back and think of it all as just a story, a swift kick and clang might happen and make you rethink whether a ghost story, or even a tale of the Devil, has more fact than fable to it.
Listen to Episode 19…Tripping Carolina in My Mind
Listen to Conversations on Folklore with Craig Payst