PAWLEYS ISLAND — Almost as long as mainlanders have traveled to this narrow island for beach vacations, they've told each other stories of the Gray Man, a specter who warns of oncoming storms.
The stories vary somewhat in each iteration. Mostly he is seen walking the beach, though sometimes on the porch of a beach home or in the window of an inn. He is, as his name suggests, gray, though it's unclear whether that's from the surf on a stormy ocean or because of a link to the Confederate Army.
His mere presence is typically the warning that a hurricane approaches, but in one telling by the author Nancy Roberts, who wrote extensively about ghosts in the Palmetto State, a voice with an urgent warning emerges from the ephemeral figure, telling a young woman to flee her family's beach house.
With each major storm of the past 130 years or so, stories of the Gray Man crop up, said Cary Mock, a climatologist at the University of South Carolina who studies historical cyclones. He said the reports got far more common after 1954's Hurricane Hazel, a major storm that struck the Myrtle Beach area — that may be because there were more alleged sightings, or it may be because the legend was common enough that reporters thought to ask.