Spirits of Weymouth: Stories Tell of Curious Happenings at the Home of the Boyds
James Boyd did not believe in ghosts. Old letters written to Boyd show that early on, people could sense an intangible energy at Weymouth that some could only describe as “unforeseen forces.”
Though Boyd promptly responded that the idea was absurd, that hasn’t stopped guests in his home over the last century from encountering some otherwise unexplainable occurrences.
With its sprawling grounds, whimsical architecture and a guest list of lauded literary figures, Weymouth is the ideal setting for a good ghost story.
Southern Pines native and local historian Ray Owen has heard several stories suggesting there was something about the property that couldn’t quite be defined, and he’s even experienced it himself.
“What I can say from my direct experience is that there is a power to this place,” he says. “Anyone who comes here feels it, and it’s something that’s very positive. I’ll say that up front because there’s nothing scary about this place.”
Growing up, Owen often found himself at Weymouth, traipsing through the woods around the property or visiting the various guests there.
His relationship with the home began in a time of transition, after Katharine Boyd, James Boyd’s widow, bequeathed the property to Sandhills Community College, and Friends of Weymouth was still organizing to try to purchase it.
Around that time, Owen heard the story about a local woman who had committed suicide by shooting herself on the second story porch overlooking the home’s original front door. The woman was a guest of the Boyds, and her death was not widely publicized in the community.
“Apparently there was no wrongdoing associated with it, but it was a person who was troubled,” he says. “It was a very tragic thing.”
Owen heard the story from three people who had all had an inexplicable experience at Weymouth that they believed was related to this woman’s death. He hesitates to name those involved because they are still living in the area.
At the time, students and professors often stayed at Weymouth periodically for insurance reasons. The three were staying there when they awoke to what sounded like a shrieking scream one night.
“It was not a screech owl,” Owen says. “It was not natural. It was quite loud, and you couldn’t quite tell where it came from.”
The students ran outside to find the source.
“They all heard it, and then they were all shocked [to find each other outside],” he says. “They were almost embarrassed.”
Owen has also heard stories from former classmates about their stay in Weymouth’s gatehouse many years ago, where they often heard voices.
“They would be in a room, in the middle of the day, and they would hear people talking in the next room,” he says. “Then they would think, ‘Well, who came in?’ They’d go in the room, and there would be nobody there.”
The students heard the voices so frequently that at least one moved out. Similar stories have been told about the main house as well.
Owen’s love for Weymouth developed out of his friendship with former publisher and editor of The Pilot and poet laureate of N.C. Sam Ragan, whom he spent hours with talking about literature, art, philosophy and history at the house.
“After he died, I did not come back [to Weymouth[ for a long time,” he says. “That happened to a lot of people. We just felt like we weren’t connected anymore to the place.”
Owen returned when a group invited him to come speak about growing up in Southern Pines and his connection to Weymouth. He was speaking in the home’s library when someone asked him about the various people who had been a part of the house’s history.
“As I was talking, I really was getting caught up in telling the story, and all of a sudden, all the doors throughout the house slammed at the same time,” he recalls. “It was so strange. It went, ‘Boom!’ It happened simultaneously.”
He remembers feeling a strange energy in the room as everyone looked at each other with cautious confusion.
“You could feel it,” he says. “All of a sudden the pressure in the house dropped off all at once.”
Owen admits the occurrence could be explained by some natural cause, but he still sees it as something much more curious.
“What was so strange was that I was talking about all these people that were connected to this place when it happened,” he says. “And I always liked that it happened that way. It actually, for me, made me feel closer to the place — like I got to see the ghost.”
Beyond the Gates
The Boyds no longer hold court over the tract of land now known as Weymouth Heights next to the home, but that hasn’t prevented stories of strange occurrences in homes there from spreading as well.
Sightings of apparitions have been a common story in the neighborhood, Owen says.
In one home, the presence of a little girl has spooked several maintenance repair workers over the years, so much so that many will not return to the house.
“The owner doesn’t tell people, but it happens all the time,” Owen says. “He’s never seen it, but many people tell him the same story. If you go in her room, she’ll let you know she’s there.”
Owen has also heard stories of “Alice,” a dancing apparition that entertains at one home.
“She dances on the balcony and comes in and wakes people up,” he says. “I’ve heard this story over and over again in all different forms, and it’s always the same thing. It makes me think, ‘What is going on there?’”
Owen has not heard stories of apparition sightings at Weymouth, but he has sometimes felt the sense of someone else walking with him around the house, especially down the long hallway.
“I’ve been here before where the hair on my arms would stand up and I would feel very electric,” he says. “I look around and I would just go, ‘Hello?’ I’ve just gotten used to it.”
The feeling has been so strong for some writers in residence staying there that at least one left early because of it. However, that same feeling is a major draw for one writer who loves coming to Weymouth.
Playwright June Guralnick proposes that feeling at Weymouth is the “aggregation of creative energy” from the numerous individuals who have stayed there.
“I know nothing of ghosts,” she says. “It’s not like I hear weird voices at night, but that being said, I think there is something special in the house. There’s a good energy in that house.”
Guralnick has stayed there several times as a writer in residence. She finished her latest play there last summer thanks to all of that creative mojo.
For her, Weymouth is more than a place to write; it’s a sanctuary.
“I think that’s exactly the atmosphere [Boyd] wanted to create for the writers,” she says. “A real welcoming atmosphere, a place of creativity and nurturing, and I think the house still has it.”
Guralnick loves Weymouth so much that in 1992, she got married there.
“I’m happy when I’m there,” she says. “It’s really simple. I feel at home there, and that’s probably why it’s a good place for writers.”
During her stays, Guralnick works during the night, mostly on plays, but also on work that is “outside my own box,” as she puts it.
“Perhaps the ghosts are watching me and laughing,” she says jokingly. “I get up, walk around my room, walk down the hall … I hope I’m entertaining them! They certainly are giving me good energy.”
Sam Ragan first introduced “Way-mouth,” as she remembers his Southern drawl, to her early on in their friendship. Memories of Ragan intertwine with memories at the house, so much so that they are hard to separate.
“Every time I’d go there when he was alive, he’d come and see me, and we’d drink coffee and catch up,” Guralnick says. “The house and Sam were connected for me in some really substantial ways.”
It took Guralnick more than 10 years to return to Weymouth after Ragan’s death, but since she has returned, she is convinced that he is still there in some capacity.
“Honestly, I think Sam’s in that house, I really do,” she says. “It’s something of him in there just as there are a lot of the people who made that house so special. I love it.”
One evening, Guralnick did not feel so alone when she heard “a lot of creaking” and other inexplicable noises. She was the only person in the house.
“It was definitely noisy,” she says, laughing. “I just heard a lot of strange stuff. At first, I was scared, but then I thought, ‘No, no, this house has been OK.’ I just went with it. Who knows? Passing winds through the gables, wood shifting — it could be anything.”
The experience inspired her to write a piece that night called “In a Place Only Books Can Know.” At the end, she wrote: “For Sam Ragan, upon my return to Weymouth — you are still here.”
Guralnick hesitates to pen a definite analysis of what happened that night.
“I don’t believe or disbelieve because I don’t know,” she says. “I can only say what was.”
The Southern Pines Psyche
Owen isn’t sure what is behind all of these stories surrounding Weymouth, but he believes whatever is there is something good.
“I’m not definitively saying that the place is haunted,” he says. “I’m describing an experience I had that could have been natural, but whatever it was, it left me with a good feeling. What’s the harm of that?”
“Everyone has their muses,” he continues. “That’s how I see it. It’s more of a feeling when I come here. Sometimes, I come here and write, and I feel inspired. To me, that’s healthy. I think, to focus too much on things like that, I don’t know. It seems troubled to me.”
Owen surmises that the “presence” felt could simply personify the intrinsic link Southern Pines has always had to the legacy the Boyds left behind.
“When you ask people about what they love most about coming here, a lot of times, it’s something that they left behind for us, and it’s pretty strong,” Owen says. “That’s why it’s special. It’s not just material culture, but it’s the actual society that we have as a result of what they did.”
Contact Hannah Sharpe by email at hannah@the pilot.com.
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