Haunted Cary: The Phantom Horse of Academy Street
Cary’s scenic downtown district may seem cozy on an Autumn afternoon, so it may surprise you to learn that this historic place has its own collection of legends and lore. One haunting story, in particular, dates back to 1865, and ever since that time–even in the modern era of automobiles–people have occasionally claimed to hear the ghostly hoofbeats of a phantom horse, galloping down Academy Street.
As a connoisseur of history and legend, I was fascinated to hear this story from Kris Carmichael, director of Page-Walker Arts & History Center, which comes directly from Peggy Van Scoyoc’s book “Just a Horse Stopping Place.” The Page homestead was taken over by Union forces immediately following the Civil War in 1865.
The main house was used as a hospital for sick, injured, and dying soldiers. For three weeks, Colonel Oscar Jackson and his army occupied the homestead, much to the dismay of Cary’s citizens.
After his troops had time to rest and heal, Jackson made the command to move on. However, on their final night in the makeshift hospital, their youngest soldier passed away.
When the troops prepared their mounts in the morning, a soldier was tasked with leading the horse of his fallen brother in arms. Mysteriously, the horse had somehow escaped its ropes. No one ever found the young soldier’s missing animal companion.
Several years passed before the horse was heard from again. In the late 1860’s, Tom Sanderson was a stable boy at the Page-Walker Hotel. Although he was alone in the calm barn, all the horses suddenly began to panic, screaming and stamping their hooves. In the commotion, he heard the sound of hoofbeats outside, a horse galloping at full force, as if desperately escaping a foe or charging towards something.
Tom ran out to meet this rider, but the road was empty.
With a penchant for spooky storytelling, Tom imparted this haunting tale for generations of hotel visitors.
Years passed, and adherents of the story made a point to listen closely whenever they horses in the barn began wailing and stamping–always hoping to catch a glimpse of the ghost horse on Academy Street.
Since then, several people claim to have heard the riderless steed galloping through downtown Cary, searching for his master who died so long ago.
I was amazed to hear this tale, thinking I knew all the ghost stories and historic legends of the Triangle area. As it turns out, there are several spooky legends I’ve never heard of, re-enacted each year at Page-Walker Arts and History Center’s Haunted Tales of Yesteryear.
If you’re fascinated by the spooky, the historic, and the macabre, check it out on October 24th!
And be sure to listen for hoofbeats.