Phantom footsteps in the woods (Paranormal Investigation of Eno River State Park and William B. Umstead State Park)

I’ve been told that if I were in a horror movie, I would die first. Anyway, here's a look at some solo paranormal investigations I did in two North Carolina state parks: Eno River State Park in Durham and William B. Umstead State Park in Raleigh.

Graphite style art of tombstones in the woods of Eno River State Park

I’ve been told that if I were in a horror movie, I would die first. But can I help it if I'm curious, chaotic, and solitary? Anyway, here's a look at some solo paranormal investigations I did around Halloween 2021 in two North Carolina state parks: Eno River State Park in Durham and William B. Umstead State Park in Raleigh.

Highlights include:

  • phantom footsteps
  • a breath on my neck while I was alone
  • an abandoned house in the woods
  • a solo Estes session in an environment where I was being told fairly clearly that I wasn’t wanted

Download the episode here or listen anywhere you get podcasts.

Episode script

Today, you’ll learn some of the reasons why I’ve been told that if I were in a horror movie, I would die first. Though in my defense, when the nice lady told me where the abandoned house in the woods was, I didn’t go. I just did an Estes session in an environment where I was being told fairly clearly that I wasn’t wanted. If I could go back, I might have done things differently.

The trip

Before I get into the Estes sessions and EVP sessions that I did in these two parks, I want to talk about this trip to North Carolina that I went on in October/November 2021. If you listened to my episode about my sleep paralysis experience in Scranton, you’ve heard me talk about how I think that the emotional state that you’re in really affect the paranormal experiences that you have. And this trip was a weird one. When I think back on it, it’s literally hazy and strange feeling, like I’m remembering a memory that’s way older than less than two years ago.

My wife and I flew down from New York to Raleigh, North Carolina, because my sister was trying on wedding dresses. We were there just for a long weekend. It happened to be Halloween weekend.

Also, I’m not sure that this is relevant, but our own wedding anniversary is November 2, which was right after we left North Carolina. So there was some personal significance to this time period, both in terms of my sister going through this big rite of passage, trying on wedding dresses, as well as it being right around the time when my wife and I got married. And I think everyone knows by now that the time around Halloween is thought to be very liminal, the veil is supposed to be thin, and strange things are supposed to be afoot around that time.

On top of all of that, several really bad things happened while we were in North Carolina. My wife and I both had deaths in the family: my wife’s grandma died, and my great aunt — who is really more like my aunt, I knew her pretty well — died. On top of that, and unbeknownst to me, because I’m not perceptive, on the day that my sister tried on wedding dresses, she was in an immense amount of pain. And that night, she ended up having to go to the hospital because she had pancreatitis.

So the general vibe on this trip was somewhat stressful and everyone was upset, rightfully so. It was still really nice to see everyone, and my sister found a wedding dress, miraculously, but I wouldn’t say that it was a trip that went well.

So, naturally, I decided to go for a couple solo hikes and to some paranormal investigation. Why not?

Umstead State Park

On October 28, 2021, I went for a hike in one of my favorite places, William B Umstead State Park, which I talked about a couple of episodes ago. While I was there, I did an Estes session. I sat in the middle of a creek on a large rock near the Sycamore Trail and Potts Branch Trail, not far from the parking lot near the trailhead; maybe 10 or 15 minutes away from there.

I had a pleasant session, that had a few interesting things in it, so I’m gonna play it here. [Explain it a little.] Check out the Solo Estes Method episode for a very detailed description of how I’ve adapted it for my own use when I’m alone.

Also, you’ll see some funny questions thrown in, like “do you like flowers?” I add those to throw myself off when being the receiver. (I don’t want all the questions to be about being a ghost, because then it might prompt me to hear what I want to hear.)

This clip is a little over five minutes long, but it was originally a bit longer. I’ve deleted some of the long pauses of silence during this session, but I haven’t deleted or rearranged any of the questions or answers. The original audio had long stretches of silence and airplane noise, since the park’s near the airport.

[play audio]


  • When the recording asked “Is there someone who did wrong by you in life?” it responds “mind your back.”
    -  When the recording asked “Are you sad?” it responded either Fordham or portal, both of which had meaning to me. (For my many complicated feelings about Fordham University, check out my series about that, which I was working on at the time. And if it wasn’t Fordham, it seems to me like it wanted to take me through a portal and show me something—maybe whatever they were sad about, especially because the next response is “come with me.”)
    -  I got the responses “he’s there” and “blue” as a man in a blue shirt walked by on a nearby trail; I wonder if it was narrating that.
    - “What do you wish you could do?” and the response “Wound”
    - “What is your name?” I hear a man’s voice say “hello,” and it sounded really close.
    - “Were you a prisoner?” I got the responses “love,” “this has been,” “everything,” “and family prayer.” To me, this has the vibe of talking to a wise older person giving me advice, and they’re saying that love and family can get you through the hard times, when you feel trapped and imprisoned. (It was interesting how I felt like I heard “family prayer” directly in my mind rather than through my ears/the spirit box.)

Here were the impressions that I wrote down after the session:

it really seem like there was an intelligence at work in this session. It seemed like there was a person or family destroyed by love affairs, maybe starcrossed ones. The conversation about the trail seemed gentle, but they wanted to warn and protect me (“mind your back.”) I felt that they could see a portal into time that I couldn’t (during the “are you sad?” answers.) It was funny when it started narrating the man walking by. I think they’re trying to comfort me with the normal and well-adjusted part.

But that was all I had when it came to William B. Umstead State Park. The same can not be said for Eno River State Park.

Eno River State Park

The first time I visited the Cabelands cemetery — or tried to — in November 2020, I wasn’t able to find it. It’s not far from the parking lot, but it’s off trail, and it was a little bit confusing to try to figure out where the trail was. There were two different things that look like they could have been the trail, one of which was piled with sticks perpendicular to the path, so I thought maybe that wasn’t it (though spoiler alert, it was), and the other thing that I thought might’ve been the not-trail trail that led to the cemetery was just nothing, I guess.

So I have two people to thank for being able to find the cemetery in 2021.

The first is Alex Matsuo, who you might know on social media as the spooky stuff. She posted a picture of the cemetery on Instagram and I DMed her and said I tried to visit the cemetery, but I wasn't able to find it, so could she please give me directions. Now, I did have directions, from the, but for whatever reason, even with that drawn map, I wasn’t able to figure out exactly how to get there. So I literally got a picture I had taken from the parking lot in December 2020, labeled the different paths leading away from the parking lot and was basically like is it path A or path B. And she very graciously answered my questions.

Alex has a writeup on her website about the park, which I wanted to read a bit from:

This location is near where I live, and it’s probably one of the most active places I’ve been to. This little cemetery is easy to miss if you’re not paying attention while you’re on the hiking trail. While there are only 12 markers, it’s believed there are actually 51 people buried here. The nearby Cabe homestead is also a hotbed of activity. My team and I did an extensive investigation in the area right before COVID-19 hit, and funny enough, we kept getting responses from a spirit that was obsessed with geese. They just kept saying, “Goose. Geese. Goose” repeatedly. Others who have visited this spot have also reported seeing shadow figures and feeling the presence of multiple people. We also heard phantom voices, and strange feelings around the Eno River.

The second person who helped me out was a mysterious stranger in the park. When I was first dropped off at the parking lot by the Cabelands, there was only one other person around, a woman about my age who was walking her dog. She had forgotten her dog’s leash, so she was going to hike off trail. It was North Carolina, so people are very friendly there, so she and I got to talking and I told her I was trying to go to the cemetery, so we walked there together. I was telling her about how I hadn’t realized that this was the right path to the cemetery, because of all the branches and fallen trees that have been laid across the path. She said that they — I assume that people who run the park — had put those there to try to discourage people from going on path, since it wasn’t the main trail.

I stayed at the cemetery and she went on. But a little bit later — no more than 20 minutes, I would say — she came back by the cemetery. I had just been recording a little bit before starting an EVP session, and I had just stopped recording, so I could have the EVP session on a different track. And I was really bummed that I had stopped recording right at that moment. But she told me about some weird stuff she found in the woods, and then right after she left, I recorded a quick recap of what she told me. It’s nothing paranormal, but it definitely was creepy and sort of set the tone for the rest of the day for me.

I’m gonna play the audio file. A couple things to keep in mind: I was whispering at the beginning, because she had just left the cemetery area, and also you’ll hear leaves crunching as I walked around a little bit. I really should have stayed put, because the leaves were very loud, but I didn’t think of that. So sorry about that.

[Audio file of me talking about a weird cabin or encampment that she found in the woods, as well as a deer blind.]

So, here I was, alone in the woods, wondering who else was out there. I am generally very comfortable in solo hikes, but the vibes felt a little bit off in the cemetery, and just being told that by the only other person I’d seen in the area that day was a little bit weird. It would be another two hours or so before I saw another hiker.

For the record, there are the ruins of some old houses and cabins in the area, but I looked at a map and as far as I can tell, it's:

It’s possible that there is another ruin that is older than it seems in the area. I am not sure, because spoiler alert, I decided not to investigate the abandoned place where someone had been living or the deer blind. It was all well and good for this woman, because she had a big dog, but I decided that I didn’t need to check it out that time.

So then I did EVP session. I am not a huge fan of EVP’s in general. I have talked about this on a prior episode, though don’t ask me which one, because I can’t remember, but I just have a lot of hesitancy around EVPs because it’s easy to hear what you want to hear, and also my hearing is terrible, so I always listen to things and think, well that’s probably not anything.

I’ve only ever gotten one really good EVP, which I do talk about in the Hawthorne Hotel episodes, which were some of the first episodes of the podcast I did, but because of some technical and also other mysterious reasons, the EVP was crystal clear why was listening to it in the hotel room the morning after I got it, but after that it was almost completely inaudible on the phone I had recorded it on. So I don’t quite understand what happened there.

But I decided to do an EVP session to see what I would get.

So I recorded a quick intro, before asking questions. Right off the bat, the recording has some weird sounds that I couldn’t account for, but I don’t know that they were paranormal.

Then, about 5 minutes in, I hear footsteps. You can’t hear them in the audio, but here’s my description at the time. [play clip]

The footsteps seemed to be coming from behind and to the right of me, from the southeast.

Then, about seven and a half minutes in, my right ear just popped. That was the ear that was facing in the direction that I’d heard footsteps from. At the time, I’d been crouched down, taking a picture of a tombstone. It was a bit odd, because my ears don’t pop particularly often. And I believe that popping ears are usually caused by pressure changes, so that felt worth noting.

I hadn’t been aware of this, but apparently other people have reported having their ears pop during EVP sessions and spirit communication in general. But it could have also just been a coincidence.

-  reddit thread about popping ears and the paranormal

-  article about atmospheric pressure and the paranormal

Around 8:45, the wind picked up and a ton of leaves started falling all around me. It was very dramatic. Then, around 12:24, they slowed down suddenly.

Then I did an actual EVP session, asking questions about the area, the families who’d lived there, etc.

As usual, I didn’t really get much in terms of EVPs, but there were two notable moments:
1) I asked “Are you happy that I’m here visiting you?” and all of a sudden, it got a lot darker, as if a cloud had passed over the sun.
2)  I asked “Would any of the McCoys or the Cabes like to tell me about their life, or what they think about me visiting here?” After that, on the recording, the background noise of falling leaves and wind got a lot louder for about 20 seconds and then faded back to normal.

Then I got set up for the Solo Estes session. While I was walking over to the place where I wanted to do it, a leaf hit me right in the face, which struck me as a little funny. Then, I talked on the recording about how, a couple days before, at Umstead State Park, I hadn’t felt the need to have the recorder on very much.

But I got a really lonely and almost desolate feeling at the cemetery, so I kept the recorder running, probably just so I had an excuse to talk. I didn’t feel terrible (I felt much worse by the end of the hike), but in the cemetery, I said I had a sense of “not being entirely alone, but also [being] lonely.”

You can listen to a detailed description of how I do Solo Estes Sessions in the episode that I did about that last year, but I modified my method a bit here. I decided not to use the noise-blocking Vic Firth headphones, because to use them, I’d need to take off my glasses, which I wasn’t comfortable doing. Plus, I wanted to hear some background noise for safety reasons. So instead I just used my regular earbuds.

Same deal as before with this clip: I’ve deleted silence, but nothing else. Just to give you a sense of how much silence I cut out: this was a 20-minute session and the edited clip is a 6.5 minutes long.

Also, while you’re listening to this, there may be some moments where you feel like I should have stopped. But remember, in my defense, that I had no idea which questions were being played, since they were pulled from a randomized/shuffled list of more than 100 questions that I recorded.

[start playing session]

[cut in at 00:00:35 to explain that the question I was talking over was “What do you think of me?”]

- when it felt like someone was maybe breathing on me (on my right side again), though I try to play it off as the wind because I was getting a bit freaked out (In my notes after the session, I describe it as a “localized puff . . . rather than a breeze.”)
-  There’s a moment that I kept in, where I ask “have you ever considered the possibility that you are a ghost?” and then the wind picks up a lot and then I hear an alarm and then someone shouting through the spirit box.
-  When I ask the very inflammatory question “if you have any sort of supernatural or ghostly powers, have you ever attacked anyone using them?” I get the answer “here” and “young man.”
-  When I ask “are you mad?” I get the answers “me,” “open,” “a few,” the wind picks up again, and then I get “following you” (which I initially misheard as “Halloween”) and “someone.” I did look around a bit after that, and I didn’t see anyone else around.
- I’ve noticed before that sometimes when I mishear a word, I hear it again, as if whatever I’m communicating with is correcting me or confirming the word. That happened with “forward” in this session. (Which was said four times, almost consecutively.)
- At the point that it said “that will do” and “get out,” I, an empath (/s), was beginning to suspect that I was not wanted there.
- And then when the recording asked “are you happy?” I got the response “unpleasant,” then I heard a man’s voice talking across different channels, and then I heard “now” twice.
- After that, I got a really strong mental image of a white woman with a two or three children (in clothes from the 1930s or earlier), and she was waving them forward, telling them to come on or hurry up; they seemed leisurely, like they were going on a picnic. Of course, no one was there. (I feel them to my right again. I believe all of the things that happened to my right side occurred when I was facing west.)
- The “New York” and “you know where” felt like they were addressed to me, since I was visiting from NYC.

  • The “do you like people?” answer of “no” or “move” was somewhat blunt.
    -   It’s a bit hard to tell, since I was clarifying the no/move thing around the time that this question was asked, but the recording asked “Are you searching for someone or something?” and it said “a fight.”
    - the final question is “Is there anything you that you want to tell me?” and then I turn off the recording with questions, and then I get “I know you let me in,” which was slightly creepy.

In my notes after the session, which I wrote down later that evening, I had this to say:

during the session, I was creeped out and kept my gaze mostly fixed on the east, where the woman said the encampment was. Throughout, I swiveled some, trying to keep my eyes out on the environment around me in general.
Responses seemed somewhat sinister. The shouts, the insistent “forward” (I assume telling me to keep going), hearing shouts. The man’s voice, distant and fading in and out of audibility. The breath on my neck, the mental image of the woman, and before the session, my ear popping, all occurred from the west. Was that just because I wasn’t facing that way?
Or was the encampment of red herring to get me to look away from the direction. All in all, it isn’t the most enlightening session, but I definitely feel that something paranormal was afoot and active.

I asked my wife, who wasn’t there, but was very sensitive, what she thought of the session, and here’s what she said:

there is a lot of sadness there, and something wants to move on (“forward”). Something happened to the children, who they couldn’t protect.

I’m not sure that I agree with my wife here, but I also don’t necessarily agree with myself here. I feel like I was kind of trying to downplay things in my notes, because listening back to the session, I was surprised at some of the stuff that came up. It wasn’t enlightening, in terms of learning about the history of the area, but I definitely feel like something paranormal was going on, which is very interesting.

After the session, I did another recording just talking about my thoughts. I don’t always do that, but because I was feeling so shaken, I just wanted to keep talking and feel less alone. So here’s what I had to say then. It was still weirdly dark as I left the cemetery. Throughout the whole session, I kept having the feeling that I would look around and see someone looking out through the woods at me, probably because of what the woman said. I made the decision not to did investigate the abandoned shelter. As I was leaving the cemetery, from the opposite side that I entered it, I saw that someone had tried to block the path out by cutting narrow trees just above the roots, so that the trunk was still attached to the root area, and the whole tree lay over the path. So again, it looks like they’re trying to obscure the trail. After that, I got back to the real trail, but I got a little bit turned around, even though I had been on that trail before. They go just a little bit shaken. But then I continued on the Laurel Bluffs trail toward the pump station trail.

I did end up doing another EVP session later on, by the ruins of the chimney that was just off the trail. But I didn’t really get anything, because there was too much background noise, with the wind and crunching leaves.

I hiked about seven more miles after my Estes session, and I definitely felt worse and worse throughout the day, emotionally. I felt a little bit unsettled during the session, but as time went on, I felt lonelier and lonelier. I mentioned that I saw almost no other people, because it was a Monday, not part of a holiday weekend or anything. By the time I was done with the hike, I was about as unsettled as I often am when I go to a certain part of the Hellgate here in Astoria, Queens. If you want to know more about that, check out my episode about Randonauting and the despair meme, where I talk about that.

It’s also worth noting that this was the day after Halloween. Not sure if it had any effect on my feelings or experiences.

Last time, I said that I would share other accounts of Eno River State Park's hauntings that I found online. I'm just going to drop those into my next newsletter.

Listen to the rest of the series

Additional sources