Currituck County Tales and Legends
The Devil's Drum
Contributed by Robert Etheridge
Some of the fondest memories of my childhood are of those frosty winter nights when my mother, Elizabeth Sawyer Etheridge, and I would sit around the stove and she would tell me a story about her life in Currituck County. She had dozens, perhaps hundreds, of these stories. Some were scary ghost stories and some were tales of the people that inhabited the county at the beginning of the twentieth century. Some were about unexplained phenomena. The tale below is about one of these unexplained events and I call it:
The Devil's Drum
It was a time that was both very long ago and just yesterday. Currituck County in the first years of the twentieth century must have been a very different place than it is today. There were no jet planes flying overhead leaving contrails and noise behind them. There were no five-laned highways with automobiles and trucks spewing pollution and even more noise. On a clear, starry night there were no yard lights, streetlights or haze to obstruct your view of the heavens. On those nights you could truly see forever as you gazed toward infinity.
On a windless day you could hear a Mockingbird singing from the church steeple over a mile away and sometimes the Atlantic Ocean's surf could be heard breaking from across the Currituck Sound. On such quiet days, and on very rare occasions, an ominous sound could also be heard. Some described it as the muffled sound of distant thunder, but not continuous. Veterans of the War Between the States said it was more like the sound of distant cannons. Eventually it was agreed that it sounded like a huge bass drum.
The sound's direction could not be pinpointed. Sometimes it seemed to come from the west and sometimes it seemed to emanate from the ocean. There were many discussions about its direction, but none about its meaning. The sound of the “Devil beating his drum” was always seen as a portent of tragedy. My mother swore that she heard it three times and two times deaths were reported within a few days. The third time she heard it a tornado slashed across the county causing much destruction. Her father told her he had heard it many times and sad news always reached his ears shortly thereafter.
Death was always close to the people of Currituck in those days. Cynical folks will say that these disasters were going to happen with or without the drum's warning. This may be true, but that does not explain the drum itself. I believe that such a sound was heard and its origin was never discovered.
There has been some speculation that the drumming sound heard those many years ago might have been the result of two great Atlantic Ocean currents that come close and sometimes collide at Diamond Shoals near Cape Hatteras. There is a great crashing sound at certain times when conditions are right and, if the atmospheric conditions are also right, it could result in that sound being bounced up and down until it reached Currituck. This may be possible, but the drum has not been heard for many, many years now and yet the great currents are still crashing together out there in the Atlantic.
Perhaps we will never know what the origin of the drum was and perhaps that is for the best. All I know is this: If I am in Currituck County and hear a drumming sound and I know that it is not a sonic boom, I am going to seek shelter and stay there for quite a while!