It’s fitting to meet the duo behind Arcane Carolinas at the heart of a cemetery.
Surrounding our makeshift interview location are grand graying obelisks, headstones dating as far back as the early 1800s, and humble monuments in various stages of decay.
Of course, amongst the dead are plenty of young and very much alive students walking to and from class: the cemetery sits directly between a medium-sized residence hall and a massive complex of intramural fields at the mouth of UNC-Chapel Hill’s campus.
It’s fitting to meet the duo here because the idea that folklore, legends, and the downright weird exist directly under all of our noses is at the core of Arcane Carolinas, which started as a podcast in the fall of 2020 and has since grown to include live events, trading cards, a fanzine, and even an apparel line featuring trademarked shirts and hats.
“There’s a nice little gazebo in a cemetery that has an interesting story right on campus,” Charlie Mewshaw, one of Arcane Carolinas’ founders and hosts, tells me when I ask where we might meet up.
The cemetery is a little plot of land I pass nearly every day and not far from Chapel Hill’s most famous landmark of sinister lore, Ghimghoul Castle.
“This place was started when a student died in the late 1700s,” he says as we walk amongst the cemetery’s tombstones. “And the university realized they needed a place to put corpses in times of pestilence.”
Michael G. Williams, Mewshaw’s partner in the podcast, points to an entirely separate section of the cemetery where many of the enslaved people who built the university were interred, often with only wooden crosses or flowers to mark their burial sites.
The pair often explain things in tandem, both eager and excited to outline the history that lives beneath our feet.
Mewshaw and Williams worked together in the information security department at UNC for two years before realizing they shared common ground. After a spate of departures from the department, the two often found themselves alone in the office, talking over their adjoining cubicles. Soon, they realized they both had a passion for the unexplained.
And while Mewshaw’s obsession was forged watching shows like The X-Files as a young boy in Raleigh and Maryland, Williams was born and raised in a part of Appalachia where storytelling, legend, and lore were deeply interwoven with daily life.
“I grew up in a place rife with belief in the weirdest, bloodiest serrated edge of the supernatural,” Williams, an award-winning writer of work aimed at LGBTQIA+ readers of horror and science fiction, said in an early podcast episode.
Mewshaw and Williams launched their series with a 25-minute episode about a longstanding rumor that the devil often wanders the woods surrounding Bear Creek, a small town about 40 minutes southwest of Chapel Hill.
From there, the community around Arcane Carolinas grew fast, soon clocking around a thousand downloads each week.
With a laugh, Mewshaw describes the podcast as “Ghostbusters meets Mythbusters meets Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.” He follows that up with a more detailed explanation of the vision he and Williams share about how important storytelling is to Southern culture and how respect for the source material is paramount.
But in a way, Mewshaw’s elevator pitch is the perfect diagram to describe his and Williams’ budding mini-empire: they seek to not just uncover the strange and often spooky history that exists everywhere—if you just look a little bit deeper—but also to honor the people and places that are integral to these stories.
There are ghosts and there are myths, and they’re kept alive by the locals who remember and retell those stories. That’s something Mewshaw and Williams make a point to recognize in each episode.
“Wherever possible, we’re going to try and promote the local businesses and culture of the town and county that our story comes from,” Mewshaw said at the top of the podcast’s first episode.
“One of the things we’re trying to do is not just celebrate the history of North Carolina and South Carolina but also to celebrate the places that are there right now,” Williams added.
Both are quick to note that while chasing the stories behind these often-unexplained phenomena is fun, it’s the discovery of our shared history and the way storytelling functions as a universal coping mechanism that drives so much of their passion.
“The South is a haunted place, but a lot of the haunting isn’t ghosts,” Williams says. “It’s being aware of what our ancestors did and what a lot of our contemporaries continue to do.”
To date, Arcane Carolinas has published over 50 episodes, exploring legends like sea monsters off the Outer Banks, UFO sightings along the coast of the Carolinas, and vampires in Appalachia.
And while the podcast is currently focused on North and South Carolina, Mewshaw and Williams hope to someday grow the scope of Arcane Carolinas enough to highlight legends and lore nationwide, not unlike the beloved legends-and-lore magazine Weird NJ, which originated in, but expanded beyond, New Jersey.
An Arcane Carolinas book is in the works and convention appearances are on the schedule. Later this fall, they’ll publish a limited-run series of episodes focused on legends they’ve been sent by their community of listeners. Mewshaw and Williams have also been in talks with a few production companies about the possibility of taking their podcast to a television audience.
And though they have been approached by a variety of podcast networks, Mewshaw and Williams prefer to remain independent in an effort to reach as many people as possible.
“Wider distribution is more important than running ads about cereal or razors or whatever,” Mewshaw says.
For now, the pair will continue to chase the legends, the fairytales, the phenomenal and the mysterious, the unexplained and the inexplicable, all while furthering the tradition of Southern storytelling with an air of curiosity rather than authority.
“In this space of the unexplained, there are a lot of people trying to present that they understand things that can’t be explained,” Mewshaw says. “And it’s very important that we make sure people know that we are not claiming to be the keepers of some hidden knowledge.”
“A lot of people are out there trying to sell secret sauce,” Williams adds, “and secret sauce is always snake oil.”
Support independent local journalism. Join the INDY Press Club to help us keep fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle.
Comment on this story at email@example.com.