American Horror Story brings more attention to the Lost Colony

Shows sixth season featured Roanoke Island ghost story

Chip Henderson—photo courtesy of Visit NC
The Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse in Manteo

OUTER BANKS, N.C. — Viewers of the FX horror series “American Horror Story” have been treated to a variety of topics during the series’ six-season run: a haunted house, a creepy mental asylum, a coven descended from the Salem witches, and more.The show’s current season, which ended Nov. 16, brought North Carolina into the AHS canon with a wild story of the Lost Colony: murderous ghosts, a family of cannibalistic recluses and a reality show/found footage theme that took the show in a totally new direction.One direction it didn’t go in was to the known history of what happened on Roanoke Island.”As the researchers that are doing the archaeology — we call ourselves the First Colony Foundation, not the Lost Colony — the whole Lost Colony concept has already gone down that road as making it sort of a fantastic, mythological thing,” Eric Deetz, one of the archaeologists with the foundation, said. “It’s part of a collective mythology of early America.”One would think Deetz, part of the team that recently uncovered more pottery pieces thought to be from the colony’s 16th century camp, would find American Horror Story’s tales of a dead-raising “blood moon” and an autocratic colonist-turned-vengeful spirit known as The Butcher (played by Kathy Bates, a regular on the show since its third season) a detriment to his pursuit for the truth about what happened on Roanoke Island.”I think you can’t get too serious about things,” Deetz said. “As archaeologists, we spend all of our careers trying to prove minute facts, and it’s really easy to get tunnel vision and be grumpy or dismissive about stuff that plays fast and loose with the story you’re trying to research.”It’s not the first time Deetz has had popular culture impact his historical fact-finding.”I was working at Jamestown when the Pocahontas movie came out,” Deetz said. “And it was pretty funny because everybody, all the news crews, came trundling out to Jamestown to hear us bad-mouth the movie because we were the experts.”But Deetz said the 1995 Disney film, while taking liberties with the facts, created an interest among child fans of the movie to find out the history of their new-found hero.”Before, families would come to Colonial Williamsburg, which is six miles up the road [from Jamestown], and the daughters would go to have an American Girl tea party or something and they’d go see where Thomas Jefferson lost his toothbrush or whatever,” Deetz said. “But they didn’t really have a national consciousness about Jamestown. And we saw an increase in the visitation that was very real. And it was mostly, anecdotally, kids dragging their parents to go see Jamestown because they saw the Pocahontas movie.”Bill Coleman, CEO of the Roanoke Island Historical Society which produces the Outer Banks staple “The Lost Colony” play, also thinks any attention American Horror Story brings to the North Carolina mystery is a plus, even if the sensational version presented on television is nothing like the play’s dramatic interpretation of history.”Our show is not about ghosts 450 years later,” Coleman said of “The Lost Colony” production, which will celebrate its 80th season next year. “And it’s fiction, entirely fiction, what they’re doing. Obviously our show, we know some facts, but it’s been written as well to dramatize these folks’ lives, and we don’t know any of that either. I think anything that piques the interest of the general population about the Lost Colony is good for us.”The addition of American Horror’s Story surreal jaunt through Roanoke Island is just the latest layer in the myth of what happened to the 118 people who seemingly vanished from the settlement.”There is a lot of questionable science people have come up with in the past concerning the Lost Colony, whether it’s the Dare stones or a lot of other things,” Deetz said. “And stuff that’s sort of portrayed as legitimate research I think we’re a little more critical of.”But something so far-fetched as a ghost story on a cable TV network, just have fun with it. It should be a win-win.”