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The Moon-Eyed People.
Strapped in for security, the Moon-Eyed People were hidden from the public until 2015.

The Moon-Eyed People

Field review by the editors.

Murphy, North Carolina

"'They're aliens from outer space.' People always say that," said Wanda Stalcup, director of the Cherokee County Historical Museum. She disagrees, but generously concedes that everyone has a right to their own opinion, because no one really knows what they are.

The Moon-Eyed People and Wanda Stalcup.
Size comparison: Moon-Eyed People and museum director Wanda Stalcup.

They are two creatures, three feet tall, carved from a block of soapstone centuries ago by laborious "pecking" with a harder rock. They're conjoined, like Siamese Twins, with dished-in faces, no arms, and round eyes too big for their heads. They were found while clearing land in Murphy in the early 1840s, but only went on public display in late 2015, after decades of being hidden away in private hands. They look like nothing else ever found in the Southeast.

The Fairy Crosses.
Tears of The Little People became Fairy Crosses when they hit the ground.

What they are, according to the most popular theory, is only slightly less bizarre than space aliens: they're an effigy of The Moon-Eyed People -- a race of crypto-humans that were blinded by daylight but able to see in moonlight. They lived in what is now western North Carolina centuries ago. "They were a legend of the Cherokee," said Wanda. "The Moon-Eyed People were supposed to be people who only came out at night. They were light-skinned and had big blue eyes."

Red-eyed doll.
Louise Kilgore's creepy red-eyed doll.

There are competing theories, as usual. Some claim that the effigy merely represents two local rivers, or a human man and woman. Others suggest that they might be Melungeons, descendants of Welsh adventurers who supposedly landed in Alabama 1170 AD. Still others say that figures are not The Moon-Eyed People at all, but The Little People, whose fallen tears turned into cross-shaped stones (which are also on display in the museum). Wanda concedes that it's all a little confusing. "When you look at them, everybody determines something different in their own mind," she said.

The Moon-Eyed People aren't the only odd creatures in the Cherokee County Historical Museum. Upstairs are hundreds of dolls, donated by a local woman named Louise Kilgore, who had so many that she kept them in their own double-wide trailer. "She got married," said Wanda, "and her husband felt bad because she had left her dolls to come with him. So he told her she could buy any doll she ever wanted, and she did 'till the day she died."

We asked Wanda if any of the dolls were haunted. She laughed and said that everybody asks that question, and directed our attention to a doll with eerie red eyes. "Some people don't like the looks of it," said Wanda. "Some people say, 'Eeeee! I ain't going near there!' But if people are a little wacky, that's their favorite doll."

The Moon-Eyed People

Cherokee County Historical Museum

87 Peachtree St., Murphy, NC
Cherokee County Historical Museum. Downtown, next to the Cherokee County Courthouse. The Moon-Eyed people are downstairs, the dolls are upstairs.
M-F 9-5 (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
Adults $3.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Home of the Possum DropHome of the Possum Drop, Brasstown, NC - 5 mi.
World's Largest Ten CommandmentsWorld's Largest Ten Commandments, Murphy, NC - 12 mi.
World's Largest Amish ChairWorld's Largest Amish Chair, Blairsville, GA - 18 mi.
In the region:
The Torchbearer, Knoxville, TN - 60 mi.

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