'AHS: Roanoke' Draws From 16th Century History

by Caitlin Flynn

Maybe I'm not as brave a soul as I wanted to believe, but the premiere of American Horror Story: Roanoke left me significantly more creeped out than I expected. Yes, I'm aware that it's not an actual documentary — but, as Ryan Murphy fans know, the anthology series often throws in certain creepy events and characters that are all too real. (Remember that real-life "serial killers party" episode last Halloween? I'm still trying to permanently erase it from my memory.) So, although I love that Murphy is shaking things up this season, the documentary style has me a bit on edge. The Season 6 premiere of the anthology series felt like a throwback Wednesday to The Blair Witch Project, an episode of Ghost Hunters within AHS, or a combination of the two. The completely confusing episode left me with many questions, but my most pressing one is how much of AHS: Roanoke is based on a true story?

At this point, many fans are feeling more confused than usual after the premiere. (*Raises my hand*) Sure, there are always multi-layered mysteries within the show — but, this time around, Murphy has gone to great lengths to make the actual plot itself top-secret. During the premiere week, there was even some confusion about whether or not there would a new "nightmare" each week rather than a season-long arc — and the promo for the Sept. 21 episode didn't air until hours after the premiere concluded. So, at least now we know that Matt and Shelby will be our protagonists all season long. The premiere threw in pretty much every eerie plot device possible — a bathtub attack, a dramatic rainfall of teeth within the couple's home, and that classic horror movie moment when two characters hear noises and head straight into the dark basement to investigate.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that the premiere was pure fiction — because if a person experienced all of the aforementioned events, then fled into the woods only to discover twig people hanging from the trees and guys wielding pitchforks and torches, I would hope this incident would be heavily documented and reported. But, I must digress because we have a whole season ahead of us — and, since Roanoke Island is a real place with a storied history and Murphy likes to mix fact with fiction, we've gotta prepare ourselves for some eerily accurate scares.

So, what's the deal with this place? Back in the 16th century, a group Algonquian people resided in Roanoke Island — then the townspeople disappeared en masse in 1590. Although there's no shortage of theories about the occurrences in what is now known as The Lost Colony, there's no conclusive explanation for what happened to the colonists.

The theory that's arguably most realistic was put forth by National Geographic in December 2013 — either disease, violence, or another crisis struck the colony suddenly, forcing the colonists to disperse. Because over 100 people inhabited the Lost Colony, they couldn't have traveled together to find a new community that would have been able to accommodate everyone. Therefore, it's likely they separated and headed in a variety of directions — which explains why archeologists haven't stumbled upon 100 sets of human remains in one location.

Although the concept of an entire town disappearing into thin air is super creepy, it seems highly likely that a crisis is indeed what drove the colonists away. But, since none of this can be definitively confirmed, plenty of supernatural-based theories abound. Case in point — there's a theory that aliens are responsible for the disappearance of the colonists, and its proponents argue that it's just as plausible as all the other theories out there. And, unsurprisingly, there are plenty of people who believe that Roanoke Island is haunted — specifically by the ghost of Virginia Dare. According to legend, she still inhabits the island in the form of a white doe — and both locals and visitors claim to have spotted her.

I highly doubt that American Horror Story is going to suddenly turn into a faux documentary about historical facts and archeological digs — so it seems far more likely that the season will wholeheartedly embrace the idea of a town haunted by ghosts. (Were those people in the woods even alive?) And, aside from those reports of harmless white doe sightings, Roanoke Island is a perfectly safe area to inhabit these days. In fact, Outer Banks vacationers flock to the site because it has turned into a major tourist attraction complete with a museum and live summer performances that reenact what may have happened there.

It'll be interesting to see where Murphy takes the storyline from here, but at this point it seems like he honed in on one extremely creepy ghost theory and will use artistic license to turn it into a season-long fright fest. So, if you were planning a vacation to the Outer Banks, there's no need to avoid Roanoke Island at all costs — you can rest assured that a rain shower of teeth and creepy twig figures in the woods will be impossible to find.

Images: FX (2)