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‘American Horror Story’ comes to N.C. and references a real-life mystery

John White discovers the word ‘CROATOAN’ carved at Roanoke’s fort palisade.
John White discovers the word ‘CROATOAN’ carved at Roanoke’s fort palisade.

The rumors appear to be true: “American Horror Story” is tapping into North Carolina’s infamous “Lost Colony” story in its sixth season, which premiered Wednesday night on FX.

Producers had kept this season tightly under wraps before Wednesday – no cast photos, no screeners to critics, no hint of what it was going to be about. But some had speculated that the real-life story of the Lost Colony was involved after TMZ posted photos from the California set that featured the word “CROATOAN” carved on a tree. That was the only clue left behind when more than 100 people disappeared without a trace on North Carolina’s Roanoke Island in 1590.

We didn’t see that tree in Wednesday’s premiere, but there were plenty of other references to the Lost Colony. (Caution: Spoilers ahead.)

The episode, subtitled “My Roanoke Nightmare,” is told in a documentary fashion and claims to be based on a true story. Young couple Shelby and Matt (played by Lily Rabe and Andre Holland) describe their story in first person to the camera, while it is reenacted by actors Sarah Paulson and Cuba Gooding Jr. (Yes, the Marcia Clark and O.J. Simpson from FX’s “The People vs. O.J. Simpson” are now playing a couple.)

I know that the producer, Ryan Murphy, is very interested in the Lost Colony story.

Laurel Anne Darden, marketing coordinator of ‘The Lost Colony’ outdoor drama in Manteo

After encountering violence in Los Angeles, Shelby and Matt decide to move to a heavily wooded area along the North Carolina coast. (Hmmm, Roanoke Island?) There, they buy an isolated and creepy old house for an obscenely low price at an auction. (Beating out some local “hillbillies” and “ZZ Top wannabes” as Matt calls them. Why have the N.C. natives got to be toothless caricatures?)

That’s when the weird, haunted house-type stuff starts happening, mainly to Shelby, who is left alone a lot when Matt travels to Raleigh on business. (He also claims Raleigh is only two hours away from this Roanoke Island-esque home. Um, not quite.)

After plenty of scares in the house, Shelby flees in her car, only to hit a woman (Kathy Bates) dressed in pioneer-looking garb. (As someone from the doomed Roanoke colony of 1590 likely would.) Shelby follows the woman deep into the woods (as a sane person obviously would), but the woman seems to disappear. There are other people in the woods, though, who appear to be some sort of cult members with torches. And there are creepy little stick sculptures that seem like something from “The Blair Witch Project.” And there’s a guy who looks like he has the face of a pig.

Shelby then falls down and appears to be getting sucked into the ground. The episode ends.

So is this the setup for “American Horror Story” offering its explanation, in the nine other episodes this season, for what happened to the Roanoke Island settlers? Stay tuned.

“I know that the producer, Ryan Murphy, is very interested in the Lost Colony story,” Laurel Anne Darden, marketing coordinator of “The Lost Colony” outdoor drama in Manteo, told The News & Observer last month.

“American Horror Story” airs at 10 p.m. Wednesdays on FX.

Thad Ogburn: 919-829-8987, @thadogburn