My older brother and his family live in Charleston, SC. I was sad to see them move out of state, but I never mind going down to visit them. Charleston is consistently rated as one of the top destinations in the world for a reason.
After 24 hours of great food, a gorgeous boat ride, and an excellent beer garden (with a dog park attached – brilliant!), we ventured to historic downtown Charleston for a walking ghost tour.
There are many different options for ghost tours in Charleston. Some of them are walking tours and others are by horse drawn carriage. Any of them will be worth your time, because Charleston is one of the most haunted cities in America.
After a quick – and I mean quick – cocktail at the Bar at Husk, our twilight tour met in front of the Gibbes Museum of Art. (Side note: the Bar at Husk does NOT have Miller Lite, and you will rightfully be met with judgment by the bartender if you ask because you’re late for your tour and you just need a quick beer. It’s a great bar with great drinks, so treat it accordingly. I found out the hard way. I recommend getting bourbon.)
Our tour guide was friendly and knowledgeable, and we found out she had only been giving tours for a couple of months. She also seemed to be more interested in the history side more than the ghost telling aspect, which I felt lessened the creepy factor.
This was my third time on a Charleston ghost tour, so none of the stories were surprising. That doesn’t make them any less interesting nor the city less beautiful. We began our tour at the Unitarian Churchyard. We’re told that the wildflowers and plants among the gravestones are purposely allowed to grow free, so it appears to be overgrown and neglected. Very spooky. Our tour guide tells us a love story of a 14 year old girl named Anna Ravenel and an 18 year old sailor from Virginia named Edgar. Anna’s father discovers the relationship and forbids his daughter to see the sailor. Soon, Edgar is transferred and shortly after that Anna dies from yellow fever. Even in death, Anna’s father is determined to keep the pair separated, so he moves Anna’s body and to this day it is unknown where she is actually buried. The best part? We learn that the sailor was Edgar Allen Poe and Anna is believed to be the inspiration for his poem, “Annabel Lee”
Across the street from the Unitarian Churchyard is the Charleston Library Society, which apparently features a “Blood Book” and the ghost of one Mr. Hinson, a major contributor to the society.
Our tour moves to Poogan’s Porch – everyone’s favorite Charleston ghost story (including my seven year old nephew and me). Poogan’s is a fantastic restaurant that used to be a private residence. The restaurant is named after a dog, Poogan, who used to lay on the front porch of the house in the 1970s. Some say Poogan still sleeps on that porch to this day. You can even see Poogan’s grave marker in the front yard of the restaurant, where he was buried.
The other spirit in Poogan’s is Zoe St. Armand, who lived in the house with her sister in the early 1900s. After the unexpected death of her sister, it is reported that Zoe became incredibly lonely and depressed. She was sent to a local psychiatric facility as her mental health deteriorated until she died in 1954. However, many believe Zoe’s spirit returned to her home to search for her sister. She has reportedly been seen over 200 times in a long black dress. What I find particularly interesting is that the ceilings of the porches at Poogan’s are painted “Haint Blue” which is a Gullah superstition to keep evil spirits away by tricking them into thinking it’s the sky. Another fun fact is that the shutters of the furthest left window on the side of the second story are always shut. This is because many people from the hotel across the street have seen Zoe banging on the glass.
After Poogan’s we strolled to Washington Square, where we heard the story of John and Lavinia Fisher. The fisher’s story is quite ghastly but often exaggerated. They resided at the Six Mile House in Charleston, which was an Inn for weary travelers. According to legend, Lavinia would send the travelers to their rooms with poisoned tea. To make sure they were dead, legend states that John Fisher would pull a lever that would flip the bed and send the bodies to him, where he would mutilate them. The true story seems to be that Lavinia and John were part of a gang of outlaws and were charged and hanged for highway robbery. However, Lavinia’s final words are INCREDIBLY chilling:
“If anyone has a message for Hell, give it to me, and I’ll carry it!”
Our tour guide claims there is an urban legend that says if you walk around Washington Square three times, Lavinia’s ghost will appear. She even went as far to say that a member of a recent tour was scratched on her back after doing this. Obviously I had to find out for myself, so my brother and I rounded the park three times. We were not harmed. Where were you, Lavinia?
We passed briefly by the Trott House, where we heard the story of the Pirate Blackbeard and Judge Trott. Pretty interesting to think about all of the pirates hanging out there doing pirate things back in the day.
Our last stop was at St. Philips Church, a GORGEOUS structure in the heart of Charleston. We learned about the history of the cemetery there and the body of John C. Calhoun. John died in Washington and was buried there, but was moved to west cemetery of St. Philips Church. The west side of the cemetery was reserved for members of the parish who were not born in Charleston. The eastern graveyard is home to folks who were in fact Charleston natives. During the Civil War, Calhoun’s body was moved to the eastern graveyard to prevent it from being tampered with by union soldiers. After the war, it was decided that John’s body should be moved back to the western cemetery side. In the 1880s, the body was moved yet again to the massive monument that now bears his name. Poor guy – you should be able to rest in peace!
St. Philips is also where the famous photograph of the ghost of Sue Howard Hardy was taken.
Whether or not you believe in spirits, a ghost tour is a great way to learn the history of any city while enjoying some spooky tales along the way. We had a blast on the tour and ended the night with phenomenal tacos at Minero and some fabulous cocktails at the Gin Joint (just don’t order the Havana Affair if you don’t like vermouth).