"Charleston is an extraordinary place. There is a deep connection between the residents and nearly three hundred and fifty years of history, and those ties between daily life and the distant past are strengthened by the occasional glimpse beyond the veil."
-- James Caskey, Charleston's Ghosts: Hauntings in the Holy City
Established in 1670, Charleston boasts a wonderfully rich and diverse history. However, its storied past also lends itself well to ghost stories and whispers of supposedly haunted dwellings.
If you're vacationing in Charleston and love a good ghost story, then you're in for a treat this Halloween season. There are plenty of options for you to experience the chilling tales of restless spirits and see Charleston's haunted hotspots up close -- if you dare ...
Lavinia Fisher -- the First U.S. Female Serial Killer
Serious ghost hunters have, no doubt, heard of Lavinia Fisher, the notorious criminal who is considered the United States' first female serial killer. While every Charleston ghost tour talks about Lavinia Fisher, each version of the story varies.
What is generally agreed upon are the basics. Lavinia Fisher and her husband, John Fisher, ran a hotel called the Six Mile Wayfarer House. The Fishers would invite lone travelers into the inn, poison their tea with laudanum, and stab them in their sleep.
They were finally caught by the Sheriff after a terrified guest managed to escape the inn and tell the gruesome story. The Fishers were arrested after bodies were found on their property, and they were held in the Old City Jail until they were sentenced to hang on February 4, 1820.
According to the legend, Lavinia's last words were, "If you have a message you want to send to hell, give it to me, and I'll carry it!" before she jumped off the platform and was strangled to death.
Her ghost is said to haunt the Old City Jail, and guests have reported seeing Lavinia's ghostly image roaming around.
The Mournful Ghost of Sue Howard at St. Philip's Cemetery
Visit St. Philip's Cemetery at night, and you may see a ghostly woman bent over a grave, crying. This restless spirit is said to be the ghost of Sue Howard Hardy, who died six days after giving birth to a stillborn child.
In 1987, exactly 99 years after Sue Howard's death, a photographer visited the cemetery for a story about Charleston's graveyards. After developing the film, he noticed one photograph showed a ghostly woman clearly mourning in front of a gravestone.
He sent the photograph to Kodak, which could not prove that it was a fraud. This photograph is often passed around on ghost tours, and many pregnant women report feeling sick when they pass near her grave.
Dine with the Ghost of Zoe St. Amand at Poogan's Porch
If you're hungry for more than a good ghost story, then head over to Poogan's Porch for some she-crab soup or shrimp and grits. This charming culinary establishment was built as a grand Victorian home in 1888 and named after the Southern dog who stayed behind after his owners sold the home and moved away.
Why is Poogan's haunted? Legend has it that a spinster schoolteacher named Zoe St. Amand roomed at the Victorian home with her sister Elizabeth. The sisters were incredibly close, and when Elizabeth passed away in 1945, Zoe was said to be depressed and lonely. She was taken away by concerned neighbors to spend the rest of her days at St. Francis Hospital, and her body is now buried at St. Lawrence Cemetery.
However, her spirit is said to reside at Poogan's Porch. Zoe is perhaps the most frequently sighted ghost in Charleston and is often spotted in broad daylight. Diners have reported feeling someone brush up against them when no one is there, while guests staying at the Mills House Wyndham Grand Hotel have seen Zoe in the windows above the restaurant and have even called the police to investigate.
The Gentleman Pirate at the Old Exchange Dungeon
Dungeons are inherently spooky, and Charleston is one of the few cities in the United States to boast a historic dungeon from the 18th century. The Provost Dungeon beneath the Old Exchange Building is said to be haunted by those who were once incarcerated there.
Visitors claim to hear crying and moaning in the dungeon, while others witness lights swinging back and forth for no reason. Many people believe the ghost of Stede Bonnet is to blame.
Stede Bonnet, a captain under the infamous pirate Blackbeard, was born to wealthy English parents on the island of Barbados, and is thus known as "The Gentleman Pirate." In 1718, Bonnet was captured along with his crew by Colonel William Rhett.
His crew was imprisoned in the Guard House at the Half-Moon Battery (the site of the Old Exchange Building), but Bonnet—being the “gentleman,” was held in the house of Marshall Patridge. Bonnet managed to escape, but he was caught on Sullivan’s Island and was publicly hanged on December 10, 1718.
Dock Street Theatre
This performance arts theatre is still active today and has had a tumultuous past. In addition to surviving fires and earthquakes, the nearly 300-year-old theatre is said to have a few ghosts hanging around.
One of these ghosts is said to be that of famous actor Junius Brutus Booth, the father of John Wilkes Booth, the man who assassinated Abraham Lincoln. The other is Nettie Dickerson, a 25-year-old spinster-turned-prostitute who was electrocuted by a lightning strike as she hung out the theatre’s balcony window.
Unitarian Church Graveyard
With its overgrown plants and ancient tombstones, the Unitarian Church Graveyard is beautiful in a wild sort of way. Perhaps this is what enchanted famous poet Edgar Allan Poe to make it the resting place of his fictional character, Annabel Lee.
In the eponymous poem, Annabel Lee’s father disapproved of her seeing a sailor (the narrator). Each night, they would meet at the Unitarian cemetery in secret. When Annabel Lee died of yellow fever, her father was determined to keep them apart and refused to let the sailor know where she was buried. Many people have spotted Annabel Lee’s ghost wandering around the cemetery, still searching for her lover.
A city with a long and turbulent past is bound to have its fair share of restless spirits, and Charleston is no exception. If you’re looking for a ghostly experience this Halloween season, the Holy City won’t disappoint.