Saturday, August 13, 2011

Ghosts of Georgetown, South Carolina

While visiting Charleston a few weeks ago, I took a quick day trip to Georgetown, just up the coast. The drive from Charleston passes numerous roadside stands selling traditional sweetgrass baskets, marshes and haunted plantations like Hopesewee and Hampton. Driving into Georgetown on Highway 17, the first glimpse of the city is decidedly industrial. Turning towards town, the view changes quickly to broad, residential streets with sunlight dappled by the moss-laden ancient oaks that line the streets. The main street, Front Street, passes through a downtown of lovingly restored old commercial buildings filled with small shops, cafes and restaurants. (Be sure to check out Harborwalk Books, 723 Front Street, they have a marvelous collection of books on the region’s ghosts, certainly a better collection than I found in Charleston.) Just beyond the buildings, the Sampit River slowly winds its way towards communion with Winyah Bay. The residential streets beyond are lined with beautifully restored homes and the whole effect of the town is marvelously drowsy and quiet. The town seems lost in an aged and blissful dementia, unaware of time and the rush of the outside world. So many of Georgetown’s stories are just as timeless.

Sampit River just off of Front Street. Photo 2011, by Lewis
Powell IV, all rights reserved.

Georgetown is recognized as the third oldest city in South Carolina, though this is argued as the Spanish settled the area in the early 16th century, thus making it one of the oldest cities in the New World. Officially, the city was founded by the English in 1721 and served as a wealthy port city and center for agriculture in this fertile region. Initially, wealth flowed in from the trade in indigo, but following the American Revolution, cultivation of indigo was supplanted by rice which grew especially well in this wet, marshy area. By 1840, almost half of the rice produced in the United States was grown in this region and Georgetown became the largest port for the exportation of rice in the world.

The Civil War brought horrors to the country and a blockade to Georgetown’s port, though the war did not scar the city like its neighbor Charleston. With the loss of slave labor, many of the large plantations in the area struggled to produce the vast amounts of rice that had been produced before the war. Rice, once the port’s main export was replaced by timber and an International Paper plant gave a much needed boost to the local economy following the Great Depression. With such a large an intact historic district, the city has been able to capitalize on its heritage and now attracts tourists and retirees.

Many of the area’s ghosts have been documented by Elizabeth Huntsinger, now Elizabeth Huntsinger Wolf, in her three volumes: Ghosts of Georgetown, More Ghosts of Georgetown, and Georgetown Mysteries and Legends. Many of these stories appear to be old legends though a few have modern postscripts with activity that has been recently reported. Please note that many of these homes are private residences; please respect the owner’s privacy.

Beth Elohim Cemetery
400 Broad Street

Gate of the Beth Elohim Cemetery. Photo 2011,
by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.

The second oldest Jewish cemetery in the state, the Beth Elohim Cemetery contains graves of many of the most prominent citizens of Georgetown, including three of the six Jewish mayors. The legend associated with this graveyard involves Pauline Moses who, with her best friend Eliza Munnerlyn, had planned to be wed on the same day at the same time, though in different locations. Both girls contracted yellow fever and died a few days before the wedding. Subsequently, girlish laughter heard emanating from this cemetery, where Moses was buried, as well as the cemetery of Prince George Winyah Episcopal Church just across the street, where Munnerlyn is buried, is thought to be theirs.

Bolem House
719 Prince Street

Bolem House. Photo 2011, by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.

Possibly the oldest home in Georgetown, recent evidence has been discovered indicating that the Bolem House was originally constructed as a tavern. With the influx of sailors into the port, Georgetown would have had at least a few establishments to house and serve them. Residents of the house have since occasionally heard and seen the revenants of some of these long dead sailors. Huntsinger describes the surprise of a family member when he encountered a sailor on Christmas of 1993. The family member went into the kitchen and “encountered a very old man in an old-time sailor’s outfit, and he appeared to have no teeth. The man wandered around the kitchen, then into the hallway, never saying anything and looking somewhat displaced.” He asked the rest of the family if they had seen someone and they had not. Hopefully, the poor sailor will soon figure out where he needs to be.

Cleland House
405 Front Street

Cleland House. Photo 2011, by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.

Among the oldest homes in Georgetown, the Cleland House was built in 1737 and has seen a whole panoply of American history, some of it even passing over its thresholds. Among the notable visitors to this house are German Generals von Steuben and de Kalb; French General Gilbert de Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, who all aided the Continental Army during the American Revolution, and American Vice President Aaron Burr. The home was originally built facing the Sampit River, but later on the front door was placed facing Front Street.

The story behind this house reads very much like an old fashioned ghost story. Anne Withers, possibly related to John Withers who is listed on the historical marker in front of the house as one of the owners, had fallen in love with a dashing sea captain. After one of his voyages he returned to Georgetown and presented his fiancée, Anne, with a rare gift, an ancient Egyptian bracelet. The bracelet featured a series of scarabs, stylistic representations of dung beetles which symbolize the heavenly cycle of life. The blushing bride saved the bracelet to wear with her wedding dress. On her wedding day, she placed the bracelet on her wrist and carried on with her other preparations. Just as she was about to descend the staircase, the bride let out a scream and collapsed, dead.

When her family rushed to her side, blood was dripping from underneath the bracelet. When it was removed, the scarabs were found to have tiny legs that had dug into the bride’s pale flesh. The heartbroken sea captain left Georgetown soon after and in London had the bracelet examined by a chemist. The chemist discovered that the legs on the scarabs had been rigged to open by the warmth from human skin and each leg contained poison that would be injected into the hapless victim. He surmised the bracelet had been made to afflict the person who stole the artifact from a tomb. Ever since Anne Withers’ wedding day death, her form, still wearing nuptial white has been seen in the garden of the Cleland House.

DuPre House
921 Prince Street

DuPre House. Photo 2011, by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.

This house has in the recent past served as a bed and breakfast, but there was a large for sale sign in the yard when I visited a few weeks ago. An internet search doesn’t say if the inn is still open. I do hope that the little girl and the mother who have resided there since before the Civil War are okay. Guests in this home constructed around 1740 have reported seeing and hearing a woman and small girl who may have been victims of a fire in the house in the 19th century. In addition to occasionally smelling smoke, occupants have come face to face with the two spirits and have heard childish giggling and singing. At times, small footprints have even appeared in freshly vacuumed carpet.

Harbor House Bed & Breakfast (Heriot-Tarbox House)
15 Cannon Street

The Harbor House Inn from Canon Street. Photo 2011, by
Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.

Atop a bluff overlooking the Sampit River is the important Heriot-Tarbox House with a distinctive red roof that can been seen from Winyah Bay. Constructed around 1765, the house was later the home to a prosperous merchant who constructed the warehouse across the street along with a dock for merchant ships. It was here that the legendary Theodosia Burr Alston, daughter of United States Vice President Aaron Burr and wife of South Carolina Governor Joseph Alston stayed in 1812 before her ill-fated journey to New York. Her ship, the Patriot, disappeared during the voyage and spirits identified as her have been seen walking the coastline from here to North Carolina. Legend holds that her ghost has been seen in front of the house and near the warehouse just across Cannon Street.

A later resident had a daughter, who, like so many other local daughters, fell in love with a sea captain. Her disapproving father asked that the ship be anchored off the coast to protect his daughter, but the house’s position allowed the daughter to signal to her lover with a lantern in one of the top windows. The couple never married though the woman continued to hang the signal lantern hoping for her lover’s return. By the time the Civil War, her parents had died and the woman lived as a spinster surrounded by a pack of loyal dogs. She used the lantern hung in her high dormer to signal to blockade runners after the Union bottled up the bay. Not long after the war, the spinster grew more and more reclusive and one evening her dogs were heard baying through the night. Concerned neighbors broke into the house to find her body surrounded by her beloved dogs. Her wraith is still supposedly seen followed by spectral dogs while the light still appears in the dormer window.

According to Huntsinger’s version of this story the high dormer was later used during Prohibition to signal to rum runners. Part of me wonders if perhaps the story of the lantern in the dormer window is a product of the rum runners; a reason for locals to not question the odd signal light. Ghost stories are sometimes used to keep the curious at bay; perhaps this is at work in this house on the bay.

Henning-Miller House
331 Screven Street

Henning-Miller House. Photo 2011, by Lewis Powell IV, all
rights reserved.

This lovely, circa 1760 (some accounts state the house is circa 1800, which would make this story false), home boasts a helpful spirit on the staircase. During the American Revolution, British soldiers often imposed themselves on the hospitality of both Tory (British sympathizers) and Patriot families alike. The family living in the Henning House was Tory, but had a daughter with Patriot sympathies. Throughout the South Carolina Low Country, the British had chased Patriot hero, Francis “Swamp Fox” Marion through the swamps and marshes. One evening as the British were sleeping upstairs, of their officers overheard the daughter talking downstairs of Francis Marion being in town. He rose quickly and in his rush tripped on the stairs breaking his neck and killing him instantly. Since that incident, anyone losing their footing on the same stairs has felt a hand keeping them from meeting the same fate as that young British officer.

Prince George Winyah Episcopal Church
300 Broad Street

Prince George Winyah Episcopal Church. Photo
2011, by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.

Opened in 1747, the marvelous church of Prince George Winyah has served the citizens of Georgetown for centuries. For the legend surrounding the churchyard, see the above entry on the Beth Elohim Cemetery. I’ve also posted pictures in my other blog, The Southern Taphophile.

Pyatt-Doyle House
630 Highmarket Street

Pyatt-Doyle House. Photo 2011, by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.

This location was previously covered in my entry on Haunted South Carolina.

Rice Museum and the Kaminski Building
633 Front Street
Tower of the Rice Museum looking down Front Street. Photo
2011, by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.
Kaminski Building. Photo 2011, by Lewis Powell
IV, all rights reserved.

This location was previously covered in my entry on Haunted South Carolina.

Strand Theatre
710 Front Street

Strand Theatre. Photo 2011, by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.

The plot of land on Front Street has been occupied by a cinema since the Peerless Theatre was constructed there in 1914. The current building opened as the Strand in 1941. The Strand closed as a cinema in the 1970s and in 1982 the Swamp Fox Players, a local community theatre company took over the building; slowly restoring its Art Moderne glory. Almost immediately, company members began noticing the sounds of footsteps in the balcony. During a performance of an original show, Ghosts of the Coast, based upon a series of ghost stories and other haunting tales, actors leaving the theatre began to notice odd cold spots and the sounds of whispers began to emanate from the backstage area. The actors quickly summoned a local ghost hunter who blamed the occurrence on a scene in the show involving a hoodoo spell. While the cold spots and whispers have since ceased, the footsteps continue.

Waterman-Kaminski House
622 Highmarket Street

Waterman-Kaminski House. Photo 2011, by Lewis
Powell IV, all rights reserved.

Just next door to the Pyatt-Doyle House is the even earlier Waterman House, built around 1770. This house is home to two separate legends. One speaks of a little boy whose family left him in the care of the home’s owners while they journeyed north during the summer. The family was lost at sea and the little eight-year-old soon fell sick with grief and died in the house. His pitiful spirit is still seen occasionally.

The other legend concerns a young woman who fell for a faithless sea captain. He returned from a trip and presented his love with a vial of exotic perfume. After he left, the young woman watched him from a third floor window. On his way back to the port, he entered a tavern and soon emerged with another young lady on his arm and they entered a local inn. Distraught, the young woman drank the contents of the vial and died. Her sad spirit is said to still watch from the window on summer evenings.

Sources
Barefoot, Daniel W. Spirits of ’76: Ghost Stories of the American
     Revolution. Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, 2009.
Beth Elohim Cemetery. Find-A-Grave. Accessed 13 August 2011.
Georgetown Paranormal. “The Dupre House.” Haunted Places
     in Georgetown, SC. Accessed 13 August 2011.
Georgetown Paranormal. “Henning-Miller House.” Haunted Places
     in Georgetown, SC. Accessed 13 August 2011.
Georgetown Paranormal. “Legend of the Heriot-Tarbox House.”
     Haunted Places in Georgetown, SC. Accessed 13 August 2011.
Georgetown Paranormal. “Waterman-Kaminski House.” Haunted
     Places in Georgetown, SC. Accessed 13 August 2011.
Georgetown, South Carolina. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.
     Accessed 11 August 2011.
Huntsinger, Elizabeth Robertson. Ghosts of Georgetown. Wintson-
     Salem, NC: John F. Blair, 1995.
Huntsinger, Elizabeth Robertson. More Ghosts of Georgetown.
     Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, 1998.
     Encyclopedia. Accessed 13 August 2011.
Roberts, Nancy. Southern Ghosts. Orangeburg, SC: Sandlapper,
     1979.
Turnage, Sheila. Haunted Inns of the Southeast. Winston-Salem, NC:
     John F. Blair, 1995.
Wolf, Elizabeth Huntsinger. Georgetown Mysteries and Legends. Winston-
     Salem, NC: John F. Blair, 2007.
Workers of the Writers’ Program of the Work Projects Administration
     in the State of South Carolina. South Carolina: A Guide to the Palmetto
     State. NYC: Oxford University Press, 1941.

10 comments:

  1. I am the founder and lead investigator of a new local ghost hunting/paranormal group. We have been looking for places to investigate. If you know whether or not the owners would welcome an investigation please contact me. priceless1974@hotmail.com

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    2. have one you can look into for me. While I was working for Midway Fire Rescue I made numerous trips to Georgetown Memorial Hospital, usually late at night or early in the morning. On three occasions I saw a young black male in the ER. He is slender in build, appears to be 18 - 22 y/o and his eyes are empty, he just has two white orbs where his iris should be. He seems to be milling around with no particular attachment to any one in the ER, patient or otherwise. He always seemed to be there on nights the ER was extremely busy and there was a high volume of critical care patients. On one occasion I attempted to speak to him, but he never acknowledge me. After transferring the patient to the care of the ER, I went around the ER looking for him. I asked if anyone had seen him, but no one had. I went to the ER waiting area and he was not there. The time between the transfer of the patient and coming out into the ER each time was 2 - 4 minutes. I want to know if anyone has seen this young man. These occurances took place between 2005 and 2007. Gunny at searches4fire@gmail.com

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  2. A wonderful account of haunted Georgetown and her ghostly past! And thank you for referencing my books (Ghosts of Georgetown, More Ghosts of Georgetown, Georgetown Mysteries and Legends) by name. We also have a tour, Ghosts of Georgetown Lantern Tours (www.ghostsofgeorgetown.com)so that we, dressed in colonial pirate, Victorian mourning, or antebellum/Civil War attire, can guide you to the above sites by kerosene lantern-light while telling you the stories of the ghosts that, in their long-ago lifetimes, lived there.
    Cheers,
    Elizabeth Huntsinger Wolf

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  4. Is this true?????
    I'm dying to know.

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    1. As far as I know, everything is true and the sources are provided at the end of the article.

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  5. Hi Lewis, my name is tom... I was wondering if it would be possible to use 3 or 4 of your photos on a friends one page ghost tour I'm building for her... If possible maybe even use bits and pieces of your stories along with the photos.. I hope to hear from you soon.. Thanks

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    1. Can you please email this request to me? My email is southernspiritguide@gmail.com.

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    2. Hi Lewis, I just sent you an email....requesting permission to use a few of your photos. thnaks

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