Tag Archives: South Carolina Ghosts

A Strange Haunting on Edisto Island

The locals tell a strange ghost story down on Edisto Island, SC. It is one of the most horrifying and heartbreaking tales you will ever hear. It is the story of the ghost of Julia Legare.

The Legare family owned a plantation on Edisto Island in the time before the Civil War. Their family mausoleum is located on the grounds of the Edisto Island Presbyterian Church, built in 1831. The Church is still active, and the mausoleum still attracts visitors to this day, over 150 years since the night that poor little Julia Legare was laid to rest.

Or, so they thought she was laid to rest.

In those days it was common for families to lose children to illnesses that today are easily cured. And the rest of the not-so-modern medicine of the day also left a lot to be desired, such as the ability to tell whether or not a person was dead or just in a deep coma. Turns out it was the latter for little Julia Legare.

A victim of Diphtheria, Julia was pronounced dead by the physician brought in by the family. No heartbeat or breathing could be detected and due to the primitive level of mortuary science practiced during that era, with no embalming or other form of preservation possible, her thought-to-be dead body was rushed to interment in the family mausoleum. The family paid their respects and with heavy hearts sealed and locked the door of the mausoleum.

Years later when Julia’s older brother was killed in the Civil War, the family once again had to open the mausoleum. What they found horrified them.

Lying on the floor of the mausoleum just inside the door were the crumpled remains of little Julia. Only bones and tattered clothing remained. Claw marks could be seen on the inside of the door and on the walls and floor where Julia had tried in vain to escape after coming out of her Diphtheria-induced coma.

The family, now more consumed with grief than ever, placed Julia’s brother in the mausoleum, gathered up Julia’s remains, reinterred them next to her brother and then resealed the mausoleum.

And then the hauntings began.

When the family returned shortly after resealing the mausoleum, they found the door had been reopened. They closed and locked the door only to return several days later to find that it had once again been reopened.

Distraught and confused, the family then had the door removed and replaced with a heavy stone slab. But that too was found pushed to the side several days later. After a few more attempts, the family gave up and left the door to the mausoleum open. And that is how it remains today. Since the discovery of poor little Julia’s fate, no attempt to keep the mausoleum door sealed shut has been successful.

The Edisto Island Presbyterian Church. Photo by Charles N. Bayless

So if you’re ever down on Edisto Island just south of Charleston, stop by the cemetery at the Edisto Island Presbyterian Church. There you will find the Legare family mausoleum. And just inside the open door you will see the claw marks left by the hands of a little girl unwittingly entombed long before her time, whose ghost still stands a lonely vigil to ensure that the door to her family’s mausoleum remains open so that no one will suffer the same fate as she did over 150 years ago.

The Old Charleston Jail

Windows above the main entrance to the jail.

Located on Magazine Street in one of the oldest parts of Charleston, lies the Old Charleston Jail. Built in 1802 and operated until 1939, the jail hosted its share of notorious criminals over the years, not to mention a slew of Civil War prisoners and those caught up in the slave revolts of the time. Given this distinguished guest list it is not hard to believe that the Old Charleston Jail is haunted. Just ask anyone who has visited the place.

An old illustration on a wall inside the prison of how to properly hang a condemned man.

In its heyday the Old Charleston Jail was not only used to house violent criminals, it was also used as a place to execute them. Out in the jail’s backyard visitors can see the remnants of the old gallows, including the small shed that was used to hide the iron weight that served to break the neck of the condemned man unlucky enough to find himself on the wrong end of the rope. Instead of falling through a trap door like with most gallows of the day, the condemned man stood on the ground with the noose around his neck. A trap door underneath the iron weight was then triggered and the falling weight did the dirty work. Great skill on the part of the executioner had to be employed when choosing the amount of slack played out in the rope. It had to be based on the weight of the person being hanged. Too much slack and the iron weight would yank the head clean off of the condemned man, which tended to horrify the onlookers. Too little slack and the weight would not do its job in a humane way, resulting in the condemned man suffocating while he danced on the end of the rope. Again, this tended to horrify the onlookers.

An old abandoned wheelchair in one of the old cells.

One of the most notorious criminals housed at the Old Charleston Jail was a woman by the name of Lavinia Fischer, who is believed by many to be the first female serial killer in the United States. At least the first one ever caught, anyway. She and her husband were both convicted of highway robbery, which at the time was a capital offense, and hanged in 1820. The legends differ as to whether or not Lavinia Fischer ever actually killed anyone. But nonetheless, her ghost is said to still wander the halls of the Old Charleston Jail.

One year while on vacation, my family and I visited the Old Charleston Jail on one of the ghost tours operated in the area. As with any ghost tour there were strange sounds and Old jail 3other creepy occurrences that we all took with a grain of salt. The tour guide’s job was to entertain us and he succeeded greatly at it, scaring my kids out of their wits even though we all knew that any real ghosts would not be so punctual as to conveniently show up during a ghost tour. But as I walked through the darkened hallways of that old jail, I asked myself what it would be like to be alone in those rooms in the dead of night, with no one else around. No tour guide, no fellow tour takers, no one.

The Old Charleston Jail as it appears today in the daylight. It has a much different appearance at night.

Something told me that if I had found myself in that kind of situation, with no one else around, that I might have found out the hard way that no one is ever alone when they are inside the Old Charleston Jail.

Old Harold’s Ghost

Back in the late nineteen eighties I had to good fortune to make my living as an elevator mechanic. The company I worked for had service contracts with dozens of old textile mills all across the Carolinas and some of those mills were almost a hundred years old. My fellow mechanics and I worked hard to keep the old freight elevators in those mills working as best we could, and oftentimes this meant driving to some remote small town in the middle of the night to troubleshoot and repair a downed elevator.

Rock Hill Printing and Finishing Co. in its heyday. Photo courtesy of Bill Wornall.

Late one night I was called to an old textile mill known at the time as Rock Hill Printing and Finishing. It was a huge textile mill in the town of Rock Hill, South Carolina that at one time had probably colored and printed enough fabric to clothe half of America. But by the late nineteen eighties it was on its last leg. Huge portions of the mill were sitting idle and as I walked along carrying my tool bag through a portion of the mill that was no longer in use I couldn’t help but feel that I had been transported back in time to a bygone era. That part of the mill was dark and musty and I swear I could feel the wandering souls of the former workers moving in the shadows around the abandoned machinery.

The elevator I had been called to work on was an old freight elevator that was over fifty years old. Once I fixed the problem, which turned out to be a broken door interlock on the 3rd floor, I decided to go to the basement so that I could check the elevator’s machine room. I wanted to make sure everything was okay so that I wouldn’t have to come back again later that night.

I didn’t think anything about going down into the basement as far as ghosts were concerned. My old man had always told me not worry about the dead, and that it was the living that I needed to watch out for. I thought about this as I rode the elevator to the basement.

The basement of an old textile mill in the middle of the night it not a place for the fainthearted, but it didn’t really bother me. I had seen countless machine rooms in dark basements and it was just something that came with the job. When I stepped off the elevator into the basement I closed the safety gate and doors so that the elevator would be able to respond if it was called from one of the floors above me.

Once in the machine room I opened the elevator controller, which for this particular elevator was an ancient contraption full of chattering relays and lots of wires. I knew better that to dust off any of the relays, touch any of the old components or otherwise disturb anything in the controller unless I absolutely had to. Old freight elevator controllers are temperamental animals that prefer to be left alone. I wanted to hear the pump run so I took the pencil out of my shirt pocket and used the back of it to push in the 1st floor call relay. The pump roared to life and promptly sent the elevator on its way.

The machine room fell silent as soon as the elevator reached the 1st floor. Out of the corner of my eye through the open door of the machine room I could see the heavy steel doors of the elevator. Unlike passenger elevators doors, freight elevator doors open up and down, not side to side. I could see the call button on the wall to the right of the closed doors.

Just as I was about to look back at the controller the hallway call button lit up. This was followed by a loud click as a relay on the control board energized to open the valves. I listened to the hissing noise as the oil began to drain into the tank as the elevator slowly descended to the basement.

Something had called the elevator to the basement. I looked at the energized basement call relay and knew that I hadn’t touched it with my pencil.

I walked out of the machine room and over to the steel doors. I could see the elevator car through the small window on the upper door. It was empty. I walked back into the machine room and used my pencil to push in the 3rd floor relay. Once again the pump roared to life and the elevator took off to the 3rd floor. Once it was there the machine room again fell silent.

To my surprise, the call button on the wall lit up again and the elevator returned to the basement. I stood there dumbfounded. As I had done before I used my pencil to push in another relay, this time sending the elevator to the 2nd floor. But the elevator didn’t stay at the 2nd floor for even a minute before the basement call relay clicked shut right before my eyes. I looked out of the machine room door to see the hallway call station button glowing brightly in the dim light of the basement.

I spent the next two hours trying to figure out why the elevator kept coming back to the basement. I unfolded the old wiring diagram and checked every circuit possible before finally giving up. The elevator was working fine but for some unknown reason it wanted to stay in the basement. It was late and I was tired and wanted to go home. I had no idea why the elevator was behaving like it was and I made sure I told this to the lady in the tool room on the first floor that had the job of signing my service ticket.

“I could have saved you some time, young feller,” the old woman said as she signed my ticket. “That’s just Old Harold playing around. He does that from time to time.”

“Who?” I said. It was two in the morning and I wasn’t much in the mood for a mill story but I knew I had to hear this one. I knew I had been alone in the basement. No one had been down there with me.

“Who is Harold?” I asked again.

The woman gave me an understanding look. “Bless your heart,” she finally said. Then she decided to tell me the story.

“Old Harold had a heart attack and died down there in the basement way back in the late forties. He was trying to work on that old elevator and didn’t know what he was doing, or so the story goes. So every now and then he likes to call the elevator to the basement. But we don’t pay him any mind. We just let Old Harold have his fun. He’s not hurting anyone.”

I looked at the old woman and tried to figure out if she was serious. It seemed to me that she believed what she was telling me.

The next day I mentioned the elevator to my coworkers. All of them knew about Old Harold and how he loved to call the elevator to the basement anytime someone was down there working. Every last one of them had seen the basement hall button light up, pushed by Harold’s unseen finger.

Three months later I was called back to that mill to work on the same elevator. Just as he had done before, Old Harold’s ghost returned and called the elevator to the basement over and over while I was down there working. When I was finished, I collected up my tools and returned them to my tool bag. As I walked towards the closed elevator doors I smiled when the call button lit up just as I was about to reach for it. Then I smiled to myself.

“Thanks, Harold,” I said into the empty basement.

The Lucky Gold Coin of Lt. George Dixon

Legend has it that Lieutenant George Dixon of the 21st Alabama Infantry Regiment was quite a lucky man. Shot at the battle of Shiloh, the ball from a Union soldier’s musket hit that him in the thigh should have taken his life, or at the very least his entire leg. Serious arm and leg wounds during the Civil War were often treated by amputating the affected limb, the practice of which required nothing more than an ether-soaked rag over the nose and a surgeon’s saw.

Photo courtesy of Friends of the Hunley

But Lt. Dixon’s wound would require none of this because when the musket ball struck him in the leg it was deflected by a $20 Double Eagle gold piece that he kept in his pocket as a lucky charm. The story has been passed down through the years that the gold piece was given to him by his true love as a token of her affection.

Whether or not this is true is beside the point. The coin was where it needed to be when fate struck regardless of who gave it to him. Instead of dying on the battlefield at Shiloh, the lucky lieutenant walked away with both legs and nothing more than a permanent limp. A greater fate awaited him.

Because of his keepsake coin, Lt. Dixon was allowed to live on and find his true place in history. It would not be at Shiloh. Lt. Dixon would find his real place in history, the one that fate had planned for him, on the night of February 17, 1864 in the dark waters just outside of the harbor of Charleston, SC.

The CSS Hunley on the pier.

On that night Lt. Dixon commanded the CSS Hunley, the first submarine in history to sink an enemy ship in battle. Dixon and the other seven men of his crew slipped beneath the surface of the water in the hand-cranked, cigar-shaped Hunley and proceeded to navigate towards the looming hulk of the USS Housatonic, a Union warship engaged in blockade duty just offshore of the port of Charleston.

The USS Housatonic

When the long spar on the front of the Hunley struck the Housatonic, Dixon ordered his men to reverse their cranking in order to deposit the TNT charge in the hull of the Union warship. The idea was to deposit the charge and then back away from the Housatonic so that the charge could then be detonated by a pullcord. But Murphy’s Law took over and the resulting explosion not only sank the Housatonic in less than five minutes, it also sent Dixon and his entire crew to the bottom of the harbor shortly thereafter. On that dark night, the Hunley became their tomb. The submarine would not surface again until it was located and raised in August of 2000.

The CSS Hunley being raised in August, 2000

Speculation about the identities of the crew, and most notably the commander of the Hunley ended when one of the researchers found a $20 gold piece inside the hull of the Hunley near the remains of one of the crewmembers. Not only was the coin bent like it had been struck hard with something, it bore the initials G.E.D and the inscription My Life Preserver. Sadly, the coin that saved George Dixon’s life at Shiloh and allowed him to find his true place in history was not able to save him from his watery grave.

Ghost stories about the Hunley and its crew abound in the Charleston area. When the remains of the crew were finally buried in the Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston, next to the two previous Hunley crews that had lost their lives during the Hunley’s sea trials, thousands of people turned out for the event. The people engaged in the burial ceremony wore period-correct Confederate uniforms and civilian attire in order to pay respect to the fallen crew of the Hunley.

Spectators reported seeing Civil War soldiers walking among the crowd but when they later examined the photographs they took of the ceremony these soldiers could not be seen in the photos. One woman reported snapping a picture of a Confederate soldier adjusting the canteen strap of one of the reenactors standing in formation near the gravesite but when she later examined the photo the soldier was not there, leading her to believe that the soldier she saw adjusting the canteen strap had been a ghost.

The crew of the Hunley had been instructed to surface and light a signal lamp upon successfully sinking the Housatonic.  Witnesses on shore reported seeing a light shortly after the Housatonic sank, but the Hunley never returned.

But ask any Charlestonian and they will tell you that if you go to the water’s edge on the night of February 17, you might just see a light in the distance, hovering just above the surface of the water. Some say the ghost ship and its crew, the first submarine crew in history to sink an enemy ship, remain on patrol signaling in vain to a shore party that has long since vanished.