People in Charleston really do believe in ghosts.
I thought it was just a gimmick, something to attract tourists, but I have discovered that there are plenty of locals who believe in the spirit world. Take, for instance, our waitress in the restaurant at Middleton Place. I told her that my husband and I planned to visit the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon and asked if she’d ever been there. “Oh no, that dungeon is too spooky for me; there’s too many ghosts.” The other waitress and bartender nodded in agreement.
“Oh, so you guys really do believe in ghosts!” They all said yes.
Then our waitress went on to share her own ghost scare related to the restaurant’s dining room (it was dark and empty), an open window (the curtain blew), and a ghostly figure rising up. “Turns out it was just a customer,” our waitress laughed, “but,” she added, “I still believe in ghosts.”
Charleston’s Antebellum Past
Well, who can blame her, or any of the people of Charleston, for believing in ghosts? The town has a complicated history. Everywhere you walk you’ll see reminders of its antebellum past: in the aristocratic homes, in the flickering gas lamps, and in the moss-strewn graveyards.
A Ghost Tour
So later, when my husband and I decided to take a horse-drawn-carriage ride, and found out it was going to be a ghost tour, I was excited. We went with the Old South Carriage Company because I had a referral from Middleton Place and a $2.00 off coupon. The coupon turned out to be a joke because it was $2 off of $50/person! Luckily my husband really wanted to go, and I have to say we loved the 40 minute tour. (Our tour was at 5 pm, a little early for ghosts, but still a great tour.)
First of all, riding in a horse-drawn-carriage through the streets of Charleston is so iconic. Never mind the cars surrounding us–hearing the clip-clop of the horse’s hooves while passing historic homes and buildings can’t be beat. And our tour guide was terrific. She regaled us with tragic stories about local people and their ghostly aftermath. I appreciated the local history and got a kick out of the ghost stories. Keeping an open mind is the best way to enjoy them.
I was also impressed with how easily our guide steered the horse through the congested streets of Charleston, while positioning herself to tell us stories. And, in case you wondered, the first thing our guide did was to reassure us about how well they take care of their horses. It’s written about in their website too.
Book: The Ghosts of Charleston
Another way to learn about the ghosts of Charleston is to read a book. I recommend one called, appropriately enough, The Ghosts of Charleston by Julian T. Buxton III. Julian Buxton is a tour guide and the co-owner of Buxton Books at 160 King Street (his wife Polly is the other owner). I bought Julian’s book at Buxton, not realizing he was the author and co-owner of the book store. All I knew was that I’d been attracted to this book store on King street and wanted to see if they had a book on ghosts. Bingo! And by the way, I highly recommend checking out Buxton Books. It is a wonderful independent book store.
As for The Ghosts of Charleston. I very much enjoyed the book. I believe the bones of the historical stories are true, and though the ghost stories may have been embellished over the years, Buxton writes well and treats his subjects with sensitivity and compassion. He is not making fun of these spirits! This is a serious book.
I do have to point out however, that he, or his editor, got the names of one family completely wrong. I know, because I looked up the story in several newspaper articles. In the story called “The Cooper River Bridge,” the family of five that drove off the bridge was not named Mixon (pgs 156, 157). It was the Lawson family: Elmer Lawson, his wife Evelyn, his mother Rose, his son Robert, and his daughter Diane. I am at a loss to understand how a mistake like that could have been made; even the first names were wrong! It’s still a good book though, and I’m glad it’s in my library.
I think it would be fun to take several ghost tours within the same town and hear how the stories vary from tour to tour. Our carriage company tour guide told us a story about the Wagener building on East Bay Street. The story is also told in The Ghosts of Charleston. Our tour guide’s details about the hanging differed from the book’s details. The particulars in both stories were gory, but completely different. I wish I could access some of the original 1885 newspaper articles to read about it.
Below is a very short video showing the tour guide from our Old South Carriage Company. She shares a couple of funny gravestone epitaphs. Enjoy! And if you go to Charleston and meet up with any ghosts, tell them you were sent by The Footloose Scribbler. 😉