Since its founding in 1670, Charleston has been invaded by pirates, lubricated by bootleggers, and bombarded by Civil War cannons. Here are some of the places the city's ghosts may still walk, if you're brave enough to visit them that is…
PROVOST DUNGEON AND THE OLD EXCHANGE
Above ground, the Old Exchange at East Bay and Broad Streets once served as a respectable customs house, public market, and meeting place. In fact, it was here that South Carolina ratified the U.S. Constitution, and where George Washington hosted banquets in the Great Hall. But pity the poor souls who were consigned to the Provost Dungeon below, where inmates were often chained to the walls and left to die from disease, injury, parasites, and rodents. And if the place flooded, as it was wont to do? The jailers stood by while the captives drowned. So it's not surprising that many visitors today get the chills when they visit, and some report hearing terrifying screams and desperate moans as chains mysteriously swing on their own in the dank corridors.
UNITARIAN CHURCH GRAVEYARD
Edgar Allan Poe spent just over a year in Charleston, from 1827 to 1828, while he was in the army and his mother was performing at the city's Dock Street Theater. But it's not his ghost that floats about the Unitarian Church graveyard on Sullivan's Island just outside Charleston city proper—it's the specter of "Annabel Lee," the namesake of one of his most famous poems. According to the myth, Annabel Lee was enamored of a young sailor whom she would meet in the graveyard to avoid incurring the wrath of her father. Eventually, the sailor was dispatched elsewhere and poor Annabel Lee contracted yellow fever and died. When the forlorn sailor attempted to pay his final respects at Annabel's grave, he found he'd been foiled by her father, who kept the location of her grave a secret. "The stars never rise but I feel the bright eyes of the beautiful Annabel Lee," wrote Poe in his poem. Perhaps he saw her ghost, too?
THE DOCK STREET THEATER
Both Edgar Allan Poe's mother and Julius Brutus Booth, the father of Abraham Lincoln's assassin John Wilkes Booth, once performed on this theater's stage. But it's not their ghosts that haunt the Dock Street Theater today. It started out as a hotel in the 1800s, where plantation "planters" who came to town for horse racing season earned it the name of Planter's Hotel (and happily drank what became known as Planter's Punch). In a sad turn of events, a young woman named Nettie who hoped to make a decent life for herself in Charleston ended up turning to prostitution. One evening, during a raging thunderstorm, the legend goes that Nettie took to a second-story balcony wearing the bright red dress she conducted her "business" in. There, she was struck dead by a bolt of lightning. It's her ghost that's now reputed to haunt the theater, and some passersby swear they see her face peering sadly down at them from the balcony windows at night.
WHITE POINT GARDENS
This mysterious public park at the tip of Charleston's historic district juts out into the roiling Charleston Harbor. If you stand on the seawall, you can see Fort Sumter, where the shots that started the Civil War were first fired. But if you walk into the park, under the shade of the oak trees and around the long shadows cast by the multiple military statues, it is easy to feel the presence of the many soldiers who died during the Civil War. Equally as unpleasant to bring to mind is the image of the hanging of the "Gentleman Pirate" Stede Bonnet and his crew, which took place at White Point Gardens in 1718. Stede had been in cahoots with the infamous Blackbeard, and the two plundered ships up and down America's East Coast until they went their separate ways. Rumor has it that the ghosts of all those hanged pirates roam the grounds still, hoping to exact vengeance on their executioners.
ST. PHILIP'S CHURCH GRAVEYARD
Established in 1680 on—where else?—Church Street, St. Philip's Church's graveyard is notable for the storied figures from American history who are buried there, including Charles Pinckney, who signed the U.S.Constitution and served as governor of South Carolina, a U.S. Senator, and Minister to Spain; Edward Rutledge, who signed the Declaration of Independence and was also a governor of the state; and John C. Calhoun, a former Vice President. But while these politicians seem to have had the good sense to stay buried, some visitors have reported seeing the apparition of a woman crying over a small grave (maybe that of her deceased child?). During the day, this windswept cemetery is eerie enough; you'll find many of the slate and sandstone headstones askew, the 200-year-old dates on them worn away by time. But at night? If you hear a baby crying, pay your respects to one of the tiny tombs that indicate where a child is buried, then head straight for the exit.
OLD CITY JAIL
This spooky early 19th-century edifice on Magazine Street imprisoned slaves, pirates, and soldiers from both sides of the Civil War, depending on whose hands the city was in at the time. But perhaps its most notorious inmate was Lavinia Fisher, reputed to be America's first female serial killer. Before their jail days, Lavinia and her husband John operated an inn called The Six Mile Wayfarer House. It was there they'd poison their guests with tainted tea, then either stab them to death or collapse their bed into a pit pocked with deadly spikes. When the two were eventually tried for murder and sentenced to hang, John repented and begged for mercy. Lavinia reportedly screamed, "If you have a message you want to send to hell, give it to me, and I'll carry it."
THE POWDER MAGAZINE
"Powder" refers to gunpowder, which is what this 18th-century building on Cumberland Street stored when it served as an arsenal to defend South Carolina from the Spanish, the French, pirates, a slave rebellion, and attacks from native American populations. It's not clear why the ghost of the notorious female pirate Anne Bonney would haunt these grounds, but that's the lore. Maybe it's because Bonney, an Irish lass who was easily bored on her father's plantation, ran away with a renegade seaman and pirate in his own right. She could have enjoyed a life of luxury. Instead, she had several affairs, became an adept swordswoman and daring fighter, and, when she was eventually captured, claimed she was pregnant to avoid hanging. No one is exactly sure what became of her, unless you believe that she is still on the prowl in Charleston.
This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.