There are plenty of haunted places in South Carolina.
In South Carolina the sun beats down mercilessly on the marshy forests and lonely islands. At night the heat is still oppressive; or is that the presence of dead souls?
Mansions, especially haunted mansions, are an integral part of the south. The Rhett-Aiken House in Charleston was built in 1817 by merchant John Robinson. It has all the qualities you'd expect in a great southern house, including a double porch with columns, a sweeping staircase with an impressive banister, and airy rooms. But it also saw its share of bad times.
In 1825 Robinson lost five ships at sea, and was suddenly faced with financial disaster. He sold the house to Irish immigrant William Aiken, Sr., who had made a great deal of money in trade. Aiken was tragically killed in an accident a few years later, and the house passed to his son William, Jr. William went on to have a distinguished career in politics. He became governor of South Carolina and a Congressman, and he and his wife traveled to Europe collecting fine art for their mansion.
But their ideal life didn't last. In 1865 the house was invaded by Union troops, who looted the fine furnishings and beautiful paintings. William was arrested and sent to Washington. He was threatened with trial for treason, and only the influence of a few northern friends saved him.
William regained the mansion, although he never quite regained his opulent antebellum life. He died in 1887, and his daughter and her husband, Major A.B. Rhett, took over the mansion. Their descendants lived in the house until 1975.
The house is a museum today, but there are other visitors to it besides the living. One tourist reported entering the slave quarters, and feeling dizzy and anxious. He snapped pictures there, and, when they were uploaded, three transparent faces appeared in some of them.
Other visitors have seen faces appear in their photographs, too, especially photos from the back steps of the house. People have seen the ghost of a woman in the mansion, and heard her footsteps. Sometimes the mansion is used for weddings. Guests at a wedding saw a shadowy man in a tri-corner hat, and one of the guests took a picture of the apparition as it walked past a door. You can see the picture at http://www.graveaddiction.com/aikenrh.html.
Is the woman Mrs. William Aiken, Sr., mourning her husband's untimely death? And is the dark man in the tri-corner hat John Robinson, claiming in death the house he lost in life? Perhaps Governor William Aiken is there, too, reliving happier times.
Like many places, South Carolina has its own sad love stories. In 1848 sixteen-year-old Alice Flagg lived with her mother and her brother Dr. Flagg in the Hermitage near Murrels Inlet. Alice fell in love with a handsome working man, but her family forbad her to see him, Mrs. Flagg declaring that "he will disgrace our family." But Alice continued to meet with him secretly.
One night Dr. Flagg caught Alice receiving a ring from her lover, and ordered the man away. But seeing how distraught she was, he said that she might wear the ring on a chain as a necklace, as long as their mother didn't see it. Alice dried her tears, very much appreciating her brother's understanding.
This was fine until Mrs. Flagg noticed the ring on Alice's dresser, and flew into a rage. Alice was shipped off to a boarding school in Charleston, where she languished for a few months. Then she contracted typhoid fever.
Alice was taken back home, and died soon afterward. During her last days, she asked repeatedly for her ring, but it had come up missing. Alice was buried in the family plot in All Saints Waccamaw Episcopal Cemetery near Pawleys Island, but she still wanders the area. It's thought that she's searching through all eternity for her beloved ring.
Clarke Wilcox grew up in the Hermitage in the early 20th century, and his aunt once saw Alice's ghost. Aunt Lolly was visiting the family for a few days, and one morning, while brushing her hair, her bedroom door opened and a young girl came into the room. By the time Aunt Lolly began to speak to her, the girl had vanished. The disconcerted Aunt Lolly made sure to request another bedroom for the remainder of her stay.
Roses sometimes appear on Alice's grave, and it's thought that they're left there by her ghostly lover.
Another very different but also sad love story comes from Georgetown, and concerns a disabled midget. In the 1820's the midget was chased out of town because it was believed he had a contagious disease. His mistress was a witch who was putting her black arts to work finding a way to make him taller, so the midget made his way to her house.
But on the way there he was horrified to find her hanging from a tree; the townspeople decided they had had enough of her witchery. The midget tried desperately to get her down, but he wasn't nearly tall enough. After her death, he went insane and spent the rest of his short life wandering in the woods, where he died. To this day he can be seen, prowling unhappily in a lonely field near Highway 51 and Amos Road.
Witches were definitely an issue in the 18th century. Mary Ingelman was a German immigrant who lived in Fairfield County in 1792. She was described as "tidy" and "neat" and was well-versed in the uses of herbs. At that time, cattle were dying of illnesses and food was spoiling; neither one too unusual in the steamy South Carolina climate. But a Rosy Henley accused Mary of witchcraft, including levitating herself and another woman, and a Master Collins reported that Mary turned him into a horse and rode him to a witch's coven. The devil had complimented her on her handsome horse, but Master Collins was not appeased. He, Rosy, and other angry neighbors got together to do something about Mary and three other witches.
So the four were taken to Thomas Hill's farm, where after a "trial" they were beaten by John Crossland. Then the soles of their feet were burned. Ouch! When they were finally released, Mary went to the real authorities and had Crossland arrested. He was found guilty of battery and fined five pounds, which he conveniently forgot to pay.
Mary was not happy about Crossland's slap on the wrist, and to this day she can be seen sitting on the steps of the county courthouse in Winnsboro, especially late at night, still waiting for justice.
The source of Mary's story was History of Fairfield County, South Carolina, by Philip Edward Pearson. Pearson was a lawyer and circuit rider who wrote his manuscript some time before 1854. Today it's owned by the Wisconsin Historical Society. At least Mary can be glad her story isn't forgotten.
Winthrop University is a liberal arts college in Rock Hill, founded in 1886. During its construction, one of the foremen was Benjamin Tillman, who's said to have become bitter and violent after losing an eye to a serious illness. When he was a young man, Tillman participated in a massacre of black veterans, declaring it would "teach the Negroes a lesson." Those were unruly times, and, despite his brutality, Tillman was elected governor of South Carolina; he also served as a senator for 24 years. He earned the nickname "Pitchfork Ben" because at one point he threatened to stab President Grover Cleveland with a pitchfork.
While overseeing the construction of Winthrop University, Tillman is said to have whipped and beaten the black convicts who were brought in to do the work. The Winthrop University student handbook reports that there are still stocks for the prisoners in the basement of Tillman Hall. Today the hall is said to be haunted by a dark figure that stands on the porch, looking out angrily at anyone who passes by. The ghost's malevolent presence is especially strong on the top two floors. Is it Ben Tillman, still hankering to go after President Cleveland with a pitchfork?
But some South Carolina ghosts are more friendly. There's a Gray Man who warns residents of the coast about approaching hurricanes. He's been seen many times over the past two hundred years. Bill Collins and his wife were on their honeymoon on Pawleys Island in October of 1954. Someone knocked on their door at five in the morning, and when Bill answered, a man in a gray suit warned him to get off the island; a hurricane was coming. Then the man disappeared in front of them. The Collinses got away safely, and shortly afterward, Hurricane Hazel struck.
South Carolina's history is sometimes strange, sometimes dark, and always interesting, with a ghost or two besides.
Picture from Wikimedia Commons, it shows the Fairfield County Courthouse in Winnsboro, S.C.
Haunted America, Michael Norman and Beth Scott, Tom Doherty Assoc., Inc., New York NY, 1994