The mansion of Colonel William Washington (cousin of George Washington) graces
the west side of the Church Street entrance. This narrow
brick-studded road advances through the colonial majesty of homes
of rice lords and shipping merchants, then winds past First
Baptist (c.1682), the first of several churches, toward Broad
Street where towering St. Philip's Episcopal (c.1680) looms into
Drawing nearer to this, Charleston's single-most haunted center, a
nightwalker will often notice the purple lighting splashed in the
sky from the Old Slave Mart on Chalmers Street to St. Philip's and
its cemeteries. Speculation concerning the origin of this light
spans a wide spectrum of opinion among residents and visitors.
Some attribute the purple diffusion to an odd interplay of
lighting resulting from reflections off the dark harbor nearby,
the spotlights directed at the St. Philip's steeple and the type
of gas lanterns used to illuminate the French Quarter. Most people
find this explanation unsatisfactory.
The fact is, this area marks another pocket of Charleston extremes. Within the
course of two blocks lie three prominent churches and graveyards, the
Old Slave Mart, the Pirate's Courtyard, the site of the old Planter's
Hotel (now the location of the Dock Street Theatre), and the haunted
residence 131 Church Street. With all the past and present spiritual
activity taking place in this central plot - transcendent, dark, and
in between - most who witness this light say the purple cast sky
emanates from supernatural origins.
Far more intriguing are the consistent bizarre happenings witnessed along the
west side of Church Street between Chalmers and Queen. Besides the
occasional distinctive smell of cheap cologne that hangs in the air
about the residence of 131 Church, the only indication of the unusual
occurs above the street. Entranced by the charms of Church Street, the
wonders of purple skylights, and the yellow lamplight falling onto the
sidewalks, a visitor walking toward the giant steeple of St. Philip's
rising from the middle of the street might sense something well before
glancing toward the theatre, then up to meet eyes that are not of this
world. They are the eyes of a woman apparition, dressed in ornate
1830s garb, who walks and haunts the second floor of the Dock Street
In the late 1600s and early 1700s, Church Street was the main street in a town
surrounded by great walls and bastions. The people of Charles Towne
originally built their city like a medieval fortress for protection
from hostile Indians, pirates, and Spanish and French would-be
invaders. These fortifications were taken down in 1717 to make room
for expansion. With expansion came more of everything, both good and
Charles Towne prided itself on its free-trade economy protected by English
mercantile laws. As they do now, the people of Charles Towne also took
pride in the city's freedom of religion (actually written into the "Fundamental
Constitution of Carolina" by the English philosopher John Locke).
The purpose for this was not strictly humanitarian. Carolina was
originally the commercial venture of eight politically influential
friends of England's King Charles II. These eight Lord Proprietors
believed that having religious tolerance written into the law of the
new town would prove beneficial to the fledgling enterprise's economy.
They were right. Remnants of the explosion of wealth in the 1700s
abound to this day. This is yet another of many examples of extremes
coexisting in Charleston: the desire for raw material gain openly
linked to the humanitarian aspiration of religious freedom.
Church Street came to loudly and lucidly symbolize the wild tension of opposites
that developed with Charleston's social and economic growth. The
street graced by three majestic churches, First Baptist at 61 Church,
the French Huguenot Church at 136 Church, and St. Philip's at 142
Church, is the same street where the Planter's Hotel, (one of the
bawdiest hotels in antebellum America) and the popular New Theatre on
Dock Street were situated.
Literally across from these places of worship, Charlestonians entertained
guests and transients with extravagant meals, gambling, heavy
consumption of alcohol and wild parties. Ladies of "ill fame"
openly solicited men for business on the sidewalks at night and
were welcomed patrons at the Planter's Hotel. Most of this
activity took place within the block between the present day
Chalmers Street and Queen Street.
Perhaps it is the continued concentration of extremes that provides the
social climate for the proliferation of ghosts within the
dwellings and establishments of peninsula Charleston.
Because of the regularity of the occurrences, many residents of haunted homes
have come to consider the supernatural activity commonplace.
Footsteps are heard stomping up and down stairways at night.
Doorknobs turn, doors open and close, and a rush of air follows as
if someone is walking through. Plates and other dining ware
carefully placed on a table or sideboard, often reappear on an
opposite side of the room while a back is turned or no one is
When questioned about the eerie energy looming within, owners connect the activity to
the long and rich history of their homes. They recount the lore and
rumors mixed with the facts, and suggest these curious happenings
could be the result of lingering human drama, contained and held
against the normal course of nature. This theory takes into account
the decades of human emotion and tribulation absorbed into the homes'
walls over time. Contractors also believe that past energy flowing
through the houses is trapped within the walls. Work performed on the
houses exacerbates the other world events, releasing the stored energy
as what we interpret to be supernatural forces.
Changes in temperature, vibrations, drifting shadows, as well as a variety of
-other movements and activity erupt during plaster work and structural
repair. Each restoration stirs a rising of sinuous activity left from
the past and draws it into the present.
Such rational explanations, however, do not account for the super natural activity
reported by guests staying at one of Charleston's most famous
mansions, The Battery Carriage House Inn at 20 South Battery, where
one apparition stands apart from the others as a singularly arresting
sight. While most Charleston ghosts comport themselves with the
refined behavior and appearance of the people and city they inhabit,
this wraith is as menacing as he is ugly. He harms no one, yet his
countenance is unexpectedly brutal. What makes this ghost so awful is
that he has no head.
Visitors report seeing the torso of a man clad in a coarse wool outer garment. This
ghost marks his appearances with a guttural moan as though he is in
deep pain. At times he hovers at arm's length over the bed. More often
he parades in erect military stature back and forth at the foot of the
bed. Although some maintain that he is the remnant of a pirate hanged
in the oaks at Battery Park, the preponderance of experience suggests
he is the ghost of a Confederate soldier who lost his head and the
greater part of his limbs during a munitions explosion accident.
Across the street from 20 South Battery, White Point Gardens now covers the once
dug out fort and Confederate munitions magazine Battery Ramsey. In
February 1865, Charleston residents evacuated the city, many taking
family and valuables to the capital in Columbia, 120 miles inland, to
avoid the wrath and ravage of General William Tecumseht Sherman's
great "March to the Sea".
In his public role as warrior, Sherman's regard for Charleston was clearly negative.
He bastardized the city's proper name with terms such as "the
hellhole of succession". Yet, to this day, mystery surrounds
Sherman's decision not to unleash the full hell of his army onto
Charleston as a real and symbolic act of revenge toward the city that
started this murderous war. The answer to this mystery may lie within
the man's private world where his regard for Charleston held deep
paradox. Earlier in his career, Sherman served an assignment at Fort
Moultrie on Sullivan's Island. During this period (1842 1845), the
city sparkled with wealth and vitality in spite of the stock market
crash of 1841. Then as now, Charleston stood alone among America's
cities as an elite visual jewel.
Across the harbor from the fort, the dazzling city lay in the young Sherman's
sights each night. He enjoyed Charleston's social life and developed
friendships with local families. Could the rumor be true that this
young soldier had a lover in the city? Or was it the city itself that
created a soft place in his heart, as it has for so many who stay here
for any length of time? Whatever the explanation might be, the fact
remains that Sherman spared Charleston and obliterated Columbia, where
so many Charlestonians sought refuge, and where he left little trace
of the antebellum life that once flourished there.
After the evacuation of Charleston, Confederates exploded tons of their own
munitions along the waterfront at the tip of the peninsula. They
worked fast and furious to do whatever it took to keep the weaponry
out of the enemy's hands, believing that Sherman's approach to the
city was imminent.
One prominent artillery piece, a giant Blakely gun from England, sat at what is now
the corner of South Battery and East Bay Streets. Upon exploding, a
huge fragment of the gun flew into the roof of the Thomas Roper House
at 9 East Battery, and lodged into the rafters where it remains today.
Five houses away at 20 South Battery, the soldiers in charge of destroying the
remaining munitions took nightly refuge in the carriage house behind
the deserted mansion. This dangerous work - great blasts performed in
haste may explain the horrible wounds inflicted upon the body of what
now exists as a floating headless torso in "Room 8". The
poor soul who sought rest there during his final days of duty returns
a disturbed and restless disfigurement in the afterlife.
Not everyone is capable of, or allowed to see ghosts. Sometimes it seems the chance of
such an encounter decreases the more you wish for it to happen. To see
a ghost, you must strike into its path as it makes one of its
inexplicable trips back into our world. We do not profess to know the
timing of ghosts. The only thing that can be said with certainty in
regard to seeing one is that they often possess an affinity for one
certain locale. A ghost will, with some degree of regularity, return
to the same place over and over again. What makes Charleston so
supernaturally fascinating are the sheer abundance of ghostly
characters here and the frequency with which they make their chilling