The tour group was made up of 15 people including myself. Everyone else was American and predominantly from southern states other than South Carolina.
Our guide was a man named Stu who, like many people who lived and worked in Charleston, had moved there from up north. Stu was originally from New Jersey but had since given up work as a stock broker to divide his time between giving tours of Charleston’s most haunted places and writing fiction.
“As you can see, this grave is unconventional in the way it’s been built,” Stu said, “it contains the bodies of three people: a man and his child – a son – who died around the same time and were interred together and, later, the man’s wife. When the man’s wife died, they buried her on top and built this structure. It’s lasted 300 years so far and looks like it could be around for 300 more.”
The grave looked like an aircraft hangar made of bricks. It was surrounded by some of the oldest graves in Charleston, their headstones chipped, faded, and covered in lichen. We were encouraged to take photographs around the graveyard in an attempt to catch any orbs but with little success. Stu carried a tablet with him on which he kept evidence of a number of successful photographs from the various sites we visited.
“This is the church that I attend. It’s one of the oldest in Charleston,” Stu had said as we ducked beneath low hanging branches. There was a rainbow flag on the iron railings outside proclaiming all were welcome.
“So you believe in a higher power?” A woman asked.
“Well, erm, yeah” Stu laughed but seemed caught off guard by the question and ready to defend himself. “Why do you ask?”
“I was just wondering,”
“But why? Don’t you believe in a higher power?”
“Of course,” she said.
This seemed typical of what I had seen of the South. Where we had a newsagent, Starbucks, or pub on every other corner, the South had a church. The residential street on which I was staying had two churches less than 5 doors away from each other. Both churches looked as if they had started as houses but had mutated one feature at a time to look more fitting as a place of worship.
Here is the church during the day:
Its congregation is one of the earliest established in the United States, dating back to 1681. The church in its current form was rebuilt in 1892 after being destroyed by fire. The parish house was built in 1806.
We passed through more sites including a square which used to house the cities gallows. We were told the story of a young woman called Lavinia Fisher who was known to murder travelling salesmen by poisoning their tea. She and her husband were convicted of highway robbery and sentenced to hang. However, at that time there was a law in Charleston that prohibited the execution of married women; this was something that Lavinia pointed out to the judge.
“You’re absolutely right,” the judge said, “that’s why we’re going to hang your husband first!”
On the day of the execution, Lavinia arrived in a wedding dress hoping that there would be a man in the crowd to marry her immediately after her husband was hanged, saving her life. No man came forward and her angry spirit is said to hang around the square (yes, I stole that pun and yes it drew many a groan from the group!)