Charleston’s ghost stories and cobblestoness are more alike than you’d think. Both can be terrifying (just ask any girl in heels), they can make you yell, “oh, shit,” and they’re both as common as seeing a palmetto tree.
To be fair, some of the legends and folklore scare us more than tripping on a tricky cobblestone. In fact, some of the ghost stories we’ve heard give us goosebumps — and we’re not talking about the Poogan’s Porch ghost or the Dock Street Theatre haunting, either. We decided to delve a little deeper, and while some of these are probably pure urban legend … well, isn’t that the point? So, if you’re feeling extra brave, grab your ghost hunting gear and try to find your own haunting experience.
Sheep Island Road doesn’t look like much — actually it’s barely even a road. But this dirt path, sometimes called Light Road, has some serious spook factor. According to Bruce Orr’s Haunted Summerville, South Carolina, the story goes something like this. Sometime in the 1800s, the wife of the conductor working on the tramline that ran to Summerville would wait for her husband to get off work with a lantern by the train tracks. The train would stop and the couple would walk home, arm in arm. The husband met a tragic end when he was involved in an accident and decapitated, leaving the wife to wait and wonder. When the train finally approached and someone told the widow of her husband’s fate, she fell into hysterics. Legend has it that she still waits for him to this day.
Today, brave souls venture out to Light Road, flash their car lights, and wait. Some say that they’ll see a white light quickly approach them, sometimes turning to a green globe, before dissipating. In his book, Orr tells of his encounter with the spooklight on multiple occasions. Having first encountered the shining orb on his own while serving as a cop in the mid-1980s, he took his brother-in-law and a friend (who he let us know is a manly man) to see if it could happen twice. And it did, this time with whimpering from his car mates. You know what they say, ain’t no ghost like a widow’s ghost. Or is it ain’t no party like a West Coast party? Semantics.
Charleston also has its own Pearl Jam “Last Kiss” scenario. According to Sherman Carmichael’s Legends and Lore of South Carolina, in the 1940s a boat hit one of the bridge’s supports, causing a green Oldsmobile to tumble into the water and off the Cooper River Bridge. There have been reports of people seeing an older green Oldsmobile crossing the bridge, but then that could just be because an older green Oldsmobile was crossing the bridge.
Carmichael also recalls the tale of the headless horseman that haunts Fenwick Hall. The story starts in typical fashion: privileged girl (Ann) falls in love with stable boy (Tony), father disapproves, couple elopes — how very Romeo and Juliet of them. But then it gets a little more atypical. The couple was quickly discovered by the outraged father, who along with his crew, tied ropes around Tony’s neck and placed him backward on one of the horses. Ordering Ann to whip the horse, she essentially hung her husband. Distraught with grief, Ann never fully recovered. Guests at Fenwick Hall have reported hearing footsteps and cries from Ann, while others claim to have seen a headless horseman riding through the marsh.
And have you heard the one about Blackbeard? Folly Beach used to be his hangout, and according to Carmichael’s Legends and Lore, he still hangs out there, but in a more spiritual form. Even though the benevolent pirate (or as benevolent as a pirate can be — word is that he never actually killed anyone, just robbed them) is rumored to have been killed off Ocracoke Island, N.C., Folly beachgoers have claimed to see his ghost.
We had hoped Carmichael had seen a Charleston spook himself, but he told us that unfortunately he hadn’t had any in the Holy City — “just one in Eureka Springs, Ark. and one in Myrtle Beach.” But he’s still hopeful that he’ll have his Lowcountry moment, and he’s ready for it. He even gave us some warm words of advice if we muster up the nerve to try and conjure some of these spirits. “They ain’t gonna hurt ya,” he says. Here’s hoping you’re right, Mr. Carmichael.