Lowcountry Ghost Stories ~ Part 1

Part 1 – The Ghost Stories of Beaufort

From Beaufort to Walterboro, Hampton and Ridgeland, the Lowcountry has an abundance of haunted history and spooky legends.  Here are some of our favorite haunted tales.  Keep reading… if you dare…We will begin this 5-part series with Beaufort and its Sea Islands…

The South Carolina Lowcountry is full of fascinating history. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes is bad and sometimes it’s downright spooky! From pre-Revolutionary days to the battles of the Civil War, haints, spooks and specters have been seen roaming amongst the Spanish moss draped oaks and backroads between Charleston and Savannah.

Lands End Light photo by Carmen Pinckney.

Beaufort County has many ghostly stories to share. Traveling around the county during the day is filled with magical scenes of ancient oaks, beautiful homes, and scents of salty breezes. Navigating after dark on these haunting streets is another story. Let’s begin with St. Helena Island’s Chapel of Ease and Lands End Light legends.  Travel Highway 21 through Beaufort and onto St Helena Island. Turn right onto Martin Luther King Jr Drive, then right onto Lands End Road. The Chapel of Ease will be on the left.

St. Helena Island Chapel of Ease image by Carmen Pinckney.

This tabby construction church was built around 1740 to serve the plantation population of the island. Sunday services were interrupted on November 4th, 1861 when a messenger brought news to Captain William Oliver Perry Fripp of the impending invasion by Union troops. The locals quickly evacuated the area and left the church abandoned.

Fripp Mausoleum image by Carmen Pinckney.

Edgar Fripp and his wife Eliza has been buried in a mausoleum in the chapel’s graveyard in 1852. The elaborate structure was designed and built by Charleston stone cutter WT White. The ornate vault proved too much of a temptation as Union soldiers broke into it in search of treasure. The door was ruined during the raid, then the entrance was sealed with bricks. When the workers returned the following day, the bricks were removed and neatly stacked beside the mausoleum. The workers, then, resealed the vault only to suffer the same fate the following day. Convinced that spooky, supernatural forces had been afoot, the job remained unfinished. Today the vault remains empty and the door is only half sealed with bricks.

Fripp Mausoleum interior image by Carmen Pinckney.

Visitors to the chapel have witnessed several ghostly occurrences on the property. Some feel strange sensations while walking through the graveyard. Others have reported seeing apparitions of 18th century people. A lady dressed in white and carrying a child has also been spotted on more than one occasion in the graveyard. When the wind is right, whispered prayers and singing have been known to come from the interior of the chapel. Check out this video made in 2011. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qqg4ktcyoIQ

Synthetic Lands End Light image by Barry Gooch.

If you dare – continue down Lands End Road and park between the chapel and Ft Fremont. Look for a straight stretch of highway. Park near the “hanging tree” and cut off your headlights. If you can manage to keep your eyes open, you may be visited by the ghostly Lands End Light floating slowly towards you. If you see a light approaching, wait patiently and don’t panic. The light will get bigger and dimmer as it approaches.

The Lands End Light is one of the scariest ghostly experiences in the Lowcountry. What exactly is this light??? Some locals claim it is the ghost of a Confederate soldier who was decapitated by a Union soldier in 1861. Others claim it is the ghost of a slave who was sold away from his family. Still, others believe it is the ghost of Private Frank Quigley, who was stationed at Ft Fremont. He was killed in 1910 during a brawl with locals. Whichever story you chose to believe, the light has been spotted over the years travelling up and down the road with a lantern, searching for something. If you’re lucky enough to be visited by the light, it will resemble a single headlight coming towards you.

The Lands End Light was caught on camera by author Nancy Roberts.

Author Nancy Roberts came to St. Helena’s to investigate the light for herself. She captured an image and published it in one of her South Carolina ghost story books. The story of this light draws people from all over, trying to get a glimpse of the ghostly specter. Around thirty years ago, sheriff’s deputies would patrol the street and count as many as 100 cars parked along the edge of Lands End Road looking for the light.

Many locals claim to have seen the light. Teens consider the trip to see the light as a rite of passage. Dave Hendricks of the Beaufort Gazette refers to it as “South Carolina’s own Sleepy Hollow”. Beaufort native Tripp Ballard commented on the Lands End Facebook page, “I remember my teenage years parking under the huge live oak tree. Many, many summer nights never saw a thing, but then one night about midnight…there was a distant light very bright. It could have been brights on a car coming about 1/2 mile away. As it got closer it was definitely only a single light. Well, it filled the whole two-lane road and into the ditches. We were all flipping out and it got about 100 yards away and went out just like a light switch turned it off.”

If you get lucky, you will be visited by the Lands End Light. Here’s a short video that was captured in 2010.

Historic Beaufort has more than its share of ghost stories. One of the favorites is about a little fella named Guenache and the legendary haunting of “the Castle”. The Italian Renaissance mansion sits proudly at 411 Craven Street. This is the sight of the oldest documented ghost in American history. Guenache was a dwarf court jester that accompanied Jean Ribaut when he explored the new world in the 1562. Guenache remained in Beaufort when Ribaut returned to France. It is unclear how the mischievous jester died. Some think he may have been the victim of disease. Other accounts state he was killed in a brawl or hanged. For some reason, his spirit seems to have attached itself to the Castle. 

The Castle waterfront view image from Library of Congress.

The Castle was built by Dr. Joseph Johnson in the 1850s with bricks that were made on his Lady’s Island Plantation on Brickyard Point. The home was still under construction when the Civil War found its way to Beaufort. The unfinished structure was used as a military hospital and an outbuilding on the property became a make-shift morgue. It is also rumored that the grounds surrounding the house became a graveyard. These facts alone are enough to cause more than one ghost to wander the property.

Local legend says Dr. Johnson buried his wealth below the floors of this outbuilding before the family evacuated before Union occupation. After the war, the family returned, paid their taxes, assumed ownership, and completed construction of their home. Shortly after the family moved in, gardeners started reporting strange occurrences.

The Castle image by Carmen Pinckney.

Shortly after the home was complete, the gardeners reported many strange happenings. Dr. Johnson spoke of dwarf sightings outside his home. He was even spotted inside the house. Dr. Johnson’s daughter Lily saw the ghost of Guenache many times as a child. He would join her for tea parties dressed in a jester costume complete with pointy shoes and hat with bells.

During the 1920s the family held seances where Guenache would communicate in 16th Century French. He was quite vulgar and swore profusely. Visitors have reported seeing a poltergeist that would rearrange furniture or open and close doors. They would also hear the tinkling of bells.

This brief video was captured by Shoshi Parks during the 2019 Historic Beaufort Festival of Homes & Gardens.

https://youtu.be/L4x2e9i1a9o

Dr. Perry grave image by Carmen Pinckney.

Another favorite Beaufort story is not of a ghost, but of a doctor who was in fear of being buried alive. Dr. Perry was from a wealthy planter family who lived on St Helena Island and downtown Beaufort. During the mid-1800s, Dr. Perry spent a great deal of time treating patients during the yellow fever epidemic. Victims of this raging fever would often slip into a coma with shallow breathing that resembled death.  Dr. Perry lived in extreme fear of contracting the fever and being buried alive. He instructed his relatives with these words, “If I pass away, bury me with a jug of wine, a loaf of bread and a pickax. Should I wake up and find myself inside, I shall drink the wine, eat the bread and dig myself out. “Incidentally, this is where the term “wake” comes from. After a person died, the family would hold a vigil with the body to watch or guard in case the deceased should wake from a coma.

Dr. Perry grave image by Carmen Pinckney. This view shows the bricks that were added after t=his family determined that Dr. Perry had indeed moved on to the afterlife.

Upon his death in 1845, he was placed in an above ground brick vault. The wine, bread and a pickax were buried along with the doctor. A wooden door was placed on the vault. In the instance that he awoke from a coma he would drink the wine, eat the bread, and chop his way out of his resting place. After waiting a decent amount of time and seeing no activity from the vault, his mausoleum door was sealed in brick. Dr. Perry’s mausoleum can be found in St. Helena’s Episcopal Church graveyard, directly behind the church.

Stay tuned for additional installments to this tale! Up next, Bluffton, Hilton Head Island and Daufuskie!

PS – The ghostly sights you may have noticed were fabricated for your enjoyment, with the exception of the image captured by Nancy Roberts and the video by Shoshi Parks. If you didn’t notice anything spooky, look back at the images a little more closely! Three of them contain something special just for you! Boo!

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