The Face in the Flag – The Bombardment of Fort Sumter

•February 11, 2013 • Leave a Comment
01 Sgt. Peter Hart Hanging the Storm Flag

Sgt Peter Hart Hanging the Storm Flag (Coffin, 1915)

I’ve heard that the appearance of ghosts is often caused by untimely or violent deaths.  If that’s true, then Charleston is likely a hotbed for war ghosts.  Charleston has seen its share of war.  From the American Revolution to the Civil War, the city is chock full of the ghosts of war.

Construction began on Fort Sumter in 1827.  Named for Revolutionary War hero, Thomas Sumter (a.k.a. the Gamecock), this Third System, five-sided fort still sits on a sandbar at the entrance to the Charleston Harbor.  It was a serious stronghold in the harbor, with walls five feet thick and 50 feet high.

The fort was still unfinished at the end of 1860, when Major Robert Anderson commanded the United States Army forces in South Carolina.  Anderson, along with 127 men, were initially stationed at Fort Moultrie, on Sullivan’s Island.

Maj. Robert Anderson

Maj. Robert Anderson (Brady, 1860-65)

But Anderson deemed Fort Moultrie too large to be adequately defensible.  It required a garrison of at least 300 men.  So, on Christmas night, 1860, Anderson began readying his men for the evacuation to Fort Sumter.  By the next day, he’d loaded his men onto two schooners with all of the ammunition and provisions that could be transported.  He had his staff destroy the guns and armaments remaining at Fort Moultrie, and sailed the short distance to Fort Sumter.

Needless to say, the Confederacy didn’t like Anderson’s forces taking hold of Fort Sumter.  Not at all.  On December 30, 1860, the Charleston Courier printed an article condemning Anderson for having “achieved the unenviable distinction of opening civil war between American citizens by an act of gross breach of faith.”  The article was reprinted by the New York Times on December 31, 1860.

On April 11, 1861, Confederate Brigadier General P.G.T. Beauregard sent a notice to Maj. Anderson, demanding the removal of U.S. forces from Fort Sumter:

Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard

Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard (Brady, 1860-65)

I am ordered by the government of the Confederate States to demand the evacuation of Fort Sumter. My aides, Colonel Chestnut and Captain Lee, are authorized to make such demand of you. All proper facilities will be afforded for the removal of yourself and command, together with company arms and property, and all private property, to any post in the United States which you may select. The flag which you have upheld so long and with so much fortitude, under the most trying circumstances, may be saluted by you on taking it down. Colonel Chestnut and Captain Lee will, for a reasonable time, await your answer.

I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
G. T. BEAUREGARD,
Brigadier-General Commanding.

That same day, Maj. Anderson refused, stating:

General: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your communication demanding the evacuation of this fort, and to say, in reply thereto, that it is a demand with which I regret that my sense of honor, and of my obligations to my government, prevent my compliance. Thanking you for the fair, manly and courteous terms proposed, and for the high compliment paid me,

I am, General, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
ROBERT ANDERSON,
Major, First Artillery, Commanding.

At 3:20 a.m. on April 12, Gen. Beauregard sent word to Maj. Anderson that the Confederacy would begin to open fire on Fort Sumter…in one hour.  True to his word, Beauregard ordered his forces to fire on Fort Sumter at 4:30 a.m., the first shots of the War Between the States.

The Bombardment of Fort Sumter

The Bombardment of Fort Sumter (Currier & Ives, 1861)

Beauregard’s forces pummeled Fort Sumter, raining hell-fire down on Anderson’s men.  Charlestonians sipped cocktails while hooting and hollering from their balconies, cheering the Confederacy.  Anderson’s forces did return fire, but they were simply out-gunned and running low on ammunition.  The U.S. flag, the Garrison Flag, was torn and had fallen during the battle.  A U.S. soldier, Sgt. Peter Hart, bravely hung the much smaller Storm Flag in its place…symbolic, perhaps, of Anderson’s waning resolve to stay vigilant under the threat of total annihilation.  But miraculously, despite 34 hours of near-constant shelling, the only casualty was a Confederate horse.  Beauregard again asked Anderson to surrender.  This time, Anderson complied, provided Beauregard’s offer to allow an honorable surrender was still valid.  It was.

The interior of Fort Sumter after bombardment.

The interior of Fort Sumter after bombardment (Anderson, 1861)

Enter Pvt. Daniel Hough.  Hough was born in Tipperary, Ireland, and emigrated to the United States sometime in the 1840s.  He was a Regular, not militia, despite the fact that pre-Civil War soldiering was not a glamorous job.  He enlisted in 1859, then re-enlisted in January of 1861, and was assigned to Battery E of the 1st United States Artillery Regiment, and stationed at Fort Sumter.

The explosion of gun #47.

The explosion of gun #47 (Osborn, 1861)

Pvt. Hough was assigned to gun #47 for Anderson’s honorable surrender–a 100-gun salute to the U.S. Flag on April 14, 1861.  It’s unclear whether a hot ember ignited a pile of cartridges, or if his gun prematurely sparked.  What is known is that when Pvt. Hough tamped down the gun, it exploded, killing him almost instantly, mortally wounding Edward Galloway, and injuring four others.  Anderson’s salute was cut short to 50 guns, and Pvt. Hough was buried on the parade grounds.  His remains were relocated–some say to Magnolia Cemetery, some say to New York–but Hough’s legacy was forever cemented as the first human casualty of the Civil War.

Today, visitors to Fort Sumter have reported seeing a source-less smoke, as if a weapon were fired.  Some report having smelled gunpowder while in the fort.  But every visitor to Fort Sumter can see the face in the flag.

The Storm Flag flown at Fort Sumter

The Storm Flag flown at Fort Sumter (Boondog’s World, 2011)

The Storm Flag, still standing when Anderson surrendered, was taken to New York with the rest of Anderson’s men.  Soon after the surrender, the flag went on a national tour to drum up support for Union forces.  On that tour, the flag began to fade, and a face appeared just to the right of the center star.  Men who served in Battery E of the 1st U.S. Artillery Regiment had identified the face as the bearded Daniel Hough’s, still wearing his U.S. Army cap.




A face in the flag just to the right of the center star?

A face in the flag just to the right of the center star? (Boondog’s World, 2011)

True? Maybe.  Weird?  Definitely!  Check it out for yourself.  Today, the flag is displayed in the museum at Fort Sumter.  You can visit the fort during regular operating hours, and admission is free.  The fort is only accessible by boat, however.  If you don’t have access to your own vessel, you can take a ferry from either Mt. Pleasant or Liberty Square for less than $20, round trip.  Contact Spiritline Cruises for more information about the ferry.

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Image Credits:

Bombardment of Fort Sumter:
Currier & Ives (1861).  Bombardment of Fort Sumter, Charleston Harbor, April 12 and 13, 1861.  Retrieved from: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/treasures/trm117.html

Explosion of Gun #47:
Osborn, B.S. (1861).  Explosion of the Gun Whilst Saluting the U.S. Flag at Fort Sumter.  Retrieved from: http://www.nysl.nysed.gov/mssc/ftsumter/explosion.htm

Face in the Flag:
Boondog’s World (2011). Battle flag that was flown over Fort Sumter in April 1861. Retrieved from: http://boondogsworld.phanfare.com/5263223#imageID=137615999

Interior of Fort Sumter after Bombardment:
Anderson, R. (1861). Interior view of Fort Sumter, taken April 1861, Charleston, S.C, by Anderson, Robert, 1805-1871.  Retrieved from: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Interior_view_of_Fort_Sumter,_taken_April_1861,_Charleston,_S.C,_by_Anderson,_Robert,_1805-1871.png

Robert Anderson
Brady, M. (ca. 1860 – ca. 1865). Maj. Robert Anderson. Retrieved from: http://www.archives.gov/research/military/civil-war/photos/images/civil-war-160.jpg

PGT Beauregard:
Brady, M. (ca. 1860 – ca. 1865). Gen. P. G. T. Beauregard, C.S.A.  Retrieved from: http://www.archives.gov/research/military/civil-war/photos/images/civil-war-138.jpg

Sgt. Peter Hart Hanging the Storm Flag:
Coffin, C. C. (1915).  Sergeant Hart nailing the colors to the flagstaff of Fort Sumter.  Retrieved from: http://etc.usf.edu/clipart/67200/67288/67288_hall_sumter.htm

Storm Flag flown at Fort Sumter:
Boondog’s World (2011). Battle flag that was flown over Fort Sumter in April 1861. Retrieved from: http://boondogsworld.phanfare.com/5263223#imageID=137615991

The Sword Gates House – The Spirit of Madame Talvande

•May 24, 2012 • Leave a Comment

The Famous Sword Gates (Century21 Properties)

Several blocks from the busy commercial section of Charleston’s historic district, you can stroll through the residential streets and enjoy all of the charm and antebellum architecture the Holy City has to offer.  If you’re fortunate and have the means to purchase one of those historical properties, you may encounter a previous occupant who refuses to leave.

The house at 32 Legare Street (pronounced “Lugree”), also known as the Sword Gates House, is a perfect example.  This U-shaped, private residence was built in multiple stages in the early 19th century by German merchants, Jacob Steinmetz and Paul Emil Lorent. The central part of the house, which is a three-story structure that is one-room wide, was built around 1803.  By 1818, Steinmetz and Lorent had added a brick wing that included an elegant ballroom, and a separate kitchen house.  The famous gates of the house, made of wrought iron by the well-known iron manufacturer, Christopher Werner, are a rare find in Charleston, as most of the pre-Civil War iron was melted for artillery.

The Sword Gates by Christopher Werner (Scares and Haunts of Charleston, 2012)

In 1819, the property was sold to André (now known as Andrew) Talvande.  Talvande and his wife, Ann, were French colonial refugees who relocated from Saint-Domingue after its revolution.  Shortly after, Ann Talvande opened Madame Talvande’s French School for Young Ladies.  Affluent families sent their daughters to the exclusive school for a solid education and, more importantly, instruction from its strict headmistress on proper behavior for a lady.  Ann Talvande was a fierce ally to the aristocratic families of Charleston, and they came to rely on her for the social growth of their daughters.  Many girls walked the halls of the school, including Mary Boykin Chesnut, one of South Carolina’s most well-known authors.

In the 1820s, Colonel Joseph Whaley was a wealthy plantation owner on Edisto Island, a sea island just south of Charleston.  His beautiful fifteen-year-old daughter, Maria, was sometimes lonely at Pine Baron, their plantation.  She had few friends her own age.  But as she entered her teen years, she had her share of suitors, though none were serious.  None, that is, until she met George Morris.

Morris was from New York.  He was a nice enough young man, but Col. Whaley still didn’t want his daughter seeing him.  It wasn’t because he was a Yankee—this was decades before the ill-sentiment for Northerners was prevalent in the Lowcountry.  It’s true that Charlestonians didn’t like Northerners.  But they didn’t like other Southerners either.  Col. Whaley’s dislike for George Morris was two-fold.  First, he just wasn’t “one of them.”  He wasn’t as affluent as the Whaleys, and that alone would have given a wealthy planter like Joseph Whaley serious pause.  More importantly, it was Maria’s reaction to Morris that scared her father.  Her eyes lit up when she saw him.  She was falling deeply in love, and Mr. Whaley knew it.  Though he tried over and over to keep the pair separated—even going so far as to ride his horse all over Edisto in an effort to persuade everyone to refuse Morris lodging—Maria and George always found a way to be together.  In 1828, Col. Whaley had had enough.  He ordered his daughter to pack her bags, and he, with this wife, drove Maria by carriage the 30 miles to Madame Talvande’s school.

Madame Talvande kept a close eye on all of her girls.  But she also recognized the importance of exposing the young ladies to Charleston’s high society so they could gain the experience and charm that would be expected of them.  Talvande sometimes held social gatherings and dances in the grand ballroom, where the girls could meet appropriate young men who were deemed eligible to court girls of such high social status.  But Maria, though she made friends easily and enjoyed her new studies, never forgot her true love, George Morris.  Within months, George found Maria, and they began to devise a plan for her escape.

On March 8, 1829, Maria scaled the high walls surrounding the school, and ran the few blocks to St. Michael’s Church at Broad and Meeting Streets.  With only two witnesses, Reverend Frederick Dalcho officiated, and Maria Whaley and George Morris were wed.  Maria returned to Madame Talvande’s school, sneaking back over the wall, and into bed.  The next morning, George Morris went to the school and announced to Madame Talvande that he was there to pick up “Mrs. Morris.”  Talvande, obviously confused, told Morris that she was the only married woman at the school, but George was undeterred.  Talvande lined the girls up on the lawn, and introduced George Morris.  She said, “He is here for his wife.  Is there a Mrs. Morris present among us?”  At first, the girls just looked at each other.  Then, Maria Whaley stepped forward and said, simply, “Yes.  I am.”

Maria and George then went to back to Edisto to break the news to the Colonel.  He was understandably furious at first, but grew to love his new son-in-law, and welcomed him into the family.  George and Maria apparently lived happily ever after on Grove Plantation.

Madame Talvande didn’t fare so well.  She was humiliated, and the public began to question her ability to keep the girls in line.  It’s said that she constructed a high wall topped with broken glass bottles to deter other students who may have had similar plans for escape.  In time, the people of Charleston forgave her, but she never forgave herself.  The school remained open until 1849, and even though there were no other scandals, she believed her reputation was damaged forever.

It has been widely reported that Madame Talvande still roams the halls of the house at 32 Legare Street, now a private residence.  Full-body apparitions have been seen on the top-floor piazza, scanning the grounds for would-be escapists.  The spirit has also been seen floating along the upstairs hallways, peering into the bedrooms and keeping a watchful eye on her charges from long ago.

True?  You’ll have to see for yourself.  The property is currently for sale.  How much will it cost for this piece of haunted history?  A cool $23 million.  A steep price for most of us, to be sure.  But the property is undeniably beautiful.  This 9 bedroom/14 bathroom home includes a drawing room, a master study, a ballroom, a library, two dining rooms, a commercial kitchen, a fitness room, a gift wrapping room, a wine cellar, quarters for house staff…and much more.

All House Pictures:
Century21 Properties. (n.d.). 32 legare street. Retrieved from http://www.century21properties.idxco.com/idx/8809/photoGallery.php?idxID=146&listingID=1128118

A Maritime Haunting – The Ghosts of the USS Yorktown (CV-10)

•May 13, 2012 • Leave a Comment

The USS Yorktown (CV-10) in operation. (Bowker, 2010)

The USS Yorktown (CV-10) is an Essex class aircraft carrier that  was named in commemoration of the sunken USS Yorktown (CV-5), which was destroyed during the Battle of Midway in 1942.  Built in 1941 and first launched in 1943, she served in the Pacific Theater in WWII, earning eleven battle stars, and again in the Vietnam War, earning five more.

She’s a bit of a movie star, having been used in films like Tora! Tora! Tora! and the Philadelphia Experiment, in addition to the documentary The Fighting Lady.  She was even a recovery ship for the Apollo 8 space mission.

The United States Navy donated the USS Yorktown to the Patriot’s Point Development Authority in 1974, and she is now part of the Patriot’s Point Naval & Maritime Museum located in Mount Pleasant—just across the Cooper River from downtown Charleston.  In 1986, she was declared a National Historic Landmark.

Panoramic view of the USS Yorktown (CV-10) (Wikipedia, 2012)

She’s also allegedly haunted.

The staff at the museum has witnessed all kinds of activity, including apparitions so clear that they were identifiable as members of the ship’s crew.  Sightings have been reported by the museum staff, of course, but visitors and even police officers have seen all kinds of unexplained stuff.  Weird things have been seen just about everywhere on the ship—on the hangar deck, the flight deck, the engine rooms, the restrooms, the officers’ staterooms, the weapons locker area—all over.

A possible ghost in the radar room. (Butterfield, 2008)

In total, 141 men died aboard the USS Yorktown, though it appears some are still there.  To the right is a photo taken by William Butterfield in August, 2008.  This is a photo of the ship’s radar room.  Understand that there is a pane of glass between the photographer and the room, and when you’re aware of this, it’s easy to dismiss what’s seen in the photo as a simple reflection, perhaps of Butterfield, himself.  But Butterfield has said that he was alone when he took the picture.  He has also said that he was not wearing the heavy, long-sleeved shirt shown in the photo.  August temperatures in Charleston are easily in the mid- to high-80s, with heat indexes approaching 100°F.  As a former resident, I can tell you that anyone who would wear a heavy shirt during a South Carolina August would have to be nuts.

This year, Mac Burdette, the Executive Director of the museum, asked The Atlantic Paranormal Society (T.A.P.S.) to investigate due to the sheer volume of activity experienced on the ship.  But it was important that the investigation be conducted respectfully, with reverence to the individuals who served aboard the USS Yorktown.  “We hold the men who served and died aboard the USS Yorktown in the highest esteem and we would never, ever do anything to disrespect their service,” he said.

A Japanese Dive Bomber attacked the Yorktown in 1945. (Hills, 2009)

T.A.P.S. investigated in February, 2012.  What they experienced was pretty remarkable.  With the museum closed, and all power to the ship turned off, the eight-person team split into pairs, and began searching the ship to confirm…or debunk…what was reported.  Their full investigation aired on the SyFy Channel’s Ghost Hunters on May 2, 2012.

The T.A.P.S. crew wasn’t disappointed.  In addition to the expected unexplained noises, they caught full-body apparitions, conversations, laughter, even physical contact…and that was just in the first half of the episode.  One of the specters was spotted on the flight deck where a plane had crashed, killing three crewmen.

You can see the episode here.  Very interesting stuff.

But is it true?  Who knows?  You’ll have to visit.  Tickets for Patriot’s Point Naval & Maritime Museum can be purchased daily from 9am to 5pm.  It’s an incredible museum, and well worth the trip, even without the ghost sightings.

Image Credits:

A Japanese Dive Bomber attacked the Yorktown in 1945:
Hills, W. (2009, March 18). Japanese bomb and ghost bomb strike yorktown!!!. Retrieved from http://www.patriotspoint.org/news_events/japanese-bomb-and-ghost-bomb-strike-yorktown/

Radar Room:
Butterfield, W. (2008, August). Is the uss yorktown now haunted?. Retrieved from http://www.yorktownsailor.com/yorktown/ghost.htm

USS Yorktown:
Wikipedia. (2012, January 19). Uss yorktown (cv-10) panorama.jpg. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:USS_Yorktown_(CV-10)_panorama.jpg

USS Yorktown in use:
Bowker, G. (2010, August 28). Patriot’s point: Naval history at its best. Retrieved from http://www.examiner.com/article/patriots-point-naval-history-at-its-best?render=print

The Ghosts of the Battery Carriage House Inn

•May 7, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Battery Carriage House Inn (JEB Images, 2011)

When visiting Charleston, it is possible to get a little closer to the ghosts.  In fact, if you stay at the Battery Carriage House Inn, you may awake to find one sleeping next to you.

The Battery Carriage House Inn is said to be the most haunted hotel in Charleston.  It’s been featured on various “Most Haunted” lists with numerous first-hand accounts of paranormal activity.

Gun on the Point Battery during the Civil War (coastalguide.com., 2011)

Samuel N. Stevens, a prosperous lender and a broker of crops, purchased the property at 20 South Battery in 1843.  In 1859, John Blacklock bought it, but soon found cannons stationed steps—literally—from his door, placed there to defend Charleston against Union intruders during the Civil war.  Not surprisingly, he fled Charleston.  But he didn’t sell it until 1870, when Col. Richard Lathers bought it.  The Irish-born Lathers made his first American home in South Carolina in 1821, but he had moved to New York in the 1840s, and soon made a fortune as a broker, banker, and railroad director.  He even served in the Union Army during the Civil War.  None of these things made him particularly popular in postbellum Charleston.

The property had been badly damaged in the Civil War, and Lathers did an extensive remodel in the French-inspired Second Empire style designed by John Henry Devereaux.   New modifications included a mansard roof and a ballroom, though it’s said that Lathers used the ballroom primarily as a conference room for meetings with powerful Northerners, since he was so disliked amongst the locals.  It’s also been said that Lathers tried repeatedly to “restore good will,” inviting leaders from the North and South to break bread, share wine, and put behind them all of the ill sentiments generated by the War Between the States.  Ultimately, though, the grudge held by the people of Charleston proved too much for Lathers.  He took his “Yankee blood money,” and moved back to New York.

Andrew Simonds, a phosphate mining businessman and the founder of the First National Bank of South Carolina, bought the house in 1874.  Today, Simonds’ great-great-grandson, Drayton Hastie, owns the property.

Now, let me just say that if you’re expecting to stay in a dark, creepy, rickety, old mansion with cobwebs hanging from dusty chandeliers, you’re going to be disappointed.  The Battery Carriage House Inn is absolutely stunning.  With wonderfully appointed rooms and a kind, down-to-Earth staff, this place would be a hot-spot even without the front-row view of White Point Gardens and the Charleston Harbor.

A variety of spirits supposedly congregate at the Inn, but there are two distinct entities worth specifically mentioning.

Room 8 of the Battery Carriage House Inn (grandpere, Sep 2011)

First, in Room 8, a particularly harrowing ghost frequently visits guests—and the visits tend to be on the less-friendly side.  This ghost has been described as a “headless torso.”  In 1993, a self-described skeptic saw the apparition—and even touched it.  He said that he awoke in the middle of the night, and found the headless torso beside his bed.  He said the raspy breathing of the specter was menacing enough, but when he reached out to touch it, it growled at him.  He said the spirit’s overcoat seemed to be made of a coarse material, perhaps burlap.  “It scared the heck out of me,” he said.

Room 10 of the Battery Carriage House (Tailofthedragon.com, 2007)

A gentler spirit seems to frequent Room 10.  The Gentleman Ghost is so-named because it tends to crawl into bed with the women who stay in the room.  If the woman awakes and protests (or screams), the Gentleman Ghost will make a prompt exit through a built-in entertainment unit that used to be the original door to the room.  What happens if the woman doesn’t object to sharing her bed?  Who knows?  To my knowledge, it’s never happened.

Current staff speculates that the headless torso may have been a Civil War soldier—the unfortunate victim of a munitions accident.  The Gentleman Ghost, on the other hand, is said to be the spirit of a sensitive, but suicidal college student, who leaped to his death from the Inn’s roof.

Contact the Battery Carriage House Inn for reservations.  You can even request a specific room, and the staff will try their best to accommodate you.

Carriage House:
JEB Images. (2011, April). Stevens-lathers house aka battery carriage house – charleston, south carolina. Retrieved from http://www.flickr.com/photos/bulebushphotography/5664039091/

Gun on the Point Battery:
coastalguide.com. (2011). Charleston, n.d. Retrieved from http://www.charleston-sc.com/phototours/charleston-civil-war15.shtml

Room 10:
(Tailofthedragon.com, 2007)
Tailofthedragon.com. (2007). Sumter sc to charleston sc ghost tour. Retrieved from http://tailofthedragon.com/CHARLESTON/day2.html

Room 8:
(grandpere, Sep 2011)
grandpere. (2011, September). 1843 battery carriage house inn bed and breakfast. Retrieved from http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g54171-d97029-Reviews-1843_Battery_Carriage_House_Inn_Bed_and_Breakfast-Charleston_South_Carolina.html

The Whistling Doctor of Dueler’s Alley

•April 30, 2012 • 5 Comments

Philadelphia Alley Sign (May, 2009)

When strolling through the streets of Charleston’s Historic district, it’s easy to feel as though you’ve stepped backward in time.  And there is no place where that is more true than in Philadelphia Alley.

Philadelphia Alley is a secluded, one-block stretch nestled between Church Street and State Street.  Originally named “Cow Alley” (probably because it was occupied mainly by livestock), Francis Kinloch widened it a bit in 1766, and renamed it “Kinloch Court,” as it ran through his property, adjoining Cumberland and Queen Streets.  Then in 1811, Charleston native and U.S. Supreme Court Justice, William Johnson renamed it “Philadelphia Alley” in honor of the aid received by the city of Philadelphia in the wake of a fire in 1810.

Locals, though, refer to it as Dueler’s Alley.

The Hamilton-Burr Duel of 1804 (Mund)

The practice of dueling dates back to medieval times.  Most of us have likely heard the story of the famous 1804 duel in which Alexander Hamilton, the first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, was mortally wounded by then-U.S. Vice President, Aaron Burr.  We may even regard dueling as a “fight to the death.”  But dueling wasn’t really about killing—killing was incidental.  It was about chivalry and honor.  A man willing to participate in a duel was seen as one who was willing to die for his honor.  In fact, not participating in a duel after having been publicly insulted would have taken a serious toll on a man’s reputation.

Philadelphia Alley (daveharrisphoto.co.uk, 2012)

Today, most of us would probably consider dueling to be a barbaric and largely ineffective way for two men to settle their differences.  However, until 1881, dueling was legal, even celebrated, in Charleston.  Duels in Charleston followed the Code Duello, a set of 25 rules set forth in 1777 by the Irish.  Within the city, duelers took to what is now Philadelphia Alley.  It was the perfect place, really, due to its high walls on either side and limited access at the ends.   On one side of the alley, there was even a cutout in the wall that led straight to the graveyard at St. Philip’s Church.  You know what they say: location, location, location.

Joseph Brown Ladd wasn’t a native Charlestonian.  Born near Newport, Rhode Island in 1764, Ladd was the son of a farmer.  He whistled while working the fields under his father’s supervision, but he was a daydreamer who was most interested in the fine arts.  He dreamed of using his mind, not his hands, to make his way in life—which caused much conflict and resulted in a rather turbulent relationship between father and son.  Joseph’s father, William Ladd, simply didn’t understand his son, and often reprimanded Joseph for his love of poetry, art, and his incessant whistling.  But the elder Ladd loved his son, and soon recognized that Joseph was just miserable on the farm in Rhode Island.  William Ladd, fearing his son would leave, allowed Joseph to spend more time pursuing his intellectual interests at the Redwood Library in Newport.  It was at the library that Joseph met his true love, Amanda.

Philadelphia Alley at Night (Hall, 2006)

Not much is known about Amanda.  We do know, though, that Joseph would spend hours with her, writing poetry for her and professing his love.  After several weeks, he explained to his father that he was serious about Amanda, and wanted to marry her, but did not know how to first establish himself.  William Ladd referred Joseph to family friend and physician, Dr. Isaac Senter.  Joseph apprenticed with Dr. Senter, and, soon after, was well on his way to becoming a doctor, himself.  He and Amanda discussed marriage, but Joseph wanted to wait until he was an established doctor so that he could provide for a family.  Amanda, an orphan of wealthy parents, explained that waiting wasn’t necessary—all of her family’s money belonged to her.

Convinced, Joseph called upon Amanda’s guardian, an unscrupulous lawyer who managed Amanda’s finances.  The lawyer, knowing he would lose his comfortable stipend if Amanda married, turned Joseph away.  If that wasn’t bad enough, he began a ruthless smear campaign against Joseph, and told everyone who would listen that Joseph was a scoundrel with designs to get his hands on the poor orphan’s money.  As the poisonous gossip spread, the people of Newport began acting differently toward Joseph.  They avoided eye-contact, and whispered behind his back…and it began to affect Dr. Senter’s practice.

Dr. Senter finally pulled Joseph aside and explained the situation.  He knew Amanda’s guardian was slandering his apprentice, but because Joseph hadn’t waited until he had gotten himself established, public perception of him was tarnished, and the lawyer’s story was easy to believe.  The solution?  Joseph had to leave town and see himself established elsewhere.

59 Church Street (Hastie, 2012)

Dr. Joseph Brown Ladd arrived in Charleston in October of 1783.  Dr. Senter, an acquaintance of Revolutionary General Nathaniel Greene, had leveraged his relationship with the general to secure a residence for his apprentice.  Charleston, depleted of medical professionals due to the Revolutionary War, was a good place for a young doctor to begin.  Stepping off the carriage, he beamed with hope and whistled a happy tune.  He was dirty and tired from the trip, and he wanted to clean up before presenting himself to his new landladies, Fannie and Dellie Rose, at 59 Church Street.  Finding a few less-than-upstanding men on the street, the naïve, young doctor asked for directions to a nearby inn.  The men, spotting an easy mark, directed the new doctor to a tavern on Meeting Street, notorious for its unsavory clientele.  Fortunately, Ralph Isaacs was nearby and intervened when he overheard the con, saving Joseph from certain robbery and, perhaps, murder.  Joseph and Ralph Isaacs became good friends.

Joseph was able to quickly establish himself as a prominent new doctor in Charleston.  His landladies adored him.  They looked forward to his cheerful whistling as he was dressing in the morning, when he’d return home in the evening, and during the long hours he’d spend in his room—always whistling—and writing poetry for his beloved, Amanda.  He told them animated stories of his life in Newport, and of his dear love, Amanda.  He confided to them, and only them, his troubles with Amanda’s guardian, and his true reason for moving to Charleston.  Dr. Ladd was charming…and funny.  He was genuine and well-liked by all who met him.  As his popularity grew, his social status grew….and so did Ralph Isaacs’ resentment.

Isaacs began to make biting comments to Joseph, telling the doctor that he was “too important now” to spend time with Isaacs.  But Joseph was a cheerful sort, who had no desire to alienate his friend.  He introduced Isaacs to members of Charleston’s high society.  He invited Isaacs to social gatherings, and tried to include him, whenever possible.  But Isaacs, as is sometimes the case, was more comfortable on the outside of things.  He desperately longed for the social status that Joseph had, but was uncomfortable once he got it.

John Philip Kemble (1757-1823) as Richard III in Shakespeare’s Richard III (Hamilton, 1788)

Things came to a head in 1786, when both men attended a production of Shakespeare’s Richard III.  Dr. Ladd saw the show from a luxurious box, while Isaacs sat in the stuffy commoner’s section.  As the two men walked together after the show, Isaacs picked a fight about one of the actresses.  Isaacs thought she was terrible, whereas Dr. Ladd defended her youth and inexperience.  Isaacs, accusing Ladd of an infatuation with the actress, threatened to write to Joseph’s true love, Amanda, detailing a sordid, if manufactured, relationship.  Joseph, no doubt, felt angry and hurt by his friend’s invidious intentions.  Rather than get into a brawl—and Isaacs would have liked nothing more—Joseph simply stuck out his hand to bid Ralph Isaacs good night.  Isaacs only spat and turned away from his friend.

Over the next few weeks, Isaacs rebuked all of Joseph’s attempts at contact.  Worse yet, history began to repeat itself.  Isaacs wrote a letter that was published in the Charleston Morning Post and Daily Advertiser, publicly slandering Dr. Joseph Brown Ladd and saying, “I dare affirm that the event of a little time will convince the world that the self-created doctor is as blasted a scoundrel as ever disgraced humanity.”

Typical Dueling Pistols (Charleston Museum, 2009)

Joseph, again faced with defending his reputation and honor, agonized over the dilemma.  All he wanted was to make his way in his new hometown, buy a sliver of the earth to call home, and raise a family with Amanda.  But Isaacs had insulted his honor, friends told him.  They told him that he couldn’t run and start over…again…somewhere else.  Nor did he want to.  And, in Charleston, friends told him, matters of honor were settled with a duel.  No duel, they said, was evidence of cowardice, and showed that Dr. Ladd lacked character, honor, and integrity.  So, under heavy social pressure, Joseph reluctantly challenged Ralph Isaacs to a duel.

The night before, Joseph wrote to Amanda.  He was filled with anxiety and dread, telling her, “…friendly death may soon relieve my pain.”  The night was short.  Before he knew it, dawn approached, and a soft knock on his door cemented the reality of what was about to happen.  The Rose sisters walked with Joseph onto Church Street, where his friends met him, and accompanied him the rest of the way to Dueler’s Alley.   As the duel began and Joseph commenced his 21 paces, his mind likely wandered to Amanda…and all of the possibilities of a happy life.  As he reached his 21st step, he turned and intentionally fired wide of his target, still hopeful that his life—and the life of his friend—could be salvaged.  Isaacs, however, had no such thoughts.  He carefully took aim, and fired.

Joseph’s friends carried him the few blocks back to the second floor of 59 Church Street, where he suffered for 10 days before finally succumbing to his injuries.  He was 22 years old.

Dueler’s Alley Ghosts? (Parslow, 2007)

Today, Philadelphia Alley is still known as Dueler’s Alley.  Many ghost tours stop in the alley and recount the story of Dr. Joseph Brown Ladd.  Visitors have reported ghostly activity—from unexplained mist to the sounds of gunshots.  Some have reported being nudged out of the way of invisible gunfire.  Many have heard the young doctor’s happy whistling all the way down the alley, and even in the house at 59 Church Street, which is now a private residence.

True?  Go check it out.  Try any of these tour companies, but be sure to ask about The Whistling Doctor when purchasing tickets:

Black Cat Tours
Ghost Walk
Charleston’s Best Tours
Bulldog Tours

Another interesting tidbit:  Joseph Brown Ladd’s sister, Elizabeth Haskins, gathered her brother’s writings, and published The Literary Remains of Joseph Brown Ladd, M.D. in 1832.  Ms. Haskins wrote the dedication, and a sketch of Ladd’s life is included.  It’s a fascinating read.

Image Credits:

59 Church Street:
Hastie, W. (2012). Preserving historic charleston’s architecture. Retrieved from http://www.antiquesandfineart.com/articles/article.cfm?request=994

Dueler’s Alley Ghosts?:
Parslow, R. (2007, August 22). Haunting photos. Retrieved from http://eric56.web.officelive.com/spooky.aspx

The Hamilton-Burr Duel of 1804:
Mund, J. (n.d.). After the painting. Retrieved from http://www.gutenberg.org/dirs/1/0/6/4/10644/10644-h/Illus0368.jpg

John Philip Kemble (1757-1823) as Richard III in Shakespeare’s Richard III:
Hamilton, W. (1788). John philip kemble (1757-1823) as richard iii in shakespeare’s richard iii. Retrieved from http://www.vandaprints.com/image/343437/john-philip-kemble-in-shakespeares-richard-iii-by-william-hamilton

Philadelphia Alley:
daveharrisphoto.co.uk. (2012, February 22). Queen street, charleston, sc. Retrieved from http://www.panoramio.com/photo/67223013

Philadelphia Alley at Night:
Hall, S. (2006, January 3). Philadelphia alley. Retrieved from http://fav.me/dg7hxh

Philadelphia Alley Sign:
May, K. (2009, July 21). Philadelphia alley. Retrieved from http://www.flickr.com/photos/29079010@N08/3742921121/in/photostream

Typical Dueling Pistols:
Charleston Museum. (2009, July 27). Cased english dueling pistols. Retrieved from http://www.flickr.com/photos/charlestonmuseum/3798184849/

The Boo Hags of Gullah Culture

•April 22, 2012 • 5 Comments

Boo Hags are legendary in Gullah culture. (trudi, 2008)

Have you ever awakened in the morning absolutely exhausted despite a full night’s sleep?  Think about it for a minute.  We’ll come back to that.

Let’s take a little detour for a moment, and talk about the Historic Charleston City Market at 1 Market Street.

Grocery vendors and butchers first occupied the original sheds of the market, built between 1804 and 1830.  Those same sheds have withstood the years of wars and natural disasters, and today you can find all kinds of goodies–food, jewelry, clothing, leather items, wood carvings, and much, much more.

City Market, mid-1800s (City Market Preservation Trust, LLC., 2012) and today (Green, 2011)

Sweetgrass baskets. (Jacqueline, 2010)

Some of the coolest things you’ll see at the Market are the woven sweetgrass baskets.  Gullah women—and some men—can be seen weaving their beautiful sweetgrass baskets or selling Gullah souvenirs and spices.

If you’re not familiar with the Gullah culture, let me catch you up.

The Gullah culture is an offshoot of the West African slave trade.  It’s important to recognize that slaves of other origins (American Indians, Asians, etc.) did exist in those days, but by the mid-1700s, Africans were the majority, by far.  They were highly desired, and with good reason.  In addition to being skilled carpenters and masons, Africans knew how to farm, and in particular, they knew how to cultivate rice—an important part of Charleston’s agricultural commerce.

South Carolina Sea Islands (WorldAtlas, 2011)

Africans with various backgrounds were imprisoned together in large numbers, and they formed a cohesive culture…the Gullah culture.  Today, they are the descendants of African slaves brought to the Carolinas in the late 1500s.  Almost half a million Gullahs live on the eastern coast, from Florida to North Carolina.  Lots of Gullahs live in the Lowcountry region of South Carolina, and in particular, the Sea Islands.  The fact that Gullah culture has persevered for hundreds of years despite slavery, war, and natural disaster, is a testimony of their resilience and fortitude.  They are an incredibly interesting people.  Check out this video to learn more about their culture and history.

One of the beliefs that Gullahs hold is that people have both a soul and a spirit.  They believe that souls leave human bodies upon death, and, if it’s a good soul, it ascends to Heaven.  The spirit of a person has a different function.  A good spirit stays behind to watch over the deceased’s family, guiding and protecting them, if needed.

A bad spirit, on the other hand, is a “boo hag.”  The boo hag uses witchcraft to manipulate people and steal energy from the living while they sleep.  Gullahs sometimes bid each other good night, saying “don’t let de hag ride ya!”

A Boo Hag peers through a keyhole. (Melinda’s Midnight, 2010)

Boo hags are a little like vampires in that they are undead beings that feed off of living humans.  They are skinless, and bright red in color, with bulging blue veins.  To survive in the world of the living, they’ll steal a living person’s skin, and wear it like clothes so that they can move amongst the living without suspicion.  At night, though, they shed the skin, and go looking for a victim to “ride.”

Boo hags are crafty.  They can get into your house through very small openings—a slightly open window, or even a crack in a wall.  Once inside, they’ll sit on a sleeping victim’s chest, and steal their breath, or, more specifically, their energy.  A boo hag will “ride” its victim all night long, then sneak away before dawn to return to its skin.  If it can’t get back to its skin before the sun comes up, it will be destroyed.

There are some warning signs to let you know that a boo hag is close.  First, the air will become very hot and damp.  Second, the air will smell like something is rotting.

But if you’ve woken up exhausted after a full night’s rest, you may have been visited by a boo hag.

A Boo Hag counting the straw on a broom. (Zepke, 2009)

Boo hags are not without weaknesses, though.  First, they, like other evil spirits in Gullah culture, are repelled by indigo blue.  If you go outside, and paint the tops of your window frames indigo blue, boo hags won’t be able to get through those windows.  Salt, too, is a good boo hag repellent.  A salted hag can’t get back into its skin.  But it’s difficult to salt a hag, especially since we can’t just run around pouring salt on people we deem suspicious.

The easiest way to avoid a visit from a boo hag is to keep a straw broom or a brush with many bristles close by.  Boo hags are apparently curious and compulsive creatures.  They can’t seem to pass a straw broom by without counting every last strand.  By the time they finish counting, they typically don’t have enough time to get back to their skin before the sun comes up.  Sieves and strainers will also work, because they’ll need to count all the holes.

Some boo hags are able to count fast, so you might want to keep a few bristled brushes and strainers around.

If you wake up and discover a boo hag on your chest, it’s best not to fight it.  If you fight, the boo hag might steal your skin!

Have you been exhausted lately?  Tonight, when you go to bed, be sure to hang a strainer on your bedroom’s doorknob.  And leave a straw broom in the corner of the room. Maybe you should place a salt shaker on your night table, just in case.  Hopefully that will be enough for you have a good night, sleep tight…and don’t let de boo hag ride ya!

Image Credits:

A Boo Hag counting the straw on a broom:
Zepke, T. (2009). Lowcountry voodoo. Sarasota, FL: Pineapple Press.

A Boo Hag peers through a keyhole:
Melinda’s Midnight. (2010). Evil women: The charleston boo hags. Retrieved from http://jhb15.tripod.com/midnight/id17.html

Boo Hags are legendary in Gullah culture:
trudi. (2008, 2 2). Double happiness. Retrieved from http://happinesstimestwo.blogspot.com/2008/02/dont-let-de-boo-hag-ride-ya.html

City Market in the mid-1880s:
City Market Preservation Trust, LLC. (2012). History, charleston city market. Retrieved from http://thecharlestoncitymarket.com/history.cfm

City Market Today:
Green, C. (2011). Charles green. Retrieved from http://www.charlesgreenhistory.com/about.html

South Carolina Sea Islands:
WorldAtlas. (2011, April 12). South carolina sea islands . Retrieved from http://www.worldatlas.com/aatlas/infopage/scisles.htm

Sweetgrass Baskets:
Jacqueline. (2010, June 29). The real housewife of bowie county. Retrieved from http://bowiecountyhousewife.blogspot.com/2010_06_01_archive.html

The F.W. Wagener Building – the story of George Poirier

•April 15, 2012 • Leave a Comment

The F.W. Wagener Building Wagener Building (Grits, 2011)

Situated at 161 East Bay Street, the Wagener Building is a huge, High Victorian structure with large, high-arched windows and cast-iron interior pillars.  It was built by German immigrant and agricultural broker, F.W. Wagener, in 1880 to house his firm’s various enterprises.  All three floors feature an open, 80 by 260 foot space—plenty of room for Wagener’s offices and a grocery store, with space left over to rent.

Cotton was big business in Charleston in the early 1800s, due, in large part, to the thriving and profitable phosphate mining business.  Phosphate mining allowed Charleston farmers to purchase more fertilizer at cheaper prices.  Leading up to the Civil War, money for cotton poured in from England and the northern states, making cotton—and by extension, phosphate—two of the most profitable businesses Charleston had ever seen.

East Bay Street in the mid 1880s. The Wagener Building is on the right, with the flag. (Poston, 1997)

Nothing lasts forever, though, and the Poirier family, like many wealthy cotton planters, made sure their bread was buttered on both sides.  The Poiriers rented office space from F.W. Wagener, and used his firm’s services to broker their cotton sales.  Then, in 1881, things began to shift.  Phosphate fertilizer helped planters produce record crops, but those planters soon found themselves with an overabundance of cotton.  But the Poiriers were prepared.  Though business had taken a downturn, the Poiriers had invested wisely.  During the war, they publically dumped money into the Confederacy, but also quietly invested in U.S. Bonds and British interests.  They enjoyed such a lavish lifestyle and successful enterprise, that their son, George, inherited the business having scarcely worked a full day in his entire life.  Unaccustomed to the discipline and attention required to run a successful cotton business, George quickly burned through his inheritance.

Boll Weevil on Cotton (Marva, 2008)

Then, in 1885, the boll weevil fiercely attacked Charleston cotton crops.  George, quickly finding himself in over his head, became acutely aware of his situation.  His entire self-worth had been intertwined with the success and reputation of his family, so when the money began to run out, he started into a steep, psychological downward spiral.   He thought of one, last-ditch effort to pay off his creditors and move away from the cotton business.  He gathered his meager harvest of cotton, and brokered a deal with the British for his last load.  After his cotton was loaded on the England-bound merchant ship, George climbed to his third floor office of the Wagener building to contemplate what would come next.  He sat in his captain’s chair and watched through the giant arched windows of his office as his cotton left port and steamed across the harbor.

George gasped in horror at the first plumes of smoke wafting from the ship’s cargo hold.  A drunken sailor had fallen asleep with a lit pipe, igniting the last of George’s cotton, family fortune, and sanity.  He pressed his face against the glass and screamed as sailors jumped from the ship, now in flames.

Captain’s Chair (Taylor, 2008)

George had had enough.  He methodically gathered the furniture of his office, and piled it in the corner of the room, with his captain’s chair perched on top.  He stood precariously on the chair, while tossing a rope over the rafters.  He slipped the noose over his head…and jumped.

The next day, a young newsboy announced the demise of George Poirier with unintelligible screaming in the middle of East Bay Street.  When passersby calmed him down, all he could do was point to the third floor of the Wagener Building.  There, with the sun streaming through the windows, swung the hanging corpse of George Poirier.  The newsboy was the second to find George’s body.  Entering through an open window, the scavenger birds had gotten to him first.

The building was renovated several times since George Poirier’s death on the third floor.  In the early 1980s, it was the East Bay Trading Company restaurant.  There have been numerous accounts of paranormal activity in the building.  Some have seen the shadow of a swinging corpse.  Bar tenders have reported beer taps running, inexplicably.    But these things are rather bland in comparison to what restaurant manager James McCallister witnessed in 1983.

One summer night, McCallister was closing up and the only remaining customers were a young bunch up on the third floor.  They reported feeling a cold wind, and asked if McCallister could turn off the air conditioning.  McCallister investigated, but found the air conditioning had been turned off for hours.  He went to the third floor and over to a brick wall, where he found a frigid, “winter wind” that made the manufactured coolness of AC-produced air feel like a warm summer breeze.  He ran his hand all over the wall, trying to find the wind’s source, without success.  He turned to see the women sitting at the bar hunched, with their backs turned to him, shielding themselves from the icy air.  Their long hair blew parallel to the bar.  A flash of light blazed from the ceiling for an instant, but by the time McCallister looked up, he saw nothing.

And that’s not even the weirdest thing that happened.

A few months later, the cold air again became a problem.  Again, McCallister investigated and found nothing.  The next morning, McCallister arrived to begin opening the restaurant.  When he got to the third floor, his jaw dropped.  All of the bar stools, chairs, and heavy tables were piled high in the corner.  A captain’s chair sat atop the heap, slowly rocking back and forth.  Just as McCallister stepped forward to begin dismantling the pile, the captain’s chair fell, shattering at McCallister’s feet.

Southend Brewery Restaurant (Southend Brewery, 2011)

Today, the Wagener Building is home to the Southend Brewery restaurant.  They offer a family-friendly atmosphere, and a wide selection of microbrews.  They serve all sorts of American fare, from wood-fired pizzas to barbecued ribs, and some Low Country favorites, like she-crab soup and shrimp and grits.  They open at 11:30AM, seven days a week.  They’ll take reservations, but they can usually accommodate walk-ins, even in large groups.   If you go, try the fried green tomatoes—they’re delicious!

Image Credits:

Boll Weevil on Cotton:
Marva. (2008, May 10). Boll weevils, fire ants and such. Retrieved from http://marvassanitycheck.blogspot.com/2008/05/boll-weevils-fire-ants-and-such.html

Captains’ Chair:
Taylor, F. (2008, August 29). Collectibles-general (antiques). Retrieved from http://en.allexperts.com/q/Collectibles-General-Antiques-682/2008/8/Set-3-chairs.htm

East Bay Street in the  mid 1880s:
Poston, J. (1997). The buildings of charleston: a guide to the city’s architecture. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press.

Southend Brewery Restaurant:
Southend Brewery. (2011). Photos of Southend Brewery Charleston SC. Retrieved from http://southendbrewery.com/gallerybrewery-brewpub-irish-pub-charleson-sc/

Wagener Building:
Grits, T. (2011, September 2). True southend brewery ghost stories. Retrieved from http://southendbrewery.com/tag/southend-brewery-haunted/

 
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