If you were ever to happen upon me while I’m with my parents, there’s a good chance that you would hear them call me by my nickname, Spooky. In short, I went through a phase of loving all things witches and wizards as a kid and somehow a form of Pooky morphed into Spooky. Frankly, the story behind my childhood moniker is not all that interesting, and thinking back, I’m really not sure why it stuck, but here we are.
Go For It: Ghost Touring
Embarrassing nicknames aside, I do still have an interest in the supernatural and was thrilled at the prospect of taking my very first ghost tour in Charleston. As South Carolina’s oldest city, Charleston is absolutely brimming with stories, and the licensed tour guides at Bulldog Tours are thrilled to tell them. Whether you want to hear the history of the city as you walk through secret gardens and cobblestone streets or get a literal taste of Charleston through a culinary tour experience, there is no better way to immerse yourself in the rich culture of the Holy City.
Despite the warm summer weather, the evening of my ghost tour was beautiful. Even the cemeteries in Charleston are special, y’all. Magnolia Cemetery is just outside the city center, but it somehow feels like another world. The eerie quiet and calm that you sense as the gates close, and the long shadows that grow as the sun begins its descent, provide the perfect setting for spooky stories. As we walked along the marsh and beneath the Spanish Moss-laden oaks and listened to Bulldog Tours founder, John LaVerne, it was easy to feel immersed in the lives and stories of the 35,000 or so residents of the hauntingly beautiful Victorian burial grounds.
Bulldog Tours is the only tour company with access to Magnolia Cemetery, a hard-earned access that has given visitors the opportunity to not only learn of Charleston’s history in such a unique way, but also to support the cemetery itself. A major part of Bulldog’s mission as a sustainable tour company is to give back to the properties that they feature. They proudly note that, “a portion of all ticket proceeds go back into the properties we tour, ensuring that Charleston’s most historically significant—and often complex—landmarks, structures, sites, and stories, are preserved for future generations to see, hear, consider, and explore.”
Throughout the tour, the headstones, mausoleums and the various features of the grounds prompted narratives of all kinds. We heard all kinds of stories—like a socialite’s unsolved murder and how “keeping up with the Joneses” was still prevalent beyond the grave as Charleston families battled for fanciest resting place. One patriarch went so far as to have stained glass windows installed in his pyramid-style mausoleum. We also reflected on the heroism of the crew of the H. L. Hunley who were laid to rest there. Each story and sight was more compelling than the next. LaVerne also informed us that it is not uncommon for residents of Magnolia to make their presence known to certain tour participants.
A young girl in a yellow dress has been spotted more than once, often appearing to motherly figures. There’s also a gentleman—maybe a soldier—who appears sometimes in certain areas of the cemetery. While hearing of these occurrences is fairly spooky, it’s also fascinating to know that these souls, unnamed to us, choose to reveal themselves, making efforts to tell their forgotten stories in some way. Should you ever have such an experience while on a tour, don’t hesitate to share it with your tour guide. Your encounter could help shape later tours and give new life to the tales of the long lost.
Though I didn’t personally have a supernatural encounter while I was on my tour through Magnolia Cemetery, one of my friends did! She stepped away from the group for a short while to take some video of the stunning landscape, only to feel a gentle tugging at her collar. In response, she quickly packed away her equipment and rejoined the group, seemingly honoring the resident’s request for “no pictures, please.”
Even if you don’t have an affinity for the spooky or supernatural, taking a ghost tour is a completely unique way to experience history. Whether you’re a Charleston local, a frequent visitor or you’re planning to visit for the first time, add this tour to your to-do list. After all, who doesn’t love a good ghost story?!