Charleston is known for its hospitality, its cuisine, its horse-drawn carriages, its historic homes, its churches.
And its ghosts.
Yes, the Holy City is also a Haunted City, with graveyards, alleyways and dungeons where you just might see (and even photograph) a spirit or two.
At least that's what the tour guides say.
Because along with ghosts, the city is home to ghost tours. Several companies run tours in the historic district, taking you on a trip back in time to meet some of the city's most famous, or infamous, characters.
We decided to tag along on one of Bulldog Tours' most popular outings -- the 90-minute Ghost and Graveyard Walking Tour.
A good ghost tour is like a good ghost story -- it hinges on the storyteller. We lucked out with David Hinson as our guide. A middle school science teacher by day, he has taken visitors on evening strolls through the graveyards and alleyways of Charleston for 10 years, spinning the stories of the city's ghostly inhabitants.
He's been intrigued by ghosts even longer -- practically his entire life. A Charleston native, he grew up just a few blocks from the path of this walking tour, and he remembers seeing his first ghost as a young teen. (His mother compensated by painting the porch ceiling the unmistakable blue called haint blue -- known by all in the Lowcountry as a way to keep out haints and boo hags.)
But back to the ghost tour.
It's almost dark when you start (tours leave the Rainbow Market at 7:30 and 9:30 p.m.), and a little creepy as you make your way through downtown Charleston. But it's not too scary for school-age children (Bulldog Tours does have a few walking tours it recommends for "mature audiences." But the ghost and graveyard tour is appropriate for most kids -- and fun, too. Especially kids who love a good yarn.)
The tour winds through the market and into Charleston neighborhoods before stopping in front of St. Philip's Episcopal Church. There you learn the story of Sally Legare's 16th birthday party on the last Friday of August, 1860. As you peer into the graveyard, Hinson weaves the story of young Sally making her way across the pitch dark graveyard on a dare, all the way to the crooked tombstones, where something -- who knows what -- touched her neck. The story does not end well for Sally.
Hinson encourages us to look closely into the graveyard, because, really, have we ever truly looked for ghosts? He swears tour-goers have taken pictures of ghosts: they‘ve found orbs in their photographs. From the size of ping pong balls to grapefruits, he‘s counted more than 2,500 of the orbs -- and he was only about half-way through counting.
The bells from St. Philips chime, as if on queue. Everyone jumps a little.
Then it‘s time to make our way to Bloody Alley, the home of 11 documented duels (although Hinson‘s grandfather told him it was more like 11 times 100). Visitors crowd around Hinson as he tells the story of Miss Beulah Irene and the two men who challenged each other to a duel to win her love. It's an unsettling tale that ends with Miss Beulah roaming the alley for years until her death -- and maybe even beyond. A few weeks before, Hinson said photographs captured three large snow white orbs in the alley.
Miss Beulah? Perhaps.
Time to make our way to the final stop, the graveyard of the Circular Congregational Church. Bulldog Tours has permission to go inside the graveyard -- where we journey past old tombstones and underneath massive oak trees draped with Spanish moss. It's the perfect setting for a few more perfect ghost stories -- including that of young Deborah, a child buried alive and a dog that wouldn‘t leave her tomb.
We didn't find any orbs in our photographs. But we left Charleston with a new appreciation for graveyards and alleyways and a good story, well-told.
Click here for more information about Charleston ghost tours. The Ghost and Graveyard tour costs $28 for adults; $18 for children ages 7-12.