Things That Go Bump In South Carolina

A mansion likely filled with the feeling of mystery (Photo courtesy of Alice Bradway).

Alice Bradway

A mansion likely filled with the feeling of mystery (Photo courtesy of Alice Bradway).

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The older a place gets, the more storied its history becomes. While time alone breeds stories, a force much more powerful and primordial breeds folklore. This imposing force is mystery. Mystery might seem much too simple to be the mythical ingredient to generate folklore and legend, however this use of the term is much different than any dictionary definition, it is a feeling. You can experience it yourself, “although it is unwise to”.
However, if you seek it, it is actually rather easy to find. All you must do is wait until sometime around midnight and then venture out into one of the many dark places our state is home to. Whether it be someplace haunted, such as an abandoned antebellum mansion or a confederate battleground, or it be somewhere infested, like a foul bog or an inexplicably complex woodland. Once you have decided upon your destination and your specified time, you must sit and wait. You cannot distract yourself, instead you must listen and observe your environment. You may be bored at first, but this feeling will most definitely subside and be replaced by one that is much more disquieting. You will realize how dark it has become. Something instinctual within you dictates that darkness limits visibility. As a result, you will begin to frantically search your surroundings for anything that might pose you harm. You begin to sweat and the rational part of your brain will try to quiet your nerves. Just as your anxiety begins to dissipate, you come to a realization. It is totally silent. While in a better situation you would take this as a sign of safety, in this one, it is far more foreboding.
Silence is an indicator that the other creatures in the area have sensed something dangerous. The voice in your head will once again try to speak over the silence and calm your nerves. Before this can happen, something breaks the silence and resonates within you. Each and every floor creak or twig snap will become the roar of a lion. You will desperately try to rationalize each noise, but even still, they will seem to be getting closer. You will hurriedly try to tell yourself that it’s just a squirrel or something of the sort, but you will not believe yourself. As each sound comes ever closer, you will debate the possibility of the supernatural and your primal instincts will kick in. Each and every cell in your body will scream and beg you to sprint as fast as you can from whatever you think is coming for you. The voice in your head will soon only say one thing; run. You, being a creature that values its’ continued existence, will heed the voice and make a break for it. You will run as hard as you can, as fast as you can, you’ll run until you can’t run anymore.
This mystery breeds myth and legend, feelings arise from a time where nature governed humanity. When we were this close to nature, we were far more likely to become isolated in a place of mystery. However, when we wound up back in civilization, we did not yet have the tools to rationalize our experiences. So we wondered what exactly was out there. As we have gotten further and further away from nature, we have forgotten these stories of mystery and begun to reject the truth that we cannot explain everything. This has resulted in a wealth of culture and history to be forgotten.
A common facet of these stories is the importance of Halloween. It was often believed that as All Hallows’ Eve drew closer, the veil between our world and that of which we could not explain evaporated. What better a time to discuss our forgotten history? So, as that all important date draws ever closer, turn the lights down low, curl up in a comforting place, and let yourself be reminded of exactly what goes bump in the South Carolina nights.
The most common form of legend in South Carolina is, by far, the “ghost story.” One of the most common threads within these stories is the notion that spirits are left behind whenever some travesty occurs. This has an undeniable link to our state’s storied and brutal history. From the Revolutionary War, to the slave trade, to the Civil War; conflict is etched into the very soil of South Carolina. In fact, many exemplary figures in these conflicts have popular stories as to where their spirits reside. The most noteworthy example being Francis Marion, whose use of guerrilla warfare tactics in combination with his knowledge of South Carolina’s bogs gave him the nickname, “The Swamp-Fox.” He is a household name for the majority of South Carolinians. What most do not know about him, is the legend surrounding his headless ghost. It is said that a “Headless Sentry” is often found wandering the swamps of southern South Carolina. This “Headless Sentry” is encountered most often by travelers and campers, whom he questions about the location of his severed head. When the confounded victim fails to answer, Marion will wave his hands dismissively and wander out of sight. Whenever someone tries to follow him, he simply dissipates into the air, leaving the flabbergasted witness in a puzzled state.
Another kind of ghost, is one associated with a particular place, typically one that is ancient or famous. There are countless “woman in white” stories involving antebellum mansions and innumerable “confused confederate soldier” stories surrounding battlegrounds. One such spectre, is said to haunt the University of South Carolina; although, it is disputed as to whether or not he is truly a ghost. There have been many sightings of a supposed “Third Eye Man” around the campus. The unifying characteristics being that he is unmistakable malevolent, in striking silver clothes, and, most obviously, there is a third eye in the center of his forehead. By far, the most memorable testimony is that of a campus police officer. He claimed to have found a man dressed in silver clothing and with a “grotesque, oddly coloured face.” The officer also claimed that the man was crouched over the corpse of a mutilated chicken. There has been a complete decline in sightings, and the Third Eye Man has not been seen since the 1960’s. Maybe he will make himself known again this year.
The most prevalent myth of South Carolina is one told by the Gullah people. Known as the “Boo Hag,” it takes the form of a skinless woman who prowls the shadowy nights of our state. She is said to sit atop the chest of her sleeping victims and siphon the breath from their lungs. Her actions are said to cause nightmares and inspire restlessness. However, should one awaken during the process, the Boo Hag will snatch the skin from their flesh and masquerade among humans with it. Fear not, the Gullah people do tell of a method for warding off the loathsome creature. In order to do so, you must place a broom at your doorway. The Boo Hag will be so preoccupied in counting the strands, she will lose track of time and be forced to flee before the sun rises.
South Carolina is not all ghouls and ghosts though, it was also home to America’s first female serial killer, Lavinia Fisher. Her story is among the countless forgotten in South Carolina, although the most frightening and infamous have been mentioned. Be safe this Hallow’s Eve, lest you forget what haunts the night, waiting for their next unaware victim.

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