Fall is finally here—the leaves are starting to change, the air is cooler, and pumpkin spice everything is back in full swing. Most importantly though, Halloween is right around the corner, and what better way to set the mood than to take a Charleston ghost tour?
It’s Charleston’s rich history and culture that makes the city so spooky—there are houses and buildings downtown that have been around for hundreds of years, and some of their former residents never got the memo that their lease was up. It’s a good thing one of the Ghostbusters is a local, because Charleston has the distinct honor of being one of the country’s most haunted cities.
For my Charleston ghost tour, my fiancée and I met up with John, a Charleston native, who has been guiding Charleston ghost tours for over a decade. We joined the rest of the group in the market just as it got dark and made our way to the first spooky spot: Poogan’s Porch.
Patrons of this favorite Lowcountry haunt may remember it for more than just its delicious Southern fare (like mouthwatering shrimp and grits). Poogan’s Porch has often played host to Zoe St. Amand, a teacher and the most famous spirit to haunt the restaurant. Back in the 40s, Zoe lived with her sister in the house (way back before it was ever a restaurant). The sisters were very close and mainly kept to themselves. When Elizabeth died, it hit Zoe pretty hard. Zoe became more and more withdrawn and reclusive as time went on, and she was eventually taken to the hospital for depression and mental instability.
Nowadays, her picture can be seen on the walls of Poogan’s porch, and guests who see the picture respond that they knew something was eerie about the guest they just saw walking by silently in period dress.
There was once a particular sighting where one of the restaurant’s employees, while closing up for the night, had a notable close encounter with Zoe’s ghost. The apparition walked right up to her and, when asked if she was meeting someone, looked at the restaurateur in bewilderment and continued to the second floor, where she is also rumored to frequently haunt. In another occurrence, a patron of Poogan’s was looking to snap a shot as a memento of the place, when he actually captured photographic evidence of a very “spirited guest” on the second floor of the restaurant.
In addition to Zoe’s ghost, Poogan, the establishment’s namesake, can sometimes be seen in his usual haunt—the front porch. Poogan was a neighborhood dog who made the house’s front porch his home. When his family moved away, Poogan, by then a beloved neighborhood icon, stayed behind and continued to live on the porch for several years. After he died, Poogan was buried in the front yard, just a couple of feet away from his favorite perch. He remains there to this day, and guests sometimes report that a stray dog has stolen some of their lunch.
After we were done hearing about Charleston’s tastiest haunted house, John led us to our next stops on the tour, including the Mills House, where customers who come back from a night on the town often report seeing “guests” in hoop skirts (among other attire of the Old South) making their way through the lobby. John also noted that after the Great Fire of 1861 that decimated Charleston, the Mills House was one of the few buildings left standing.
Another survivor of Charleston’s fiery past is St. Philip’s Church. This church, the steeple of which can be seen looming high above the city, is still here today thanks largely in part to a slave named Will who was a member of the congregation and lived nearby. When much of Charleston caught ablaze in 1796, Will saved his beloved church by risking life and limb to climb to the very top of the massive church’s roof. He then began tearing off the shingles that had caught aflame and tossed them to the ground below. Will’s bravery saved what is, today, a historic part of Charleston’s past. The congregation (and the city as a whole) were so grateful to Will that they raised the money to buy his freedom shortly after. It is told that these days, if you are lucky, you can sometimes see a man sitting or standing on the roof of the church still protecting his beloved St. Philips.
After stopping to get some pictures of the magnificent church, we moved on with the tour, stopping here and there to hear some of Charleston’s ghostly history. The tour culminates with John’s favorite ghost story of the night, which he tells near an alley way. You’ll have to take the tour yourself to get the story, but know that not only did he and a small boy personally have an encounter here, but they also captured photographic evidence of their spooky friend.
Charleston’s rich history is responsible not only for the beauty of the city, but also the spirits that call it their home. If you have the pleasure of visiting The Holy City, take a Charleston ghost tour! There are plenty of options, including my favorite Ghosts of the South, John will tell you all about the city’s haunted history, and who knows … you may even make some haunted history yourself!