The dark masks a new moon as we continue down the streets of Charleston. The tour guide walks us to the entrance of an alleyway. The iron-rot entrance gate is shut and pad-locked.
“Behind this gate is a narrow alleyway leading to the Utilitarian Church’s cemetery,” said the tour guide. “The church locks the gates in the evening to keep out trespassers. I’ll tell you why when we circle around the corner.”
We follow the guide to a small parking lot past an antiques store.
“Just over these walls is the aforementioned cemetery.” The guide points at the 8 foot high cobblestone wall. “Years ago, that gate was not locked and was opened to the public at all hours. That is, until the antiques dealer stumbled through it late one night. You see, he was working late, passed midnight. He didn’t notice the time pass, baffled when he locked at his watch. He gathered his things and decided the alleyway would be a faster route to his car. He had never walked in the alleyway this late at night before.
He locks up his shop and walks down this alleyway. About halfway, he notices a grave mistake. There are no lights; it’s pitch dark.”
The group looks around. There are street lights all around us illuminating the area.
“These lights you see today were installed a few years ago,” the guide continued. “This incident occurred two and a half decades ago. Folks, I assure you, the path was dark.
Not too sure where the dealer was going, he stumbled on a few headstones. Suddenly, he saw a lady in a wedding dress.
‘Excuse me,’ he says, ‘do you know a way out of here?’.
The lady gestures to follow her. Without giving it much thought, the dealer obliges. He thought this woman was peculiar with this eerie glowing presence. She walked into a tree and disappears. The dealer is in shock and runs back the way he came. He runs out of the gate and takes the longer route to his car, swearing never to go through the cemetery again.
The next day, he tells his friends about the encounter. Some people are intrigued by the ghost and try to retrace his steps in finding the woman in the wedding dress. After one too many trespassers, the church got annoyed by the attraction, so they decided to lock the gate. This barred people from entering. As you can see here, no one was going to go around and climb the 8 foot high cobblestone walls.
On one particular night, for whatever reason, the church forgets to lock the doors. A pedestrian decides to see what’s beyond the gate and discovers the woman in the white dress. He calls out to her, but she doesn’t respond. Like the antiques dealer, he sees her disappear into the tree.
The next morning, the man returned to the cemetery but found no grave near this tree. From the description these two men gave, we don’t think this is the ghost of the serial killer. We believe this was Miss Annabel Lee.
It’s the 1820’s. Annabel was a frail young woman who fell in love with a sailor. Because the parents disapproved of this courtship, they would meet every night in the cemetery under this tree. Before the sailor was sent off to duty, he promised he would marry her when he returned. Sadly, Annabel died of yellow fever. On her deathbed, she asked her parents to be buried in a wedding dress. They obliged and buried her somewhere. The area she was buried was never marked, so we don’t know where the grave is. It would take a few months later for the sailor to find out, and he was totally devastated.
Edgar Allan Poe wrote about Annabel in his last poem. He named it after her, “Annabel Lee”. A few months after publishing the poem, he died.”
Then, the guide tells us something unbelievable.
“The reason I think Edgar Allen Poe wrote about Annabel is he was the sailor. The timing checks out. He spent time in Charleston in the 1820’s. He was in the navy before he was married. And most evident was how grim he looked after his time in the Navy. Check out his before and after picture.”
The tour guide holds up his iPad and shows a side by side comparison of Edgar Allan Poe as a sailor and much later after becoming famous.
We left that spot and continued the tour, but I was left wondering if the legend is true. I did an Internet search last week with very inconclusive results. I don’t think the truth matters though. It got me to think about fabricating reason to the supernatural, and how it tells a compelling story. If the truth were uncovered, I think the story would be mundane and boring. At least this way, we can put a reason to Edgar Allan Poe’s grim face.
Alas, I’ll stop it with the ghost stories. If you enjoyed this, go check out Charleston or Savannah for yourself. Take the ghost tour and decide if the ghosts are real. Or just listen to some great stories about these city’s pasts. They have some great storytellers.