It's weird how random columns just seem to give birth to themselves and spring up out of nowhere. Last week there was concern about using Dr. Gilmore's memoirs without permission from somebody who might be authorized to provide it. Well, as luck would have it, a granddaughter's name emerged amidst a web search concerning Dr. Gilmore and the town of Holly Hill.
Her name is Carlyn Kane, and her name popped up by virtue of a response she posted three years ago to an Internet story about the fate of one Lavinia Fisher. Ms. Kane was contacted and very nicely granted permission to use Dr. Gilmore's memoirs, but this wouldn't have happened if we didn't stumble across her connection to Miss Lavinia.
Which further begs the question: Who was Lavinia Fisher? Just hearing the name may send a shiver down the spine of those familiar with the story. But why a shiver? Lavinia is such a pretty name, and the Lavinias that I know are such pretty and nice ladies.
Here's what Ms. Kane posted three years ago. Too bad today's date isn't October 31.
"My great-grandfather, Dr. J.L.B. Gilmore, Sr., (father of the gentleman whose memoirs we ran last week) born in 1816 in Goose Creek, SC, said he dug up the corpse of Lavinia Fisher for medical school. My father (a dentist) told me when I was a child the story of the 6 Mile Inn, where Lavinia and husband John had their trap doors to sneak in and kill guests, and also to dispose of the bodies. 6 Mile Inn, on an 1823 map, was directly across the river from J.L.B. grandfathers' (he was judge, tax assessor and surveyor-Dennis Gilmore) (place) at Cainhoy on Daniel Island.
"The skull - which has a marking in the socket 'SCMC' (South Carolina Medical College) hung for a time at the Charleston Medical College (now MUSC), which also housed the first museum. The skull, some neck vertebrae and scapulae then went to J.L.B. Gilmore, Jr., also a doctor in Holly Hill, and then to an uncle.
"My father gave the skull to my cousin, Dr. William Dennis Gilmore, who practiced in Greenville. After his death a bit over a year ago, Lavinia came to stay with me. I have a picture of the skull, etc., for anyone interested.
"If this indeed Lavinia Fisher, one thing is for certain: She isn't in the Unitarian Graveyard anymore."
OMG - is that not the creepiest! I think I've heard about Lavinia before, but must have suppressed the memory. Another quick web search reveals that she was born in 1793, and some tales contend she was the first female American serial killer - and a beauty at that. During the early 19th century there were many reports of disappearances in Charleston, and, according to some legends, she and her husband were believed to have robbed and killed an astounding number of people for money and trade goods.
If you were a traveler with valuables, legend says you weren't going to make it out of the Six Mile Wayfarer House alive.
After finally being arrested by the sheriff of Charleston, the two were tried and found guilty of highway robbery, which carried the death penalty. While John Fisher begged a priest to save his soul, Lavinia reportedly would have none of it. According to various reports, she was taken to the gallows behind the Charleston Jail kicking and screaming on Feb. 20, 1820, but when asked if she had any final words, is said to have exclaimed, "Give me your words and I'll carry them straight to the devil!"
And then, according to some accounts, she leapt off the gallows under her own initiative. Her ghost is said to walk the grounds of the jail and the Unitarian Church Graveyard.
It should be noted that there are publications that dispute most aspects of the legend, including a so-called photograph of Lavinia and her reported last words. But I don't want to get into the dispute and upset Lavinia in any way, thank you very much.
On a column a few months back about famous Charleston watering holes, my friend Bo Morrison shares the following reminiscences about Leddy's Bar - with a family twist:
"I recall that it was on Unity Alley at the corner of East Bay. A dingy little spot with clay and dirt floor, no heat or AC, but plenty of good times and high spirits. Although my crowd was a little younger, we'd drop in to see the older crowd enjoying their evenings. Some of the patrons were Haywood Bissell, Neal Baker, 'Doc' Charlie Baker, Fud Livingston, Bobby Cathcart, Frank Gilbreth, Gus Cacciapo and Lou Brown, who later opened The Anchor on Meeting Street. Cathcart and Livingston's tune 'Springtime in Charleston' may have been conceived on the clay floor at Leddy's."
Edward M. Gilbreth is a Charleston physician. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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