A 19th-century murderess was resurrected Saturday morning and spotted on the beach at the Isle of Palms, crawling out of her sandy grave as families looked on.

Nearby, a giant crab scurried away from an oil spill, preferring to be eaten in an oversized bowl of stew rather than dip a claw into BP's mess.

It wasn't a bizarre alternate universe where shellfish are the size of sofas and executed killers get a second go-around. It was the annual Piccolo Spoleto sand-sculpting competition and, as usual, it provoked elaborate displays of creativity and skill from all who entered.

David Burt, an employee at the architecture firm LS3P, said he and three of his co-workers came up with their team's BP-inspired concept after a brainstorming session last week.

"We were thinking it needs to be bigger than life, it needs to be quirky and funny, and it needs to be buildable," he said.

As for the skills required to actually construct the entry, Burt is well equipped. He's entered the competition every year since 1998 and has nabbed a trophy each year but one.

"The first hour is getting piles of sand where you want them, and the next hour is forming them. See, that was just a round ball," he said, pointing to a three-dimensional, intricately carved BP logo at the base of his team's plot of sand. "The last hour, you use knives and trowels to actually shape it, and you have to use a lot of water the whole time to keep it from crumbling."

Burt stepped back as he spoke, surveying his team's entry.

"I guess it's kind of morbid," he admitted.

Moodier concepts didn't seem to bother the judges reviewing this year's entries, though. "Charleston after Dark," a sculpture featuring references to seedier elements of local history, including depictions of a beheaded Blackbeard and local serial killer Lavinia Fisher, captured second place in the architectural category.

There were plenty of lighthearted entries as well. And with a record 65 teams participating, many of the submissions came from sculptors new to competitive building, said contest coordinator Chris Tindal. Spectators lined nearly every inch of sand, watching the teams carefully.

One such team was that of the Freeman family, who decided to enter the contest after Charleston resident Abby Freeman asked her parents to come down from their home in Charlotte to join her and her sister in the event. Their concept? A tribute to a series of 20-year-old photographs that show the family at a North Carolina beach, posing with exaggerated legs carved out of sand.

"When she talked to us about doing the sandsculpting competition I thought, well, we're not good at castles, but we can dig holes and do some legs," said Kay Freeman, Abby's mother. "I said if we can't compete with the castles, maybe we can go for the humor."

So after completing four pairs of quirky legs, each member of the family squatted down into holes, their human legs disappearing and their torsos melding with the sandy gams in front of them.

The strategy worked.

"That's the one sculpture that made me laugh out loud, and that takes something special," said onlooker Lois Klein, who walked over from her beachside condo to scope out the artwork.

The Freeman family bond and sense of humor won over the judges, too. Their sculpture first-place in the category for most creative entry. Family members were all smiles when handed their trophies -- particularly father, Jeff, who laughed and shook his head in disbelief.

"Who'd have ever thunk it?"

Tamara Vallejos is a Goldring Arts Journalism Program writer. Reach her at tvallejo@syr.edu.