Double, double, toil and trouble, fire burn and brewski bubble. There are two kinds of spirits on some Charleston ghost tours.
At least two local companies offer special haunted pub crawls that combine ghost tales with adult beverages as quirky tour guides lead curious cocktail sippers from bar to bar downtown.
For journalism's sake, your very own Charleston Scene reporters decided to sign up for these tipsy tours, foamy pints in hand. You’re welcome. What we discovered might get you feeling festive in time for Halloween.
If you've lived in this city for a while, you've encountered a ghost. — Joy Watson
“We don’t have to lie about the ghosts here; they are everywhere.” That's a hot take that Bulldog Tours guide Joy Watson used to kick off the first night of our ghost tour pub crawl experience.
It was a Friday evening before sunset. Happy hours were in full force at bars along the Market, and our spirits were high.
Liz and I (Kalyn) started out with a glass of wine at Henry's before the tour. While there, Liz had an encounter with a "ghost" from her past, a former bartending colleague who we ran into on the rooftop. We told him of our spooky adventure, and he gave us a sneak peek with his own tale.
It involved a woman who hanged herself in the downstairs bathroom of Henry’s back in the late 1880s, “in dueling times,” as he put it. She was heartbroken over a dead paramour. He said some patrons have told him they've seen her, noose and all, still dangling in a stall. Dangling, y’all. Dangling.
As much as I would've loved to see a ghost, I avoided the downstairs bathroom as we headed next door to kick off our tour.
Tour guide Joy was a spirited storyteller, referring to herself as one of the “mosty ghosty” ones.
We started at 5Church with her rendition of cash register glitches and bar stool disappearances, before wandering past St. Philip's Church, with its crooked steeple.
"It's just a little bit off, like the folks here in Charleston," Joy quipped.
The church is also home to an allegedly haunted graveyard. Folks: Charleston was home to a lot of yellow fever, outside epidemics and (wait for it) ... murder.
At the St. Philip's graveyard, a photographer once captured an eerie image of a woman in a long dress bending down over a grave. Nobody was in the cemetery at the time the photograph was snapped. Another popular story tells the tale of the ghost of Sally Ann, a teenage girl who supposedly sneaked into the St. Philip's graveyard on a dare before a dance to prove to her friends that she wasn’t afraid of ghosts. She was discovered dead on a tombstone. The coroner had said she “died of fright.”
Church bells started ringing at the perfect, terrifying moment in the tale, giving us both miniature heart attacks. Nice touch. True to form, Liz suddenly screamed like a banshee.
Unfortunately, I can't conjure ghosts. I can’t make them appear or disappear. They do their very own thing. — Joy Watson
Next up was Tommy Condon's, which isn't haunted, per se, but has great brews and apps. We munched on some nacho fries and sipped a beer as Joy told us a ghost story we hadn't heard before. It was about romance, intrigue, war and Edgar Allan Poe. We won't give too much away.
Here, we also heard the tale of the Boo Hag, a Gullah ghoul that wraps itself in your skin while you're sleeping, like a literal “skin suit.” Not creepy at all. Let’s just say that Liz will keep a shaker of salt that has nothing to do with Jimmy Buffett on her bedroom nightstand for eternity.
For our last stop, we rolled up to RuRu's on East Bay Street, where we ate chips and salsa, sipped on a margarita and listened to Joy telling us about Charleston's famous ghost, Lavinia Fisher, who is said to haunt the Old City Jail.
"There's the legend and then there's the truth, and they are very different,” Joy said before offering two renditions of the story. One describes the stunningly beautiful Lavinia as America's first female serial killer, the other as an unknowing accomplice. It’s been said that her last words were, “If you have a message for the devil, give it to me, as I’m about to see him soon.” So there’s that.
Joy said she has seen and communicated with Lavinia a few times during her tours at the Old City Jail. She showed us some pictures, too, that are pretty inexplicable.
"That's like my posse, my dead posse," Joy said of the Old City Jail ghosts. All guides have their own “ghost crew,” she added.
Unfortunately, she shared, the Old City Jail has been purchased and soon will become office space. Given the paranormal activity there, including some dark energies, that might not be such a good idea. Bulldog Tours has access to the jail through the end of November.
All the seats are haunted, so feel free to sit anywhere — Kim Kamphaus
Off the bat, the Nightly Spirits haunted pub crawl was different from the Bulldog Tours rendition, because our tour guide was dressed as a pirate. Nightly Spirits is a national company with tours in more than a dozen cities, including Savannah, Houston and Washington, D.C. Charleston is a recent addition.
When we met with a large group upstairs at Henry's on the Market, our bubbly guide, Kim Kamphaus, was brimming with history. We were told that the initial proprietor of the restaurant, Henry Haselmeyer, a 1930s bootlegger, never really left, so to speak, and is quite the mischievous sort. There were some heavy-duty goosebumps with stories of haunted hotels and small inns throughout the peninsula, especially the Francis Marion. One hotel makes you sign a waiver to sleep in Room 113.
When we wandered past Philadelphia Alley, Kim regaled our group with tales of duels gone wrong, then, at Tommy Condon's, with stories of Edward Teach (you might know him as Blackbeard), Stede Bonnet (The Gentleman Pirate) and Anne Bonny. The Blind Tiger on Broad Street has its own bit of haunted history.
We wandered past the Old Exchange Building and Provost Dungeon to learn not only about the reading of the Declaration of Independence from the steps in 1776, but about the robbers and thieves jailed below. Kim said that sometimes the chains will sway and people can hear “disembodied screaming.”
She packed a lot of history, and a lot of ghost stories, into our 2½ hours, a fair number of which we hadn’t heard before.
And did we have a ghost experience as we toured Pirates Courtyard on Church Street? My camera started malfunctioning as I aimed into the adjacent graveyard. The flash, which had been working all night, wouldn't go off until the fifth attempt. It's been said that in the spiritual realm, a repeated number like this signifies that your guardian angel is trying to communicate with you.
The pictures all turned out blurry. As Joy told us, “Don’t expect a selfie with a spirit.”