The Holy City could just as well be called the Haunted City, for all of the ghost-lore history it holds. Tonight you will experience the strange and true stories of Charleston’s dark and fascinating history. These stories are grounded in real people, real beliefs and real events, all giving rise to spectacular legends and superstitions.
All of tonight’s characters are based on works of literature, extensive archival research and numerous interviews.
“It should come as no surprise that the Devil has his hands full in Charleston. With our deep history of human bondage and suffering of all varieties, who would not be tempted by the Devil? It’s said that one such enslaved man, John DeMingo did, in fact, sell his soul to the Devil and the Devil came to collect him right on Market Street.
John DeMingo went to market that day, like any other day, and in broad daylight, a tight black cloud descended, swirling around poor John like a tornado, lifted him into the sky – then disappeared. Leaving no further trace of the man.
No one mourned him. Everyone knew he’d sold his soul to the devil. Now, why on earth would he do that, you may ask? Because John DeMingo wanted what we all want. John DeMingo wanted to be free. The devil, disguised as a libertine, offered him his soul’s desire. And so John DeMingo ran off with devil He chose to run the risk of being free.”
“Harriet Mackie was an only child to very wealthy parents. Sadly, Harriet’s mother and father passed away when Harriet was only 12 – leaving one question burning on everyone’s mind: who would get all that money?
No one had ever left such a fortune to an only daughter. Harriet’s father, however, left every last penny to Harriet – with one condition: Harriet would not receive the money until she turned 22 or until she married, whichever came first. In other words, Harriet had to live long enough to come into her wealth.
When Harriet was 17, she fell madly in love with a wonderful young man. They were set to be married at St. Michael’s in a lavish wedding. 3 days before the wedding, Harriet dropped dead. Poisoned by her very own cousin – who was next in line for the family money. Harriet’s fiancé swore revenge against his beloved’s killer, vowing to cross all ends of time if he had to in order to get justice.
Which he may still be doing. Because Harriet is a regular apparition in St. Michael’s, seen in the wedding dress she never wore in life, a dead bride still waiting for her fiancé to walk her down the aisle.”
“The Boo hag. Also called the slip skin hag. Sounds a bit silly, doesn’t she? Yet she’s the most terrifying of Charleston ghouls – some find her more terrifying than the Devil himself. The boo hag appears as a woman by day, but at night, she slips out of her skin as easily as slipping off a cape.
She then steals into your room under cover of darkness, traveling like a ghost. You are rendered paralyzed in her presence. The weight of her body drops onto your chest. Your limbs are frozen, your voice trapped in your throat. There is nothing you can do to resist, even as you feel the horrid sensation of your blood, your very life force sucked from your neck.”
“Dr. Ryngo was Charleston’s most respected physician. It was said he performed medical miracles. Until one day in 1853, Dr. Ryngo declared that he was finished with the practice of medicine as we know it. Instead, he would devote all of his time to further scientific study and experimentation – on the dead.
He purchased a girl at a slave auction. A girl no one else would have, because she had a limp and was sickly. But to our Dr. Ryngo, who became known as Dr. to the Dead, whether she died didn’t matter. Because what if he could resurrect her and turn her into something else . . .?
The girl was later found on a cold fall morning in the Dr.’s home on King Street, up on the third floor in a laboratory, in an open coffin, surrounded by beakers of the most foul-smelling chemicals, bubbling into and out of her body through tubes. By all accounts, the girl was dead. Then a wisp of breath floated from her mouth into the cold room. And she opened her eyes.”
“Our Dr. to the Dead did not limit his experiments to one girl. No, he attempted – and some say succeeded – in resurrecting a fully buried corpse, straight from the grave.
On one of the Dr.’s nightly walks through the graveyard, he spotted a young woman named Helen, recently deceased and buried, but standing as in the flesh just above her own grave, dressed in yellow.
He approached her, not believing his eyes. This was no ghost. He felt the flesh of her arm, solid, yet soft. Come with me, he begged. She agreed, on one condition: she must return to her grave before dawn.
For the next months, every single night, the Doctor escorted Helen from her grave. And just before dawn, the Doctor, in angst, returned her.
One night, he couldn’t bear it anymore. Stay with me, he pleaded, as he held her tight.
Dawn approached, the first light of day cracked into the graveyard. But he didn’t let her go. And then, it was too late. Helen fell from the Doctor’s arms and crumbled into ashes at his feet. The Doctor never saw Helen again.”
“Charleston was a home port for pirates. One such pirate was Anne Bonny. When Anne turned 14, she became obsessed with the action in the Charleston harbor. The sea! The ships! The pirates.
But girls couldn’t be pirates. So Anne cut off her hair and dressed like a boy, fought and swore and stole, eventually earning her way onto Calico Jack’s pirate ship. Her true feminine nature soon outed and Jack fell head over heels for Anne. Anne possessed natural leadership and quickly took over Jack’s ship. From then on, when her pirate ship sailed into a port, she announced her arrival by throwing off her shirt, cursing and swinging her sword over her head.
Anne became an international superstar. At a time when women had to obey orders, Anne ordered around a crew of men. At a time when women couldn’t speak, Anne’s foul mouth made the crudest man blush. And when Anne bested a man in hand to hand combat, she made sure he knew he was defeated by a woman.”
“The Legend of Lavinia Fisher: Lavinia and her husband John had a guest house just outside town. Lavinia was very beautiful, and lured travelers in for tea. Frequently, the tea contained oleander . . . a poison. If the poison didn’t kill her victim right away, he’d fall sleepy and Lavinia would invite him to stay in a guest room.
In the middle of the night, a trap door would open under the bed, the bed would fall all the way to the cellar, where John would finish off the man by chopping him to pieces with an ax. They then buried the body parts in the backyard and stole all of his goods.
This murderous couple was finally brought to justice and sentenced to death by hanging. Lavinia’s last words on the gallows: If anyone has a message for the devil, give it to me, I’ll carry it.
Now comes the twist: Lavinia always claimed to be innocent; she claimed they had been framed. In fact, no body parts were ever found on their property. No evidence of stolen goods. Yet Lavinia and John were sentenced to death for murder and highway robbery. Lavinia slowly went mad, in her cell in the City Jail, not comprehending her fate.
On her way to the gallows, she fought and ranted like a madwoman – until the noose silenced her. The next day, the newspaper reported: Lavinia’s countenance carried the great weight of grief and sorrow. Not guilt.”
Lavinia haunts the jail to this day. Is she worried she’ll never receive forgiveness, even for deeds she didn’t commit? Will she ever find peace?”
“These are not tales made up from thin air. All of the stories you heard were based on real people or experiences reported by real people.”