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Restless spirits: Many of Columbia’s landmarks are steeped in spooky lore

Cemetery night
Cemetery night Getty Images/iStockphoto

Haunted bridges, ghost-inhabited buildings, and restless spirits make for some legendary spooky lore in most communities.

Many of the stories sound similar from town-to-town; a young girl hitch-hiking on a foggy road (or in Columbia’s case, a bridge), ghosts roaming about historic buildings for various reasons (like being decapitated by an elevator or poisoning Civil War soldiers).

No matter how logical a person is, no matter how skeptical or scientific minded, folks love to indulge in ghost stories, especially when it’s Halloween.

“All serious investigations of alleged hauntings have revealed just how easy it is for even the skeptical to be misled by limitations of their perceptual abilities and lack of knowledge of common alternative explanations,” said Barry Markovsky, a sociology professor at the University of South Carolina.

Books like “Spook” by Mary Roach and “Investigating Ghosts: The Scientific Search for Spirits” by Benjamin Radford talk about investigations or studies into haunted places or life-after-death claims.

Markovsky said there are several common motifs that seem to make ghost stories especially appealing.

“Some are just designed to titillate, giving a little adrenaline rush like a carnival ride,” he said. “Some are more subtle: the idea that ghosts arrive to warn us, to finish something left undone, to solve a mystery, to transmit a message to the living, etc. Some ghost stories have revenge themes. Some treat ghosts as though caught in an eternal loop of repetitive behavior.”

Whatever the reasons, ghost stories endure through generations.

“People attach a full range of credence to ghost stories,” Markovsky said. “At one extreme, some people think they’re silly, or fun and interesting without believing them. At the other extreme, there are many with an unshakable belief that ghosts are real. In both cases, belief or disbelief are generally based on people’s gut feelings rather than on any carefully gathered evidence.”

Real or not, stories such as an overall-wearing man haunting a textile-mill turned museum, a sad woman leaving indentations on a bed in the historical house she once lived in, or long-dead children leaving handprints on windows have been shared for decades in Columbia.

And with Halloween a few days away, what a better time to read them. Whether you believe them or not (or admit you do).

Adluh flour mill
Legend says the warehouse at the historic Adluh Flour Mill at 804 Gervais St., in The Vista, is haunted by the ghost of Jerome Busbee, once a longtime employee rumored to practice voodoo. The State

Jerome Busbee at Adluh Flour

Legend says the warehouse at the historic Adluh Flour Mill at 804 Gervais St., in The Vista, is haunted by the ghost of Jerome Busbee , once a longtime employee rumored to practice voodoo.

After Busbee died, it is said a cart he used to load and unload goods could not be moved. When workers tried to move it, it remained frozen in place, pinned by Busbee’s spirit. When a supervisor who didn’t believe the story tried to move the cart, it tipped over and still could not be moved. To this day, it is said the cart can be found lying on its side in the old warehouse.

Dupre building
Hauntings have been reported at the historic Dupre Building at 807 Gervais St. Tenants have reported strange sounds, including footsteps and doors shutting in office suites. The State

Dupre Building

Hauntings have been reported at the historic Dupre Building at 807 Gervais St. Tenants have reported strange sounds, including footsteps and doors shutting in office suites. When tenants call out or look to see who is in a suite with them they find the suite’s doors are locked but no one is there.

Fort Jackson1
While training at Fort Jackson’s Omaha Range, some say a mysterious soldier sometimes joins in the activity. Sean Rayford The State

Fort Jackson

While training at Fort Jackson’s Omaha Range, some say a mysterious soldier sometimes joins in the activity. Reports say you can see right through him, and he has a head wound and a hole in his helmet. After awhile the young soldier just vanishes.

Legend speculates it is the restless spirit of a young soldier (name withheld to avoid further grief for the family) who committed suicide on Omaha Range in 1988. The apparition is most often seen in the weapons cleaning area. This is near the latrine that the soldier shot himself in on that fateful October day fifteen years ago. He was 19 years old and in his sixth week of training. Ironically, he was from Omaha, Neb.

He is not the only one to return to Fort Jackson after death. In the B 369 barracks it is said that at night a shadowy figure can be seen walking down the second floor hallway checking doors. When he finishes his rounds he moves down the stairs and goes into the dayroom. He lingers here for awhile and then vanishes.

Olympia Mill
Olympia Mill closed in 1996. The mill operated using the labor or children, as well as adults. Some children were killed or had arms and hands mangled by the high-speed machines. Boysell Hosey The State

Olympia Mills/Granby

Olympia Mill at 510 Heyward St., was constructed in 1899 and the cotton mill closed in 1996. It is now apartments for mostly University of South Carolina students.

The mill operated using the labor or children, as well as adults. Some children were killed or had arms and hands mangled by the high-speed machines. Reports say that since the mill has been turned into apartments, residents have reported the sounds of children crying and have seen small hand prints appear in fogged up windows.

South Carolina Lunatic Asylum

The asylum at 2414 Bull St., was built in 1822, one of the first public mental health hospitals in the country. The grounds of the hospital were used as a Civil War prison camp, and after the war many soldiers were treated there. Passersby claim to have seen strange shadows moving about inside the buildings, as well as heard hospital sounds and voices of former patients.

IMG_USC_Horseshoe_3_1_GQDM69KD_L388588421 (2).JPG
The Horseshoe — the site of the university’s original campus, which dates to 1805 — has a few ghost stories. The State

University of South Carolina

The Horseshoe — the site of the university’s original campus, which dates to 1805 — has a few ghost stories.

Some have seen the lights on overnight at South Carolina Library — when former University President James Rion McKissick, who is buried in front of the library, is said to be wandering the building and perusing the books.

Students have also reported feeling sudden cold spots, as well as seeing doors opening and things inexplicably moving around.

DeSaussure College
In DeSaussure College, now a dorm, some have seen a female apparition with long, dark hair;. handout

In DeSaussure College, now a dorm, some have seen a female apparition with long, dark hair; she is said to be the daughter of Dr. Black. The daughter avenged her father’s murder by poisoning the group of soldiers who killed him. After accidentally drinking some of the tainted wine herself, her spirit and those of the soldiers now reside in the building.

LongStreet Theatre
During the Civil War, Longstreet Theatre was used as a hospital, complete with a morgue. Gerry Melendez/gmelendez@thestat The State

About a mile away, Longstreet Theatre is also purported to be haunted. During the Civil War, the theater was used as a hospital, complete with a morgue. People have reported walking into a sudden cold spot, feeling an inexplicable sense of unease, witnessing the appearance of a spirit or hearing odd noises, such as doors slamming or floorboards creaking. The elevators in the building also tend to open of their own accord when no one is there to have summoned one.

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Robert Mills House. 9/21/15 Tracy Glantz tglantz@thestate.com

Robert Mills House and Hampton-Preston House

Tour guides and other folks who work at the Robert Mills House, 1616 Blanding St., and Hampton-Preston House, 1615 Blanding St., say they’ve experienced spirits inside these historic old homes many times over the years.

One such sighting occurred at Christmastime about a decade ago. It was after the annual Christmas candelight tours, held annually at the homes which are across the street from each other.

A staff administrator for the Richland County Historic Preservation Commission and somebody from the city fire department blew out the dozens of candles throughout the Hampton-Preston House.

The security system was turned on. Doors were locked.

The two walked across the street to meet their co-workers who were shutting down the Robert Mills house. Their co-workers said “Oh, you didn’t do the Hampton-Preston yet?” The two said of course they had. Their co-workers said “Then why are those lights flickering?”

The two turned to see all the candles lit in the front room of the Hampton-Preston house.

The spirit that lit the candles could be one of many. Three Wade Hamptons lay in state in that house, and many women died in childbirth there.

But the spirit believed to stalk the house across the street could only be one.

The Hampton-Preston House was built in 1818 for Ainsley Hall, a wealthy merchant, and his wife, Sarah. After the Halls had lived in the house three years, Gen. Wade Hampton bought the house. Sarah was furious, so Ainsley built another house across the street that looks down on their first home.

Hall commissioned Charleston architect Robert Mills to build the house but Ainsley died of a heart attack before the house was finished. His financial matters were in disarray, forcing his wife lived a meager existence until her own death.

Occasionally, the people who work at the Robert Mills House enter the house in the morning to see a depression on one of the beds as if someone has been sleeping there. The depression is believed to be that of Sarah Hall.

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Driving across the Gervais Street Bridge on rainy or foggy nights, some say the ghost of a young girl in need of a ride appears. The State

Gervais Street Bridge

Driving across the Gervais Street Bridge, some say they have seen the ghost of a young girl in need of a ride. She hitches a ride with drivers but vanishes before reaching her destination.

Some say she’s more likely to appear on rainy or foggy nights, and says she’s en route to Columbia to visit her mother, providing an address on Pickens Street. She chats for a while then falls silent and disappears once the car is across the river. One story says in the 1940s, a woman was killed in the spot that is now the beginning of the bridge, while trying to get to Columbia to see her mother.

Bubba at The S.C. State Museum

Like most ghost stories, the tale of the spirit that roams the S.C. State Museum, 301 Gervais St., begins with a tragic death that occurred inside the building’s historic brick walls.

Built in the late 1800s, the textile business was the first totally electric powered mill in the world. The mill closed in 1981 and the building was donated to the state.

During the days of Columbia Mills, the large freight elevator — still in operation today — was used to haul cotton up to certain floors.

An employee of the mill was looking down the shaft of the elevator thinking the elevator itself was below him. But it wasn’t. It was above him. And before he realized it, the elevator came down on his head, decapitating him.

“After the mill’s conversion to a museum, a ghost, nicknamed ‘Bubba,’ was reported on the third floor,” said Jared Glover, of the S.C. State Museum.

Witnesses have seen a man in overalls and boots wandering about the exhibits.

“We’ve had some former employees that have had encounters with Bubba, near the schoolhouse on the fourth floor,” Glover said. “There are reports of the bell ringing while nobody is around. Others have said they spotted a dark shadowy figure near the hearse.”

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