There is something about the Lowcountry that makes for a memorable ghost.
Maybe it’s the rich history. Perhaps it’s all the old cemeteries and lighthouses. Or it could just be locals with the Southern knack for a good yarn.
But whatever the cause, in Beaufort County the tradition of passing down spooky legends is alive and well – and full of characters that are neither.
This Halloween season, locals were more than willing to retell the old stories. They warn that a strange little jester might trick you in Beaufort, a medicine woman may linger on a dark night in Bluffton, and a specter dressed in blue is known to haunt your dinner on Hilton Head – so the legends go.
THE LANDS END LIGHT
Some claim to have seen it, many have searched. The story of the mysterious orb that allegedly appears on St. Helena Island is one of the most retold local legends.
The story goes that on a clear night, a white light floats along a lonely stretch of Lands End Road.
There are more than half a dozen theories to explain the light, but the most popular says the glow is the lantern of a Confederate soldier wandering in the afterlife.
In November 1861, according to the legend, a young sentry patrolled a seemingly empty St. Helena road when a Union soldier snuck up behind him and cut off his head.
His ghost is said to wander the road with his lantern aloft, searching eternally for his lost head.
Generations of teenagers and amateur ghost-hunters as far back as the 1950s have been lured by the story to search for the light.
The method is always the same.
A car full of the curious or the bored drive to the southwestern edge of St. Helena Island in the dead of night.
It’s pitch black. The only sound is the croak of the frogs.
Then they stop the car, cut the headlights and wait.
Some swear several people have died attempting to chase the light.
“I’ve heard that you’ll see the light and then it will just disappear,” Beaufort resident Kim Poovey says. “I also heard the light chases you down the road, and if it catches up with you, you vanish for all eternity.”
Poovey, a local storyteller and an expert on local ghosts, remembered her one and only trip out to Lands End to search for the light with her husband and a friend.
They drove down the road, past the large oak known as The Hanging Tree, almost to the headwaters of the Port Royal Sound, she said.
And there it was. A bright white glow.
Poovey’s husband turned the car and raced away from the orb until they hit the intersection with U.S. 21 and its oncoming traffic.
“We are screaming, ‘Go! We’re going to die!” Poovey said.
“And he said, ‘If I go we’re going to die!’
“And then the light caught up to us and ...
“It was a motorcycle.”
It’s a familiar outcome for the Lands End Light stakeout. Now many similar sightings are captured for posterity on the Internet. On Youtube.com, for example, there are more than 10 videos documenting missions to see the light, some with more than 9,000 views.
In some, a light shines and abruptly disappears. Sometimes it nears the car, leading to screams and strings of expletives.
One video captures five women sitting in the pitch black, except for a single yellow-white light in the distance.
A nervous voice says: “Shouldn’t that be brighter by now, y’all, if that was a car?”
An older voice pipes in.
“It’s probably the cop.”
A few seconds pass and one yells, “That’s not a car!”
Hysteria sets in.
“Lord Jesus send us your legion of angels to protect us!”
“Y’all just tell me when it’s over!”
The light gets closer. It divides in half.
Then a small sedan passes by.
They laugh their heads off, having the time of their lives.
“It’s become a rite of passage, even if you never see anything,” Kimberly Morgan, of Beaufort said of her many failed attempts to spot the light. “You can’t call yourself local unless you try to find it.”
GAUCHE THE JESTER
The ghost that is said to haunt The Castle home at 411 Craven St. in Beaufort is full of peculiarities. He is said to be a French dwarf that accompanied the explorer Jean Ribault as a jester, but has stayed to haunt Beaufort for centuries.
Ribault’s men built a fort on Parris Island in 1562, but abandoned it after 11 months in want of supplies. The legend goes that they left their small companion named Gauche behind. He is known to haunt The Castle in Beaufort because it reminds him of his home wearing pink jesters cloths and befriending children.
In a 1940 interview in Harper’s Bazaar, Lilly Danner, who lived in the house, said the ghost would tap out messages in 16th century French. She said he “always swears and ... has no opinion of anyone. He called one of the family a ‘hellion’ one night.”
In a November 1969 Beaufort Gazette article, there is another tale believed to be about Gauche, who was blamed when a roast disappeared from the home’s oven.
“Either a very hungry person entered the house while Mrs. Danner was gone or it may be surmised that (Gauche) became hungry and absconded with the practically cooked roast,” a police report that was printed in the Gazette stated.
Many have searched for Gauche, but some remain skeptical, as there is no record that Jean Ribault had any jester in his company at all.
THE BLUE LADY
The story begins during one of the deadliest storms ever to hit North America. The hurricane of 1898 struck the South Carolina coast with such force it killed at least 1,000 people.
The story goes that one lighthouse captain, Adam Fripp, struggled through the storm to keep the flame shining in a lighthouse in what is now Palmetto Dunes on Hilton Head Island.
In his attempt to brave the storm and frantically keep the flame alight, Fripp died of a heart attack, and his young daughter Caroline had to pull his body away from the rushing water.
Caroline survived the storm, but was never the same. The stories say that from that day she always wore blue and continued to mourn the loss of her father – even into the afterlife.
From the time of her death, families living in the two lighthouse keepers’ homes began hearing strange sounds and movements, and the structures were soon abandoned.
In the 1960s, Sea Pines developer Charles Fraser moved the two houses to Harbour Town, and legend has it that the ghost of the Blue Lady followed. In 1969, CQ’s restaurant was built from old pieces of the buildings, and she has been a constant presence ever since, restaurant staff say.
“No one actually sees the Blue Lady,” general manager Eric Thompson said. “But we hear footsteps, bottles rattle, the lights flicker.”
Thompson said he once took a picture and saw a bright orb he believed was her aura.
The restaurant’s phone used to ring every night at 11:55 p.m., but no one would be on the other line, he said.
“They never knew why she was calling,” said Thompson.
A longtime server at the restaurant, Lisa Bernstein, known as Bernie, said that in the 1990s the restaurant staff would sometimes hear the ghost after the restaurant closed. They would sit at the bar and sense her presence.
“She would turn the radio on out of nowhere,” Bernstein said. “She would turn the faucets on in the bathroom. You could just feel that she was there. It was the creepiest thing in the world.”
LINGERING MUSIC MAN
Babbie Guscio is full of ghost stories – and so is her store.
Guscio has run The Store in Old Town Bluffton since 1978, when there were only about 500 residents in town. She remembers the locals that used to frequent the shop and tell her of the spirits that lingered in town.
One of her favorite storytellers was renowned local composer and musician Luke Peebles, whose father, Jesse D. Peebles, constructed the building that now holds The Store.
Peebles was a child prodigy on the piano and spent most of his life in Bluffton giving lessons to children. He composed music steeped in Gullah Geechee culture and was fascinated by the old legends.
Peeples helped Dubose Heyward with Gullah dialect when he was collaborating with composer George Gershwin on the opera “Porgy and Bess.”
But after Peebles died in 1994, Guscio said, the music never stopped.
On quiet nights in the middle of winter, Guscio says she can hear Peebles’ classic piano music fill the streets of Old Town.
“He knew everybody in town. He called himself a local because he didn’t like to go anywhere or even cross the bridge, and I guess even after he died, he never left,” Guscio said.
Peebles was known for late-night walks and telling stories of his old friends, some who also still haunt Bluffton, Guscio said.
One of his Gullah friends, Celia Cheney Ferguson Carroll, known as “Maum Celie,” was a medicine woman with the power to concoct love potions, heal and interpret dreams. He wrote many compositions inspired by her and would tell stories about her magic ways.
“You can hear Maum Celie still if you’re quiet,” Guscio said. “I can hear her humming and singing on Lawrence Street, still smoking that corn-cob pipe.”
Guscio said the ghosts to her are a connection to Bluffton’s past as the area has changed so rapidly with development in recent years.
“It’s sad more people don’t know the old stories in town,” she said. “They don’t even realize there are all these ghosts.”