A real Charleston ghost story
By Robert B. Simons IV
Charleston’s oldest wooden building (and probably the state’s oldest European structure — but that’s another story), has been a commercial building for most of its history, as it is now. For a brief period at the end of the last century however, it was used as originally built, as a home for a growing family, and I grew up there.
The Dr. John Lining House is associated with that correspondent of Benjamin Franklin, and the second oldest scientific weather observations known (some town in China has us beat for oldest). But the building is much older. When Charleston was founded across the Ashley in 1670, settlers quickly realized that the peninsula was a far safer location. Not all the natives were friendly, nor were the Spanish. Construction on the east side quickly outpaced the original settlement, with a surrounding wall reaching approximately as far west as where Meeting Street is today.
A block farther west is King Street, which was once the King’s Highway, but long before that it was the ancient Indian trail down the spine of the peninsula to the rich oyster beds where White Point Garden is now.
Sometime between 1690 and 1715, straight out from the city on the good high ground overlooking the trail, Mr. De Bordeaux built the minimum required two-and-a-half stories to be able to get his deed from the king. It was and is a New England saltbox design of four rooms on each main floor, separated by a north/south central hallway. As the staircase approaches the second floor, the handrail is oddly built out from the wall so that the central window lighting the stairs may be easily accessed via an extension of the floor. This position not only gave ready access to open and close the window but also a quick elevated viewpoint looking northward up the trail. To the south the small creaking, twisting stair to the third floor was normally hidden behind the door to the building’s main parlor on the second floor. The third floor was a “half story” of three rooms running east to west within the roofline, and the domain of us children.
But where is the ghost? Well. the house was first sold in 1715, the deed apparently indicating the lady owner of the “old” structure was not of sound mind, and I believe she is still there. That was the year of the Yamasee Indian uprising, and hostile tribes were at one point outside the city walls for hours. Those outside the walls became some of the ten percent of colonists killed in the war, and what would become 106 Broad was within sight of, and all too far from, safety.
Obviously the lady of the house survived to sell it, but … a cousin of mine had been reading through old family letters and explained that she had been able to shutter herself safely inside the house, but her family had not been so lucky, and the sound of her family being skinned alive outside left her mind shattered. I cannot think of a better candidate for a ghost, but is she still there?
I do not know. Much of what is above is well-documented history; some is oral and unverifiable. But what I do know is that my old room on the third floor is at the west end of the house and is U-shaped around a central fireplace. When we first moved in, my bed was on the south side in front of the fireplace, and my bedtime was 10 p.m. I was an avid reader and prone to staying up late with a good book. After all, I could hear my parents approach long before they could have seen my light. Except, at ten o’clock my light would turn off. This happened often till I moved my bed to the north side of the room. It was not my father flipping a circuit breaker; it was not overheating. I could (and did) turn it right back on. I can well imagine a mother seeing the war parties coming down the trail and franticly securing the doors and shutters, then fleeing as far as she could from the screams, from north up the trail. I can imagine her 300 years later, gently reminding a child that he needs to go to sleep in that same spot.
Now, this is a ghost story, and I have friends who to this day will not spend the night on the third floor of the house. I still have the lamp — it still works.