Charleston, SC is full of history at every turn. Lots of historic events have occurred here in its 350+ years, and many legends have grown up in those centuries, too. In the previous blog, we looked at famous legends and stories from Charleston, SC including how the pineapple came to be the symbol for hospitality and why Rainbow Row is painted the way it is. In part 2, we’ll cover earthquakes, bells, ghosts, and more.
The next time you’re walking around downtown Charleston, look closely at the old buildings and you’re likely to spot evidence of “earthquake rods.” These long and thick pieces of iron were inserted into buildings after the devastating earthquake of 1886, one of the strongest earthquakes to ever hit the East Coast at a magnitude of approximately 7. The earthquake rods were introduced in order to help stabilize the surviving buildings and protect them against damage in future earthquakes, too. Since a visible piece of rectangular iron is not especially attractive, many building owners covered the ends of the rods with decorative pieces of iron work, typically in the shape of a star, cross, S, or circle. These look like design elements and hide the very functional nature of the rod itself.
The Bells of St. Michaels
In a city full of churches, St. Michael’s is one of the most famous. Standing on one of the corners of Broad Street and Meeting Street (the other corners are occupied by the Federal Courthouse, the Charleston County Courthouse, and Charleston City Hall), the Episcopal church was built between 1751-1761 with a steeple large enough to house a clock and several bells. These bells have had quite the history. They were stolen by the retreating British after losing the Revolutionary War and then later returned. During the Civil War, they were sent to Columbia to be stored but were damaged when the city burned, after which the metal was recovered and sent to London to be re-cast. Then they were installed on a frame that wasn’t done properly and weren’t able to ring (only chime) for over 100 years, from 1868 to 1993. The bells were sent back to London after Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and were freshly installed on a new frame in 1993 and have since been able to ring as they were always meant to. You can read more about the history of the clock bells on the church’s website.
The Preservation Society of Charleston
Charleston was ahead of its time when it came to preserving historic sites. The Preservation Society of Charleston was the first community-based organization for historic preservation in the nation. Then called the Society for the Preservation of Old Dwellings, it was founded in 1920 by Susan Pringle Frost along with a group of friends. Frost was not only an advocate for preservation, but for women’s suffrage. The same year the Society was founded, the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote, was finally ratified on August 26th.
The first goal was to save the Joseph Manigault House which was to be demolished to make way for a gas station. They succeeded – the house still stands today and was added to the National Historic Landmark registry in 1973 – and since then the Society has worked hard to help protect what makes Charleston so special. That includes not only preserving individual sites of historic value, but persuading the City Council to pass a zoning ordinance for historical preservation in 1931, the first of its kind in the nation. The Preservation Society of Charleston is still active today, with headquarters on King Street.
Pirates imprisoned in the Old Exchange & Provost Dungeon can be heard wailing and moaning to this day. At the Dock Street Theater, people sometimes see ghostly apparitions on stage and in the rafters, likely the spirits of those who died in the 1740 fire that destroyed the original theater. Nearby, Philadelphia Alley is haunted by the spirits of men who died there in bitter duels.
Charleston is full of ghost stories, too many to list here. But why is the city so haunted? Some believe it’s due to Charleston’s close proximity to the 33rd parallel north, which has long been associated with paranormal activity. The city is also very old, and spirits may not be at rest after dying in fires, earthquakes, wars, duels, murders, and other violent means of death. Whatever the reason is, Charleston is a great place to take a spooky nighttime ghost tour downtown – you’ll never look at the city the same way in the daylight again!
Buying or selling in Charleston, SC? Let me help you find your dream home
Are you looking to buy or sell in the Charleston, SC area? Let me help. My name is Kenton Selvey and I help people find their dream home in Charleston and the surrounding areas including Daniel Island, Mount Pleasant, James Island, West Ashley, and beyond. Give me a call at 843-806-7222 or mail me here. I look forward to hearing from you.