Larry Slawson received his Master's Degree from UNC Charlotte. He specializes in early American History.
The Palmetto State
Throughout South Carolina, there exists a number of sites and locations that are renowned for their haunted pasts and histories. From the ghosts of Pawleys Island to the infamous “Hells Gate Cemetery,” this work examines (and ranks) the 10 scariest and most haunted sites known to currently exist in South Carolina. It is the author’s hope that a better understanding (and appreciation) of these remarkable sites (and stories) will accompany readers following their completion of this work.
In order to select (and rank) the scariest historical sites in South Carolina, a number of basic criteria were necessary for the extent and purpose of this work.
First and foremost, each of the following locations (and ghost stories in general) was ranked according to their overall number of ghost sightings and strange phenomena reported by locals. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, each of the following locations was selected according to their overall “eeriness” and scare factor. While this latter category is largely subjective and dependent, in part, on the author’s own preferences, it remains the best means for selecting and ranking the scariest and most haunted places in South Carolina.
South Carolina's Most Haunted Places
- University of South Carolina
- Pawleys Island
- Elmwood Cemetery
- South Carolina Insane Asylum
- Seven Devils Bridge
- Unitarian Church Cemetery
- Old Water Tower (Walterboro)
- Magnolia Plantation and Gardens
- Oakwood Cemetery
- Old Charleston City Jail
10. The University of South Carolina
The University of South Carolina was constructed in 1805 (in downtown Columbia) and is considered one of the South’s most haunted destinations. Of the spooky reports emanating from the campus, some of the most notable stories pertain to an area known as the “Horseshoe” (site of the original university in 1805). Students have regularly complained about feeling sudden bouts of cold air, as well as seeing various doors opening or closing with no apparent cause. In other parts of the Horseshoe, some students have even reported seeing things move around without aid (or explanation).
Other haunted areas on campus include the library, where numerous students have reported seeing strange lights during overnight hours. Some even claim that one of the university’s former Presidents, James Rion McKissick (who is buried outside the front entrance), occasionally wanders the building. The most disconcerting story involving the campus, however, lies with the legend of the “third-eye man.” Dating back to the 1940s, rumor has it that a disfigured man with a third eye along his forehead walks the underground utility tunnels of the campus, terrorizing any student foolish enough to wander alone in the dark. For these reasons, the University of South Carolina was an obvious choice for this list and is clearly one of the most haunted locations in the state.
9. Pawleys Island
Pawleys Island is a small resort town off the coast of South Carolina that is home to fewer than 100 residents. As of 2021, the town is considered one of the most haunted locations in the South, with numerous tales of supernatural activity occurring throughout the region’s turbulent history. One local legend tells of a ghost known by residents as the “Grey Man.” Legend has it that the ghost only shows up when a hurricane is near or when there is severe weather on the horizon. It remains unclear who this figure may be; however, locals believe that the person was likely an individual that suddenly perished in quicksand in Pawley Island’s marshes while visiting the island.
In addition to the Grey Man, another prominent area for paranormal activity on the island is “The Pelican Inn.” Guests regularly report hearing strange barks from two dogs that supposedly died in the nearby ocean while trying to save a drowning boy. Others have reported sightings of a young woman wearing a blue gingham dress.
Perhaps the spookiest legend concerning Pawleys Island, however, revolves around a girl named Alice Flagg. In decades past, the young woman was reportedly kept from marrying a suitor by her well-to-do family. Enraged by her choice to marry “down,” her family is said to have ripped the engagement ring from her finger before throwing it into the nearby marsh. The girl later died, some say, of a broken heart. In the present day, it is rumored that by dropping a ring (or coin) upon her grave and circling the marker three times, Alice will appear to you in gratitude for bringing back her lost ring. Whether this (and the other stories) is true or not, remains a mystery to locals. Nevertheless, the creepiness of these stories makes Pawleys Island a clear choice for this list.
8. Elmwood Cemetery
Ever since 1845, Elmwood Cemetery has been known by locals and visitors alike for its spookiness. The cemetery is home to over 25,000 individuals and was once considered by citizens of Columbia as a prestigious place to be laid to rest (due to its location). Across its 168.5 acres are the remains of approximately 500 Confederate soldiers, along with a young bride who mysteriously died only a few hours before her wedding. According to local legends, spirits apparently roam the cemetery throughout the night, tormented by their pasts and incapable of moving on to the next life.
Adding to the inherent creepiness of the grounds is the fact that much of the cemetery’s markers and buildings follow a classic gothic style, complete with wrought-iron arches, monuments, as well as mausoleums. Due to this spooky atmosphere, Fox News named Elmwood one of the “Spookiest Cemeteries in the U.S.” in 2014.
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As a result of its popularity in recent years, numerous tours of the cemetery are available to the public, including a “Secrets from the Grave Tour” that begins at 7:30 each night and a “Moonlight Cemetery Tour” that begins at 8:30.
7. South Carolina Insane Asylum
The South Carolina Insane Asylum was constructed in Columbia between 1822 and 1827. Over the next 175 years of its existence, thousands upon thousands of mental health patients are believed to have entered the asylum (later known as the “South Carolina State Hospital”). Despite early attempts to provide a safe and luxurious experience for visitors to the asylum, conditions rapidly deteriorated within the complex, resulting in serious overcrowding and poor living conditions. Likewise, budget cuts following the American Civil War seriously hindered financial operations within the facility, resulting in poor supervision and care. At its peak (1900), it is estimated that nearly 30 percent of all patients admitted to the asylum were dying each year, with most cases resulting from inadequate care and attention from doctors.
Officially closed down in 1991, the site is now abandoned and awaiting a planned program of renovation. In spite of local efforts to revitalize the complex, however, the site is regularly cited as one of the most haunted places in the state, with numerous sightings of ghosts, strange noises, and weird occurrences throughout its long history. To date, the most haunted building on the former asylum grounds is the infamous Babcock Building which housed patients for much of the hospital’s existence. Aside from its creepy appearance, it is rumored that the old building is home to numerous spirits believed to have come from former patients that died within its walls. The former asylum is, without a doubt, an incredibly spooky place where the faint-of-heart should not venture.
6. Seven Devils Bridge
The Seven Devils Bridge is a small bridge located in Woodruff, SC. Believed to have been originally constructed during the Civil War era, the bridge is now thoroughly modernized and capable of accommodating both foot traffic and cars. Locals in the area claim that the site is haunted by seven different spirits. These individuals, who were likely runaway slaves, were reportedly executed along the bottom of the bridge’s tall rafters (via hanging) during the Antebellum era. Ever since their tragic deaths, strange occurrences have been a hallmark of the bridge, with countless unusual sights, sounds, and happenings.
One local legend states that if an individual crosses the bridge at the stroke of midnight (precisely), he/she will experience a temporary moment of insanity or go completely mad. In addition, green lights have also been reported by visitors and are said to only be visible when sitting on the bridge. What are these lights? Nobody knows for certain. However, many believe that the lights are the former slaves in spirit form, roaming the area in search of peace and refuge. The bridge still stands today and is located alongside Oakview Road.
5. Unitarian Church Cemetery
The Unitarian Church Cemetery is an incredibly scary site to behold in South Carolina. Located in Charleston, it is said that the cemetery is currently haunted by a once-beautiful woman by the name of Annabel Lee. According to local legends, Lee fell madly in love with a sailor “who was stationed at one of the naval bases in Charleston” around the time of the Civil War (Carmichael, 100). The pair reportedly spent every possible moment they could with one another, albeit against her father’s will (who viewed the young man as socially inferior and unsuitable for his daughter to wed).
After continuing with the relationship, Annabel’s father decided to put an end to the love affair by locking his daughter in a room for several months (forbidding the young sailor from seeing or corresponding with his daughter). Soon after, the young sailor was eventually transferred to a new naval station in Virginia (due to the Civil War), never to see the beautiful Annabel Lee again. Heartbroken from this tragic set of events, the young girl went into a deep depression before finally falling ill with yellow fever several months later, leaving her dead within days.
At her funeral, Annabel’s father continued to forbid closeness between his daughter and the young sailor and even went as far as keeping her grave location a secret (by burying her in the family plot without a suitable marker). The sailor, known as Edgar A. Perry (better known as Edgar Allan Poe, the world-famous poet) would later write about this experience years later.
To date, local legends say that the ghost of Annabel Lee (whose real name was likely Anna Ravenel) roams the Unitarian Church Cemetery, searching for her beloved Edgar. Whether this story is true or not, nobody knows for sure. Nevertheless, its spookiness has earned it a spot as one of the South’s most chilling and scariest places to visit.
4. Old Water Tower (Walterboro)
Walterboro’s “Old Water Tower” is one of the scariest and most haunted spots in South Carolina. Constructed in 1915, the Old Water Tower stands a whopping 133 feet tall, is made almost entirely of concrete, and maintains a 100,000-gallon water capacity. The tower served a dual purpose, however, as three jail cells were also constructed at its base to house prisoners from the area. Various travelers were also allowed to spend the night in one of the cells (if vacant) when they were unable to afford lodging for the night.
Although no official ghost sightings have been reported at the tower, local legend suggests that the tower is indeed haunted. It is rumored that spirits from its former jail cells may be wandering around the inside of the tower. A staggering number of strange sounds and occurrences around the water tower seem to confirm these suspicions with locals, who try to maintain a reasonable distance from the structure whenever possible.
As of 2021, the tower is still in existence and can be found at the corner of East Washington Street and North Memorial Avenue in Walterboro, South Carolina.
3. Magnolia Plantation and Gardens
First built in 1680, the Magnolia Plantation is considered one of the most haunted places in the United States, and has even been featured on the hit series Ghost Hunters and Ghost Adventures. Over the last few decades, numerous reports of supernatural activity have been reported within the home, including strange voices (and sounds), growling, as well as the sound of music from unknown sources. To date, it remains unknown who the haunting spirits within the plantation’s walls may be. However, some have speculated that they may be former family members that resided there years prior. Others have speculated that the spirits are from deceased slaves that once worked the plantation during the Antebellum period.
Whether or not the plantation is actually haunted or not, remains to be seen. Nevertheless, after countless hours on the former plantation’s grounds, the teams from Ghost Hunters and Ghost Adventures both found significant evidence of “restless spirits” in the area. For those seeking a haunted adventure, the Magnolia Plantation and Gardens may be the perfect stop for you!
2. Oakwood Cemetery
Oakwood Cemetery (also known as “Hell’s Gate” by locals) is a large cemetery located in the heart of Spartanburg, South Carolina. To this day, it is considered one of the most haunted cemeteries in the Southeastern United States. While apparent ghost sightings are rarely described by visitors, strange noises and occurrences are exceedingly common. One of the most common issues is erratic cellphone behavior, as batteries are known to drain rapidly, and phones begin to ring randomly without warning while on the premises. Others have reported hearing the faint laughter of children, as well as sudden screams that can’t be traced to a source. This is particularly true as guests venture to the outer periphery of the cemetery, where the area is more secluded from public view. This is also the section of the cemetery that is the oldest. In these sections, strange apparitions and even bright orbs have been described by visitors, especially at night or late evening.
Perhaps the scariest aspect of the Hell’s Gate Cemetery is the fact that satanic rituals have been taking place for decades in the cemetery (perhaps even centuries). Numerous sightings and reports have been issued describing disturbances to graves, including the removal of various body parts from those buried. For these reasons, it is often advised by locals (including the police) to stay out of the cemetery after dark.
Whether these strange sights, sounds, and disturbances are true or not, the world may never know. Nevertheless, Hell’s Gate Cemetery is certainly one of the most haunted sites in the Southeastern United States and one that is sure to give you the spook of a lifetime.
1. Old Charleston City Jail
Topping the list of most haunted and scariest places in South Carolina is the Old Charleston City Jail. Located in the heart of Charleston, the former Charleston City Jail was constructed in 1802 and served as the main county prison until 1939. During its years of operation, the Old Charleston City Jail housed countless prisoners, including pirates, former slaves, and murderers. Due to the poor conditions within the prison, many individuals died within the prison walls before their sentences were complete. To this day, the old jail is considered a hotspot for lingering spirits believed to have originated from individuals that perished within its walls. This includes a younger boy who was accidentally shot, as well as a variety of pirates, former slaves, thieves, and prisoners from the Civil War period.
Among the most infamous prisoners known to have resided in the Old Charleston City Jail were Lavinia and John Fisher. The pair (who worked as nearby innkeepers) were sentenced to prison for allegedly killing and robbing numerous guests. To this day, it is believed that their spirits continue to haunt the jailhouse. Likewise, one of the most famous (and evilest) pirates of all time, Jacque Alexander Tardy, was also imprisoned within the jail’s walls after years of murdering, torturing, and harassing locals. To date, it is believed that all of these spirits appear throughout various times of the year, wandering the former jail in search of potential victims to torment.
Due to the tremendous number of sightings and disturbances reported by visitors, the Old Charleston City Jail is easily the scariest and most haunted place to visit in the state of South Carolina. Visit only if you dare!
- Carmichael, Sherman. Eerie South Carolina: True Chilling Stories from the Palmetto Past. Charleston, South Carolina: The History Press, 2013.
- Roberts, Nancy. Ghosts from the Coast: A Ghostly Tour of Coastal North Carolina, South Carolina & Georgia. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: The University of North Carolina Press, 2001.
- Ward, Kevin Thomas. South Carolina Haunts. Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Books, 2014.
- Zepke, Terrance. Best Ghost Tales of South Carolina: Haunted Houses, Plantations, Inns, and Other Historic Sites. Sarasota, Florida: Pineapple Press, 2004.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Larry Slawson
BRENDA ARLEDGE from Washington Court House on October 18, 2021:
Wow! What an article on these.
I must say the one I like the best is Pawleys Island because all of them seem nice or helpful. Like warning of impending doom.. a hurricane.
The Bridge...oh my! Don't be crossing over it at midnight.
The insane asylum I had actually heard about & that makes a bit of sense.
You have written such interesting detail like in the ine about Annabelle & Edgar Allen Poe.
The cemetary...I won't be walking in that one.
I used to watch Ghost Hunters so I probably saw that episode.
Spooky and yet, entertaining and educational.
John Hansen from Gondwana Land on October 18, 2021:
South Carolina Insane Asylum, Oakwood Cemetary, and Old Charleston City Jail sound the creepiest to me. A very interesting article, Larry. Thank you for sharing.
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on October 18, 2021:
This is a is a sad tale about S.C., Larry The Alice Flagg story was sad as all were the rest. The Old Charleston City Jail sounds like the worst, but there were not any good ones in the list. the Oakwood Cemetery sounds very spooky also I guess they are all that way. Thanks for shairng this information, Larry.