The scarab’s sting—Georgetown, South Carolina

Cleland House (private)
405 Front Street
Georgetown, South Carolina

N.B. This article was originally published as part of my 2011 article, “Ghosts of Georgetown, SC.”

Standing proudly on the corner of Front and St. James Streets among the oak and moss shaded residential section of Georgetown, the Cleland House is among the oldest houses in town, having been built in 1737. From this corner it has witnessed the whole panoply of American history, some of it even passing over its thresholds.

During the American Revolution, the Prussian General Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben; French generals Baron Johann de Kalb and Gilbert de Motier, the Marquis de Lafayette; made visits to the house while they were giving aid to American forces. Later, Vice President Aaron Burr stayed at the home while visiting his daughter, Theodosia.

Cleland House Georgetown South Carolina ghost haunted
The Cleland House, 2011, by Lewis O. Powell IV, all rights reserved.

The story behind this house reads very much like an old-fashioned ghost story. Anne Withers, possibly related to John Withers who is listed on the historical marker in front of the house as one of the owners, fell in love with a dashing sea captain. After one of his voyages he returned to Georgetown, and presented his fiancée with a rare gift, an ancient Egyptian bracelet, which featured a series of scarabs.

The scarab, an Ancient Egyptian amulet representing the common dung beetle, is found throughout the ancient world. Some scarabs were used as ornaments, while others were used as seals. During the era of the New Kingdom (1535-1079 BCE), scarabs began to be included in the wrappings of mummies. To the ancient Egyptians, the lowly dung beetle symbolized resurrection and new life as it laid its eggs within animal dung which it rolled into a ball. In the ancient religion, the beetle, personified as the god, Khepri, was believed to roll the sun into the sky.

Ancient Egyptian Scarabs
A selection of Ancient Egyptian Scarabs in the Bibel + Orient Museum, Freiburg, Switzerland. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Anne Withers, the blushing bride, saved the bracelet to wear on her wedding day. After putting on her wedding gown, she placed the bracelet on her wrist and carried on with her other preparations. Just as she was about to descend the staircase of the Cleland House, the bride let out a scream and fell down the stairs. By the time she tumbled to the floor at the foot of the stairs, she was dead.

Rushing to her side, her family discovered blood dripping from underneath the bracelet. When it was removed, the scarabs were found to have tiny legs that had dug into the bride’s pale flesh.

Leaving Georgetown soon after his fiancée’s death, the heartbroken took the bracelet to London where it was examined by a chemist. He discovered that the legs on the scarabs had been rigged to open by the warmth from human skin. Each leg contained poison that would be injected into the hapless victim. He surmised the bracelet had been made to afflict the person who stole the artifact from a tomb.

Ever since Anne Withers’ wedding day death, her form, still wearing nuptial white, has been seen in the gardens of the Cleland House.

A search of cemetery records on FindaGrave.com does not bring up a burial for Miss Withers.

Sources

  • Huntsinger, Elizabeth Robertson. Ghosts of Georgetown. Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, 1995.
  • Roberts, Nancy. Southern Ghosts. Orangeburg, SC: Sandlapper,1979.
  • Scarab. Encyclopaedia Britannica. Accessed 6 July 2019.
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