A holy ghost at St. Philip’s

St. Philip’s Episcopal Church
146 Church Street
Charleston, South Carolina

St Philips's Church Charleston SC ghosts haunted
St. Philip’s Church, 2012. Photo by Lewis O. Powell IV, all rights reserved.

In 2017, British newspapers broke the story of a visitor to New Bern, North Carolina’s Tryon Palace who captured video of a woman in period clothing walking past a doorway. Exclaiming “Dude, scary lady,” the visitor thought that they had just captured a ghost, though the house museum is staffed with docents in period clothing.

The British papers have again broken a story about ghostly phenomena in the Carolinas, this time concerning the image of a ghostly figure captured within the churchyard of St. Philip’s Church in Charleston, South Carolina. It seems a recent visitor to the Holy City took a photograph while on a ghost tour. This article displays the recent photo as well as its older counterpart.

The tour stopped in a popular location just outside the gates of the historic churchyard surrounding the National Historic Landmark church. There, the guide told the story of Sue Howard Hardy, a Charleston socialite who died and was buried here in 1888 after enduring complications from a difficult childbirth. On June 10, 1987, Harry Reynolds, a local resident, was eager to test out a new camera he had purchased. He stopped by the old cemetery and stuck his new camera through the bars on the gate and took a number of pictures. When he got his developed photos back, he was shocked to see a figure bending over a grave in the photo in an attitude of mourning.

Hardy Grave St Philip's Church Charleston SC
The grave of Sue Hardy in St. Philip’s Churchyard. Photo taken 2011 by Lewis O. Powell, IV. All rights reserved.

Reynolds sought to identify the mysterious figure and easily located the grave. After doing some research on Mrs. Hardy, he realized that the grave also likely contained the remains of her stillborn child whose birth led to her death six days later. Reynolds had taken his photograph on the anniversary of the child’s unfortunate birth. Over time, the strange photo has been discussed in paranormal circles and shared on many ghost tours as they stop by the gates of St. Philip’s. The articles mention that some pregnant guests have experienced issues after seeing the photo on the tour.

Near the gates where the tours commonly stop, the church has put up a small sign proclaiming, “The only ghost at St. Philip’s is the Holy Ghost,” perhaps in an effort to counteract the ghost tales that have become so popular.

Sign at St. Philip's Church, Charleston SC
The sign just inside the fence of St. Philip’s Churchyard. Photo taken 2011 by Lewis O. Powell, IV. All rights reserved.

An article appearing in the British Daily Mirror and the Daily Star, has publicized a new photograph that may also be of the wraith of Mrs. Hardy. In the photo, a translucent figure in a diaphanous white gown seems to be strolling with its head bowed through the cemetery. Unfortunately, the photo is quite blurry and has likely been cropped, which make it difficult to identify the angle from which it was taken, though I believe it was probably taken through the fence near the church’s ghost plaque, which would put it within sight of Mrs. Hardy’s grave. Neither papers reveal when the photo was taken, which might aid in identifying the figure. Is this Mrs. Hardy’s spirit or someone or something else?

Containing over 3,000 burials, the churchyard of St. Philip’s is among the many haunted sites in Charleston’s historic district. The church’s congregation dates to 1680 and its first dedicated building was constructed in 1682 on the site of what is now St. Michael’s Church at the corner of Meeting and Broad Streets (which is also haunted). The congregation relocated to Church Street in 1723 and that building was destroyed by fire in 1835. The current building opened in 1838 and has been dubbed the “Westminster Abbey of South Carolina” for the number of notable people buried within its precincts.

St. Philip's Church Charleston SC
The row of graves seen in the 1987 photo. Photo taken 2011 by Lewis O. Powell, IV. All rights reserved.

The churchyard features the graves of a signer of the Declaration of Independence, Edward Rutledge; several members of the Continental Congress, Christopher Gadsden and Isaac Motte; a Vice President of the United States, John C. Calhoun; author DuBose Heyward; and many assorted politicians, governors, and other noted names. Who knows how many of these holy ghosts remain to walk in old St. Philip’s Churchyard?

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