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?


Radiance and translucency—Baltimore, Maryland

USS Constellation
Pier 1, 301 East Pratt Street

In 1955, a photographer was poised to snap a photograph of a spirit aboard the USS Constellation, the historic ship docked in Baltimore Harbor. The photographer, Naval Reserve Lieutenant Commander Allen Ross Brougham, set up a camera on deck just before midnight December 29th. A friend interested in the psychical world advised him that midnight was the best time to capture something. At 11:59, something materialized on the deck and the lucky photographer snapped the shutter on his camera, capturing an incredible image.

Sometime later, Brougham recalled the moment. “How can you describe a ghost? It’d be difficult to do it justice—the sudden, brightening blueish-white radiance; the translucency.”

ghost USS Constellation Baltimore Sun 1955 Baltimore Maryland
Lt. Cdr. Allen Ross Brougham’s 1955 photograph of a spirit aboard the USS Constellation. This photograph was published in the Baltimore Sun, December 31, 1955.

A moment before, the naval officer detected the sharp odor of gunpowder. In that instant, the spirit appeared, took a single stride, and vanished after the camera’s shutter snapped.

The photograph, which was published in the December 31st issue of the Baltimore Sun, shows the figure of a man beginning to materialize. His right leg, seemingly fully formed, is determinedly stepping forward and a white or gold stripe rises up the side of the spirit’s trousers. From the hips up, the image is blurred by movement, though there is still enough detail to make out that this is a naval officer. The man’s right arm is drawn across his waist as he reaches for the hilt of his sword.

The man’s coat appears to have a swallowtail that seems to lift at the back as he marches forward. Echelons of gold buttons rise on the breast, possibly with fanciful embroidery, and large epaulets crown the shoulders. Above the figure’s craggy face, he seems to wear a captain’s bicorn hat.

US Navy uniforms 1852
An illustration of Navy uniforms in 1852. The second man from the right is a ship’s captain. From the U.S. Navy’s History and Heritage Command Website.

A glance at a history of naval uniforms dates this style to around 1852, putting this figure around the time that this ship was constructed. In the Sun article, Brougham posits that the uniform is from around 1800, but the figure’s pants with braiding on the side, prove that this is later. A ship’s captain of 1800 would have worn a similar jacket, though with knee breeches and stockings.

USS Constellation 2008 ghosts haunted
The USS Constellation at its permanent berth in Baltimore Harbor, 2008. Photo by Nfutvol, courtesy of Wikipedia.

The history of the USS Constellation is complicated. The sloop-of-war that is docked in Baltimore Harbor was constructed here in 1854, though some parts of the original 1797 frigate of the same name were used. For much of the 20th century, authorities argued that this ship was simply a rebuilt version of the 1797 ship, which has not held up under close scrutiny. From the date of her construction, the ship remained commissioned by the Navy until 1955—nearly 100 years—before she was retired for preservation as a museum ship.

During her time as a museum ship, the Constellation has seen several restorations and paranormal investigations. Staff and guests have experienced much activity aboard the historic vessel. I plan to explore these encounters in further articles.


  • Catling, Patrick Skene. “’Ghost’ appears, but Navy doesn’t give up the ship.” Baltimore Sun. 31 December 1955.
  • Mills, Eric. The Spectral Tide: True Ghost Stories of the U. S. Navy. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2009.
  • USS Constellation (1854). Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 2 September 2019.

A Living Cemetery—Colonial Park Cemetery, Savannah

Colonial Park Cemetery
Corner of Abercorn and Oglethorpe Streets
Savannah, Georgia

N.B. This entry is comprised of information from two previous blog entries: “Colonial Park Cemetery (Newsbyte)” from 26 November 2010 and “A Figure in Colonial Park Cemetery” from 8 February 2013. The article was edited and revised 15 September 2019.

 It’s an odd thing to think of a cemetery as a living thing, but in Savannah, a city that luxuriates in its historic spaces, Colonial Park Cemetery is very much alive. Locals and visitors alike still crowd the paths and open expanses of green grass between the crumbling monuments, markers, and vaults. The cemetery itself is verdant and spreads out under many old trees. Even spiritual activity shows that the dead residents are, in a way, still residing among us at their burial ground.

The city’s oldest extant cemetery, this space has served as a park since 1895 when the city took over control from Christ Church. In her 1999 history of the cemetery, Elizabeth Carpenter Piechocinski alludes to children once playing within some of the old family vaults that still contained the dusty bones of former Savannahians. The image of children happily playing among bones certainly supports the idea of this cemetery being alive and a place where life and death joyfully intermingle with the ghost stories and occasional evidence also providing tangible support. With the addition of a playground on the East Perry Street side of the cemetery, this becomes even more evident.

gates of Colonial Park Cemetery Savannah Georgia ghosts haunted
The entrance to Colonial Park Cemetery by Eric Fleming, 2007. Released under a Creative Commons License on Flickr.

Piechocinski’s history, The Old Burying Ground: Colonial Park Cemetery, Savannah, Georgia, 1750-1853, does make a statement about ghosts within Colonial Park: “There are no documented ghosts associated with Colonial Cemetery. Perhaps all the moving and removing of bodies thoroughly disoriented them, and they remain safely interred.” In 2000, a year after her book was released, Piechocinski made a disturbing discovery in the cemetery. She discovered the remains of a bound goat with its throat slashed. Not far away the goat’s heart was found on a piece of aluminum foil with a coconut and burned candle. It’s unknown if this was the remains of a religious ceremony or a gruesome prank. Nonetheless, perhaps the souls of the dead are not as safely interred as Piechocinski believes. Since the writing of her book, quite a bit has been written about the spirits that still walk here.

In 2010, I wrote about a video that was taken by a tourist in the cemetery. The video, taken on 1 December 2008, shows what appears to be a small child and another figure. The child is seen running in the background and then the figures appear to possibly fly up into a tree then come down a moment later. Investigation by a film special effects crew hired by Cleveland, Ohio news station, WJW Fox News 8 (see their story here), determined that the video is not a hoax and the ghostly figures are inconclusive.

Personally, I would have to side with the special effects crew. Yes, the figures are strange, but the young man with the video camera did not investigate the figures any more closely, especially after something fell out of the tree. The video shows the cemetery is also full of people, so a small child running along is not that unusual. I’ve visited the park myself a few times and have noted the many palm trees. To me, the falling object at the end of the video appears to be a palm branch. However fake or real, this video does provide a good reason to discuss the ghosts of Colonial Park Cemetery.

If anything, this cemetery most certainly should be haunted. While it is not the first cemetery established in Savannah, it is the oldest extant cemetery. When the city was laid out in 1733 by General James Oglethorpe, the founder of the city and colony of Georgia, a burial ground was established in 1750 at a site between York, Bull, Oglethorpe, and Whitaker Streets, a location that is a few blocks west of Colonial Park. That cemetery was closed after only seventeen years of use and a cemetery was established at the site of Colonial Park. At the time, this location was outside the city’s walls. Eight years later, the cemetery ownership was given to Christ Church. The cemetery was expanded and opened for the burial of all Christians regardless of denomination. A wall was constructed to surround the cemetery in 1791.

Nearly a hundred years after the cemetery was first established in 1750, the city dedicated space on the newly acquired Springfield Plantation as Laurel Grove Cemetery and closed the South Broad Street Cemetery (as it was known) to burials. Families with members buried in the old cemetery were encouraged to re-inter their loved ones in Laurel Grove. According to records, some 600 burials were transferred to the new cemetery. Others were removed to the newly opened Evergreen-Bonaventure and the Catholic cemeteries as well. For many year, the old cemetery sat lifeless.

On Christmas Day 1864, General William Tecumseh Sherman sent a telegraph to President Abraham Lincoln stating, “I beg to present you as a Christmas gift the City of Savannah, with one hundred and fifty guns and plenty of ammunition, also about twenty-five thousand bales of cotton.” Union soldiers, weary from their destructive march across the state from Atlanta, needed a place for quarters within Savannah. The old cemetery grounds proved useful and horses were quartered here. Soldiers also took up residence in some of the old vaults and mausolea. Bored soldiers are noted to have altered some of the tombstones while other stones were moved from their original locations. After the soldiers left, the old cemetery lay neglected for almost 30 years when the city attempted to acquire the space from Christ Church.

Worried that the cemetery would be destroyed, Christ Church sued the city to prevent the sale, but acquiesced when the city assured the church that the cemetery would not be harmed. After some work to restore the cemetery, the site was opened as Colonial Park. In 1998, an archaeological team located some 10,000 grave sites within the cemetery using ground penetrating radar. Only about 600 of these graves are marked with monuments or tombstones.

Edward Malbone marker Colonial Park Cemetery Savannah Georgia ghosts haunted
The historic marker at the grave of artist Edward Malbone. Photo 2011, by Ebyabe, courtesy of Wikipedia.

In addition to the somewhat questionable 2008 ghost video, there are other reports of paranormal phenomena here. James Caskey of the Savannah Haunted History Tour in his book, Haunted Savannah, does provide one personal story. While conducting a tour in November of 2001, Caskey noticed that some of the people in his group had odd expressions on their faces while he talked just outside the cemetery. Turning around, he saw an odd mist near the grave of Edward Malbone which is located just off the main entry path into the cemetery and is perhaps 50-60 feet inside, if I remember correctly. This grave is particularly identifiable as it has a historical marker (one of many in the cemetery) next to it. This mist rose about five and a half feet off the ground and then dissipated.

Another tour guide and paranormal investigator, Tobias McGriff, writes in his 2012 Savannah Shadows: Tales from the Midnight Zombie Tour of the “Red Girl,” a red-hued young girl’s image that has been captured in photographs taken by ghost tour participants. She is often captured as she kneels at a grave though one intrepid boy saw and communicated with the red waif. As the tour group began to leave, the child inquired why the little girl was in the cemetery and said that the girl had asked him to remain moving the guide and others in the group to tears.

ghost photo Colonial Park Cemetery Savannah Georgia unedited
Kady Heard’s unedited photo, 2013. All rights reserved.
ghost photo Colonial Park Cemetery Savannah Georgia lightened
Kady Heard’s photo after I lightened it. All rights reserved.

Three close friends of mine have captured some intriguing images in and around the cemetery. In 2013, my friends Troy and Kady Heard were visiting Savannah on their honeymoon. An alumni of the Savannah College of Art and Design, Troy had worked as a ghost tour guide and was giving his wife an impromptu tour. Passing Colonial Park, Kady spotted an owl perched on one of the crypts. She snapped a picture on her smartphone and posted it on Facebook. When I saw the picture I immediately wondered if she had taken a creepy picture of her husband lost in the shadows, though after talking to Troy, I discovered the picture was looking into the locked cemetery. Apparently, the owl is the roundish figure in the lower center of the photo, but what is particularly odd is the human shaped figure above that. I figure that the very bright lines are reflections from the iron fence. I can’t say that this photograph is conclusive evidence of anything, though it is intriguing that it may show something.

ghost photo Colonial Park Cemetery Savannah Georgia
Celeste Warlick’s photograph of the playground, 2012. All rights reserved.

Another friend of mine snapped another intriguing photo at Colonial Park. While passing the playground located at the back of the cemetery on East Perry Lane, Celeste Warlick snapped this photograph in 2012. You can see the playground equipment blurred behind a flurry of orbs. While the orbs themselves are often debated as they can be caused by dust, water vapor, or insects, there are three brightly colored orbs in this photograph. According to an internet meme, orange orbs indicate a healing, protective energy. Perhaps that is what appears here. Perhaps the air is full of water vapor or dust or perhaps Celeste captured another piece of evidence of the living energy that still surrounds Colonial Park Cemetery.


  • Caskey, James. Haunted Savannah: The Official Guidebook to the Savannah Haunted History Tour, 2008. Savannah, GA: Bonaventure Books, 2008.
  • “Fox 8 Exclusive: Video Proof of Afterlife?” WJW Fox 8 News. 15 November 2010.
  • McGriff, Tobias. Savannah Shadows: Tales from the Midnight Zombie Tour. Savannah, GA: Blue Orb Publishing, 2012.
  • Piechocinski, Elizabeth Carpenter. The Old Burying Ground: Colonial Park Cemetery, Savannah, Georgia, 1750-1853. Savannah, GA: Oglethorpe Press, 1999.
  • Stratford, Suzanne. “Do you believe? Experts analyze teen’s ghost video.” WJW Fox 8 News. 23 February 2011.