Old City Jail
21 Magazine Street
Charleston, South Carolina
N.B. This article was edited and revised 30 June 2019.
Standing in front of the Old Jail in Charleston, South Carolina, even in the midst of summer heat and humidity, is chilling. The building is imposing and threatening akin to a bully rising to ask, “Do you have a problem with that?”
On a chilly evening in early December with a chill wind blowing, the building grows more threatening. While waiting for my 10 PM ghost tour of the building, I stood in the cold with a few couples and spoke with a couple visiting from Rhode Island specifically for Charleston’s ghosts. They were staying in the Battery Carriage House Inn and had rented one of the haunted rooms for the evening. Definitely, they are proof that much can be said of “paranormal tourism.”
Our guide, Susan, was very efficient and no-nonsense; precisely the type that I like as a guide, someone who was down to earth yet open minded. In fact, she reminded me of the actress Ellen Page, someone I would love to just hang out with. She remarked that while the jail looks quite large and imposing from the outside, it is actually much smaller inside.
We walked around back and she discussed the gallows that stood behind the jail for many years. The design, apparently, was somewhat unique and would, at times, decapitate the victim instead of merely breaking their neck. She described one of the final executions, that of a young man who may have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. She ended with the statement “his ghost is said to be one of the many here.”
We moved inside and found ourselves in a cell where torture was described then moved on to a large room with a replica of the cage that was used for the more violent offenders. There was a discussion of criminals and their treatment and we moved again downstairs to see solitary confinement, the kitchen, and some other rooms off a small corridor on the lowest level. The guide pointed out a large room that had served as a surgery during the Civil War. She suggested that if any room had spiritual activity, it was that room.
We finally entered a dark room next to the exit and were told a bit about paranormal activity involving the possible spirit of a former warden, one who had served at the jail for quite a long time. After this, we walked out a back entrance and the tour was over. I was surprised by the emphasis placed on the history and so little mentioned of the paranormal, this is a haunted jail tour, isn’t it? I cannot blame the guide, she was following a script which she later admitted was very dry and dull, she went so far as to say that all the guides spiced up each tour with additional stories and information.
Being disappointed at the lack of ghosts on the ghost tour, I stuck around to ask the guide what she’d experienced. She was more than happy to fill me in on the details. She mentioned that she had lasted longer as a guide on this tour than anyone else, as many others had been scared away, especially while having to lock up the building alone after tours. Personally, she’s heard voices in the empty building, specifically the sound of men in conversation as well as hearing her name called. She’s also been touched. She mentioned other guides who have felt nausea in certain areas and who’ve had much stranger experiences in the monstrous edifice.
I was happy to finally hear of some specific activity as most sources on the haunting fail to be very specific about the details of the haunting. While the conversation with the guide was quite interesting, it bothers me that few of those details were revealed on the tour. The tour is offered through Bulldog Tours which offers the Ghosts and Dungeon tour which I took a few months ago and which I would highly recommend. Unfortunately, the jail tour is the only real chance the public has of actually touring the interior as well. I’d like to encourage Bulldog Tours to review the script for this tour and add in some more ghosts.
At the outset of the tour, the guide encouraged the group to take pictures. She went on to say that balls of energy, known as orbs, were often captured in and around the building and that this was known as “paranormal activity.” Actually people quite often capture these “orbs” in all types of photographs and, more often than not, these are reflections of light off of water vapor, dust or insects. Earlier that week, while visiting the Lost Sea in Tennessee, I took a series of photos while in the boat on the underground lake there and these photos, taken in a very humid environment, are filled with “orbs.” In my photos, I did capture one prominent orb. It may be dust or it may be paranormal.
I did capture one other anomaly, though this is much stranger. The photo shows one of the upper hallways and is looking towards a set of metal stairs. There are two very bright lights around the stairs. This was taken with a flash and it appears to be very brightly reflected off of something, though I can’t figure out what. There’s a little bit of light reflected on the glossy paint of the stairs, but it’s not so reflective as to reflect back the amount of light in the photo. Again, I can’t say it’s paranormal, but it is odd.