Senior Project Speech

By Erin H. Williams

There is an old legend that is very well known throughout the Low Country, and that is the legend of Alice Flagg. This is one of several famous ghost stories known throughout South Carolina. Alice Belin Flagg was a very prominent young girl; however, she fell in love with a man who was a turpentine dealer, and this profession was considered to be beneath her. Despite her family’s requests she secretly continued to see the young man and eventually, she became engaged to the young man. Since the engagement was a secret, she wore the engagement ring on a ribbon around her neck. One evening at a ball in Charleston, she fell ill, and a doctor concluded that she had malarial fever. By the time she returned to her home in Pawley’s Island, she was drifting in and out of consciousness. It was then that her brother noticed the engagement ring. He ripped the ribbon off her neck and threw the ring into the marsh behind her house. By the next morning Alice had died at the age of fifteen.

Supposedly she is buried at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pawley’s Island; however, it is not definite that she is buried there because the grave thought to be hers has a marble placed over it with only one word on it- ALICE. There have been many sightings of Alice. People who claim to have seen her say that she is searching for her ring. It is also said that if a young girl wearing a ring on her finger walks around Alice’s grave backward thirteen times, then Alice will appear and try to take the ring thinking it to be hers.

When my friend Joe Funderburk got back from first week this past summer, he told me a very interesting story concerning the legend of Alice. It was his story that let me decide that I wanted to do ghost stories for my senior project. He told me that one night he and his friends went to Alice’s grave at All Saints Episcopal Church at Pawley’s Island to try and conjure up Alice’s ghost by walking around her grave thirteen times. So they began walking around it, but they never saw anything. So Joe was tired of being out there and decided to walk back to the car while his friends stayed out there. While on his way back, Joe saw what he thought to be a little girl about four or five years old sitting on the steps of the church facing him, looking at him. He thought that it must be the light in the cemetery casting shadows. So he thought that if he moved to a different position, then the little girl would disappear. So he walked about fifteen feet to the left and turned back towards the church; however, the little girl was still there, but one thing was different. Her head had turned following him, so that now she was facing him again. Then Joe went to the car and brought back a halogen light and shined it on the girl, and she disappeared. But when he turned the light off, she would slowly reappear. This happened several times. Joe eventually left never knowing what he had seen.

After hearing that story, I was reminded of a book that I have that has all of the records for All Saints Episcopal Church. So I looked up the burial records to see if there might be a young girl who is buried in that cemetery. While looking through the records, I noticed that it said that Alice was buried in Murells Inlet, not Pawley’s Island. So I wrote a letter to the Rector of All Saints Episcopal Church asking if those records were correct. Several days passed, and I received a letter back from the Rector saying that the Alice Flagg buried in the cemetery at All Saints Episcopal Church is Alice Rutledge Flagg, known as "little Alice Flagg". She drowned in the hurricane of 1893. She was five years old when she died. So, in fact, the ghost that Joe and his friends were trying to conjure up did appear; however, it was as the five year old girl, not the fifteen year old girl that they were expecting.

So the question still remains- Do ghosts really exist? I met with a man named Joshua Warren. He is the president of a publishing company called Shadow Box Enterprises, has written three books, is completing a fourth to be released this summer, and is a nineteen year old freshman at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. When I met with him the first time, he gave me scientific theory on the existence of ghosts, which is explained in his book Plausible Ghosts.

Before beginning an explanation on ghosts, it is necessary to know some brief facts on energy. The Law of Conservation of Energy states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed but only conserved and transformed from one form to another, the implication that no one ever really dies. Every living thing possesses an electromagnetic field, invisible to the naked eye, which is made up of both magnetic and electric energy. This energy field around an object takes the object’s exact shape. Even if the physical objects were destroyed, the energy mass surrounding the object would still hold its shape. Even though energy is invisible to the naked eye, it can, however, be seen through Kirlian photography. In a Kirlian photograph the electromagnetic field, which surrounds humans and objects, appears as an aura of light around the object. The auras of different people appear differently with different colors.

There is good evidence that the electromagnetic field surrounding the object remains even after the object is gone. This can be illustrated in the "phantom leaf phenomenon". For example, if a Kirlian photograph is taken of a leaf, the photograph will show an aura of light surrounding the leaf. Then if the leaf has its tip cut off and has a Kirlian photograph taken again, the tip of the leaf is missing; however, the aura of light still surrounds the leaf as if the tip had never been cut off. This proves that even though the physical parts of an object may disappear, the energy still remains as if it were still alive.

However, if ghosts really do exist, then why do few people see them? According to Warren, in most ghostly encounters, the ghost is never actually seen because mist ghosts do not have the power to make themselves visible. The actions of the spirit might be visibly or audibly noticed, but as afar as seeing the actual ghost, it usually does not happen. Although, in some cases, a ghost will produce a halo of light around its 3-dimensional field making itself visible.

While in some cases in which there is no desire and an encounter happens, the "want" makes it easier to have an encounter. If people want to have contact with the spiritual world, and if they want it bad enough and believe it enough, there is a better chance for it to happen. There seem to be many encounters and more spiritual activity on Halloween than on any other night of the year. This could be explained because on Halloween the "want" is so great that it is very easy for the spirits to interact. On that particular night, most people want to have an interaction with the spiritual world. Such "want" basically invites the spiritual activity to occur.

With the growing skepticism of ghosts, there has to be some way to get evidence. There are several different methods to go about obtaining more concrete evidence. Cameras and audio recorders are the most common methods of ghost detection. Using cameras, it is very easy to pick up spiritual activity because the camera film can very easily pick up electromagnetic energy. When an audiotape has recorded a completely quiet area, sometimes when it is played back, voices and noises, such as footsteps, are audible. This is because the audiotape is extremely sensitive to electromagnetic radiation. Even with extensive amounts of evidence, there will always be the skeptical people who will have a rational explanation for everything.

Throughout the many types of ghost stories, there have been a number of different types of ghosts. These different types of ghosts may be classified on the basis of how and where they died. The first type of ghost is the headless ghost. They are more often seen walking, carrying their head in their arms. On other occasions, a headless figure might be standing at a certain spot and jump up behind the rider as the horse rides by. A second type, invisible ghosts, are sometimes referred to as revenants. Both headless ghosts and revenants appear for a specific reason, sometimes as an omen of impending death or to avenge an injury. A third group of ghosts, which have appeared in many stories are banshees. Banshees are ghosts that bear bad tidings. They often appear in legends from Wales and Ireland, and they are less frequently reported in the United States.

A final type of ghost is a poltergeist. Poltergeist is a German word, which originates from "polter," meaning noisy and "geist," meaning ghost. A poltergeist is a ghost that haunts a place by making strange noises and causing doors, furniture, and other objects to move themselves. Poltergeists have two trademarks: the first is usually that their activity is temporary, lasting from a few days to a few months; and second, the activity is usually centered around a specific person, often a female adolescent.

Usually the haunting of any type of ghost are done by male ghosts and usually take place in communities with a long history of settlement. A ghost may return for a number of reasons. They may return to avenge a murder, to say good-bye to someone, or to finish some unfinished business. A large number of ghostly encounters have some sort of involvement with a life crisis, most commonly the utmost crisis of death. Very frequently, the apparition makes it known at the very moment or within a few hours of death. Many people recounting phantom visits describe a fall in the surrounding temperature just before the ghost appears or a thickening in the atmosphere.

However, the dead are not the only ones who apparitions. There have been reports of people claiming to see apparitions of the living manifesting them often for a purpose but sometimes for no particular reason. People have seen their doubles, or dopplegangers, or fetch as it is called in Victorian England, separated from the body and performing mundane completely obvious to the observers. Some of the times a person will the see doppleganger of another in situations in which the person wants very much to be somewhere but cannot. Other times people will see their own doppleganger and shortly thereafter they die just as they have seen. The appearance of a double was not always a sign of impending death. It is thought that a double could supposedly wander off from its body on its own mysterious business. This is thought to happen particularly when the person is asleep. This theory leads to the idea that it is not a good idea to wake a person up too quickly upon the sight of his or her doppleganger in fear that the double, or soul, would be locked out of the body.

The first attempts at solving the mystery of the human double began with the founding in 1882 of the Society for Physical Research, also known as SPR. In 1886, this group published a book entitled Phantasms of the Living, which investigates this unexplained phenomenon. There were 701 accounts that were noted in this book, which all had different reasons for their appearances. With the majority of these accounts, the first categories of doubles would appear to their loved ones at the time or near death. In the second group, they might appear during a particularly stressful time in their life. However, in the third group, the SPR speculated that in these instances, the person unknowingly sent a telepathic message, and the percipients had then created a "hallucinatory tableau." In 1923, Eleanor Sidgwick, the wife of one of SPR’s founding members published an updated version to Phantasms of the Living. In this book, she gave some new accounts. She reported of incidents of veridical apparition- encounters in which the percipient gains some type of knowledge from the apparition that he or she would not have known otherwise. This is particularly common in crisis accounts in which the person might find out about another's death or the details of his or her demise.

Many famous people have claimed to see their own doppleganger. One of the more famous cases involved an author struggling with a problem. In 1855, French author, Guy de Maupassant, was at work on a short story; however, he was having writer’s block. Though there were no witnesses, Maupassant said that a figure appeared at the door of his study, walked across the room, and sat down in front of him. While Maupassant was trying to figure out how this person got into his study, the figure began to dictate Maupassant’s story. At that very moment, the French author realized that the intruder was his own double. A few moments later, the apparition was gone leaving Maupassant to continue his dictation. It was, as George Constable notes, "the story of an invisible evil spirit that lives within man, yet independently of him. The being cannot be escaped, and it tortures its host into madness. The story entitled ‘The Horla’ was, some feel, a harbinger of Maupassant’s subsequent madness and death."

Most ghosts are bound to a certain place, but some do travel. Reports of traveling have been documented in Russia and throughout Europe since the early 1660’s. These ghosts usually do not cover a distance of more than a few miles. The most famous European legend about traveling ghosts is the Flying Dutchman. His story is that he was a sea captain, and because he was so wicked, he is doomed to eternally sail his phantom ship without coming into harbor. The story of the Flying Dutchman is the exception to the rule about how far traveling ghosts travel.

Not all ghosts are nice and helpful; in fact, some can be quite mean. A malevolent ghost is a ghost that tries to do harm and is usually the spirit of a person who was murdered or otherwise harmed by relatives or friends. Most of these ghosts haunt the place where they died or were buried. They may try to reveal their murderer or at least frighten him or her. Most ghosts are usually harmless to anyone with a "clear conscience." Frequently the dead person will return to a person who has stolen a part of the corpse or who has in some way disturbed the grave. There are many tales of ghosts of dead lovers and husbands and wives who return to haunt the faithless lover or spouse. Sometimes a parent comes back to make life unpleasant fir his or her children. Other times a person will come back from the dead to punish a person who is mistreating a relative. There are still other times in which the dead will return to slay a wicked person or to take revenge on someone who injured or cheated them while they were alive. Throughout this life there are good people and bad people in the world. This also applies to the after-life; therefore, a good person will become a good ghost, and a bad person will become a bad ghost. Since many people associate ghosts with darkness, they tend to stereotype ghosts as being bad.

While most ghosts disappear quickly, some ghosts refuse to leave. Consequently, several methods have been developed to expel persistent ghosts. The methods that are used to get rid of the ghosts include reburying the corpse, piercing the corpse or its grave with a stake, and praying. There are occasions when a priest will come and perform an exorcism, and usually then the spirit will disappear. However, in some cases, the person who is being bothered by the ghost will end up having to move to a new location if the disturbance is bad enough.

Last week I was able to meet with Joshua Warren again in Asheville. Currently he is finishing up a book entitled Haunted Asheville. He gave me some photographs of ghosts, which I have displayed. He also took me around to some of the places that he is investigating for his upcoming book. Now I would like to share some of the stories that he has told me.

    1. The first place we stopped was Zealandia Castle. Zealandia was completed in 1898. It has changed hands many times throughout history. Presently, it is the corporate headquarters for Peppertree Resorts. Legend has it that a woman named Helen lived in Zealanadia with her daughter on top of Beaucatcher Mountain.
    2. One night the stables caught fire, and her daughter was killed in the fire.
    3. Overcome with grief, Helen took a rope, tied it to the rafters, and hung herself. It was not until the next day that the townspeople found her body. It is believed that her ghost is seen searching for her daughter. One night a worker from Zealandia was going home very late at night, and he saw a woman walking up from the curve of the road. The man stopped thinking that the woman might need help. So as he stopped, she approached the car. When he asked if she needed any help, she only replied, "Have you seen my daughter?" Then she slowly disappeared into the night. Ever since that night, that man will not travel down that road at night alone.
    4. A second place that we visited was Basilica St. Lawrence.
    5. During the construction of the cathedral, the architect was very particular as to not let anyone know the exact way that he was building it.
    6. This cathedral has the largest dome of its kind, but no one knows how it was built because if anyone walked up during its construction, the architect would cover up his work until he was alone again.
    7. It is believed that the architect’s body is buried within the walls of the cathedral. However, the church will not allow any further research to take place within the cathedral.
    8. A third place we visited was the Battery Park Inn. E.W. Grove, the man who also built the Grove Park Inn, built it.
    9. In 1936, a man and his daughter, Helen, were staying in the hotel. One morning the man went to his daughter’s room. He knocked on the door, but she did not answer. So then he tried the knob, and the door was open. He opened the door and walked in. He found his daughter murdered. She had been beaten, tortured, and finally shot several times. For months the police searched for her killer. Finally they found out that it was a bellboy named Martin Moore. He was found guilty and executed. Coincidentally, the building has thirteen floors. It is impossible to do research in the building because it is now a retirement home. No one can get past the front hall because of the security guard.
    10. The last of the places that I visited was the Grove Park Inn. This is where Joshua Warren has been doing the majority of his research. The Grove Park Inn was built by a man named E.W. Grove and was completed around 1896. Throughout its long history, there have been numerous sightings of a ghost referred to as the Pink Lady. Legend says that a woman who was staying in the main section of the hotel
    11. Fell over a balcony to her death. Now it is speculated that she haunts the rooms in which she was staying. However, this tale cannot be authenticated since the Grove Park Inn did not start keeping records until the 1970’s. In the same section of the hotel, a man apparently beat his wife to death. This never made the newspapers because it was supposed to remain a secret. Even though a woman was killed, there has never been any spiritual activity associated with that murder. The story of the Pink Lady was supposed to remain a secret until its unveiling next fall around Halloween; however, information was leaked to the press and an article about the it appeared in the Asheville Citizen Times on Wednesday, January 10, 1996. It said, "…" (read article).

All throughout history people have been very attracted to ghost stories, whether the attraction is their tales that fascinate people so greatly or their connection with death. The fascination is so strong because death is one of the few things that can never be explained. No one knows if ghosts are real or just simple figments of our imaginations. However, people will always long for the truth. Even if ghosts are real, nobody knows why ghosts return; however, the majority of ghosts seem to appear for good reasons, such as a foreboding of an impending disaster like the Gray Man legend.

The story of the Gray Man began when a young man was returning home to see his fiancée after spending two years abroad. He and his manservant were traveling through the woods on horseback and the young man decided to take a shortcut, but he went the wrong way. While riding along, the young man’s horse fell, and both the horse and rider were thrown into the marsh. The horse tried to get up, but he could not find footing. They had fallen into quicksand.

The manservant jumped off his horse to help his master. The manservant ran to his horse and took the bridle off and threw it to his master, but it was too short. As the young man struggled to grab the bridle, he sunk even deeper below the quicksand. The manservant ran to try and find a branch, but by the time he returned, there was no sign of the man. The manservant rode home alone to tell the young girl that her fiancé had died.

Overcome with grief, the young girl stayed in her room for days. She was not even able to attend the memorial service for her fiancé. Finally her parents insisted that she get out of bed, get dressed, and go for a walk on the beach. While walking on the beach, she suddenly saw the figure of her fiancé, dressed in a somber gray suit. She recognized him by a certain characteristic gesture of his. However, it was his expression that concerned her. His face showed extreme worry. He seemed to be urging her to do something, but as she ran towards him, he disappeared into the mist.

That night she had a dream that she was adrift in a terrible storm in a small boat. She saw her fiancé, dressed in gray, standing on the shore, beckoning to her. As hard as she tried, she could never seem to reach him. She awoke screaming. Her father ran into her room, and she told him about her dream. She concluded from the dream that her fiancé was trying to warn her, of something, an impending disaster. Her father listened to what she said but did not believe the implication about the disaster. Still, he took her to Charleston where a well-known physician could treat her.

Within an hour after they had left, a severe hurricane hit North Island. It destroyed many homes, even the home of Robert Francis Withers, a prosperous rice planter. On Debordieu Island, the hurricane reached its height of destruction. Later, after the hurricane had died down, some people on Debordieu Island said that they had seen a man in gray come ashore just before the hurricane. Those that had seen the Gray Man said that upon seeing the mysterious man, they felt a sense of warning emanating from him. Just as they saw the figure, he disappeared into the mist. From then on, the young man was known as the Gray Man.

South Carolina has been hit by several disastrous hurricanes throughout the centuries. The most memorable hurricanes are the hurricane of September 1822, October 1893, October 1954, and most recently September 1989, better known as Hugo is. It is said that before each of these four hurricanes, the Gray Man was seen warning people to evacuate. Bill Collins, an automobile dealer, told one specific story of a Gray Man sighting from Georgetown. He said that he had walked to his gazebo, which was built on a dune overlooking the ocean. It was there that he saw the Gray Man. While Bill was looking at him, the Gray Man disappeared. Bill Collins had heard of the legend of the Gray Man, and he was also aware that there was a hurricane gaining momentum in the West Indies. Once certain of the hurricane’s path, Bill decided to heed the specter’s warning and evacuate. Shortly after Bill Collins and his family left the island, Hurricane Hazel roared ashore, washing away houses and thirty-foot dunes. However, the Collins house had remained untouched. Even the television antenna did not blow down. The legend says that if someone sees the Gray Man, then no harm will come to that person.

Even sightings of the Gray Man might simply e the mind at work. But is it possible that many different people see the same manifestation? The question of the existence of ghosts will be a long debated question for as long as ghost stories are told, but this is a question not likely to ever find an answer.

©Erin H. Williams 1996