The Ghost in the Attic
by Claiborne S. Young
In my 26 years as a cruising guide author, I’ve had more than my share of strange happenings. None, however, have been stranger than what my first-mate, first-mate and I experienced way back in 1984 while researching Georgetown, South Carolina. Little did I know that this eerie incident would come back to “haunt” me years later.
It was early spring 1984 and my first book, “Cruising Guide to Coastal North Carolina” had just been released the preceding year. Emboldened by that volume’s success, I was hard at work on a guide to the South Carolina coastline.
As I do at the beginning of every project which encompasses a coastline unfamiliar to me, I had been reading all I could about the fascinating South Carolina Low Country and its myriad and often confusing waters. Good fortune led me to a wonderful book named “Ghosts from the Coast,” by J. Stevenson Bolick. This volume contains many deeply absorbing ghost stores centered on historic homes in Georgetown and along the nearby Waccamaw River. By the way, if you are at all interested in South Carolina coastal folklore, spare no efforts to obtain this book!
I was particularly struck by one poignant and tragic story concerning a young girl who had lived in the most beautiful home on the Georgetown waterfront. She had fallen in love with the first officer of a ship which often docked in Georgetown, but her parents objected to the match. Being resourceful, the young girl soon hit on the plan. Whenever her lover’s ship was in port, and her parents had retired for the evening, she would place a lamp in the upstairs dormer window. The couple would then meet in the garden for a few tender but stolen moments.
Well, as these stories often unfold, the ship’s officer was lost at sea. The young girl was devastated, but continued to place a lamp in the upstairs dormer window every night in remembrance of her lost love. Eventually, following her parent’s death, she became a recluse, with her only companions being several beloved dogs. One day, alerted by the barking dogs, neighbors found her body, dead of a broken heart at last.
And, as you’ve probably guessed by now, it was whispered along the Georgetown waterfront that a light was still to be seen in the upstairs dormer window. The house was finally abandoned, and remained vacant for many years, but there were still those who affirmed the faithful light was to be seen from time to time.
One fine spring morning in 1984, my first-rate, first-mate and I came tooling into Georgetown. We had no sooner coiled our lines at Boat Shed Marina, than the cameras were broken out and we began avidly photographing the many beautiful homeplaces in the Georgetown historic district. I was particularly keen on getting photos of the house with the “ghost in the attic.” The old homeplace’s position had been pretty well described in “Ghosts from the Coast,” and we were soon successful in discovering the correct location. What we found was a beautifully restored historic home which no longer bore any scars of its long time abandonment.
Not wanting to trespass, we walked out on a commercial fishing vessel dock to photograph the beautiful house from the water side. Before we had snapped a half dozen pics, a very impressive grandmotherly type strode out into the front yard, and inquired politely but forcefully as to why we were taking pictures of her house. I made the mistake of telling the lady in question that I was writing a book about the South Carolina Low Country.
For the next hour and a half, we were treated to a nail by nail, board by board, discussion of how her husband had restored the family home. Karen and I were itching to be continue our photographic tour of Georgetown, but not wanting to be impolite, we heard the discussion through to its lengthy end.
Nowhere in this conversation was there any mention of the ghost in the attic. Finally, when all had pretty much wound down, I plucked up my courage and asked the home’s mistress if, “ha, ha” she had ever seen the ghost. That 90 year old matron looked straight at me, and without even the hint of a smile, she soberly informed us that “when my husband and I first moved in, we used to see the light coming through the crack under the door leading to the attic. It used to bother me at first, but now I don’t pay it any heed.” Even on a warm, spring morning, that pronouncement brought a chill to the air.
But, fellow cruisers, that is NOT the end of the story. I included a somewhat abbreviated version of the ghost story and our encounter with the homeplace’s owner in the first edition of “Cruising Guide to Coastal South Carolina and Georgia.” As the years passed, and succeeding editions of CGSC (eventually including Georgia) were released, I always returned to that wondrous Georgetown homeplace and took new photos.
Fast forward to 1998, and my work on what I think was the fourth edition of my South Carolina – Georgia cruising guide. My faithful research assistant Bob Horne and I had spent the better part of two weeks poking our bow into every nook and cranny on the Waccamaw River north of Georgetown. And, anybody that knows the Waccamaw knows there are more than a few nooks and crannies along the water’s course. It was high time to spend a night with solid ground under our feet.
So, I phoned my dear friends Susan Sanders and Len Anderson, who at that time, had a shop in Georgetown named Harbor Specialties. In subsequent years, Harbor Specialties moved to Charleston, and eventually to Beaufort, North Carolina with satellite stores in Charleston and Pawleys Island. As usual, I digress.
I asked Susan if Bob and I could bunk in their spare bedroom that night, but Susan said she had something better in mind. “A new bed and breakfast inn is about to open, and while they are not yet in operation, the owner has offered to put you two up for the evening.” That sounded wonderful, and so late that afternoon we came cruising up the Sampit River to the downtown Georgetown waterfront. I called Susan on the cell phone and asked where the new inn was located. She then asked me where we were. I thought that an odd question, but replied, “We are right in front of Boat Shed Marina.” Susan replied, “See that big white house in front of you. That’s it.” “Susan,” I said, “you got us a room in the house with the ghost.” “Oh, you know about that do you,” said Susan.
So it was that we first met innkeeper Meg Tarbox and made the acquaintance of the Harbor House Bed and Breakfast Inn, hands down the most elegant and beautiful B&B in which it has been my privilege to visit. I soon told Meg the story related above, and learned that the elderly woman we had met was her grandmother, and J. Steveson Bolick, the author of the ghost story in question, was her grandfather. So, just to spice things up a bit, Meg put us in the two attic rooms.
Late in the night, (no kidding) I awoke to see a bright light shining on the bedroom wall. I remember thinking, “this is it, a life changing experience.” Alas, though, I was not fated to meet the ghost. It turned out the light was shining through the nearby window, and when I got up and looked, I spied a shrimp trawler unloading on the waterfront. Several bright spot lights illuminated the scene, and this was the luminescence I had mistaken for the ghostly light in the dormer window.
Since that memorable night, Meg and I have become fast friends, and I’ve had the good fortune to spend many nights at the Harbor House. I still have yet to meet the young girl’s ghost, but every time I began to think it will never happen, I harken back to that conversation many years ago with Meg’s grandmother, and I can not help but wonder.
Claiborne S. Young
January 23, 2007
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