In honor of the publication of my friend Melissa Bowersock's new novel, Stone's Ghost, my blog next week will be dedicated to sharing ghost stories I have uncovered, particularly while working on The Road to Frogmore.. I'll have a different story each day through Thursday. Then we'll join Melissa's "Friendly Ghost Party." on Friday, July 26th. Here at "Roundheads and Ramblings" I'll be hosting part of her moveable ghost buffet. My blog will present a delectable buffet of ghost-related main dishes, complete with recipes. So be sure to join us then.
Now I admit I am not particularly fond of the supernatural. I dislike vampires, shape-shifters, monsters, transformers, and super-heroes. I particularly loath the current craze about the zombie apocalypse. (So sue me: I'm a historian.) Ghosts, however, are a slightly different matter. I spend a lot of time snooping around old places, and I have become convinced that ghosts -- or at least the IDEA of ghosts -- must play a fundamental role in our cultural thinking. Ghost stories serve at least two functions: they help us to understand history and they transmit cultural attitudes and traditions.
While I was still teaching, I spent several summers living in a 15th-century building on the grounds of St. John's College in Oxford, England. Oliver Cromwell had a long-standing connection to that college, and his ghost was said to haunt the building in which the library was located. College legend insisted that at night Cromwell's ghost used his severed head to go bowling in the attic above the library. Both students and faculty reported hearing the rattling as the head rolled across the attic floor. Did I ever see or hear Cromwell? No, but to be fair, the dragon-lady librarian had quit allowing anyone in the library at night. But did I believe the stories? Sure. Why not? Certainly something of his spirit lingered in those ancient halls. When my research interests switched to America's Civil War and coastal South Carolina, I discovered that I had landed in another hotbed of ghosts and ghost stories.
An old woman, Zoe St. Amand, haunts Poogan's Porch, a delightful Charleston restaurant on Queen Street. She and her sister lived in the house where the restaurant is now located, but when her sister died, Zoe went mad and roamed the house calling for her sister. She eventually had to be committed to a care facility but "never really left the house", so the legend says
More than one waitress has met her. One declared that when she was there late at night working on the books and singing to herself, Zoe would come up behind her and sing along with her.
It's easy to understand why servers who have heard the story believe they see her now and then.
But when a tourist, entirely new to Charleston, looks out his window in the Mills House Hotel, sees this old woman waving from an upstairs window just across the street, and calls police to report that a woman is being held captive at Poogan's Porch -- then even doubters begin to believe.
Here's the view from the Mills House on a spooky night. What do you think? Can Zoe still be hunting her dead sister? Or is he whole thing a publicity stunt to attract customers?