Coastal Ghosts And Hobcaw Barony

When imagination takes to the night and life’s mysteries collide with man’s understanding, we quake within our boots. It was that time of year and a ritual growing up in Dixie.

The large stone steps which lead to the boneyard were cracked and crushed on one side, a whippoorwill sang in the cool of the night as a coastal breeze pulled at the moss on the branches of the massive great white oak like an old man slowly dragging his fingers through a long beard.

Trepidation seems to ignite dry kindling and what follows is the beauty within the unknown.

Time had left its hand on the frail and high-pitched rotting beams locked into braces that were placed across the expanse of what was once an ancient cathedral sitting in decay along this backroad in Hobcaw Barony.

Fate divides the living from the dead and can drag you down with it if allowed!

A vision ghostly in the twilight as leaves blowing past its entry appear as darting rabbits in a car’s headlights running from side to side down a dusty country road attempting to avoid recognition. Back and forth, back and forth they’d sprint jumping over one of the ditches on either side vanishing into the briars and brush that protected them from predators.

Inside life’s mysteries lies truth and an absolute truth when concluding.

The glow of a harvest moon illuminating the silhouetted structure from it’s inside out warned of what one’s dreams might conjure if left standing alone in front of the great granite and iron gate which led to the chapels huge splintered cypress doors swinging on broken hinges covered in English ivy.

A holy man’s dream and final resting place from long ago its steeple resembling the rook from one’s chessboard, slightly tilting towards the west and centuries-old rice fields which lay just beyond its vestibule along the shores of Winyah Bay.

The voices of Gullah workers and Geechee songs echoed in the near distance as ancient African rituals seized a place in the darkness and settled. A place where during the 1600’s pirates anchored in concealed and protected waters during storms, were much like the rabbits, well hidden, from the cannons of the British navy. A place where stories were born and where tales spoke of Theodosia Burr’s kidnapping, The Hanged Man and Edward Teach’s buried treasures that lay beneath the dark peat covering the river’s shoreline.

Tombstones, monuments and massive granite mausoleums of aristocratic families who had settled these lands centuries before lay to the left of the sanctuary as a memorial to times long past and now recorded in dusty decade-old land title binders located somewhere in the musty basement stacks of Georgetown’s courthouse.

Ghost stories from childhood brought to memory Alice of the Hermitage, Thirteen Paces and the Gray Man who walked the shores of Pawleys Island just prior to a hurricane.

Always a warning never heeding the call.

As young men, we’d pile into cars with our girlfriends in tow driving down these ancient dirt roads. Where overgrown branches from the trees squealed and scratched our rooftops as we ventured towards the massive structure beside the water and the resting place of congregants long deceased. A place now abandoned, a place where we would each October, drive out in search of ghosts and unexplainable apparitions we had learned about as children and seen.  Manifestations that wandered through these broken and collapsing tombs hoping to rejoin a world that was no longer alive or within their grasp.

Innocence in the pursuit, true life of an era whose smoke was only now a musty fragrance.

A fascinating adventure and one of those memories that make living in the low country as sweet as its bay oysters or flash fried creek shrimp served by Olivers Lodge over the past 125 years. A magical wandering through hip-high marsh waters where gigging flounder or hunting for woodcock was a way of life, where the Black Lab is an icon and life’s tales are real, oh so real.

Only imagination can taste the sweetness of illusory honeysuckle or the sound of a Screech Owl that never was. Breath in and smell the pluff mud, reach towards the heavens in search of your Maker and watch the clothing from a massive cypress fall towards the marsh basin where the fiddler, great heron, mallard and sandpiper nest, hunt and fill the air with mystical songs of the south.

Natives never forget those ghosts along the coast, their ever-present appearance in early morning fog after a winters first chill cools the warm waters of the bay or in the dim headlights on a two-lane highway twisting in and out of dark swamps during a lonely drive home.

A cauldron of memories wrapped up in tales to frightening to talk about and too whimsical to ever repeat, we loved those ghosts that wandered about the coast and still recall that first kiss in the shadow of a family’s century-old tomb and the blood-red moon of youthful fantasy!


Johnny Johnston
Johnny Johnston
An artist/writer as well as graduate of the University of South Carolina with degrees in journalism/20th Century American Literature, and retired senior executive of several international hotel/resort corporations, Johnny is the product of the south having been raised in the ever-changing transient lifestyle of a Carolina coastal resort. A point where he discovered, within his 300-year-old heritage and the world's dramatic social/cultural shifts during the late '60s to early 80’s an ambitious hunger and overwhelming curiosity to touch, see and become a participant in the virtually unlimited possibilities offered to those who wish for and seek life experiences. A journey which when hearing its details initially makes one a bit skeptical, questioning its validity as it is hard to imagine that incidents such as these may have crossed one man’s lifetime. This is the fodder required to step into zones exposing one's personal inner self, which many of his paintings and the words he writes do, openly. An ability to see and hear the tragic, beautiful, accomplished, exciting journey in a life free of inhibitions allowing others the opportunity to live vicariously and become, through his works, a part of its future. His larger works which have been featured in several Colorado and Fredericksburg Texas galleries and resorts have produced a number of collectors and fans. However, over the years, his paintings are mostly viewed by friends, enthusiastic new artist encountered on the streets or a small number of acquaintances he meets when dining in local cafés with his wife.

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  1. It truly is a haunted place Especially in the time before condos when streets were two lanes and Spanish Moss covered Oaks towered over the streets and roadside grave yards were filled with shadows and mist. Love your story it brings back many memories.