Shadows of a Swinging Corpse: The Wagener Building

To listen to the accompanying podcast episode of this blog post: Stories in the Cemetery

The Wagener building is one of the stops on my Stories in the Cemetery Interactive Ghost Hunting Experiences and I felt the need to dive further into this huge building on East Bay Street.

A Ghost Story

The building holds an often told ghost story of George Poirier, a suicide from the third floor. His story goes a little like this:

After inheriting a very wealthy cotton business from his father, Poirier knew very little about investments and business management. To escape the demise of his cotton business from the boll weevil insect, and to pay off debts, Poirier sold his cotton stock to the British.

Poirier was already a depressed man, having his fill of dealing with his father’s passed down business and being in over his head after spending his inheritance.

East Bay Street Wagener Building
Photo found in “Indelible Photographs” of Charleston, S.C. from the Low Country Digital Library (lcdl) of the College of Charleston. 1890-99

With the British ship loaded with his last load of cotton, Poirier watched the ship head out to see from the third floor of the Wagener building. The ship allegedly caught fire from someone smoking a pipe too close to the load of cotton and caught the entire ship ablaze.

In all the stress of handling a business he was not trained to manage, losing his inheritance and now the shame to his family of selling the last bit of cotton to the British that was set to fire, Poirier was at his ultimate limit. The story says that Poirier stacked the furniture in the room with his captain’s chair on top; climbed the furniture and hung himself from the rafters. It is said that a broken window on the third floor invited the crows to feast on his carcass before a newsboy found Poirier’s swinging remains the next morning.

Not too bad of a ghost story, huh?

Paranormal Evidence

The claims of furniture moving, being stacked, cold drafts that can’t be explained have all pushed subsequent owners and tenants out of the Wagener building.  There are also claims of a swinging corpse shadow on a stormy night from the third story windows.  I’ve had some subtle evidence come through on my tours of downtown Charleston while passing by the building.

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Photo by Nicholas McGirr. Taken from a rooftop across from the Wagener Building.

EMF spikes around the corner doors and my trusty ghost detector app giving off phrases like “Under the Chair” and “Insects Itching” all come to light after this research. I’m taking the “Insects Itching” as the boll weevil insect that invaded the cotton crops of South Carolina during this time. According to a CDC study, the boll weevil can cause rashes and itching to those allergic to the beetle.

Just before writing this post, I visited the building one last time to look for more paranormal evidence other than a few EMF spikes. What I found was a construction crew working diligently inside and in a restricted area.

With the EMF detector and Ghost Detector app running, I paced around the building a few times waiting for answers. One name, in particular, showed up that I’ve never seen come through the app before: “Elias”. I did my research.

Writer Richard Fowler wrote an article on the building while he, too, was researching the haunting. He discovered a scandal from the original Wageners whose name bears the building but also involving a Washington Whilden, son of Elias Whilden, wrapped around lost business ventures around the great earthquake of 1886.

Reading his article and speculative theory, I’m convinced (again) that I have come across paranormal evidence that my tools are working. You can check out Fowler’s theory here:

Nothing New Under the Sun by Richard Fowler

Future Use

The Wagener Building has plans to be used for an upscale restaurant (yet to be determined) and for wedding receptions. This makes complete sense since the three floors facing East Bay Street are all wide open floorplans and would be a perfect venue for a Charleston wedding.

The back of the building is currently comprised of condos. During one of my tours, a guest explained that she had a friend who lived in one of those condos and has never mentioned any abnormal or paranormal activity. If I’m following the story of George Poirier, I can see where this would be legitimate due to his hanging in the front of the building.

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Stories in the Cemetery Tours

Whether you’re a local or someone on vacation, you can take an Interactive Ghost Hunting Experience tour with me through downtown Charleston. We’ll visit many haunted locations (including the Wagener Building) using real ghost hunting equipment and possibly discover new activity! What will you discover on your tour?

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Dock Street Theatre

To listen to the Stories in the Cemetery podcast episode click Dock Street Theatre

With a long history of changing businesses and fires, the Dock Street Theatre is known as the first building to be used for entertaining plays in the United States. However, the building we now know as the Dock Street Theatre is the third business to call this plot of land home.

Its original building was the Dock Street Theatre named after Dock Street where it is located. Dock Street later became Queen Street, but the name Dock Street stuck.

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After a fire in 1740, the building was rebuilt into Planters Hotel, which is when the first haunting story hails.

Lady of the Night

Nettie, a lady of the night, is often seen wearing a red dress near the second floor. Yes, an actual apparition. Her story goes a little something like this:

Nettie used to work at St. Philips Church just down the road from the hotel. At the age of 25, she was not at an ideal age for marriage. Watching the men enter the hotel for their nightly pleasures, Nettie wondered if she, at the age of 25 was still desirable. She was said to pretty, just not at marrying age. She had passed her prime.

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Nettie’s dream was to become part of Charleston’s high society. Descending from a poor upbringing, this made things difficult to become part of the desire, not to mention, at the age of 25, she was well past marrying age.

Soon, after watching all the prominent people of Charleston enter the Planters Hotel, she sought employment as a prostitute at the hotel. After appearing in a red dress, Nettie was one of the most desired women of the hotel. Although still unhappy she often stared at St. Philips Church, longing to go back from the second-floor wrought-iron balcony.

It is said that during one of these daydreams on the balcony, that lightning struck the wrought iron Nettie was leaning on and it killed her instantly. It is also said that Nettie died during an abortion. Urban legends can be tricky that way.

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The funny thing about this story is that Nettie is said to be seen wearing her red dress on the second floor in an almost full apparition. Notice the “almost”. She is seen from the knees up. Why? During the reconstruction of the hotel back into a theater, the second floor was raised one foot and therefore it is said that Nettie’s spirit is walking on the original flooring of the Planters Hotel. Interesting, right?

What’s with the Booths and Theaters?

The other said spirit to be haunting Dock Street Theatre is that of Junius Booth, the father of John Wilkes Booth. Little history lesson: John Wilkes Booth was the assassin of our 16th President Abraham Lincoln. The irony here is that Lincoln was shot in a theater.

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Back to Junius…

Junius didn’t die in the theater which is what makes this story so interesting. He was one of the most famous actors that came out of Dock Street Theater and his apparition is seen wearing period garb from the early 1800s.

My Self-Guided Tour

Although there is no physical proof of these two apparitions, I can see where odd feelings and the eerie nature of the facade of the building can give these tales some merit.

I’ve received EMF readings (or electromagnetic field) when around this building, but have yet to capture any apparitions or spirits in my pictures. Who knows, maybe you can analyze the photos in this post and tell me if you see anything?

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While taking a self-guided tour of the theater, I found myself tip-toeing around while snapping photos and letting my EMF detector tell me which direction to take. The EMF detector spiked from time to time, but I was unable to recreate any specific incident of spikes which tells me something (or someone!) was with me. The theater is beautiful and hopefully soon, I’ll have an opportunity to see a show and catch a few spirits along the way.

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I found my way to the courtyard which is an excellent relaxing garden area with a fountain. The internal waiting area also contains a bar, where I could feel the nostalgia just pouring off the furniture and paintings on the walls. If you get the chance during your stay in Charleston, be sure to check out this self-guided tour. It’s completely at your own pace and well, you could search for spirit activity!

With the open self-guided tours of Dock Street Theatre, I plan on visiting as often as I can with different pieces of equipment from my ghost hunting tours. Hopefully, one day, I will catch evidence myself either through the spirit box, photographs or some cold spots. If you happen to capture any evidence before I do, please feel free to leave in the comments below. I would love to hear your story.

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Pirate Booty Legend

It is said that the Pirate House, located just one block away from the Dock Street Theater used to house pirates, yes, including Blackbeard himself when pirates were in town. Hence, the title of Pirate House.

Allegedly, there was an underground tunnel leading from the Pirate House into Dock Street Theater for pirates to do dealings and enjoy a show. There are stories that say that Blackbeard hid his treasure in that tunnel before it was filled in after the last renovation of the theater. Now, I’m sure that this is a grapevine urban legend simply because other stories will claim that Blackbeard never set foot on Charleston soil, merely stayed upon his ship in one of our harbors. Who’s to say which is true, but who doesn’t love a good pirate treasure story?

Join Me on a Ghost Hunt!

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If you’d love to hear this story and more about haunted Charleston locations, join me for my Interactive Ghost Hunting Experience with the same name, Stories in the Cemetery. It’s October and well, you should be doing something a bit Halloween-ish, shouldn’t you? I’ll see you soon on one of my tours around this amazing city! Click below to check the dates and times of your tickets.

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