A Piratey Powder Magazine?

With 307 years worth of history (as of the year 2020), the Powder Magazine has seen centuries worth of tragedies, restorations, and faces. Not to discount any previous work from historians, paranormal investigators or other Charleston fanatics, but to narrow down one of these elements and tie it to an alleged haunting has been quite the task.

A brief timeline of tragedies

Let’s get started with an overview of the history of the Powder Magazine to give you a scope of the historical timeline the building has suffered through.

  • Wars served:
    • Yamasee War
    • Tuscarora War
    • Stono Rebellion
    • King George’s War
    • French and Indian War
    • The Cherokee War
    • American Revolution
    • Civil War

Although the magazine wasn’t a major factor in all of the wars listed above, it did partake a role in some format.

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“Pirates and the First Revolution” Guide Panel

The Powder Magazine is said to be the oldest building in Charleston, SC being built in 1713. However, research shows that the Pink House on Chalmers street could date back as far as 1694 -1714. Regardless of which building is older, there is no doubt that The Powder Magazine has survived a much more tragic lifespan than that of the infamous Pink House.

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The Structure of the Building

There’s something to be said about the structure of the Powder Magazine and its lifespan. With 35-inch thick walls, sand in the attic and slate rooftop, the design was meant to contain any explosions from the gunpowder that resided here. I find the sand-filled lofted roof to be very interesting and the 307-year-old sand is still laid inside the loft. The nine pillars that make up this building were constructed in a groin-vault style. Along with the sand in the roof and groin-vault construction, this was meant to contain internal explosions and to shield the powder from enemy projectiles. The magazine could house up to five tons of black gunpowder.

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(The Old Powder Magazine, Cumberland Street)

Pirate History?

So, amidst all the wars served and survived, Charleston has had an attraction for our Pirates. Connected to the history of The Powder Magazine is that of Anne Bonny and Mary Read. Through any historical tour in Charleston (especially one based on the bloody scoundrels), you’ll hear stories of these pirate ladies along with Stede Bonnet and even Blackbeard himself. I’ve mentioned a bit about Bonnet and Blackbeard in my White Point Garden post.

Ghost stories and lore will tie the spirit of Anne Bonny to The Powder Magazine with alleged sightings and shadows.

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Bonny’s story is lacking details, to say the least. Just like the absent blueprints for the Powder Magazine, such is the written history of this female villainous pirate. Legend has it that Bonny, from Ireland, moved to the Carolinas with her father. It is said that her mother was a servant and Anne was born out of wedlock. Bonny’s defiance of authority led her to piracy where she married James Bonny, another pirate. She would soon leave James and meet up with Mary Read aboard the ship of Calico Jack, with whom she fell in love.

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Notice the groin-vaulted walls. Photo by Nicholas McGirr. Cannot be used without permission.

Upon being captured, both Mary Read and Anne Bonny claimed to be pregnant and were released. To this day, it is unsure if the two women went on to live the pirate life or if they settled and lived out their days with children at their feet.

I have no doubt that either of these two female pirates knew of The Powder Magazine or had raided its contents at one point in their piracy.

However…

In all the research for a tie to either pirate that is said to have had their spirits seen at the Powder Magazine could I find ANY tie to this historic building. I could find no pictures, video or any personal claims of persons visiting the Powder Magazine of such ghosts or haunting activity.

My Visit

I visited the Powder Magazine in the late afternoon just before their closing and told the staff why I was there: to research ghosts and paranormal activity. They welcomed me to do my research and then sold me a copy of the building’s history, The Arsenal of History by R. Alan Stello Jr. A fantastic read for this ghost enthusiast, I might add.

With my EMF detector running and spirit boxes gurgling out static, I took plenty of pictures and waited for any activity while touring the building and outside yard reading the guide panels and listening to other guests whisper to each other showing respect to the old building.

My EMF gave a “blip” (I should really define this one day) of just outside the green zone on occasion, but I couldn’t relate it to any other activity to the spirit boxes or specific location of an artifact inside the museum.

The Spirit box app, “Ghost Detector” gave me one word that stood out: “Writing”. I took this as I should really dive into the book I purchased as well as other research, in other words, the “writings” about the building would give me what I was looking for. Coincidental enough, I took the clue and ran with it.

The manual spirit box, spit out static and nothing else. Not even a whisper of any kind of activity came through this device.

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“The Walled City” guide panel.

So, I dove into the book, by Stello Jr. and read from cover to cover. Stopping at the Anne Bonny page, I read it over several times looking for any connection or tie into the Powder Magazine. Without a direct relation to Anne Bonny, Mary Read or any other pirate, I was baffled as to why she was even mentioned in a book strictly about the magazine and its history.

I dove into an online search looking for more about Bonny and her whereabouts in her life. Not one indication of historical videos, articles related to her history, or other experts on Bonny could I find any relation to the Powder Magazine. I researched evidence of sightings or shadows and came up with zilch.

In Conclusion

As a writer who needs evidence and physical proof of alleged hauntings, I have to say, the whole Anne Bonny and Mary Read correlation with the Powder Magazine feels more like a tourist trap attraction to liven up such a historical building. Let’s face it, when someone starts rattling off dates and war heroes, most of us get a little bored and/or if nothing else, a little confused about how things tie together. Throw a pirate into the mix after a few blockbuster hits with a big name actor and the history juices start flowing again with interest.

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The Powder Magazine and front yard. Photo by Nicholas McGirr. Cannot be used without permission.

I pass by the Powder Magazine on my Interactive Ghost Hunting Experience tours, mainly because I didn’t know much about the history of the building other than haunting “claims”. In the future, I will take my guests closer to the structure (it’s closed in the evenings) and do a bit more researching with gadgets we use on my tour. The Grid Pen will come in handy in this scenario as well as any thermal imaging from our camera.

In the event that any new evidence is found with an actual piece of evidence, this blog post and podcast episode will be updated with such evidence. For now, enjoy the legends and lore on other tours as they will heighten your attention to look closer at the history of Charleston, even if some of the stories are a stretch to attract attention.

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Photo by Nicholas McGirr. Cannot be used without permission.

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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 using real ghost hunting equipment and possibly discover new activity! What will you discover on your tour?

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References

Bartelme, Tony. “The true and false stories of Anne Bonny, pirate woman of the Caribbean.” 21 November 2018. Post and Courier. https://www.postandcourier.com/news/the-true-and-false-stories-of-anne-bonny-pirate-woman/article_e7fc1e2c-101d-11e8-90b7-9fdf20ba62f8.html. 29 January 2020.

National Park Service. “The Powder Magazine.” 15 February 2018. National Park Services. https://www.nps.gov/places/powder-magazine.htm. 29 January 2020.

Sandlapper Water Tours. “7 Spooky Charleston Ghost Stories to Get Those Goosebumps.” 21 March 2019. Sandlapper Water Tours. https://www.sandlappertours.com/7-spooky-charleston-ghost-stories-to-get-those-goosebumps/. 29 January 2020.

Stello Jr., R. Alan. Arsenal of History: The Powder Magazine of South Carolina. Charleston: History Press, 2013. print book.

The Old Powder Magazine, Cumberland Street. Charleston, 24 November 1860. https://lcdl.library.cofc.edu/lcdl/catalog/lcdl:281?tify={%22panX%22:0.489,%22panY%22:0.531,%22view%22:%22info%22,%22zoom%22:0.479}.

Traveler of Charleston. “6 Spookiest Places in Charleston.” 10 October 2017. Traveler of Charleston. https://travelerofcharleston.com/6-spookiest-places-charleston/. 29 January 2020.

 

Magnolia Cemetery

To listen to the accompanying podcast episode visit Stories in the Cemetery.

I’m not even going to pretend that I can cover the 130 acres of history that makeup Magnolia Cemetery. Normally, my posts will give you the history of a location before I dive into the paranormal activity. This post will give you some connections to my previous investigations.

Famous South Carolinians

Among the 35,000 burial sites at Magnolia Cemetery, lie 39 known famous South Carolinians that helped shape the history of both Charleston and South Carolina. Among this list of elites are politicians, writers, and soldiers. I will mention only a few of them here as they relate to my previous research. This is not to say that any of the others not mentioned here are any less important, but as a researcher and writer, I found it interesting that my previous investigations are linked closer to home.

William Bull

Although not listed among the 39 notable burials in Magnolia, I couldn’t help but notice on the map of the cemetery, in the upper left-hand corner, the name of “William Bull”.

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Map of Magnolia Cemetery. Picture found on http://www.magnoliacemetery.net

If you recall, William Bull was the man who funded Old Sheldon Church, a study I did in 2019. You can find that post here: Spirit Shoes at Old Sheldon Church.

William Gilmore Simms

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Bust of William Gilmore Simms at White Point Garden, SC. Picture by Nicholas McGirr

Last week, I posted about White Point Gardens and the lack of hauntings there. If you recall, there was a picture of a bust of William Gilmore Simms in White Point Gardens. Simms was a poet and novelist and his list of works includes “The Yemassee” written in 1835. Simms was also pronounced the “best novelist that America produced” by Edgar Allan Poe, another well-known author who spent time in Charleston. As an author myself, I like to think that Simms and Poe spent time together conversing over war and hardships of the South. The time periods match closely enough that this could’ve been possible.

Josephine Lyons Scott Pinckney

A descendant of Eliza and Thomas Pinckney, Josephine is also buried in Magnolia Cemetery. Eliza Lucas Pinckney, if you recall my post on their mansion site, was the mother of our indigo plants here in Charleston. Not only did she discover the crop’s capabilities to rebound Charleston’s crops, but she also stood as the businesswoman who was able to create and sell the crop overseas. A pioneer paving the path for future women of Charleston, Eliza’s tenacity lived through Josephine.

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Ravenel Bridge in the background of Magnolia Cemetery. Picture by Nicholas McGirr. Cannot be used without permission.

Josephine was the founder of the Poetry Society of South Carolina, Josephine also played a key role in the preservation of the Holy City. Active in the literary community, she influenced the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society through the restoration of Charleston buildings and neighborhoods.

The Hunley Crew

The men who served under Captain Horace L. Hunley and Lt. Dixon are also buried here at Magnolia. There are signs that lead you right to it, or you can use the map of the cemetery grounds.

Although I have no direct research of the Hunley and its crew, I have plans in the future to dive into this research and of course, visit the Hunley itself in hopes of learning more about the vessel, it’s missions and it’s men.

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The remains of the crew were buried here in 2004, after author Clive Cussler and his group, NUMA found the vessel with the remains and time-capsule like artifacts. The funeral and memorial service took place in White Point Gardens and in Magnolia Cemetery with a full honorary service to remember those heroes that were lost.

Feels like an art exhibit

Walking and driving through Magnolia Cemetery, one gets a feeling that they are not only stepping through time but quite possibly through lost craftsmanship. The style of memorials, statues, headstones, and incredible carvings is astonishing. So astonishing in fact, that there are numerous books with depictions of the grave markers. One that comes to mind and more recent is from Patrick Harwood, “In the Arms of Angels”.

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There are plenty of newer style headstones but the uniquity of this cemetery is the vast array of styles of carvings, tombs, and crypts spread throughout the large grounds. An appreciation of artistry and craftsmanship aren’t needed while exploring the grounds, because it will be provided. You can’t help but notice how many different types of stone there are throughout the cemetery.

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Paranormal Activity

It’s a cold January here in Charleston and I had to get in and out of my warmed car between research sessions in the cemetery. I mention this because with each step back into my car, the spirit box app would give me another warning of precaution. Words like “speed”, “coordinate” and “squeeze” came through. In other words, in my small car, I had to watch my “speed”, “coordinate” my next stop and “squeeze” through the thin dirt roads that lead you around the graves.

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The word “perception” also came through on the app around the same time I heard “picture” in the manual spirit box. This was telling me to change my “perception” in the “pictures” I was taking and so I used my selfie stick to raise the camera and get a fuller view of the grounds. I was hoping for anomalies to show themselves or even an orb, but research on my pictures found nothing.

Throughout my stay in the cemetery, I would get random “blips” from the EMF detector. Nothing too significant, just a little touch out of the green zone. I couldn’t recreate the data, nor was anyone answering my questions when talking out loud. At times, I’ll use the EMF detector to communicate.

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As I was driving towards the exit, passing by the land that honors the Confederates killed during the Civil War, the word “soldier” came through. I stopped, rolled down my window, and enjoyed my last moment of peace in the old cemetery.

This was a peaceful drive and walk, despite the cold weather, and my understanding of the grounds and those buried there are deepened, though not fulfilled.

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Picture by Nicholas McGirr. Cannot be used without permission.

Current Walks of the Grounds

There are activities that occur on the grounds to commemorate soldiers lost, ghost stories with more in-depth tales of the South Carolinians buried here, and to honor the deaths of those aboard the Hunley. The website for Magnolia Cemetery gives regular updates on happenings with the grounds as well as any updates to the property.

I’m sure this will not be my last tour of the old cemetery, as it holds many graves that need to be researched and preserved. As for this post, let this be the beginning and very broad scope of the importance this land on the banks of the Cooper River holds for Charleston.

I shall visit again, soon.

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Picture by Nicholas McGirr. Cannot be used without permission.

If you’d like to support this blog/podcast, you can always

Buy Me A Coffee

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 using real ghost hunting equipment and possibly discover new activity! What will you discover on your tour?

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References Used to Create this Post

Bulldog Tours. Spirits of Magnolia Cemetery Tour. n.d. https://www.bulldogtours.com/tours/the-spirits-of-magnolia-cemetery-tour/1. 23 January 2020.

Charleston Currents. HISTORY: Josephine Lyons Scott Pinckney. 23 November 2015. https://charlestoncurrents.com/2015/11/history-josephine-pinckney/. 23 January 2020.

City Walking Guide. Charleston. n.d. https://www.citywalkingguide.com/charleston/magnolia-cemetery. 23 January 2020.

Find A Grave. Famous Memorials in Magnolia Cemetery. n.d. https://www.findagrave.com/cemetery/70585/famous-memorials?page=1#sr-6719543. 23 January 2020.

Harwood, Patrick. In the Arms of Angels. Birds Eye Productions, 2014. Print Book.

Hunley.org. Hunley crew to “rest in peace, at last”. 6 May 2003. https://www.hunley.org/hunley-crew-to-rest-in-peace-at-last/. 23 January 2020.

Magnolia Cemetery. Magnolia Cemetery Blog. 16 August 2019. http://www.magnoliacemetery.net/. 23 January 2020.

SC Picture Project. Magnolia Cemetery. n.d. https://www.scpictureproject.org/charleston-county/magnolia-cemetery.html. 23 January 2020.

Wikipedia. William Gilmore Simms. n.d. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Gilmore_Simms. 23 January 2020.