Author’s note: This is a true story. Many of the names have been changed to protect the living… and the dead.
Deep in rural South Carolina, about halfway between the mysterious wetlands of Bull Swamp Creek and Orangeburg, sits a stately carriage house. On cloudless days, sunlight peaks through the Spanish moss that hangs from the trees and sparkles onto the front door creating an inviting atmosphere. But on quiet country nights, restless spirits arise inside the walls of the antebellum home.
The year was 1983. I was a young, ambitious reporter at the Orangeburg Times and Democrat with the goal of making a name for himself. Fascinated – and terrified - by the ghost stories that had been told to me by my grandfather over the years, I decided to write a book about the many spirits that continue to live in South Carolina. One of the senior reporters at the newspaper – Joyce Milkie – embraced the idea and became my writing partner.
Joyce had heard about the haunted carriage house, so we gathered our notebooks and pens, camera, film and cassette recorder to document the apparition.
We pulled up to the house on a blistering hot afternoon with the gnats dive-bombing our eyes and ears. Two sets of stairs came down from the raised porch like strong arms, welcoming us inside the cool environs of the home.
Jim and Diane Davis – the new owners of the house - greeted us with cold glasses of lemonade and warm smiles. I asked if they would mind if I recorded our conversation and hit the record button on my high-tech cassette.
They walked us down the hallway and stopped in front of a painting of vase of flowers.
“See how this picture is hanging crooked on the wall?” asked Mr. Davis. “I straightened it up last night before I went to bed. In fact, I straighten it up every night before I go to bed. And when I get up, it’s all crooked again.”
Pictures weren’t the only things that moved around the house. Combs and brushes would mysteriously move. Tools would go missing and reappear days later. Even pots and pans would clatter in the dead of night.
I snapped photos with my Olympus OM1 SLR film camera, just as I had for so many stories as Joyce jotted down notes in her reporter’s notebook.
“Of course, that stuff’s really nothing compared to what my wife experienced,” Mr. Davis continued. “That’s when it gets really strange.”
Diane took us into the master bedroom. The furniture, paintings and bedspreads were beautifully decorated in period fashion. But your eyes were drawn immediately to a handsome dresser and mirror with antique hairbrushes and atomizers.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” said Diane. “It came with the house – just like the ghost.”
Joyce and I looked at each other, wondering if she was serious. She was.
“About two weeks ago I woke up in the middle of the night because I thought I heard something. I got out of bed to have a look and I froze immediately. There was an elderly woman sitting right in front of that mirror brushing her hair. I was unable to even speak for a minute – and finally I said ‘Who are you?’ The old lady turned, looked at me and smiled – and disappeared.”
The hair stuck up on the back of my neck as I snapped a photo.
“And then, just two nights ago, I woke up again. This time, I thought I heard someone outside, so I walked to the front room and saw the same elderly lady rocking a baby in a rocking chair. And once again, she disappeared as I approached her.”
“Here’s the kicker,” said Jim. “One of our new neighbors came by yesterday to welcome us to the neighborhood. He told us how the house used by be owned by an old lady named Emily Fanning. He said Miss Emily had two favorite pastimes – rocking babies out on the porch and sitting in front of the dresser brushing her hair every night.”
I shuddered and knew it was time to get out of there.
Joyce and I thanked the Davises and headed out to write up our story. I took the film back to newspaper’s darkroom to be developed and I sat down at my desk to rewind my cassette recording and listen to the interview.
But there was no interview to listen to. My trusty recorder, which I had used so many times, had not recorded one second of the interview. Moments later, the newspaper’s chief photographer came over to my desk and broke the news: “Clay, that roll of film you gave me had no images on it at all. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Joyce and I had a number of other adventures as we visited the “haints” of the Palmetto State. But we never finished that book. Joyce has now passed on from this world and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that she allows me to share this – and not shut down modern day technology like the ghosts of the carriage house…