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Ghost stories of the Lowcountry

  • Sunday, August 3, 2014

Digging up Native American graves for the Carolina Bays Parkway might not provoke phantoms from a “Johnny Quest” episode, but the practice years ago at the site of the Myrtle Beach City Council’s recent retreat may have disturbed some spiritual souls. A local church burned down three times. Some claim there are ghosts at Wampee Plantation. I would not spend the night. It costs money.

I would cover Myrtle Beach City Council retreats. We would eat all the free food possible. I would grab all the easy-to-copy agendas and packets. Councils hold meetings there so citizens cannot hear what really goes on. I’m remembering the humid weather as I listen to “Elvis: That’s the Way It Is Deluxe Edition.” You will see it Aug. 5. You get the dinner show, outtakes, rehearsals, “Polk Salad Annie” and more.

Midnight cloaks the dark shore of Lake Moultrie. A hydroelectric plant across the water belches white, steamy puffs of smoke into the sky as a carpet of foam floats atop the water. Members of the Myrtle Beach City Council are fast asleep at the old Wampee Plantation where rumors of ghosts have haunted this gothic Southern mansion over the years. A female employee of the kitchen staff at the conference hall said that she has heard noises that could not be explained.

According to the News and Courier of Charleston Sunday, Dec. 15, 1935, Wampee in Berkeley County was the seat of a Baptist colony in 1700. A number of Native American mounds were found on Santee Valley Plantation one mile from Pinopolis. This is the location where city councils, the Horry County Council, and other groups go to brainstorm, secluded in a setting which takes one back in time to the days of wispy trees. Its construction after 1822 as the third dwelling and a 1696 John Stewart proprietary grant of a 804-acre lot on the west side of Biggin Swamp.

Portions became Somerset and Somerton Plantations. The Rev. William Screven, a Baptist minister, arrived in 1696 with others from Kittery, Maine. Two years later, he received a deed from Stewart for the grant. In 1700, he got another grant for 300 acres at Wampee, adjoining the other grant. Screven settled at Sommerton Plantation, but the Baptist were not welcomed by the French Huguenots, so he sold out to Rene Ravenel, a devout Huguenot.

The plantation house is small. A violent cyclone struck the community and passed over the home under construction, and the wind’s force reportedly broke off all framing near the sills. In Colonial days, Congaree Road was an important commerce artery.

In 1755, Biggin Episcopal Church, completed in 1712, burned. After the General Assembly approved rebuilding, it was burned in 1781 by British troops under Col. Coates. It was rebuilt, but in 1886 it was destroyed and has never been rebuilt.

Wampee may have been a Native American tuber of the arrowleaf (Sagittaria) or a type of water hyacinth (Ponederia cordata), or pickerelweed, which has a blue flower and can be found growing in low marshy areas like the headwaters of Fanny Branch. The name was said to mean “wild rice,” or chickweed eaten by birds indigenous to tribal hunting grounds.

Middle St. John’s diary (Miss Charlotte St. J. Ravenel of Pooshee Plantation) Saturday, Feb. 25, 1865: “The blacks have most terrifying stories this morning; the enemy have marched through Pinopolis and were yelling at Wampee last night, others said they heard great whooping and yelling as if someone was driving a hundred head of cattle.”

Two “tumuli,” or clusters of Native American burial mounds, were found at Wampee and Ophir Plantations. One theory was that the Native Americans were descendants of the Lost Tribe of Israel or that they drifted here from other countries with 55 dialects.

“Old Sandy,” a caretaker and servant, was walking the ground once and noticed on the front piazza, about 12 feet high, “two white objects moving back and forth.” There were no heads, but “a peculiar rattle of feet.” They were calves. Sandy Gibson, the current caretaker, said, “It’s a very friendly ghost.” Once he walked down the stairs after turning the lights off downstairs and found they were back on. “Santee Cooper’s rates are so low, I decided to leave them on,” he said with a chuckle.

“The guard who patrols at night saw a lady standing upstairs,” said Gibson. A guest once found a tie he had placed on the other bed on his bed the next morning.

“Things move around,” said Gibson. A towel in one bathroom was moved to another bathroom once, according to Gibson.

Council members smiled when asked whether or not they believe in ghosts. “I’m not scared of ghosts. I’m scared of friendly ghosts,” said Myrtle Beach City Council member Crain Woods during a retreat. Other council members smiled when asked about the rumors.

As the azure lake waters lap up against the white, frothy surf, a black dog chases its shadow across the mansion’s grounds. In the plantation house’s windows from afar, one’s eyes play tricks as a shadow looks like a figure in a window. Are there such things as apparitions, phantoms and poltergeists? Have you heard of the light at Maco Station or the Bingham Light in Dillon County? Visit the Tomb of Col. Kolb in Marlboro County or Wampee Plantation.

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