|The Charleston Jail|
I just returned from 10 days in the Charleston area. Land of sweet tea, palm trees and Rhett Butler - and ghosts. I knew about the first three but was unaware of The Holy City's (didn't know about that nickname either)status as bona fide ghost country. Ghost tours abound - cemeteries, jails and the sites of infamous crimes, including those of 27 year old Lavinia Fisher whose rap sheet and list of exploits has grown dramatically since she was hanged in 1820 - or did she jump from the scaffold in defiance of the hangman? Did she really wear a wedding dress and say “If you have a message you want to send to hell, give it to me – I’ll carry it” ? Who knew that behind all that Miss Rosemary and Miss Becky (my pal) lay a tumultuous past?
We were there for a Habitat for Humanity build with a team my husband (Mr. Bruce) put together. Shout-out to Mark, Chip, Joe, Angela, Nicole, Maddy, Marianne and Laura, our fellow team members. I can't recommend HFH highly enough - great organization, great work and great fun with amazing like-minded people. The Sea Island Habitat office is on Johns Island, where we built and it was there that Miss Melissa posed the title question.
It seems the church next door to the SIH office moved down the road. Once that happened the issue of what to do with the bodies interred in the church's cemetery arose. Some families wanted them to stay, others wanted loved ones removed to what was now the hallowed ground down half a mile away. Others were long gone and unavailable for comment.
Apparently the moving of bodies is not unusual in Charleston. Sometimes it's a function of much of the area being below sea level. On a bus tour we learned that Vice-President John Calhoun's body "crossed the road more times dead than alive." Reason? His family could not be traced back more than two generations so his status as a "native Charlestonian" was challenged. That required his removal from a Charleston only plot to another across the street. At some point this was reversed and… well, you get it.
But back to the church. Inevitably the day came when the exhumations were to take place. Do you watch? Say a prayer and stay back? Put it on youtube? So hard to know the proper etiquette.
One man's family was removed without his consent - and like John Calhoun - they had to be returned to their original resting places. Now, I don't have a lot of first-hand knowledge about caskets. Although I should. I took MWA's awesome Woodlawn Cemetery tour last fall, but I was more interested in seeing Nellie Bly's grave. And Miles Davis' so I must have missed the part about when coffins fall apart. But, you know, nothing lasts forever and I imagine some of the wooden caskets just rotted away over time. Need I tell you what happened? Bottoms fell out. Bodies fell out. I leave the rest to your imagination. And that prompted Miss Melissa's question - "what kind of pantyhose were they??"
Which, I suppose, lends a whole new meaning to the term, support hose.
© 2015 Rosemary Harris