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Lowcountry Ghost Stories

Ghost stories are part and parcel of Lowcountry tradition. It's hard to imagine a coastal native unfamiliar with the oft-repeated stories of Gray Man and Alice of the Hermitage. For decades, hundreds have made pilgrimages to what is purported to be Alice's grave at the All Saints Cemetery on Pawleys Island. Legend has it Alice will appear to anyone holding a ring who walks backward around her grave 13 times, and a well-worn path encircles the simple gravestone. As for the Gray Man, he is widely known as a kind and benevolent ghost who warns unsuspecting folks of impending hurricanes. Along the Grand Strand, there hasn't been a hurricane yet without a Gray Man sighting. The best part of the story is that the property and possessions of those individuals lucky enough to encounter the famous phantom are spared the damage of raging winds and furious tides.

If the stories you read here whet your appetite for more other-worldly tales, just head for a local bookstore. Books on Southern ghosts abound.

"Alice of the Hermitage"

(We should preface this story by admitting that there has been confusion about the chronicle of Alice. Truth is, three Alice Flaggs called the Lowcountry home, and it's been difficult to exactly determine to which of the Alices this story pertains.)

In Murrells Inlet, in an era when the rice empire was at its zenith, one of the most beautiful plantations was The Hermitage, overlooking a breathtaking expanse of salt marsh. The Flaggs, who owned the property, had a teenage daughter named Alice. Alice's brother, a respected doctor, traveled frequently. On one of his return visits he brought a friend who was quite successful in the mercantile business.

Although Dr. Flagg and the young fellow were friends, the "mere merchant" was not considered worthy to move in the Flagg's social circles. Given those circumstances, it was unfortunate that the young man and Alice struck up an immediate rapport a rapport that was quickly transformed to love. Because of the difference in their social standings, Alice knew her brother would never allow her to marry his friend. Still, in private, they determined to wed without the family's consent as soon as she was old enough.

In the fall, Alice was sent to finishing school in Charleston. Dreading the long separation, the lovers took comfort in their plans to marry as soon as Alice's schooling was complete. To seal their promise, the mercantile man gave Alice an engagement ring. Since she could not wear the ring openly, she wore it on a chain around her neck well hidden from her family.

When summer ended, Alice and her boyfriend exchanged sad farewells. In Charleston, she went to many balls and met scads of eligible young men, but she never betrayed her promise. Without fail, she kept her ring close to her heart. At night, alone with her memories and her dreams, she would take out the beloved token, look at it longingly and remember.

Then, without warning, Alice became very ill. Doctors were called but were unable to help. In desperation, school officials sent Alice home to The Hermitage so her brother could care for her. She was only barely alive.

Often, as her fever climbed unmercifully and delirium took control, she talked about her betrothed. Initially, her unsuspecting brother didn't understand the gibberish. Then, one fateful night, he found her clutching the ring and mumbling about his friend. Suddenly, he understood their secret pact. In a rage, he snatched the ring from her neck and tossed it out the window into the swaying spartina grass. Alice sick, desperate and disheartened pleaded for understanding, but her brother remained impassive. A short time later, she died; whether from her mysterious illness or a broken heart, no one will ever know.

For burial, Alice was dressed in a beautiful white ball gown. Shortly after she was laid to rest, people began talking of encounters with a ghost about the grounds. When the Flaggs entertained friends from another part of the state, a little boy was put to bed in Alice's former room. Later, when the mother overheard her child talking, she opened the door and looked inside. The boy said he was talking to the lady in the window. She assured the child he had been asleep and dreaming, but he insisted a beautiful lady had given him a flower. He held up an unexplained magnolia blossom for his mother to see.

Years later, another family visited The Hermitage. Most of the guests had gone to the inlet to play in the water. But one young woman, engaged to be married, choose to stay behind and read. Lying on a chaise lounge in Alice's room, with windows open to catch the salty breeze, she sensed she was not alone. The room's temperature dropped. Suddenly, her left hand lifted itself inexplicably, and her betrothal ring was literally removed from her finger. Suspended in midair for only a moment, it dropped to the floor.

Immediately, the feeling passed away. Terribly frightened, the young girl called her hosts who explained the story of the lonely Alice still searching for her ring.

"The Gray Man of Pawleys Island"

Two centuries ago, a young man came to Pawleys Island to visit his fiancee. More than a little anxious to see his beloved, he was galloping along a sandy coast at breakneck speed. Regrettably, his tired horse stumbled, and the young man fell, broke his neck and drowned in the waves.

A century or so later, a young woman was staying at Pawleys Island in autumn what used to be a desolate time of year. One morning, as she walked the beach, she became conscious of a young man, or someone she presumed to be a man, walking a distance behind but keeping pace with her.

Initially, she was unconcerned. But, for some distance, the man continued to maintain her pace. From afar, she could only distinguish the blurred, gray outline of a man. Concerned, she began to run. Still, the figure kept pace with her. Finally, home at last, she locked her doors and sat nervously, wondering if the stranger might come to her door. He did not.

Later that day, the weather changed. Vicious winds whipped wickedly, heavy clouds rolled in, and rain poured. Though nervous about the weather, she wasn't sure what she should do. Eventually, there came a pounding at the door. An unknown voice called to her a man's voice telling her to leave quickly for high ground. Frantically, she answered "Yes, yes, I'll leave immediately." With only a few possessions in tow, she left Pawleys Island and headed inland.

After the hurricane passed, she returned to the island to find unmitigated devastation. Grateful to the faceless man who had warned her of the impending disaster, she repeatedly inquired about his identity. The old-timers looked askance, knowing she had been alone on the island.

There are reports that the Gray Man was seen on Pawleys Island before Hurricane Hugo roared ashore in 1989. A retired couple living on Pawleys was strolling the beach early in the day. Walking hand in hand, alone, the couple noticed a young man approaching, shrouded in an odd gray mist.

At the time, they didn't give the incident much thought and kept walking. But at a point when they should have passed the figure, they realized he was gone. They looked around frantically but saw no one else.

Returning home, they listened to reports indicating Hugo was predicted to hit Pawleys Island directly. The couple left their home, returning after the storm. Devastation reigned. Entire houses had vanished. But, returning to their own home, they found nothing damaged save the walkway to the beach. Nothing more.

If you're visiting Pawleys Island or any of the coastal areas for that matter and you glimpse a shadowy, unsubstantial gray figure, head inland without hesitation. No doubt, a hurricane is coming fast.

Grover Cleveland Was Here

In his book Pirates, Planters & Patriots, local author Rod Gragg writes about a very famous visitor to the Grand Strand.

In 1894, President Grover Cleveland came to the Lowcountry to hunt ducks. Cleveland's friend, Edward Alexander, a former Confederate General, owned property near Winyah Bay and overwhelmed the President with descriptions of the rich hunting grounds near his home. So, in December 1894, the President sailed into Georgetown Harbor and spent five glorious days trudging through abandoned rice fields south of Myrtle Beach.

The press provided elaborate daily reports of Cleveland's hunting successes, and the entire nation became fascinated with South Carolina's Lowcountry. Soon, letters requesting information about duck hunting and accommodations started pouring in as did the hunters. Wealthy northern sportsmen fell in love with the area and began buying old rice plantations along the river. Natives referred to the phenomena as the "second Yankee invasion."

He new plantation proprietors have had a dramatic impact on the Lowcountry's burgeoning education, arts and businesses all because Grover Cleveland enjoyed hunting ducks.

Fast Facts

During the summer months, the Myrtle Beach area has a daily population that easily exceeds a half-million people!

The Grand Strand hosts more than twice as many visitors each year as does the entire state of Hawaii.

With approximately 1,800 food-service establishments, the Grand Strand has more restaurants per capita than San Francisco, which has long held the reputation as "Restaurant Capital of the World."

In April of 1995, The Wall Street Journal reported that the National Motorcoach Network ranked the Myrtle Beach area No. 3, after Branson, Missouri, and Washington, D.C., in an annual ranking of the nation's top 50 bus destinations.