By John Boyanoski
Photos by Jack Robert Photography, Illustrations by Laura Allshouse
What scares us, and why do we like to be scared?
Two questions that are wrapped together in a riddle that often gets asked at this time of year – when the harvest moon rises, leaves start to fall and the temperatures drop noticeably. The questions reach down to our most basic human tendencies and come bubbling to the surface in the guise of a ghost story.
Now, not everyone likes a ghost story, but for many the tales of haints and specters is a release from our stresses and worries. Odd, but when boiled down, that is what makes people like a ghost story. Trying to put an answer to something unknown or fearsome so that, in a way, we can rationalize the real scares in life.
But enough with the theories. Let’s get to some Greenville ghost stories.
A British loyalist’s bloody haunting
For generations, this was the most well-known of all Greenville ghost stories, and with a moniker that features the word “bloody” in it — well, it has to be good. Let’s start with the facts, as we know them.
During the American Revolution, Bill Bates was a Loyalist who was involved with or in charge of several raids in the Greenville and Spartanburg areas in 1780 and 1781. Some vicious atrocities are attributed to Bates. After the war ended, Bates is alleged to have hid out in the North Carolina mountains, but would sometimes return to Greenville. His fateful last trip was in 1797, when he was arrested and jailed at the corner of Falls and Court streets. While there, the survivor of one of Bates’ rampages came to the jail and fatally shot him.
Accounts vary as to what happened next, but Bates’ body was said to be buried at the corner of Main and Broad streets. And that is where we get a ghost story. In 1892, a new post office was built on the spot, and in 1935 it was converted into City Hall. It would remain in use until 1973, when it was demolished to make way for the current City Hall. Rumors of the ghost of Bloody Bill haunting the basement persisted and were often whispered to new staff members. However, when the building was torn down, apparently Bates’ ghost went with it.
Dear Theodosia, lost at sea
Long before she was referenced in song in the musical “Hamilton,” Theodosia Burr was the subject of a longtime Greenville ghost story. Actually, she is the main ghost in a lot of stories.
The basic facts are that on New Year’s Eve 1812, Theodosia, then married to South Carolina Gov. Joseph Alston, boarded The Patriot headed toward New York City. Expecting a six-day voyage, Burr and the ship vanished.
Rumors and legends state they were probably attacked by pirates somewhere near Nag’s Head, North Carolina, or the boat simply sank. However, ghost stories have placed Burr in numerous locations from New York to South Carolina. One states that her ghost haunted a house in Greenville that shared the foundations of a home she lived in for a short time with her husband.
So what was the ghost? According to the legend, people would hear what sounded like a woman in a heavy dress rushing up and down steps when no one was there.
The flirtatious dead
This story comes from a pair of amateur ghost hunters who were doing some research at a cemetery near Fountain Inn. They noticed a grave that featured pictures of a young woman. One of the ghost hunters remarked the woman was very pretty. A few days later, when listening to recordings of their trip, they heard a woman’s voice reply to the compliment with “Who, me?”
There are many other ghost stories in and around Greenville. People have reported numerous sightings and strange occurrences at the Poinsett Bridge; the old tuberculosis hospital off of Rutherford Road; and the ghost of Willie Earle on an old road in western Greenville County. All great stories — and many others — to share around a campfire on Halloween.
Greenville isn’t the only Upstate locale that offers up some scares. Check out some of these other tales.
Abbeville: Located south of Greenville, Abbeville is a town filled with history and ghost stories. There are tales of the supernatural at the Abbeville Opera House, Belmont Inn, the old jailhouse and Trinity Church, just to name a few.
Spartanburg: Does the ghost of a man who lost his head in a railroad accident haunt the tracks in downtown Spartanburg? Longtime residents will tell you to beware Booger Jim after sundown, when it is said he makes his ghostly rounds.
Anderson: There are a lot of tales of haunted bridges locally and nationwide, but many considered the ghostly tales about the bridge off of High Shoals Road in Anderson to be the most true version of Cry Baby Bridge. Tales of crying children, crying women and even apparitions are told.
Newberry: The Hound of Goshen is one of the creepier Upstate tales about a spectral dog that roams Old Buncombe Road near the Union and Newberry county line. The legend states the ghost dog’s owner was hanged along that stretch of road. The loyal dog still roams looking for those who wronged its deceased friend.