Thursday, January 2, 2014

Charleston’s Embittered Ghost

In 1809 the Planter’s Hotel first opened on Church Street in Charleston, South Carolina. This building was originally the home of the Dock Street Theatre, in 1736, which was the first structure built in the United States specifically for the performing arts.

At one time the Planter’s Hotel was the most luxurious hotel in Charleston. It provided drinking, gambling, and girls for its exclusive wealthy male clients.

The following story and haunting occurred as a result of a tragedy that is still told today. The activity has never ceased.

Nellie Dickerson moved to Charleston from South Carolina’s upcountry in 1840. She was attracted to Charleston’s’ sophistication and society. She held high hopes of finding a wealthy husband.

But Nellie’s dreams were shattered quickly.

Nellie was smart and pretty, but she was neither educated nor wealthy. Her age was yet another barrier. The average age for a female to marry at the time was 17, so Nellie at age 25 was considered a spinster.

Disillusioned, Nellie found there were plenty of men who were willing to take her as a mistress but none wanted to marry her.

Depressed, Nellie took work as a clerk at St. Philips on Church Street. This position provided room and board and a small amount for clothes but nothing else. The only bright spot in her life was the friendship she formed with the church’s priest.

She would watch gloomily as Charleston’s wealthy elite men escorted their high society wives into this church every Sunday.

To relieve her bitterness she would climb to the top of the Church’s bell tower during thunderstorms and scream out her frustrations.

She could see the Planter’s Hotel that was just down the street from where she stood. She watched as these same highly regarded church-going men partook of the delights at the Planter’s Hotel every weekend.

Her bitterness grew as she realized she would never be regarded with the same esteem that was given to these men by Charleston’s high society.

One day under protest from the priest, she quit her position at St. Philips. Shortly after she entered the Planter’s Hotel wearing a fancy red dress. Being both attractive and witty, it wasn’t long before Nellie became one of the hotel’s most popular prostitutes.

Nellie continued to attend church on Sundays. She was noticed for the first time but for the wrong reason. Many of the wives started to sneer at her. Nellie not shy confronted these women face to face and went out of her way to compliment them on their choice of husbands.

But these public humiliations backfired because most of Nellie’s best customers started to shun her.

Nellie broke once more, went out on her second-floor balcony at the Planters during a thunderstorm. She was heard ranting and raving incoherently. Her one and only friend, the priest from St. Phillips, was summoned to the Planters Hotel to help.

He saw Nellie clutching the balcony’s railing shouting at the top of her lungs. He tried to talk to her, but she looked down upon him with vacant eyes. Before he could enter the hotel, a bolt of lightning struck Nellie, killing her instantly.

Renovated Dock Street Theatre
After this terrible accident, it appears Nellie never left the second floor where she died. In the 1930s, the Dock Street Theatre reopened in this building.

Over the years, several stage performers have seen Nellie’s ghost gliding around the second floor. She still wears her favorite red gown with a plunging neckline.

She is described as having lost her looks, but it is s, aid her eyes are what most witnesses notice first. They wildly stare at the living. This wild gaze has scared more than one person over the years.

Most witnesses have reported that they didn’t see her legs below the knee. A possible reason for this is during a renovation in 1936, the second story floor was raised by 12 inches. So she is probably just walking on the original floor.

Others while walking along Church Street have reported seeing the figure of a woman wearing an old fashioned red gown, standing on the second-floor balcony between two windows near where Nellie was struck.

Nellie’s ghost makes sporadic appearances, but it seems she always returns. As recently as 2008, the foreman in charge of the theatre’s renovations reported seeing Nellies ghost early in the morning each day as he reported for work.

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