The second Charleston ghost story I want to share with you isn’t actually from a location I visited, but caught my attention due to my “Would This Kill Me in the 1800s?” series.
One of Charleston’s most iconic churches is the Circular Church on Meeting Street, though that’s not where this story takes place.
In the back of the church’s graveyard is the Hutson-Peronneau mausoleum. The Hutson family only has one or two family members buried there, but a few miles away (too far for our tour group to walk to, alas) is another church with another mausoleum dedicated entirely to the Hutson family, and that is where our story takes place.
Charleston, due to it’s location and geological profile, is prone to mosquitoes.
LOTS of mosquitoes.
Mosquitoes carry malaria.
In the early 1800s, little was understood about the disease. No one knew how it spread.
A parasitic infection, it causes a variety of symptoms including: fever, chills, exhaustion, seizures, headaches and body aches, vomiting, enlargement of and reduced liver function, and heavy breathing, among others.
Around about the 1830s-1840s, a daughter in the Hutson family, Julia, contracted the disease and passed away. Her family was heartbroken, but also afraid of other family members catching it. It was a messy, violent death, so she was quickly prepared for burial and taken to the family plot where she was sealed into the mausoleum.
Five years later, her brother was killed in a hunting accented when his rifle misfired. Once again heartbroken at the loss of a child, he was wrapped in a shroud and taken to the same mausoleum.
When they opened the vault, however, they were shocked when Julia’s body fell out on top of them, her shroud still on the shelf where she’d been left. On the inside of the door were claw marks.
While it wasn’t widely known at the time malaria can, in some cases, send patients into a death-like coma, in which they appear to stop breathing and their heart rate becomes slow and weak.
Poor Julia had mistakenly been buried alive. When she woke in the dark, hot, smelly tomb, she panicked and tried to get out, but there was one to hear her scream. Should would have died after a few days in the oven-like cell, dehydration finishing off what the malaria started.
Horrified at their mistake, the Hutsons returned home with both bodies. They re-wrapped Julia’s body and went back with her brother a few days later to inter them both, only to discover the mausoleum door would not shot. After several attempts, they finally chained it shut for the night and decided to come back the following day.
The next day, they found the door had wedged itself as far open as possible, straining against the chains they’d used to hold it shut.
After several more failed attempts to get the door to shut, they though it must be slightly off or swelled with the heat and humidity. The door was removed and reset, but still would not stay shut.
At last it was decided to seal it with masonry, but within a few years the masonry crumbled and fell away.
The door was removed and replaced with a new door, but was soon found to have fallen inward into the chamber, the door frame rotted away.
At last it was decided that Julia’s ghost, determined to prevent her fate from happening to anyone else, had decreed the mausoleum must stay open.
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