Connecting With Charleston's Past Through the Paranormal"Charleston is not a stage, it's a living, breathing historical town where people live in 300-year-old houses and the business takes place in the same places it has for hundreds of years, the same families have gone to the same churches for centuries."
John LaVerne has never seen an apparition, but that doesn't mean he doesn't believe in ghosts. In a city with a 300-year history, the presence of things past is bound to make itself known. "Especially in January, when it's cold and quiet and there's not a soul in sight, I've had the very distinct smell of pipe or cigar smoke come past the group," recalls LaVerne. "That's unexplainable yet pretty common, to smell or hear something strange."
As owner and tour guide of Bulldog Tours, LaVerne runs one of the largest tour companies in Charleston. He frequently strolls the city after dark, sometimes stopping at its more haunted locations, like the Old Jail. But while there may be any number of otherworldly visitors wandering Charleston's cobbled streets and off-the-beaten-path alleyways, LaVerne is personally interested in stories and experiences of the present-day people who live in this historic place.
"Charleston is not a stage, it's a living, breathing historical town where people live in 300-year-old houses and the business takes place in the same places it has for hundreds of years, the same families have gone to the same churches for centuries," he explains. "I tell people to leave their car, park it in the garage and get out. Walk around, ride a bike — get lost in the back alleys and city streets."
Church Street runs from Charleston City Market to the strand of land at the harbor known as The Battery. When he needs to recharge, LaVerne treads this well-worn path past antebellum homes down to the view of Fort Sumter. He quips that the beauty of Charleston being a pedestrian-friendly city is that residents can walk off all the delicious Southern cooking they enjoy. Dixie Supply Bakery & Cafe still serves stone-ground grits, tomato pie and Charleston chews, brownie-like cookies that are a local delicacy and very popular with Bulldog's staff. The Eclectic Chef, in the suburbs of the city, "is a staple in our family for traditional recipes with a twist," says LaVerne.
Even though he steeps in Charleston's history on a daily basis, LaVerne still loves to drive a few miles out of town to visit some of the former rice plantations abutting the city. He actually lives in the plantation district on property once owned by a man that local lore says was the inspiration for Rhett Butler in "Gone With the Wind." "There are four open [plantations]: Middleton Place, Magnolia Gardens, Drayton Hall and Boone Hall," explains LaVerne. "I'm a native and I do this for a living and I still go. They're about 10 miles from historic downtown, but a million miles away and a great place to decompress."
So how does a paranormal enthusiast find a ghost in Charleston? Explore a part of the city after dark. "Come back to a street at night because it will feel like a different place," says LaVerne. "The night adds to the magic of the city, especially on the quiet residential streets where it's easy to transport yourself back hundreds of years."
Check out John's Charleston.