It was many and many a year ago,

   In a kingdom by the sea,

That a maiden there lived whom you may know

   By the name of Annabel Lee;

And this maiden she lived with no other thought

   Than to love and be loved by me.

While this haunted graveyard in South Carolina is known for its beauty and serenity, it also has a fascinating history. Some say the woman Edgar Allen Poe wrote about in his famous poem, Annabel Lee, may be buried at this cemetery, solidifying her memory in both prose and her final resting place. Another mystery of the Unitarian Church Graveyard is that of the White Lady of the cemetery. Is she Annabel Lee, or another lost soul wandering in her afterlife throughout the well-manicured paths leading to overgrown headstones and graves? 

The mystery of the Woman in White is an enduring one, with several women said to potentially be the apparition. First, owing to her fame and tragic love story is the eponymous Annabel Lee, based upon a woman who lived in Charleston before the Civil War broke out. Known in life as Anna Ravenel, the young lady fell deeply in love with a sailor who was stationed at the nearby naval base who was named Edward Allen. Legend says the girl’s father did not approve of the match, so the two lovers would sneak off to the Unitarian Cemetery to meet under the cover of night. Caught in their nightly meeting by Anna’s father, he would furiously lock her in her room for months to prevent her from seeing the sailor. While she was imprisoned, the young man was transferred to another naval base in Virginia. Distraught and heartbroken, Anna would pass just a few months later from yellow fever. 

The Unitarian Church Cemetery was founded just a few years after the young country of the United States gained its independence from Britain in the Revolutionary War. Its first resident was laid to rest in 1787. With over 200 years of history, the cemetery has gained a reputation not only for its beauty and history, but the terrifying experiences some have had while visiting and wandering the grounds. Many say they were not alone while exploring the cemetery, whether supernatural or otherwise. The creeping feeling of the hairs on the back of their neck often reported, and even a few full-bodied apparitions making themselves known to the tourists visiting the historic location. First built in 1772 and rebuilt again in 1854, the Unitarian Church is the second-oldest church in Charleston, otherwise known as the Holy City, owing much of its intrigue to the history it observed through the centuries of its service to the local community. During the Revolutionary War, the church itself was used as barracks for American soldiers. 

Edgar Allen Poe

Upon hearing of her death, the sailor arranged to return to Charleston to pay his final respects to the love of his life. The starcrossed lovers would not be reunited, however, as Anna’s father took special precautions to make sure her grave was unfindable by the sailor, having six graves dug and filled in and never erecting a headstone for his beloved daughter. The sailor never found the plot that contained his lost love, and Anna was rumored to be the infamous White Lady, wandering the graves looking for the man she loved.

Legend says that the sailor moved to Baltimore and enrolled in West Point, the same school attended by the famous poet, Edgar Allen Poe. So moved by the story, he translated it into his heartbreaking poem about two lovers by the sea, separated against their will by family and by untimely death. Some rumors even assert that Edgar Allen was in fact Edward Allen, and wrote of his own heartbreak by the sea. 

Another famous ghost said to walk the paths at night is that of infamous serial killer, Lavinia Fisher. Fisher owned and operated a hotel and was called the first female serial killer in the new world, her routine involving getting close to wealthy men, then poisoning their tea to rob them after their demise. She was hanged in Charleston, her final words being “I have nothing to say to God because I’ll be dancing with the devil in the morning.” While some assert that she is the White Lady of the Unitarian Cemetery, but others say her final resting place is much deeper than just the six feet of dirt covering her body. 

The final candidate to be the ghostly apparition dressed in white is Mary Whitridge, a woman who lived in Charleston with her ailing husband who suffered from lung issues. He traveled to Baltimore for treatment for his illness, but he passed away just after reaching the city. Mary never claimed his body, so he was buried in an unmarked grave in Baltimore. Legend says that the reason she never claimed the body was because she, too, passed away on the same day as her husband and was promptly buried in her family’s plot. Some say she died of a broken heart, having sensed that something had happened to her husband hundreds of miles away. She’s said to appear near her own grave, distraught at the loss of her husband and their inability to reconnect in the afterlife. Visitors say they believe she is looking for her lost love, just like the tragic Anna Ravenel. 

Visitors have reported seeing the lady in white all over the graveyard, but other paranormal activity is said to occur at the church, including a ghostly groundskeeper from decades past, silently mowing the lawn with an outdated lawn mower. Dozens of times, those on tours of the cemetery have reported seeing a woman in what looks like a wedding dress standing just behind the tour guide, and this has been seen dozens of times from a multitude of tour goers. 

Regardless of who the Lady in White was in life, in death she is a staple of the beloved cemetery, her story reaching far and wide and the rumors of encounters with her spread throughout the Holy City. Visitors say they can tell she’s looking for something or someone in the cemetery, hoping one day she finds what she’s looking for and finally finds peace. Whether she’s the famous Annabel Lee, Mary Whitford or the infamous Lavinia Fischer, there is no doubt that some of the spirits in the Unitarian Church Cemetery are restless and active. You can tour the cemetery at night with Charleston Tours, or take your own stroll through the vines and trees that surround the headstones in the historic cemetery. 

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