The Magnolia Cemetery

Posted by in US Ghost Adventures

Of the many dazzling cemeteries Charleston has to offer, none crumble quite so elegantly as the Magnolia Cemetery. Built-in 1849, it is the oldest public cemetery in the city and home to over 33,000 people. Most cemeteries found in Charleston are operated and cared for by their local congregation.

While the term public makes one think of the general population, this cemetery was not completely public. Being reserved for the rich and wealthy white population of 19th-century Charleston. But because of this, those who invested in the city’s infrastructure and development now lay here. It is the most fascinating of all the cemeteries in Charleston due to its wealthy proprietors.

Tombs of all shapes and sizes can be seen inside its gates, holding the remains of Charleston elite. Plantation owners, Confederate leaders, and politicians mostly reside here. A stamp in the city’s history book. The site itself used to be a rice plantation before 128 acres of the site were dedicated as a public cemetery. While most are at rest, some have unfinished business and make their presence known quite often.

Learn more in the pages below or take a ghost tour with US Ghost Adventures.

The Magnolia Cemetery

Built on the site of the Magnolia Umbra plantation, the Magnolia Cemetery pays tribute to the rice-paddy-filled marshlands that once populated the area. The plantation house, which now operates as the Magnolia Cemetery Office, dates back to 1805. The area surrounding the Magnolia Cemetery is known as the Magnolia Umbra Cemetery District.

It consists of over 26 cemeteries that showcase the diverse multitudes of people once inhabiting Charleston. The area is populated with tombs belonging to African-Americans, Huguenots, Jewish peoples, and many others. Giving credence to Charleston’s nickname, the Holy City. The Cemetery District is three and a half miles outside of the Downtown area and well worth a visit for any Taphophile. 

In the Magnolia Cemetery, one will find some of the most luxurious and prestigious tombs in the city. The cemetery was originally designated by the Magnolia Cemetery Company in 1849. This was a time when the cemeteries were becoming overcrowded, and the increasing population of Charleston was suffering the Yellow Fever epidemic plaguing the south. 92 acres were developed and designed by architect Edward C. Jones.

Opening day was November 19th, 1850, and was presented to the public with glorious fanfare. The cemetery became an ideal location for both the dead and the living. Families would hold picnics among the decorated tombs as was common in Victorian times. Among these are some of the finest examples of Victorian-era architecture and art in all of South Carolina. Examples of Greek revival, common in 19th-century architecture, can be seen all around. One of the most grandeur in scope and size is the tomb of wealthy banker William B. Smith.

This large pyramid-shaped tomb holds the remains of the Smith and Whaley family and towers over the rest of the hallowed grounds. The Vanderhost Mausoleum is another fine example of Egyptian Revival and featured a large cross. This was often implemented by architects to dampen the Pagan overtones of the style. 

The Cemetery At Night

Until recently, The Magnolia Cemetery was only open during the day, but since 2019, night tours have been offered. Since then, many visitors have noticed sights and occurrences that are more unusual than just the architecture. There is the overwhelming feeling of being watched, reported by many guests since the tours began. Mediums, empaths, and psychics are naturally attracted to the site due to the paranormal activity.

The feeling of being watched is often accompanied by the feeling of being unwanted. One tour guide was brave enough to ask a visiting psychic if they were alone. Her answer sent chills up his spine. “No, they are all watching us.” 

But who exactly is watching from the shadows? Which of the 33,000 residents of the Magnolia Cemetery cannot rest? Among the dead are notable South Carolina statesmen and soldiers; Governors Thomas Bennett and William Aiken, Congressmen Robert Barnwell Rhett and Hugh S. Legare, and Confederate soldier Horace L, Hunley.

Hunley is a likely candidate for the role of wandering spirit as his story ends in tragedy. An engineer of early submarines, Hunley designed and sunk three separate submersible vehicles. The last of three, named after its enthusiastic designer H.L Hunley, took the lives of 8 other soldiers, including Hunley himself. The vessel was removed after the burial of the eight soldiers and used again in the first successful sinking of another seafaring ship.

On February 17th, 1864, it sunk the USS Housatonic off Charleston. The remains of the vessel were not rediscovered until 1970 and later removed in 2000. It can now be viewed at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center in Charleston. Perhaps the removal of the vessel from its original resting spot awoke Hunley’s spirit from the grave. Or perhaps his restlessness is due to his untimely ending.

The Child’s Tomb

One of the most strikingly macabre of all headstones in the Magnolia Cemetery is that of Rosalia Raymond White. White passed at only seven months old. Her family, wealthy enough to afford such a beautiful headstone, created a stone bassinet in her honor. At the end of it is a replica of her face. This creepy recreation is called a death mask. Death masks were common from medieval times to the 19th century with the wealthy and were ways to preserve someone’s image forever.

The details found at her tomb are uncanny and strike both fear and fascination into the hearts of those who visit. Perhaps it is the spirit of Rosalia Raymond White, upset with a life cut short and envious of the age and experience of those visiting her tomb. These answers may never be revealed to us. Guests will continue to feel that lingering feeling of loneliness, longing, and the rejection of those whose spirits remain.

All we can do is learn their stories in an attempt to understand why they are stuck between worlds. Take a tour with US Ghost Adventures next time you are in Charleston, and keep reading our blog for more haunted history.