Haunted Charleston’s Mills House Hotel

Some may consider a weekend getaway to South Carolina’s “Holy City” to be a relaxing, kick-your-feet-up sort of vacation. And with that, a stay at a luxury hotel might seem like an obvious choice. However, that’s not exactly the case at Charleston’s Mills House Hotel, one of the oldest and most storied inns on the East Coast. 

This iconic, pink-stained building has seen its fair share of history and tragedy and played host to some of the most prolific figures during the Civil War. And sometimes, the hotel likes to remind its present-day guests of the atrocities that took place in its shadowy corridors all those years ago. 

Intense feelings of pain, suffering, confusion, and mystery hang heavy over the Mills House Hotel. Tormented souls from the Civil War era and beyond have no intention of checking out, and their spirits have been locked in the same earthly prison for tens, if not hundreds, of years, causing them to be particularly restless. 

The Great Fire of 1861 also set this building ablaze, as well as every public building in Charleston, claiming 575 homes. Guests report seeing the wispy figures of men running up and down the hallways at night, presumably looking for water to extinguish the flames. 

The unspeakable tragedies that took place in this decades-old inn continue to hold a strange, eerie power over all who dare to check in for a night’s stay, and for some, it is greater than others. 

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Otis Mills Opens the Mills House Hotel

The site of the current-day Mills House Hotel dates back to 1853 and continues to play host to a variety of guests today. Built by wealthy grain merchant Otis Mills, the original structure that once stood at 115 Meeting Street was an Italian-style, five-story hotel. 

The 180-room hotel was designed by architect John E. Earle and cost $200,000 to build. Sadly, that building no longer stands, but the legacy of this famous inn has nonetheless persisted. The building gradually declined in the first half of the 20th century as newer, more opulent hotels began opening in the area, and it was finally sold at auction in 1968 to Charleston Associates. 

However, the structure was in a state of disrepair, and it was torn down later that same year. In its place is a new Mills House made in the original’s image, which now boasts seven stories instead of five.

As mentioned, this hotel was the height of luxury throughout much of the mid to late 1800s, with running water and even steam heat for its prestigious clientele. And what’s an attractive hotel without its fair share of attractive guests? 

Over the years, famous faces such as Confederate General Robert E. Lee and Theodore Roosevelt are said to have stayed at the Mills House Hotel. During the Civil War, this building also hosted hundreds, if not thousands, of Confederate soldiers—some of whom have seemingly never left. 

Its name changed to the “St. John Hotel” at the turn of the 20th century, but no matter how many times it changed its name and appearance, this building simply cannot escape from the grasp of its dark, bloody past, despite being a different construction entirely.

The Great Fire of 1861

Now managed by Hyatt, guests come from far and wide to enjoy the historic charm of the Mills House Hotel. But many get more than they’re asking for when its sordid past begins to resurrect itself. After the sun goes down, the aptly named “Holy City” becomes a little less holy, with spirits from the Civil War, in addition to what many speculate to be the uncounted victims of the Great Fire, beginning to rise at the Mills House Hotel. 

As previously mentioned, this hotel was a popular place for soldiers and generals to stay during the Civil War, surviving the destruction of much of the city. Although the origins of the fire remain unclear, some say that the Great Fire began with a group of slave refugees who might’ve started a cooking fire or an outdoor open fire for warmth. However, the blaze quickly got out of hand, pressed by high winds, burning over 540 acres and resulting in property damages between $5 million and $8 million. 

Allegedly, Robert E. Lee and his men were staying at the Mills Hotel when the fire broke out, and his soldiers supposedly attempted to fight off the flames while helping guests evacuate. The building was saved. 

No deaths were officially recorded, yet phantoms from this era in Charleston’s history continue to haunt the Mills House Hotel. Visitors claim to see full-body apparitions of Confederate soldiers rushing through the corridors, perhaps working to extinguish the fire outside. 

You might wonder why this hotel is still haunted despite not being the original structure. While the patterns, movements, and earthly attachments made by unearthly presences remain somewhat of a mystery, even to the most seasoned paranormal experts, the answer might be easier than you think. 

The Inn is still on the side of this unforgettable tragedy, meaning it’s entirely likely that even if the original hotel was destroyed, its ghostly residents never left and moved into the new Mills House Hotel when it was completed.

Hauntings at The Mills House Hotel

One of the most infamous accounts of otherworldly activity at the Mills House Hotel comes from a night manager known as “Phil,” who worked at the inn during the late 90s. He was a notorious skeptic who liked to mess with coworkers who believed in the “paranormal mumbo jumbo” that occurred around the hotel—none of which he believed. 

While attempting to prank a security guard with a lighter and a spray can, Phil was hiding in a stairwell, ready to jump out and blow a nasty fireball. But when Phil thought he heard the guard coming, he leaped out from his hiding spot, only to find…no one there. The door opened and shut, but the guard wasn’t in the hallway. Then, he started smelling smoke. 

Phil looked frantically for the source, believing he might have accidentally caused a fire, but when he turned around, he didn’t find something, but rather, someone. He was surprised by the figure of a young boy, who was standing there rubbing his eyes as if he were crying. Phil reached out to him, but before he could touch him, the boy shockingly burst into flames. 

Terrified and unsure what to do, Phil called for help. The security guard came running through the stairwell door a few seconds later, but Phil turned away and looked toward the guard; the boy and the raging fire had vanished. To this day, no one knows who this boy was or where he came from. Perhaps he was the manifestation of a young boy who lost his life during the Great Fire. Regardless, his appearance proves one thing: don’t mess with the spirits that haunt the Mills House Hotel. 

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