The Haunted Unitarian Graveyard

Posted by in US Ghost Adventures

The Holy City of Charleston, a mishmash of Christian denominations, was founded in 1680. In as much as the moniker reveres its numerous religious subsets, Charleston’s cemeteries pay respect to the early settlers who held these beliefs with great veracity. Many of these settlers have moved on from the joy they felt, forever lost in their freedom, and continue to haunt these cemeteries today. 

The Unitarian Graveyard, the second oldest cemetery in Charleston, is no exception. One of the oldest cemeteries in South Carolina, this graveyard has awed passersby and inspired authors for generations. Its romantic splendor captivated Edgar Allen Poe and led to one of his most famous poems. The cemetery lends itself to others pursuing such artistic endeavors. Its purity romances even the most staunch disbelievers. 

The real-life characters who inspired the timeless tale of Edgar Allan Poe’s Annabel lived and died here in Charleston. The Unitarian Graveyard attracts visitors hoping to learn about the true tale every year. They quickly discover that others of a more sinister standing rest here as well. 


What is the Unitarian Graveyard Known For?

Besides its hauntings, the Unitarian Graveyard is said to hold the real-life characters that inspired Edgar Allan Poe’s Annabel. Learn more with Charleston Terrors next time you visit the Holy City.

Unitarian Church and Graveyard

Free-flowing fauna covers paths leading to the Unitarian Graveyard’s gravestones. Some may be hard to read due to the overgrowth, but if one is lucky enough to wipe away the growth and find intact scripture, they are in luck. Before them unfolds a book dedicated to the people that made Charleston the city it is today. Being the second oldest cemetery, there is plenty to discover. 

After the formation of the Circular Congregational Church, then known as the Independent Church, there became a need for a second church. The various groups of religious dissenters, those going against and reforming Catholic beliefs and structures, became too numerous to hold in one congregation. The Unitarian Church was built in 1787, after a delay in construction due to the Civil War, and became a valued meeting spot for Charleston society. 

In 1839, fourteen years after the American Unitarian Association was founded, it officially became a Unitarian Church. The Gothic Revival building that stands today was renovated in 1852 but suffered significant damage in the earthquake of 1886. This 7.6 magnitude earthquake took the lies over 100 people and caused

Many of these people now lay in this graveyard, their graves delicately strewed between long pathways and local plant life. This was no accident. In 1827, Caroline Gilman, wife to a former pastor, built it to create a park more than a cemetery. She and her husband, Harvard alumni and doctor Samuel Gilman, created a native-plant-like garden for generations to come—creating a lush yet comfortable environment for mourners to visit their loved ones in.  

The two of them now rest among its winding pathways with the others, along with his Mary Elizabeth Lee, known as one of the famous Southern women authors in the pre-civil war era. She wrote for the periodical The Rose Bud, which Caroline Gilman edited. It’s as if literary greats were naturally attracted to the Unitarian Graveyard.


Edgar Allan Poe’s poem Annabel tells the tale of two young lovers separated by a jealous and over-protective family member. After Annabel’s father discovers their various liaisons in the Unitarian Church, Annabel is locked in her room, away from the soldier of her dreams, and some months later, she dies of yellow fever. The soldier returns from his duties in Baltimore and hears the disheartening news. 

He is not allowed to attend the funeral, and the father blames her death on the man, so he travels to the cemetery to see his lover’s grave. But it is nowhere to be seen. The father had buried six different graves for her, all without headstones, to confuse her fawning beau. This young soldier’s name was Edward Allen. Sound vaguely familiar? 

It was the moniker Edgar Allan Poe used to lie his way into the army. He was 18, and 21 was the required age for enrollment at the time. While the tale describes a soldier named Edward Allen, whose real pseudonym was Edgar A. Perry, it does not mean this whole thing did not occur. His poem Annabel takes place at the Unitarian Church Graveyard, an oddly specific location. 

The real Edgar Allan Poe was a soldier who went to West Point, located in Baltimore. The new Netflix movie The Pale Blue Eye sheds light on this part of his career. Sadly, Poe’s ending was no better than that of his lover. His alcoholism and drug use led to his early demise in 1849, yet he went on to become one of America’s most beloved writers of the macabre. 

The odd thing is, though, many say they see a woman in white often roaming around the cemetery at night. Upon getting close to her, she disappears. Local legends state that this is the spirit of Annabel, searching for her lost lover in eternal agony.

Other Spirits of the Cemetery

Lavina Fisher, America’s first serial killer, also rests in this cemetery. She and her husband, John Fisher, owned a hotel called the Six-Mile Hotel due to its location outside of the city. She would seduce, drug, and lure travelers into her parlor, only to open a trap door on them when they reached a certain location. John would be waiting down below. None of these murders were ever proven, but the two of them were executed regardless at the nearby Old Exchange and Provost. 

Fisher believed she could escape her sentence. There was a colonial law in place at the time that prevented married women from being murdered. She thought she had the law tricked; however, John was hung first, making her a widow. They say her spirit haunts the Old Exchange and often the cemetery, and she bitterly screams into the night. There are also reports of an old lawn keeper keeping the beautiful landscape fresh even in the afterlife. 

He has been seen in multiple locations around the cemetery, with his lawnmower nodding to passersby. It is good to know his passion for the local scenery has not subsided in the afterlife. Next time you’re in Charleston, take a tour with Charleston Terrors to learn more about Chuck Town and his fascinating cemeteries. Keep reading our blog for more information about them until then!