26 October 2012

Ghostly Tales at the Library

Halloween is nigh.  We are certain to get a higher volume of questions about ghosts and hauntings this time of year.  The "best" ghost question I've gotten thus far, though, is the one related here: 

I received a long distance telephone call from a woman in Ohio one afternoon about 10 years ago. (Where else could it be?  Ohio is the state of last residence for a high percentage of new coastal SC residents.)  The customer explained, rather sheepishly, that she felt "bad vibes" at certain spots on the Jasper County property she had recently purchased.  The "bad vibes" scared her enough to consult a medium when she returned to Ohio.  At her reading, the medium counseled her to "Call Beaufort County Library, your answer is there."

Needless to say, her question and the involvement of a medium presented a rather intriguing aspect to my day. Taking the open-minded position that some folks believe that "bad vibes" can arise from "bad events" or "unfinished business of souls departed," I wondered aloud about whether or not there had been any known unpleasantness on the property.
·         Had the location been a battlefield in the past? Not that the researcher or I was aware of.
·         Were there any known murders or fires at that location? Not that the researcher nor I were aware of.
·         Were there any records of structures on the site in the past -- structures in which unhappy events or mistreatment of others may have occurred? Perhaps there were, because the property was known to be a working plantation with slaves in the past. 

In most places, a question like this one involves county offices in charge of land and tax records at the County courthouse. However, the Beaufort District's courthouse then located in Gillisonville burned down in 1865 as the Union troops moved to capture Columbia. This means that many of the pre-1865 records for Beaufort District and its subsequent counties, Beaufort, Hampton, and Jasper, including records of land transactions, wills, court cases, property taxes, etc. -- all activities and functions that arise within a courthouse -- were destroyed.

Did we have any other ways to find out prior uses of a particular piece of land? And if we had some materials that might help her, would she be coming to our area to do her own research? The answer to both questions was "Yes." 

She made an appointment to come to the BDC during her next trip to South Carolina.

Precisely because Beaufort District is a "burned county," the BDC purchases South Carolina Department of Archives and History microfilm series to help compensate for the loss of pre-1870 Beaufort County courthouse records when we can. Using the SCDAH online records index to search on the original owner of record and his properties here in our area, we got a number of hits. Then we pulled several reels of microfilm in hopes that we'd learn more. My greatest hope was that we'd learn something about structures that once were on her property, such as houses, out-buildings, and slave quarters.

I loaded the first reel of microfilm -- going with my gut about which one might be best. I chose a reel of the Charleston series of State Plats. The Charleston series starts slightly before the Columbia series. Furthermore, the Charleston series may include a greater number of lowcountry plantations by virtue of its closer geographic location to Beaufort and Jasper.

The very first reel we pulled, on the very first try, we hit the mother lode! The property had a plat; the plat included key structures; the structures included the layout of the slave quarters. The location of the strongest "bad vibes" she felt turned out to be the precise location of the slave houses row on her property. She believed that she had her answer. She did the “researcher’s happy dance” right there by the microfilm reader/printers.  

Her medium was correct! She did find her answer in the Beaufort County Library after all. A little historical research gave the customer the answer she was seeking.

Do you have questions about the macabre or spectral?  Perhaps the Beaufort County Library is the place you'll find some answers and some fun, too!

If you're looking for some spooky fun, I recommend the Ghost Stories of Beaufort County article under the “Local History” tab on the system’s homepage at www.beaufortcountylibrary.org.  Some of our Branch Libraries are hosting holiday events.  Be sure to check our calendar for a Holiday program near you.  Or, check out "True Ghost Tales," novels, videos, or audio books about ghosts from the many choices available in our Branch Libraries. Using "ghosts" as a subject got me over 500 hits in the SCLENDS catalog.  Surely, you can find something to add a thrill to your Halloween celebrations.

For the record: Because this is a public library, there are no weird questions, only intriguing ones.

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