The Haunted Jail Tour

Old City Jail
Old City Jail in Charleston, SC
Photo © by John F. Carroll

Charleston, SC is full of history. And like anywhere that has a collection of historic places, there are the spirits that come with it. “Tucked away in the heart of historic Charleston, the Old City Jail stands as a haunting reminder of the city’s darkest past. The jail, which was operational from 1802 until 1939, housed Charleston’s most infamous criminals, 19th-century pirates and Civil War prisoners.” The crumbling old building now houses the American College of the Building Arts by day, but by night is open to tours curtesy of Bulldog Tours.

The tour begins at the front of the building–an imposing facade worthy of any Hammer film. Tales of nasty 19th Century criminals, murderers and pirates are told by our young College of Charleston student/ tour-guide in a fashion that one would call auto-pilot. It’s too bad, really, as the rich history surrounding this building is rather unique. Criminals like the infamous Lavina Fisher–the first widely regarded female mass murderer–was imprisoned and executed here.

We wrap around the exterior to the back of the building and enter the jail. Going immediately to a room on the second floor that is illuminated by a single red lightbulb (so our eyes will adjust to the darkness of the interior) we are given a brief history of what it was like to be an inmate at the prison.

There is not a great deal to see inside, but what is there is worth the visit. Massive prison doors give way to great stand-alone cells in drafty decaying rooms. An imposing stairway with treds worn away by the footseps of over two hundred years. What tends to break the mood is when we are led into areas occupied the college and see student projects laid about like a macabre PTA visit. Furthermore, I felt very rushed through the tour. Our guide (again, a college kid) seemed more concerned with getting the tour over and done with so she could get outside for a smoke.

I do recommend taking the tour, if for no other reason than to go inside the jail. If it is at all possible to get a more senior guide that really cares about the tour, it will make the experience much better. I have nothing against college kids–I was one once. I just want a tour guide that gives a good tour. Unfortunately, on this go ’round I was not so fortunate.

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