Meet us at Charleston’s most haunted building, the controversial Old City Jail on Magazine Street, where ruthless criminals, pirates, murderers, rebellious slaves and Union prisoners of war were incarcerated. It is said that over 10,000 men, women, and even children suffered horrible deaths inside its decrepit walls before its federally mandated closure in 1939. Our Haunted Jail Tour will take you among these tabby walls that held some of the city’s most notorious convicts. None have been vindicated by history, but rather remembered as monsters. For some, like Lavinia Fisher, their guilt is subject to debate even today.
Backed by over 140 years of evil history, locals believe that spirits roam the halls at night, falsely declaring their innocence and demanding release from its torments.
Backed by over 140 years of evil history, locals believe that spirits roam the halls at night, falsely declaring their innocence and demanding release from its torments. Our unique tour gives you exclusive night time access to this American horror story, where you will discover the hidden tales of the Holy City’s most infamous landmark. This place has a dark history off the hook!
As you enter the jail, dimly lit halls will pull you headlong into perdition. You will mount stairs to the second floor and, on glancing back, just as you enter one of the gang cells of the main block, you will be overcome with the undeniable feeling that you have been watched the whole time. Winding passages will lead you up to the third floor where you will pass through grated doors secured with heavy bolts. Then, on the ground floor you will pass by the morgue, rooms set aside for solitary confinement and torture, and finally, a place guides call the “Dark Room” known for its heightened paranormal activity, including encounters with an insane inmate known only as “Animal”.
In 1820, Lavinia Fisher had been imprisoned here along with her husband John. According to legend, she was America’s first female serial killer. In a city that prides itself on firsts, Charleston proudly claims this gorgeous innkeeper and tavern owner as its own homegrown mass killer, accused of murdering countless wagon men traveling to Charleston to trade their furs. Tales of the Fishers include poisonous oleander tea, trap doors, multiple stabbings and burial of victims’ bodies around Six Mile Wayfarers Inn. According to legend, Lavinia was hanged in February 1822 wearing a white wedding dress. And her last words to the citizens of Charleston; “If any of you have a message for the devil, tell me now because in a moment I’ll be seeing him.”
In 1822, another notorious inmate, Denmark Vesey, a freeman who purchased his freedom from a Dutch slave trader after winning the local lottery, was held in the tower of the jail after unsuccessfully staging a slave rebellion. Afterward, free black seamen were incarcerated here, locked away until their ship set sail because such sailors, even if foreign born, were considered a threat by Charleston’s plantation elite.
During the Civil War, captured soldiers from the famed 54th Massachusetts Infantry were quartered in the jail after the failed attack on Battery Wagner in July 1863, along with hundreds of other Union soldiers. During its use as a POW camp, mosquitos, ticks, flies and lice took turns piercing the flesh of Union soldiers, who said that the ground around the jail visibly seethed with vermin.
George Rogers Clark Todd, the brother-in-law of Abraham Lincoln, served as a Confederate surgeon and treating physician to the Union soldiers. He was regarded by both sides as a profane, obscene and brutal man, torturing them by having them buckled and gagged until they died.
William Marcus was imprisoned here in 1906 and hanged in the yard shortly thereafter. Marcus was a railroad worker who stabbed his wife 42 times with an ice pick, leaving her body on a nearby beach.
Daniel Duncan was hanged in the yard in the summer of 1911 after being convicted of the murder of a King Street merchant, Max Lubelsky. Duncan allegedly crushed his skull with a board, but he maintained his innocence to the very end.
In 1913, a ten-year-old boy named Alonzo Small was imprisoned among the general inmate population for murder. Small and a group of his friends had commandeered a parked trolley car for a joy ride before colliding with another trolley, killing a passenger.
Sgt. Charles Long was held here until his execution in 1932. While serving at Ft. Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island, he hacked his wife and children to death with a hatchet, and then attempted suicide by slashing his throat and wrists.
Both on regular tours and during paranormal investigations conducted after midnight, guides as well as visitors have claimed that they were touched.
Do the dead prowl its halls and cells? Are apparitions visible in the dimly lit hallways? Do specters reveal themselves as circles of light in photographs? Do the dead create cold spots, make eerie noises and leave footprints in the dust on the jail’s floor? Both on regular tours and during paranormal investigations conducted after midnight, guides as well as visitors have claimed that they were touched. Some were tapped on the shoulder. Others claimed that two hands pressed against the sides of their faces as if someone were trying to keep them from entering a room. Doors close on their own accord, followed by footsteps. Some have seen a jailer with a rifle on the third floor, passing through the walls and heading towards them before vanishing in the shadows. Others have heard a mechanical dumbwaiter passing from floor to floor, even though it has not been operational for nearly a hundred years. For some, jewelry has vanished and then mysteriously reappeared before they leave the building. Unseen forces have knocked glasses off their faces. Cell phones call unknown numbers and batteries drain only to immediately and inexplicably recharge. A few have even experienced choking and shortness of breath. This tour is not for the lighthearted. It is definitely NOT recommended for children.