Called the Holy City, Charleston is known for its churches – and its beautiful church cemeteries. While wandering around our city, it’s always a good idea to stop and take a stroll through any cemetery you pass – the beauty is always worth the time. The Unitarian Church cemetery stands out for many reasons. While there are paths for visitors to stroll, the graves themselves have been given back to nature, with trees and shrubs growing wild. The disheveled cemetery is one of the most popular in Charleston.
The Unitarian Church itself is the second oldest in the city, first built in 1772 and rebuilt in 1854. Like many in Charleston, this churchyard is reported to be haunted. Many believe that it is by the subject of one of Edgar Allan Poe’s most famous poems: “Annabel Lee.” Annabel was a woman who lived in Charleston before the Civil War broke out – some historians believe her name was Anna Ravenel, the subject of a long told ghost story. She fell in love with a young soldier, Edward Allen, but her father didn’t approve. Anna would sneak out to see her lover, and eventually her father had him transferred to Baltimore.
After losing her love, Anna became very ill. Edward rushed back to see her, but was too late. She was already dead. Young Edward was not even allowed to go to Anna’s funeral – her father blamed Edward for her death. Bitter and angry, Mr. Ravenel had six graves dug and filled in so Edward wouldn’t be able to visit Anna’s grave, and a headstone was never installed.
Edward returned to Baltimore and eventually attended West Point, but drinking and drugs destroyed his career – and he also died young. But he became famous as the writer, Edgar Allen Poe, and his poem, “Annabel Lee,” is believed to be the story of his ill fated love. Today, a “Lady in White” is said to roam the cemetery at night – possibly the ghost of Anna Ravenel.
Night tours of the Unitarian Church Cemetery are available with Tour Charleston and times and tickets are available on their website, tourcharleston.com.
For those who would rather visit during the daylight hours, the cemetery is open 8am-2pm, Monday through Thursday; and 9am-5pm, Friday-Sunday.