In the 1800’s medicine wasn’t like we know it today and here in the Lowcountry there often wasn’t a doctor around for many miles. So, diseases like smallpox and diphtheria posed a very serious risk of death to Lowcountry residents. That same lack of a local physician also made it difficult to tell if someone was on death’s door, or if they had passed on.
One Lowcountry legend tells it like this: In the 1850’s a young girl lived with her family on one of the Lowcountry’s plantations. A happy, vibrant little thing she was always the life of the party, running around with her brothers and sisters. Until she came down sick. She ran a fever and her throat started to swell, she couldn’t run around with her siblings anymore and was confined to bed. The people of the time knew the disease all too well and hoped that the little girl would recover, but over the coming days, she got even worse. Soon this little girl just laid in bed and would not wake. No one could detect any breathing or movement from her, so they declared her dead and prepared for the funeral.
When the time came, they took her to a graveyard, laid her coffin in the family’s brick mausoleum then sealed the stone door. For years the family would come back to remember her and place flowers, but the door remained closed.
Finally, in the 1860’s her brother died while serving in the Civil War, and the family returned to the graveyard to lay another of their children in the mausoleum. When they opened the thick stone door they found something terrible. In the corner of the dark room sat the skeleton of a little girl dressed in their daughter’s clothes. They saw the door and the floor covered in scratches. It appeared that their daughter hadn’t died from the disease after all.
People say that to this day the door to that tomb will not stay closed. At night someone at the church will close the door, but in the morning it stands open with deep scratches visible on the floor and the door. It is said that even heavy chains and locks cannot keep the door closed.
Most versions of this story reference the Legare crypt in the graveyard at the Edisto Island Presbyterian Church. (Although the facts don’t seem to back up the story.) Old mausoleums are rare here in the Lowcountry, so many of them inspire spooky tales.