Charleston, South Carolina is widely regarded as one of the most haunted cities in the United States. It seems that every street you wander down in this 350-year-old city is teeming with spirits; every darkened window has another specter watching silently.

Among the countless buildings plagued by hauntings, one soars above the rest in reports of paranormal activity. Built atop a forgotten burial ground and having seen over 10,000 deaths in its time, is it any wonder that the fortress-like Old Charleston Jail is the Holy City’s most haunted location?

Old Charleston Jail History

Old Charleston Jail in South Carolina
The land where the Old City Jail now sits was originally designated for public use in 1680, when Charleston was still a burgeoning settlement.

It was intended for use not only as a jail, but also a poorhouse, hospital, and a workhouse for enslaved people to be punished by the city.

This lot additionally served as one of the first official potter’s fields for Charleston. Potter’s fields were plots of land designated for the burial of poor people, or travelers with no family, in unmarked graves.

These graves were lost to time, and in 1802 the Old Charleston Jail was built on top of them.

All manners of lawbreakers were housed in the jail, from “gentleman” criminals to thieves and murderers. Those incarcerated were separated by severity of their crimes, with the most serious being kept on the third floor.

Over its time in operation, the Old Charleston Jail saw many notable inmates. During the Civil War, Union POWs were kept here, often being forced to sleep in dilapidated tents in the yard due to overcrowding.

Famed pirate Jacque Alexander Tardy served time here, after framing a chef for the poisoning of eight people aboard his ship.

Denmark Vesey allegedly spent his last days in the jail’s tower, awaiting his execution after the failure of his 1822 slave revolt. Perhaps most famous, though, is America’s first female serial killer, Lavinia Fisher.

Lavinia Fisher - America's First Female Serial Killer

Lavinia Fisher in her Jail Cell before her hanging
Lavinia and her husband, John Fisher, ran the Six Mile Inn just outside of town. Under their ownership of the inn, travelers went missing at an alarming rate.

Despite Six Mile Inn being the last place many of these travelers were seen, no investigation was ever done into the Fishers due to their popularity in town.

See also: SC’s Most Haunted Hotels

Until February of 1819, when two men escaped from their clutches and went to the sheriff with accusations of violence.

An investigation was finally done, and to the shock of the townspeople, several bodies were found buried beneath the inn.

It was discovered that Lavinia, a beautiful woman, had been seducing men into drinking tea poisoned with oleander leaves. Once the Fishers’ victims were in a weakened, drowsy state, John would rob and murder them.

When their crimes were found out, the Fishers were arrested, and both placed in the Old Charleston Jail until their execution on the grounds.

At the time, it was illegal to execute a married woman, so John was hanged first.

Lavinia Fisher at the Gallows wearing her wedding dress
When the time came to hang Lavinia, she requested to wear her wedding dress, in hopes of her beauty charming a man into marrying her on the spot, therefore saving her life.

No such thing happened, and she went to the gallows.

While her husband had maintained his innocence to his death, Lavinia proclaimed to the gathered crowd, “If any of you has a message for the devil, tell me now, for I will be seeing him in a moment.” With that, she flung herself from the platform to her death.

Diplorable Conditions & Death

Old charleston Jail cell
The living conditions within the jail were deplorable. The cells were wildly overcrowded, with the jail housing as many as 350 inmates despite only being built for 130.

Lavinia and John were only two of the over 14,000 deaths that occurred in the Old Charleston Jail. Though some were lost to executions and suicides, most deaths here were the result of infection and disease.

There was no glass in any of the windows, so there was no protection from the elements. The latrines overflowed, there was very little fresh water available, and often, there were maggots in the food.

Prisoners faced brutal punishments for even minor infractions, and many were even chained to the floor, unable to move.

As wardens moved around the jail, their footfalls were accompanied by the sound of crunching, as thousands of lice eggs covered the floors. Insects and vermin alike tormented the inmates, often causing illness, which would spread like wildfire among the men crammed inside their tiny cells.

These horrific circumstances bred an air of misery so thick that it would continue to linger long after the building was abandoned in 1939.

The paranormal

Today, feelings of sadness and uneasiness prickle the skin of visitors. Objects move on their own, or even go missing, particularly jewelry. Lights will turn on and off on their own. Cold spots are commonly encountered, even in the peak of summer heat.

Disembodied voices and whispers echo across empty rooms, and the silence is often broken by the sudden, disturbing sound of screams and groans.

See also: South Carolina’s Most Haunted Locations

Chains can be heard rattling and dragging across the floor, as though the spirits of the jail are still bound by their earthly restraints. In contrast, footsteps are also heard freely racing down hallways.

Several spirits have been captured in photos and videos, manifesting as orbs, light anomalies, or spectral faces that weren’t visible to the naked eye. Other spirits appear as full-bodied apparitions, wandering the jail.

Some tour guides alone in the building one night, saw a prison guard with a rifle in hand patrolling the third floor. He seemed to take notice of them and, perhaps thinking they were escaped inmates, charged at them before vanishing into thin air.

Lavinia Fisher Ghost in wedding dress
The apparition of Lavinia Fisher is also frequently spotted, roaming the halls in her white dress.

Some spirits of the Old Charleston Jail are seemingly able to manipulate the physical world around them. Guests report having their hair tugged, being touched or even grabbed, and some have even gone home sporting bright red scratch marks on their skin.

More sinisterly, some guests have felt the sensation of hands around their neck, choking them. One tour guide has even fainted in a particular spot in the jail, despite having no history of fainting.

This guide regained consciousness upon being moved from that spot, but almost immediately fainted again when they returned.

The Old City Jail Today

Today, the jail is used as the headquarters for the American College of the Building Arts. However, each night, Bulldog Tours invites people to step inside and experience the hauntings firsthand.

The tours, led only by flashlight, run about 45 minutes long and are priced starting at $37. This tour is not recommended for children, and kids under 12 years old are strictly prohibited.