Poinsett Bridge has been doubly ‘haunted’

Published 10:00 pm Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Twice Told Tale, By Dean Campbell

Poinsett Bridge, South Carolina’s oldest standing bridge on present-day Callahan Mountain Road, has been the subject of two haunting tales since it was built in 1820.  The first haunting tale began soon after the bridge’s completion as part of the Old State Road, a toll road leading from Charleston and Columbia through the Saluda Gap Mountains to Asheville, N.C.

Construction of the fitted stone bridge, with its fifteen-foot high, Gothic arch, took longer than anticipated, due to heavy rainfall that caused Little Gap Creek to swell for long periods, and health issues of the rock masons.

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A few of the masons had come up from canal construction in Charleston and brought malaria with them. Others working in the cold, damp conditions developed colds and even pneumonia. So many masons became sick that a makeshift hospital was set up at a home at the top of the Saluda Gap.

It is understandable that word of so many illnesses among the bridge builders might eventually have led to speculation that one of them may have died during the grueling construction. And, as tales tend to become taller in retelling, it was only a small leap to a conclusion that a dead mason’s body was buried within the bridge structure.

Wind passing through the arch’s opening can make a different ambient sound, especially at night, when darkness and forest night sounds can alter a person’s perception. Hundreds of people have interpreted this as “other worldly sounds,” such as that a ghost might make in haunting a spot where it feels trapped.

Thus, early and mid-nineteenth century visitors to the bridge kept alive the myth of a dead mason’s ghost haunting the site.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a second haunting tale was popular. This time, it was the ghost of a female slave, killed during the 1860’s at the bridge site that was said to haunt the bridge and its environs.

This haunting tale was resurrected during the late 20th and very early 21st centuries.

I remember the first time I heard a young high school student refer to the bridge as “the slave bridge,” not Poinsett. He did not know very much about the actual history of the unique bridge, but told me a bodacious story of a female slave who was pursued to the bridge area by a ruthless master, who killed her with an axe.

He described in great detail the moaning sounds her ghost makes around the bridge at night. He had heard the sounds himself as a group of his classmates came to the bridge about nine o’clock one evening on a scheduled treasure hunt.

The slave haunting tale has received such prominence in recent years that it was the subject of the premiere episode of Haunted Echoes: South Carolina, a new, six-segment YouTube series, which premiered in October 2013, on the popular video sharing website.

Titled, Haunted Echoes: the Dark Corner, the episode featured the Poinsett Bridge and different aspects of the haunting tale, including a reenactment of the killing, testing the ghostly legend with a paranormal investigation group, II Dead Crew, and an on-camera interview of the actual history of the area with me, as the area historian.

The series is produced by Director Robb Baker and Producers Cody King and Daljit Kalsi, and includes five other well-known places or things of interest in Upstate South Carolina, which have a ghost or other haunted aspect connected to them.