Famous South Carolina ghost story of Alice Flagg of The Hermitage, a tragic spirit haunting coastal South Carolina’s Grand Strand.
The coast of South Carolina can be an eerie place, with Spanish moss draped over tree branches, looking like long ghostly fingers reaching out to grab passers by. The fog, the mist, and the sea breeze all complete the perfect setting for ghostly tales – like that of Alice Flagg, a well-known ghost haunting the South Carolina Grand Strand.
Alice’s story begins in 1849 at the Hermitage of Murrell’s Inlet, S.C., seashore home of the Flagg family, owners of the great Wachesaw Plantation. Alice Belin Flagg lived with her mother and brother, Dr. Allard Flagg, who took over as family patriarch when his father, and Alice’s father, died. As the head of the house, it was his responsibility to see to his sister’s upbringing. And she was being brought up to marry into the South Carolina aristocracy.
“Every woman must leave her mark on the earth,” Alice’s mother would say. Indeed, every Georgetown County plantation princess was expected to marry a plantation prince, period – no questions asked, no exceptions made.
But who can control one’s heart strings? It would be Alice’s fate to fall in love with a common lumber man – handsome and successful in his field, but still far beneath her required station. His name was John Braddock, and he was a man who worked with his hands. He knew nothing about plantation society, other than as his employers.
They met one day while Alice went riding. Alice had a strong rebellious streak, and loved to ride fast, ignoring her family’s warnings. Horseback riding gave her a sense of freedom she could not enjoy at home, where there were so many expectations of her as a young Southern belle. On horseback she could be free, and could be the Alice Flagg she wanted to be.
As she rode onto the main path that day, she suddenly spotted some men clearing the road of a fallen tree. One of the lumber men caught her eye. His name was John Braddock, and before they knew it, the two were instantly drawn to one another. Their tragic courtship was about to begin.
When Alice mentioned her newfound beau to her family, her mother and brother became extremely concerned. “How can you possibly carve a place for yourself in this society, if you attach yourself to his common lumber man?” they asked.
But Alice only paid attention to her heart, and she spent her days dreaming of her beloved. She sent secret messages to John by way of loyal servants, who would deliver them and arrange for secret meeting places. One day, her young man mustered up enough courage to come call on Alice’s family. Her brother Allard was furious that Alice would continue to associate with such a commoner and would so blatantly defy his wishes. Despite Alice’s pleadings, Allard turned John away.
Alice felt that her very life was being taken from her by her tyrannical brother and unyielding mother. Had they never known love before? Did they not know what it was like to love someone so deeply that it hurt? She was heartbroken, and there was no family member to turn to for a sympathetic shoulder.
But she was more determined than ever to continue to see John. While her mother and brother continued to search for a worthy husband, Alice secretly accepted an engagement ring from her true love. It was a plain gold ring with a simple inscription:
“Love never fails, John.”
Alice loved the ring, but she knew she could never wear it openly on her finger. So she placed it on a blue ribbon to wear around her neck, close to her heart. Her family would come around to accepting her love for John and would accept him into the family, she thought – it was just a matter of time.
But as time went on, her brother and mother stepped up their relentless pursuit of a proper husband, and would no longer allow Alice to see her lumber man. Allard finally sent her away to a boarding school in Charleston, providing the school with strict orders to prevent any correspondence between the two lovers.
But time and distance would not make Alice’s heart less fervent for her beloved. Although she attended many social events – including the annual St. Cecelia Ball, the biggest coming out party of the season – and was pursued by many suitors, she remained true to John. She wore the ribbon around her neck thin, fingering her ring, reading the beautiful inscription and clutching it close to her aching heart.
At times, she would take it off the ribbon, place it on her finger, and would imagine her wedded bliss. Why did her brother fail to see how miserable he was making her? She would then cry herself to sleep.
As she pined away in Charleston, she began to grow frail and thin. Her future seemed dark and unclear. She began to have strange dreams where she was lost in a dark forest. She heard her beloved calling out to her in the darkness and tried walking toward him, but he was always out of reach. The empty blackness enveloped her and she could move no more. She lost sight of John’s form, and then she, too, was lost in the void.
When she awoke, she found herself ill with fever – a fever that seemed to overtake her, just as the darkness had. Out of alarm for her health, Allard was summoned to Charleston. He traveled for four days to reach her, and once he arrived, he found her too weak to even acknowledge his presence.
He carried her to his carriage for the long journey home. But the jostling and jolting four day carriage ride made her even more ill. By the time she was placed in her own bed at the Hermitage, she was comatose. She dreamed feverish dreams of her beloved, calling out his name, reaching for the ring around her neck to comfort her. Then she would visibly sigh, her frail body relaxing in sleep.
One night as Alice slept, Allard spotted the ring around her neck. He became enraged, for to him, the lumber man was solely responsible for his sister’s illness, and he wanted all reminders of this tragic figure removed from his house and his sister’s mind. Without a second thought, he snatched the ribbon from his sister’s neck. It only look one small tug to break it, since Alice had worn it down to nothing. In a fit of rage, Allard threw the ring into a nearby creek.
As Alice awoke the next morning, she made the familiar and comforting gesture of clutching the ring to her chest. To her horror, she found that it wasn’t there. She deliriously asked for it and made wild searching motions for the ring, pounding and scratching at her chest, leaving clawing marks on her delicate skin. She was panic stricken – if the ring was gone, she thought, then so was she. Hours later, she lapsed into a coma and died.
Alice Flagg was dressed in her favorite dress for her funeral at All Saints Church. As friends viewed the body, they shuddered at the sight. Where had her youth and beauty gone? This was not the face they remembered – it was a cold, pained face, with all its spirit drained away. There was talk that she could not bear losing her true love, and that was the real reason she died. If this story were true, then everyone knew that not even death could give her peace.
She was buried at All Saints’ Waccamaw Episcopal Church near Pawleys Island. Allard insisted that no other inscription than her first name commemorate her grave, for he felt that she had disgraced the family unforgivably. He believed that her stubborn rebelliousness had caused her early death, and she did not deserve further acknowledgment.
No one knew what became of John Braddock, since he was not seen at the funeral. Some say he was so grief stricken that he could no longer stay in the place that held so many memories of her. With Alice’s death, he, too, seemed to fade away.
But many believe that even in death, Alice did not give up her hope of being united with her one true love. In death, they say, she continues to search for her ring, the symbol of her chosen man’s affection.
There are stories about sightings of Alice, followed by strange happenings. Some say when a group of young people stood at her gravesite, a ring suddenly flew off the finger of one of the girls. She had been unable to remove the ring for some time, but it mysteriously flew off. It took much of the day to relocate the ring, which the girl treasured.
Alice has been seen many times near her final resting place, behind the wrought-iron gates of All Saint’s Churchyard. Through the years, many guests at the Hermitage have seen a vivid, life-like Alice standing in her old bedroom. She is always wearing a long white dress, as if dressed for a wedding. And always, she appears to be searching endlessly for her lost ring.
You can visit Alice’s grave today at All Saints’ Waccamaw Episcopal Church. Just look for a plain marble slab engraved with only one word: “ALICE.”
NOTE: Alice Flagg is now believed to be buried, along with other family members, at Belin Memorial United Methodist Church (formerly Cedar Hill) in an unmarked grave. The ALICE marker at All Saints is either commemorative, or perhaps the resting place of another family member. Nevertheless, it remains a popular draw for tourists and ghost hunters. The SC Picture Project has more details on The Hermitage and the Flagg family.
The Ghost of Alice Flagg – Story Credits
ABOUT YOUR STORYTELLER:
Cathy Kaemmerlen is a professional storyteller/actress/historical interpreter known for her variety of one-woman shows, her creatively artistic approach to storytelling, and her rapport with audiences. Performing for over 25 years, she has done literally thousands of solo in-school performances throughout the country, using her dance and theatre backgrounds to enrich her tales and bring her characters to life, and her writing skills to craft her varied stories and shows. A performer and “creator of shows” since she can remember, going back to a highly imaginative childhood, she has been a recipient of a choreographer’s fellowship from the South Carolina Arts Commission/NEA and individual artist’s grants from the California Arts Council, Wisconsin Arts Board, and the Georgia Arts Council.
Written by Cathy Kaemmerlen and Craig Dominey
Directed by Craig Dominey
Audio Engineering by Henry Howard.
Photography by Jon Jownacki