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The centuries-old ghost stories of the haunted Dock Street Theater

7 min read

The haunted Dock Street Theater has plenty of centuries of eerie ghost stories to tell, and those who have passed by at night have seen the ghosts of lost souls gazing out from the windows.
America’s first theater, is located in the historical and haunted city of Charleston in South Carolina, perhaps one of America’s most haunted cities.

The building that is now the Dock Street Theater was built in 1809 in the French Quarter in downtown Charleston, originally known as Planter’s Hotel, by Mr. & Mrs. Alexander Calder, and It is also known as the last remaining “Antebellum” Hotel in Charleston.
Their endeavor was really more of a renovation of a cluster of buildings already located onsite, while the name of the hotel was an homage to its guests, as most of the people who stayed at the Planter’s were actually planters.
During the horse racing season, these planters from the midlands of South Carolina would journey into city to catch the races.
After playing the ponies, many of the planters were too tired to trek back home, or were unable to travel the distance.
By the 1930s, Planter’s Hotel was gone, and the building in desperate need of repairs.
As construction began, an additional structure was added behind the hotel, featuring both a stage and an auditorium, the city’s first ever theatre.

But the construction of the original Dock Street is believed to have commencend in the year of 1735, with the grand opening taking place on the 12th of February in the year of 1736. It’s location was not far from the current address of the theatre and, as the oldest surviving theater of its kind in the United States, has welcomed many famous names.
Visitors, staff both on stage and off stage have several times been describing their interactions with ghostly apparitions, phantom voices and other otherworldly phenomena.
From disembodied footsteps to mysterious moving shadows, these chilling recollections have been compiled over years of research and exploration of building’s many nooks and crannies.

The first theatre was short lived, the exact cause of its demise is not clear, but most believe that it burned down in the Charleston Fire of 1740.
While the Dock Street burned down, it was replaced with another theatre, which remained opened for over 40 years, when it closed down in the 1780s, shut down in large part due to the construction of a new and more grand theatre, just around the corner.

During the glory days of the Planter’s Hotel, it was known to play host to theatre groups, and one of the actors has a name that may sound a little familiar to some, Junius Brutus Booth.
He was the father of ole John Wilkes Booth who murdered Abraham Lincoln, and one popular story told about the elder Booth, occurred during his stay at the Planter’s Hotel, around 1838. The events of the story unfolded one night after a performance, when for unknown reasons Booth became enraged, and attacked the hotel’s manager, almost killing the man.

In any case this successful time period would be seceded by a calamity of unfortunate events.
First the Civil War, and little to nothing went unschathed during the war, but this was especially so for any place in the south, and Charlestown was no exception.
After the war, the once luxurious hotel became a victim of the city’s strongly economy, and it faced further damaged as a result of the devastating 1886 Charleston earthquake.
The building was left abandoned for far too long, nearly 50 years. But plans came about in the mid-1930s, when the Works Progress Administration, an agency established during the Great Depression to create work for the unemployed, announced their intentions to renovate the condemned structure formerly known as Planter’s Hotel.
The first step, in restoring not just the building but Charleston’s economy was for the city to hire new workers for the massive undertaking, and the following was to renovate the old hotel back to its original glory but not as hotel, but as a theatre.
The theatre remained open until 2007 when it was forced to close temporarily for greatly needed renovations. Three years and 19 millions dollars later, more precisely on March 18, 2010, the Dock Street Theatre held its grand reopening to the delight of all locals.
And still today the historic theatre continues to serve as a cultural touchstone for the city, as it hosts a full season of performances produced by the Charleston Stage Company, but also some of your favorite musical acts at the theatre year round.

With nearly 350 years of history under its belt, it’s clear that the City of Charleston lays host to countless ghosts, and also at the historic Dock Street Theatre.
Guests of the theatre have claimed to see spirits roaming about, sightings of ghostly shadows in the rafters, and apparitions on the stage.
Many are left to wonder just who were.
Failed actors, long time admirers of the theatre or, maybe it’s possible that something more tragic occurred at the building.
While there have been numerous sightings throughout the building’s long history, the most popular are actually two.
One of these two specters is believed to be Junius Brutus Booth, and no one is quite sure why his ghost is haunting the Dock Street Theatre (formerly Planter’s Hotel), as he was not even in Charleston at the time of his passing, but miles away in Louisville, Kentucky.
And, aside from performing at the former hotel with his theatre troupe, and the rumor that he tried the to kill the manager of the Planter’s Hotel, he doesn’t really have any strong ties to the building.

But the ghost that most people report on seeing there is that of Nettie.
Most likely it was a name given to her after she was spotted as a ghost, but there are some stories that her name was really Nettie Dickerson.
It seems that Nettie lived in Charleston in the 1800’s in the time it was Planter’s Hotel. She was not a guest nor a member of the staff, but she was a bit of a freelancer, working there as a prostitute, the world’s oldest profession.
Not by chance the hotel was a definitive go to place in terms of alcohol, parties and prostitutes as well as gambling.
According to the local legend, she was a 25 year old country girl who had moved to Charleston in the 1840s, dreaming of a city life with more exciting days than in the countryside. She was also looking for love, but at 25 she was well past her prime for marriage and the wealthy men of Charleston were looking for brides who were still in their teens, they were not interested in marrying someone considered to be a spinster.
Before becoming a prostitute she worked as a clerk in the church, a life far from where she ended up.
She was friendly with the priest and did well at her job, but in the end, she felt as she did not belong, it was impossible for her to compete, and knew she would never truly be accepted into Charleston’s high society. She wanted more and went to the Planter’s Hotel for it.
Thus she went to the shop and bought herself the most expensive red dress, that would catch the eye of any man. Although she gained many customers and money at first, her lack of discretion made her lose it all just as quick.
Still bitter at the society that refused to welcome her, she would continue to go to church every Sunday, and the men she went after, didn’t look at her as someone to marry. Poor and desperate, she went into a storm out on the balcony on the second floor, started screaming, letting her bitterness of Charleston and her situation out.
The priest tried to reason with her and get her down safely. She shouted to him that he couldn’t save her, and as story goes, she was struck by a bolt of lightning in the head and died.
While the Planter’s Hotel is long gone, It is said that still today, you can see the ghost of Nettie roaming in her red dress inside the Dock Street Theater.

There are plenty of folklore and local stories that have been passed down throughout the years about the Dock Street Theatre, a place old, riddled with mystery and the spectacle that only a theater can give.

Images from web – Google Research

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