South Carolina

In Search of Annabel Lee

Charleston, South Carolina is a city that embraces, perhaps even reveres its ghosts. It seemed only natural when Lucinda and I went to Charleston to attend a wedding, that we went searching for a ghost – the ghost of Annabel Lee.

Annabelle Lee is the titular character in a poem by Edgar Allan Poe. Like many of Poe’s most beloved works, the poem centers on love and loss but his muse remains a mystery. Nobody knows exactly who Annabelle Lee was. At least one suspect is said to be buried in the Unitarian Churchyard on Archdale Street.

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It’s also unclear exactly what Poe meant by “a kingdom by the sea,” but Charlestonians insist he’s referring to the Holy City. Since Poe was stationed at Fort Sumpter during the Civil War it’s certainly possible.

We provisioned for our journey at the most suitable place we could find, Poe’s Tavern on Sullivan’s Island. Under it’s red light glow, it’s easy to feel close to Poe and his troubled life.

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Poe lost his parents before he turned three. Was forced out of school due to gambling debts. And likely died of rabies.

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A mural of Poe’s iconic face watched us eat. And the bathrooms were papered with graphic novel versions of his works.

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In Charleston, we had no trouble finding the Unitarian Church, but the grave of any one person presented a greater challenge. The church allows the graveyard to grow wild so that the dead can return to nature.

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It made for an eerie exploration. Particularly because it was a Sunday and the people rambled along the paths, invisible until you turned a corner and came upon them.

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We didn’t find Annabel Lee, Virginia Poe, Sarah Shelton, or any of the other women who have been suspected of being Annabel. But she might still be there. Waiting in the kingdom by the sea.

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