The City Magazine Since 1975

Telling Tales

Telling Tales
October 2019
WRITER: 


By the time Charleston Renaissance writer John Bennett published his 1946 compilation of Gullah folktales and legends, The Doctor to the Dead, the Trapman Hospital (featured in three of his stories, and pictured here) no longer existed. The building—a Civil War hospital-turned-rental property—was one of many structures destroyed in the city’s catastrophic 1886 earthquake and subsequently immortalized in George LaGrange Cook’s photo series, “Cook’s Earthquake Views of Charleston and Vicinity.” Stories about the edifice also live on through Bennett’s book; though as a white man he may have reinterpreted some of the Gullah fables through a traditional, Gothic lens to appeal to a broader audience, the writer stated that he sought to preserve “remnants of a body of folklore already far decayed and rapidly passing out of existence.” For legends about the edifice that was widely suspected to be haunted, Bennett interviewed washerwoman and former tenant, Mary Simmons, who regaled him with tales of specter soldiers that had perished in the hospital, still begging for water, or in some cases, drinking straight out of the buckets near the well. She suggested that after the building was dismantled nothing would grow on the soil left behind, not even weeds. Houses now stand on the once-barren land at the corner of Trapman Street and Trumbo Court, and though the hospital may be gone, stories like “The Thirsty Dead” survive in the tome documented by Simmons and Bennett.

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Photograph (Old Hospital-George LaGrange Cook) courtesy of the Charleston Museum