Spirit Humming: A Ghost Story of Belin Memorial Methodist Church from Murrells Inlet in the South Carolina Lowcountry
[A selection from Lowcountry Ghosts, also in Tales from Brookgreen]
Both Cousin Corrie and Miss Genevieve, Hostesses at Brookgreen Gardens, the popular South Carolina tourist attraction, were members of Belin Memorial Methodist Church at Murrells Inlet in the South Carolina Lowcountry. One day in the 1950s as they talked about reports of strange visions of ghost ships seen out in the Inlet from the church steps, Cousin Corrie explained to visitors that some people said the ghost wrecks were connected to people who used the church building in times past . . . but in a different location. She described the origin of the building and then Miss Genevieve finished with the story of the ghostly spirit humming that appeared when it was moved.
Parson Belin’s Methodist Church
As Parson Belin, a Murrells Inlet Methodist minister in the 1800’s, became known for his missionary work to the slaves on the Waccamaw Neck, planters began to support his efforts. The Pyatt family of Turkey Hill Plantation, just south of Brookgreen Gardens, built a church for Parson Belin’s congregation of worshipers in their area. The church was a simple rectangular building made of hand hewn timbers, set on a foundation of brick pillars that elevated it several feet above the sandy ground. Four wooden columns held up the front porch roof.
Parson Belin often preached in the Turkey Hill Church (sometimes called the Oatland Church) to slaves as well as to the few white Methodist families on that part of the Waccamaw Neck. These white Methodists would have been the families of plantation overseers, seafaring men, or other workingmen. (The planters themselves all attended All Saints Episcopal Church close to Pawley’s Island.) Were some of these Turkey Hill Methodists linked to the ill-fated ghost ships in Murrells Inlet?
After Parson Belin’s death, circuit riding Methodist preachers continued to serve the Turkey Hill Church, but when the slaves were freed, they established their own churches, leaving only the white members attending Turkey Hill. Over the years, membership at Turkey Hill Church dwindled.
Moving Parson Belin’s Methodist Church
By 1925 there were only two families left attending the infrequent services. That year Mrs. Oliver, whose family owned a restaurant and fishing retreat called Oliver’s Lodge on Parsonage Point in Murrells Inlet, convinced the two remaining families to donate the Turkey Hill Church building to be moved to the land on Parsonage Point that Parson Belin had bequeathed to the Methodist Church.
Mrs. Oliver enlisted Captain Boo Lachicotte, who ran a caviar and smoked sturgeon operation near Litchfield Plantation (and was a grandson of the first rice mill engineer at Brookgreen Plantation, but that’s another story), to take the church apart into movable sections and transport it to Parsonage Point in his wagons. It must have been quite a sight as large pieces of the church building traveled slowly up the sandy King’s Highway pulled by strong mules! In sections, Parson Belin’s church passed from Turkey Hill through The Oaks, Brookgreen, Springfield, then Laurel Hill, all the plantations that later became Brookgreen Gardens, and finally arrived at the building’s new resting place on what had been Wachesaw Plantation! The brick foundation pillars were so solid that Captain Boo transported them intact and used them as foundations again in the new location.
Miss Genevieve finished the story:
The Turkey Hill Church had withstood hurricanes and war for over a century. What lives had passed through its doors? What dramas had its members and visitors, both black and white, played out over the years? What spirits were disturbed as Captain Boo began to dismantle the ancient church building?
Stories of those uneasy spirits, similar to the stories about Wachesaw ghosts, began to circulate among the local people as Captain Boo began his work. Perhaps these stories were on the minds of those helping dismantle the church as work proceeded one dark and stormy morning. Suddenly a strange noise became noticeable. A faint humming seemed to come from the very air around the front of the church!
My husband, Tom Chandler, was one of those helping move the building. He had always been sensitive to the spirit world (he was one of those has seen seen Alice’s ghost at the Hermitage) and he said he began to have a shivery feeling between his shoulder blades as the hum grew louder and louder. Several workers glanced sideways at each other and at the partially dismantled building as they made excuses to leave. Was this a warning from Beyond?
The braver, or more foolish, workers, including Tom, gradually began to investigate. They finally discovered the earthly cause of the unearthly hum. Their work had disturbed a colony of honeybees long resident inside one of the front porch columns. Closer examination showed that each of the four columns was packed with honeycomb and bees!
The workers decided that it would be easier to build new columns for the porch once it was in place at Parsonage Point than to transport the old ones, so they left that part of the church building at Turkey Hill. They did manage to harvest much of the delicious honey and comb, taking the unexpected treat home to their families, along with the story of the spirit humming.
Copyright 2004 Lynn Michelsohn
For stories of the ghost ships seen from Belin Memorial Methodist Church at Murrells Inlet, and other Lowcountry tales, read . . .
Lynn Michelsohn’s short collection of stories, Lowcountry Ghosts,
or her longer collection of folklore, ghost stories, and Gullah folktales, Tales from Brookgreen.