Retold by Dennis Adams, Information Services Coordinator (Retired), written for the Beaufort County Library website in 2007 and re-posted with minimal editing by Beaufort District Collection Manager, Grace Morris Cordial, MLS, SL, CA on 31 October 2016.
Beaufort County has its own rich store of folklore, including ghost tales. The most famous of these many tales is the Land’s End Light.
Some people will tell you that it appears only on moonlit nights.
Others insist that it happens only on the darkest of moonless nights. Many claim that it can be seen almost any night. Whatever the best time, there are not a few people in Beaufort who will swear to having seen the famous Land’s End Light. Dave Hendricks (in the Beaufort Gazette), called Land’s End “South Carolina’s own Sleepy Hollow”.
These eyewitnesses have driven over to St. Helena Island on U. S. Highway 21. At the intersection in Frogmore, they have turned down Land’s End Road in the direction of Penn Center. They have passed the tabby ruins of the Chapel of Ease and driven a few miles more until they come upon a long, straight stretch of highway. Then they park their cars, turn off the engine and wait.
About thirty years ago, sheriff’s deputies could count as many as one hundred cars parked along the road on a single night. How many drivers were parked there just to be with their dates is unclear.
When first seen down the road, the Light looks like a single beam of an automobile headlight. The impression is of a car with one lamp burned out, but as it comes closer, it is clearly bigger but dimmer than any headlight. The Light has an oval shape and a hue between yellow and pale orange. It travels at a height of 10 to 12 feet above the road. The glow may move straight toward a parked car and suddenly disappear. Or it may hover right next to a parked car and remain visible when passengers turn on the interior lights of the vehicle. Some drivers have reported that the light has zoomed past their own speeding vehicles along the highway. At least two drivers have died (including, by some reports, a deputy sheriff) chasing the light in their automobiles.
One woman said that her hair grew stiff and made crackling noises as the Land’s End Light passed her car. She felt that the Light put out an electric charge. Others would suggest a supernatural influence. In fact, a large share of eyewitnesses agree that the Light is a ghost. Where there is no agreement, however, is on the identity of the ghost. No less than five ghost tales center on the phenomenon:
- The Light may be the lantern of a Confederate soldier who was on patrol along Land’s End Road in November of 1861, on watch for Union soldiers who were expected to invade St. Helena Island (some say the sentry’s post was Bermuda Bluff, according to Land’s End resident Kelly Brown). A Yankee soldier (or soldiers) sneaked up behind him and cut off his head with a long knife, tossing the head into the waters Port Royal Sound — the body was left ashore to rot. The poor soul now goes up and down the road in search of his head, carrying his old iron lantern. “People around here really believe in that fella without the head,” Mosse Road resident Troy Beaman told Dave Hendricks (again in the Beaufort Gazette)
- On the other hand, the Land’s End Light could be a Union soldier beheaded after the Federal forces occupied St. Helena Island in 1861.
- A few months before October 2000, Land’s End resident Kelly Brown herself saw three ghosts in uniform leaning on their rifles around a campfire near Ft. Fremont.
- The Light is said to be the spirit of an unhappy slave who was sold to an owner far away from the Island. He now haunts the land he was forced to leave, searching for the wife he left behind.
- The Light may be a fairly “young” ghost, the spirit of a soldier from Fort Fremont killed in a fight around 1910 (by the name of Private Frank J. Quigley). The Beaufort Gazette of May 2, 1910 reported that six artillerymen were wounded in a brawl with local civilians. One of them died soon afterwards.
- Charles LeBold of Hilton Head Island recalls a version of the “Frogmore Lights” story from his Marine Corps days on the Beaufort Air Station from 1968-1969. This account differs from most others in that it involves two lights (ghostly headlights) instead of just one ball of light. LeBold recalls hearing about a certain oak tree on St. Helena Island. “where, many years prior a school bus load of children ran off the road and hit the tree with the loss of many young lives. The story was, if you sat under that tree, on a certain full moon night, you would see headlights come down the road, see them leave the road and hear the screams of the children.” LeBold tried a number of times to find the tree and to encounter “the Lights”, without success.
Other witnesses are less willing to see mysterious forces at work at Land’s End. Some claim that the “Light” is nothing more than marsh gas, swampfire, or an old-fashioned will o’ the wisp. This ignis fatuus is methane gas in spontaneous combustion. Opponents to this theory say that the Land’s End Light is a dim light of stable color, unlike the rolling, blazing spheres of swampfire with their changing colors. They add that swampfire has no recurring pattern (the Land’s End Light is always seen along the same stretch of highway) and needs considerable time for enough methane to build up to feed its fire (while some say the Light on St. Helena Island appears every night).
In the early 1970s, researchers from Duke University came to St. Helena Island to study the phenomenon firsthand. A participant in the study, Catherine Wooley, published an explanation in 1973. She stated that along “ten perfectly straight miles of road”, the headlight beams of a car coming on far in the distance would appear to be a single, stationary sphere of light. Wooley attributed the quirky appearances and disappearances of the Land’s End Light to dips and hollows along the length of the road: the light beam would be in motion, after all, although the distance gave the illusion of motionless.
Local historian Gerhard Spieler based two objections to Catherine Wooley’s conclusions on his personal observation of the Land’s End Road:
- “The straight stretch of road consists not of 10 miles, but of 2.8 miles.”
- “There are no dips or hollows in the road, there is not even one dip.”
So the Land’s End Light remains a mystery … and a local attraction for skeptics and believers alike.
Many local folks claim to have seen “The Light.” Have you? Please contact the Beaufort District Collection Research Room to relate your story: firstname.lastname@example.org or call 843-255-6468 and leave us a message.
“willothewisp3” illustration: Paranormal Encounters blog, http://www.paranormal-encounters.com/wp/will-o-the-wisps-corpse-candles-spook-lights/. Accessed 27 October 2016
“Spooky Fort Guards Lands End” [Fort Fremont], Beaufort Gazette (Beaufort, SC), October 31, 2000, p. 3-C.
Charles E. LeBold, e-mail message to author, April 29, 1999.
“The Ghost of Land’s End” by Dean Poucher, Savannah News-Press (Savannah, GA), November 10, 1974.
“Land’s End Light — Real or Imaginary?” by Gerhard Spieler, Beaufort Gazette (Beaufort, SC), June 20, 1974.
For more ghost stories in this blog: