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The Ghost by the Sea
"It was many and many a year ago, In a kingdom by the sea." These beautiful, yet haunting words written by Edgar Allan Poe prelude to a tragic tale that has become a part of haunted history.
by Tom Crawford
"It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of Annabel Lee;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me."
Written by author Edgar Allan Poe in the spring of 1849, these words eloquently capture the veracious intensity of a doomed love affair between two young lovers. Extremely romantic, yet highly ambiguous, this poem has been subject to countless interpretations since its conception. Many have debated over the question of whom Annabel Lee really is. Interestingly, one interpretation of this poem has become a local legend in Charleston, South Carolina and has become a part of that city's haunted history.
In the mid 19th century, just before the American Civil War began, Charleston, South Carolina prided itself with being one of the most bustling and prominent port towns on the East Coast. Because of its great importance, it was only natural that Charleston would have a strong Naval presence. Many men from all over the country would be stationed in Charleston as part of their Naval obligations.
Upon arrival in Charleston, one young sailor from Virginia met a local girl by the name of Annabel Lee. Although they had known each other only a short period of time, they quickly fell in love and soon became inseparable. Every free moment that this sailor had was spent with Annabel Lee.
However, their love did not come without difficulty. Annabel's father was highly protective of his daughter and did not approve of her new found love. He found the sailor to be an unsuitable match and forbade Annabel from ever seeing him again. Unwilling to obey her father's wishes, Annabel and her sailor decided that they would meet in the secluded and private Unitarian graveyard.
Several months passed and the two lovers continued to meet privately in the Unitarian Cemetery without being discovered by Annabel's father. Unfortunately, their luck came to an abrupt end one afternoon when Annabel's father observed his daughter sneaking into the cemetery. He quietly followed her and caught her with the sailor. Furious, he took her home and punished her by locking her in her room for several months.
During her punishment, the sailor's time in Charleston was up and the Navy soon returned him to his hometown in Virginia. While he was in Virginia, he received tragic news that Annabel Lee had been bitten by a mosquito and had died of Yellow Fever. Devastated, he quickly returned to Charleston so that he could say goodbye to his Annabel Lee.
Annabel's father, still spiteful of their love, refused to grant the sailor the privilege of attending the funeral or burial. Not only did Annabel's father want to deny the sailor of Annabel in life, but he also sought to keep them separated in death. In fact, on the day of the burial, he had all but one of the family graves dug to a depth of three feet. The remaining plot was dug to a depth of six feet and this was the grave that would hold Annabel's body. This was done by Annabel's father so that the sailor would never know exactly where she was buried and would therefore never be able to say goodbye.
Since he did not know the exact place of burial, the sailor decided that he would visit the family plot in the Unitarian Cemetery where they had so often met. Filled with grief, the sailor sat by the plot for countless hours each day, mourning her loss.
Because their love was so strong, and because they were never able to say goodbye, many Charleston residents say that the ghost of Annabel Lee can often be seen in the Unitarian Cemetery. Those who have seen her ghost say that she appears as if she is still searching for her lost love.
While there is no evidence of Edgar Allan Poe having ever heard this local legend, it is said that this haunting tale was the inspiration for his poem "Annabel Lee." Some local legends even go so far as to suggest that the young sailor was Poe himself. While the poem and Poe may have no real tie to either Charleston or this legend, the story of Annabel Lee and her sailor nevertheless makes for an elegant and enchanting ghost tale.
"For the moon never beams without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the nighttide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling, my darling, my life and my bride,
In her sepulcher there by the sea
In her tomb by the sounding sea."