Charleston is well-known for its roots in religious diversity. One of the Holy City’s most popular attractions is its cemeteries. Dating back to 1849 and home to 23 sites, Charleston cemeteries promise a blend of historic legends and charming craftsmanship that keep visitors coming back year-round.
Tips for Visiting Charleston Cemeteries
Below are a few tips to keep in mind to make the most of your visit to Charleston cemeteries.
- Some areas are overgrown; bring protective clothing and footwear
- Be mindful of historic gravesites and grieving families
- Pack a flashlight if you plan on visiting during the evening
- Research what times the cemeteries are open to visitors
It’s also a great idea to plan a few graves, religious buildings or other notable sights that you’d like to see prior to visiting a cemetery. For the best sights and info on local legends, we highly recommend taking a walking tour of the various grounds at these cemeteries.
Charleston Cemeteries #1: Circular Congregation Church Cemetery
The Circular Congregation Church Cemetery’s artistry makes it a must-see destination. As the oldest of the Charleston cemeteries, it draws much of its beauty from its well-preserved gravestones and colonial-era workmanship.
Hand-sculpted gravestones depict both life and death in the Circular Congregation Church Cemetery. Out of all of the cemeteries in the city, this is the only one where graves are decorated with portraits of the deceased.
Named after a circular building that originally served as a meeting house between Congregationalists, Huguenots, and Presbyterians; this cemetery is filled with culturally diverse gravesites. The Circular Congregational Church is the oldest church in these cemeteries and one of the oldest in all of Charleston.
Charleston Cemeteries #3: Magnolia Cemetery
Magnolia Cemetery holds many pieces of local cultural significance. Located on a rice plantation that originally served as a Confederate encampment, this cemetery is the final resting place of a large number of South Carolina politicians and military figures — especially compared to the rest of the Charleston cemeteries.
Its militaristic roots makes Magnolia Cemetery popular for ghost stories. Lieutenant George E. Dixon and Roswell S. Ripley are two popular graves to visit, as well as the Hunley Crew burial and their captain, Horace Lawson Hunley. Thousands of Confederate soldiers are buried in Magnolia Cemetery, including those who fought at the Battle of Gettysburg.
One reason why Magnolia Cemetery stands out among the Charleston cemeteries is that it was named as one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the United States. It’s spiritual art and views of the Cooper River promise a tranquil visit.
Charleston Cemeteries #4: St. Michael’s Cemetery
Widely known as being a religiously tolerant city, Charleston is home to many diverse places of worship. St. Michael’s is one of the many churches in Charleston and is the oldest religious building in the city.
The building itself was the first Anglican church to be built in South Carolina. Its notably beautiful stained glass windows, impressive Georgian architecture, and 186-foot steeple make this church a well sought after landmark. Inside the church, visitors can see the Governor’s Pew, which was used by both George Washington and Robert E Lee.
The St. Michael’s cemetery is an extremely well-preserved gravesite. It’s one of the few Charleston cemeteries that survived extreme conditions such as hurricanes, fires, and an earthquake. As a result, its layout and structures have been virtually unchanged for over 250 years.
Charleston Cemeteries #5: St. Philip’s West Cemetery
As far as Charleston cemeteries go, St. Phillip’s Cemetery is the site of many historic landmarks. St. Phillip’s Cemetery is home to the graves of Charles Cotesworth Pinckney and John C. Calhoun, two original signers of the US Constitution. Calhoun also served as a vice president during John Quincy Adams’s presidency.
Calhoun’s resting place was not a stationary one. He was originally buried in the east side, which was regarded as the “friendly” side of the graveyard. Later on in the 1880s, he was moved to the west side, where strangers were buried.
The Pirate House, a meeting spot for pre-revolutionary pirates, can be found at the north end of this cemetery. St. Philip’s West Cemetery’s close proximity to the Dock Street Theatre and the historic market make this a must-visit during your trip to the these cemeteries.
Charleston Cemeteries #6: Unitarian Church Cemetery
Out of all of the Charleston cemeteries, the Unitarian Church Cemetery the most popular location for ghost walks. One popular tale involves Mary Bloomfield, a Charleston woman who passed away before her husband could return home. Many visit this cemetery in hopes of finding her ghost, who is on a never-ending search for her husband.
Another bit of local lore for this Charleston Cemetery involves the famous poet Edgar Allen Poe. “Annabelle Lee,” a poem about two lovers forbidden to see each other, supposedly took place in this cemetery.
A defining characteristic of the Unitarian Church Cemetery is its heavily overgrown paths and gravesites. The untended flowers and bushes are intentional; they’re meant to symbolize life after death.