One of my favorite Charleston buildings is the crumbling old jail. It occupies a block in the center of the peninsula, like a hidden fortress buffering the surrounding neighborhood. In spite of the haunted jail tour, visitors often miss the building. Its snaggle-toothed towers lord over blocks of low income housing, one or two blocks too far from the heartbeat of the tourist core.
On and off for a decade, I’ve had a relationship of sorts with the Old Jail. Its rusting paddy wagon. Its caverns of vaulted brick. Its heavy iron bars, spooky corridors and iffy lighting. I love the damaged patina of the stucco that flecks off like peeling skin and the way the early morning light bends reality just enough to see the courtyard crawling with imprisoned activity.
The current building was constructed in 1802 and was modified several times over the centuries. In 1886, an earthquake caused significant damage to the masonry structure, resulting in the removal of the entire top floor. Walking along Magazine Street, I am always taken with the long hairline crack in the front facade, running from roof to street level. Like a calving glacier, I fear the day when the front of the building will shave itself free and thunder to solid ground.
While sipping my coffee yesterday, I was stranded in a downpour, staring at the furious sky framing the Old Jail. Tell a story about me it whispered through the plurk of raindrops staining its flesh and pockmarking the ground.
So, this week, I shall. A ghost story, if the characters cooperate.