For years, the spooktacular story of the noisy ghost from Paxville has been passed down from generation to generation.
The story starts a long time ago, when Paxville was Packsland and Clarendon wasn’t a county. King George III of England gave land to the town’s three earliest settlers, Daniel Kelly from Ireland, Joseph Pack from England and a Mr. Bird from Scotland.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This story ran for the first time Oct. 30, 2014, in The Manning Times. We are starting a new tradition and plan to run it online each year around Halloween.
The town of Packsland grew into a little village. Several name changes followed, the town becoming much like a movie or corporation trying to find its branding.
Paxville was the name ultimately agreed upon, of course.
Two generations after Kelly, Pack and Bird settled the land, Kelly’s grandson, John B. Kelly, decided to study medicine. His two sisters, Mary and Saphornia, bought his share of the family’s estate and gave him money every year after the crops were gathered for medical school.
Sister Mary decided that the farm would be more profitable if she drained the bottom lands of the farm, so she hired a worker to ditch the land.
Bessie Corbett Holladay, the granddaughter of John B. Kelly, wrote an article in the Sept. 14, 1955, edition of The Manning Times, explaining how her family’s property came to be haunted.
“Aunty’s new employee must have worked too hard and fast,” Holladay wrote. “Near the completion of the job, the poor fellow died of sunstroke out on the ditch bank.”
So few words were said between Mary and the worker that his name remains a mystery to this day.
“Touched as they were at the poor ditcher’s passing, my great aunts, who held their head well up, could not bring themselves to bury him in the Kelly’s private cemetery,” wrote the granddaughter of John B. Kelly. “So they choose a spot under a huge flowering dogwood, half a mile off, on the way homeward side of Kelly branch and put the ditcher decently away.”
The John Doe ditch digger rested in peace until John B. Kelly came back home for a short time.
“Heartless as in might seem, his (John B. Kelly’s) face glowed at the account of the recent demise,” Holladay wrote. “Now he could get the skeleton that every medical student must have, without risking the consequences of grave robbing.”
Kelly went to the big dogwood tree and dug up the ditch digger’s remains and took them back to medical school.
As you may have guessed, this is where the paranormal activities allegedly begin.
Kelly graduated from medical school and returned home to practice his trade, which kept him out at odd hours.
“Ever afterward, if sunset caught grandfather over the branch (and he couldn’t well avoid it as much of his practice was over the creek), he fell in with weird company,” Holladay wrote. “If the doctor were on horseback, an invisible horseman rushed over from the burial dogwood and kept abreast through the thick wood just over the road.”
No matter the means of transportation, the ghost would haunt Kelly.
“If in his road cart, hoof and wheels kept time with his,” Holladay wrote.
The haunting only got worse for Kelly. The ghost followed him to his home where it would dash ahead of him and stamped angrily upstairs.
As legend has it the family would hear the rattling of dry bones, then a hollow, bumping sound.
“Oh, he’s dropped the skull again,” John B. Kelly would say. “When he picks it up this time he’ll go.”
Holladay said quiet would soon follow.
Kelly would soon move away in search of a quieter existence and greener grass in Sanford, Florida. The ghost didn’t follow; instead, it focused on Kelly’s sister, Mary.
She refused to leave her family home, and eventually made peace with the ghost.
“Once the ghost lent Aunty a helping hand,” Holladay wrote. “She’d gotten stuck with a tenacious bachelor, one Nash Bogle, from down on Santee, who was pressing his suit in hopes of greasing his fingers.”
“Just let him dilly-dally on this of the branch until sunset,” the ghost called out Mary. “Then you’ll get rid of him.”
Mary and Bogle pulled near the Dogwood, where the ghost was buried and unburied. An invisible horse and cart kept pace in the tangled woods right over the road.
“Wha—what’s that?” A spooked Bogle said.
“Oh, it’s only the family ghost,” Mary replied.
Mary never saw Bogle again.
After two years served, John B. Kelly died in the Civil War from pneumonia in a prisoner’s camp. His wife didn’t survive the shock of his death.
Mary managed to get their daughter, Julia Caroline Kelly — Holladay’s mother — and raise her in Paxville at the family’s home.
After Mary and her sister passed away, Julia inherited the family home. Julia was married to W.P. Corbett and gave the reins of authority to the renowned foxhunter.
The ghost tried to spook Corbett once.
“Father said, ‘He had been born with caul and had, since earliest childhood, been accustomed to seeing and hearing things not stationed in this world,’” Holladay wrote. “His time for crossing Kelly branch was immaterial. He considered the antics of the ghost as just, ‘some of those things.’”
The family eventually parted ways from the home, where two different generations noted the ghost’s existence.
Eventually, the house was torn down, where a more modern structure was built. The ghost hasn’t been heard from since.