Tuesday, June 10, 2008

STRANGE BREW....DEATH BY TEA

When we were browsing through the city market in Charleston last Saturday I ran into a lady at one of the booths there and my husband and I some how got on the topic of the city’s ghost tours with her...It was then that I learned about the notorious Lavinia and John Fisher. According to different accounts, the Fisher’s owned an Inn called the Six Mile House. Named that, presumably, because it was located 6 miles from Charleston proper. Legend says that wayward travelers would find themselves at the Inn and disappear after renting a room from the Fishers. Supposedly, the couple was part of a gang of robbers and used their Inn as a means to increase their purse. However, the most infamous label that some have given to Lavinia is that of America’s first female serial killer. Her method of carrying out the dastardly deeds is the reason I could not resist blogging about this macabre tale. The following account is based largely on accounts told by Ghost Tour Guides in the Holy City...There are many variations to this story and some involve a guard named Dave Ross but this one is my favorite:

In 1819, one John Peeples, traveling from Georgia to Charleston, happened upon the Six Mile House. He was greeted by a ravishingly beautiful woman, Lavinia Fisher. She told him that there were no rooms there at the Inn but invited him to join her for a nice lunch and some tea while he rested. He was delighted by her invitation but was dismayed when her husband, John Fisher, joined them for lunch and persisted on coldly staring at him through the duration of an otherwise stimulating conversation. Mrs. Fisher was very inquisitive and insisted he tell her all about himself, where he was headed and all the details of his trip. She then excused herself from the room but returned with a hot pot of tea and some wonderful news. A room had just become available for Mr. Peeples. The Innkeepers excused themselves once more and Mr. Peeples, being perhaps one of the few people in 1819 who did not particularly like tea, saw an opportunity to pour it out in a nearby plant before they returned. He was far too polite to turn down his lovely host but could not fathom the thought of drinking tea. After a lovely afternoon turned into evening, Mr. Peeples was shown to his room and reveled in the thought of the beautiful Innkeeper being so attentive to him. Then he began to ponder on the nature of her inquiry. Why did she want to know how much money he had? Why did she want to know if anyone was expecting him? John began to feel very uneasy and then decided that he did not want to sleep in that bed and opted for a chair near the door. He felt that would be safer should a robbery attempt be made on him. However, he was so exhausted from his trip that he dozed off but was abruptly awakened to a loud sound. When he opened his eyes towards the bed, he found that it had disappeared! The floorboards beneath the bed had opened to reveal a long drop to the bottom. Terrified and confused, he made his escape through the window and then saddled his horse and headed to Charleston to the nearest authorities.

What was found in the drop were multiple sets of bones, possibly as many as 23 bodies, along with the discovery that the tea that Lavinia Fisher had served was made with a poison used to either put the victim in a deep sleep or to kill them. If needed, Mr. Fisher reportedly would finish them off, hence the drop, after they retired in their beds for the evening. The couple was arrested along with others who were the presumed accomplices to the robberies. Mr. Fisher and the others were put to death by hanging but Lavinia depended on her beauty to charm the court into sparing her life. She reportedly wore her wedding dress to the trial and believed the judge would take pity on her but due to the angry mob gathering in the court room, he sentenced her to death. It is said that she shouted out in anger, “If you have a message for the devil, give it to me now for I’m about to meet him!” Most reports claim that instead of waiting for the noose to drop, she jumped from the platform herself to finish the task. Lavinia was reportedly buried in a grave with other convicted criminals at the Graveyard of the Unitarian Church in Charleston. This was supposedly the only church that would allow her burial there. Ironically, the Judge who convicted her is also said to have been buried in the same graveyard and it is by his grave where a spectral vision has been spotted as well as in the old jail which housed her until she awaited her execution.....A side note...As I looked over my photos of the Battery, I couldn’t help but wonder if the mysterious “herb” used in the tea might have been the beautiful but deadly Oleander that the city is so famous for...


Unitarian Church of Charleston


Church Graveyard


Oleander lining the East Battery

17 comments:

willow said...

Oh what a deliciously horrible tale! Hum...Oleander tea. That Lavinia was certainly a feisty character!

The story should be made into a gorgeous time period film, don't you think?

Betsy said...

Oh I must say, what a delightfully creepy story! ...and music to go along with it! I'm glad I'm not home alone at night reading this...or about to vacation in a southern B & B. LOL.

Lavinia Ladyslipper said...

Good heavens Rebecca, my namesake a murderess? I am printing this off and shall read in full on my commute home....comments to follow later, either from the internet cafe to where I have been exiled due to my "technical problems" or tomorrow....

I do so look forward to reading this...

Rebecca said...

Willow, I think there is a series of books based on Lavinia but I'm not sure what they're called. It would make a spectacular movie...Hum..wonder who should play Lavinia?

Rebecca said...

Betsy, it would sure give one pause when taking afternoon tea there! LOL!!....The tea element was just too tempting for me not to blog about this...

Rebecca said...

Lavinia, I thought of you immediately but in a good way! LOL!!! When I read of her beauty,along with sharing your name, that instantly put you in my mind...Some reports claim that she was a raven haired beauty( others claim her to be blonde)but I definitely see her as a brunette in my mind's eye.

Betsy said...

Yes, it would make such a good movie! And if you Google "Oleander Tea" it really is a good possibility that sneaky Lavinia used this concoction!

Mmm said...

Gorgeous!

steviewren said...

Good story! More please.

Betsy said...

I'm with Stevie ~ I wanted to read more! LOL

Rebecca said...

Stevie and Betsy, I'll post some other versions of the story this week as well as another Charleston Ghost story or two...I'm still reeling over the prospect of Oleander Tea being the mysterious "strange brew." Betsy, I did a Google search on that and was floored...Creepy!

Rebecca said...

MMM, glad you liked the tale...Being from England, you have no doubt heard more than a few ghost stories...Do tell!!!

Dee Dee said...

Rebecca...this is very interesting ....We have in more recent times learned that my husband's great grandfather lived along the Battery during the 1800s...... He was a doctor and his name was Peeples...hmmmmm We need to do a little more research :)

Rebecca said...

Deedee, that would be so bizarre if Mr. DD was related to one Mr. John Peeples!...You'll have to dig and see what you can find out about that...

Blog Princess G said...

Gulp. That's some story! And a lot better than most ghost stories you hear.

Lavinia Ladyslipper said...

Rebecca dear, I am so sorry, I forgot that I never came back here to tell you what I thought of your macabre tale! I did read it and only wish it was longer, as it was quite fascinating. I like your version but wouldn't mind hearing the others. This lady was a siren and a vixen, wasn't she. Oh my, a spine chilling story. I love stories like this, they are ghastly without being gruesome, do you know what I mean? Thanks Rebecca, and looking forward to reading more historical tales of this sort from your treasure trove of historical stories...

Rebecca said...

Lavinia, I know exactly what you mean...That's why I like old fashioned ghost stories and not the slasher horror flicks...The mere suggestion of something can terrify me so much more than gratuitous violence...

I'm glad everyone enjoyed the tale and when people want more...that's always a good thing:-)...I've been digging and will post what I've found about the variations with this tale and also another story that I thought was a good one..