Calhoun Hendricks III IS lowcountry history. His family arrived here in the late 1600’s, dug into the soil and have been rooted in the lowcountry ever since. These days he serves up great drinks at the new location of Smoke in Mount Pleasant, but he’s been a fixture of the Charleston night scene for well over a decade. He worked as a bouncer at Silver Dollar for fifteen years, becoming such an institution of the area that when the local news wanted to do a piece on the changing and developing scene, they went to him for insight. He’s a walking encyclopedia of late night stories and tales, but one of the most interesting took place just south of Beaufort, long before he was handling unruly bar patrons.
It was while growing up in Beaufort that Calhoun first heard the tale of the Land’s End Light, the ghostly orb that haunts the lonely backroads of St. Helena Island. It’s a story that every local kid knows by heart, and has gotten traction even beyond the state’s borders. Theories abound, but two different tales compete for the lion’s share of the Light’s origin story.
The first account holds that a confederate soldier, housed with troops holed up in Fort Fremont, was sent on a lonely patrol along the Land’s End Road. He was overtaken by Union soldiers hiding among the dense woodland, then killed, decapitated and left to wander down the stretch of lane for eternity, carrying his lantern in search of his head.
The second tale is of a slave who was sold away from his wife and child. Heartbroken, he made his way back to where they were still held, but was caught as he made the final approach. He was hanged from the ancient oak tree that stretches out across the road. Though the man died that night, his search for his beloved has never ceased.
Of course, in an area as old and relatively untouched as Beaufort, there’s a ghost story in just about every shadow. They blend and change and then most people put them away until it’s time to bring them out and dust them off to tell a newcomer.
But, there was night roughly twenty years ago that the old story of the Land’s End Light became much more than campfire conversation fodder for Calhoun and his friends. He, his buddy, and their girlfriends were heading home after spending an evening loitering about the abandoned Fort Fremont. “We’d spent the whole night just hanging out, being dumb teenagers and drinking beer at the old fort, then we loaded up and headed back toward town. I got about halfway down the road when I noticed the light in my rearview mirror, but didn’t really pay any attention to it. I mean it looked like car headlights. Within a few seconds though, I realized how fast it was coming up behind us – and I was doing about 90. All four of us were aware of it by then and no matter how fast I went it, whatever it was, was going to hit us. It was really bright, like having several spotlights turned on at once. And it never slowed down, it just kept coming until it was right in the back windshield… and then pfff.”
“Pfff?” I asked.
“Pfff,” he repeated with an emphatic expression, “It just dissolved. It turned into something like a mist and was gone.”
It only takes one look at Calhoun to understand why he was a bouncer. I don’t imagine there’s much that causes him to flinch. But as he recounted that night driving home under the shadows of the oaks there was a healthy dose of, if not fear, then certainly a respectful trepidation. I also had no need to ask what his personal theory is on what followed them down that road as he shook up the drink the night had inspired.
“This is the Hendricks Horseman,” he grinned as he handed over a cold, citrus-garnished concoction. The name is a nice play on both the ghostly soldier and Calhoun’s own far-reaching lowcountry history. It’s sweet and tart and spicy all over ice, and with its cold, refreshing bite on a July day in Charleston, the threat of losing one’s head is real.
During my own visit, with the warm sun shining, I saw nothing but a cozy woodland. But, for those braver than me who want to catch a glimpse of the famed Land’s End light, you should find yourself, long after sunset, somewhere under the creeping Spanish moss that drifts from the oak boughs along the Land’s End Road on St. Helena Island between the knotted hulk of the reputed “Hanging Tree” and the desolate ruins of The Chapel of Ease.