My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Have you ever read a book in one sitting? I did! It was this book. Granted, the book is not exceedingly long at 125 pages, but the content was so engaging.
When I first moved to Charleston, South Carolina six years ago, one of the first things I learned about was the legend of Lavinia Fisher. Some claim Lavinia Fisher and her husband John Fisher were convicted mass murderers, making Lavinia the first female serial killer in the United States.
Legend has it, John and Lavinia owned an inn just six miles north of Charleston. When someone would stop there on their way in or out of town, Lavinia would invite them to tea and ask questions to determine if the guest had anything of value on them and if they would be missed should they not turn up at the next destination. If the visitor fit the bill, Lavinia would poison them with tea. Once the guest was asleep in their hotel room, Lavinia would sneak into the room, pull a lever, and the unsuspecting guest would fall into the basement pit, allegedly full of spikes. John Fisher would then dismember the body while Lavinia robbed them of their belongings.
The legend goes on to say there was one man who escaped (he did not care for tea and poured it in a plant) and made it into Charleston where he alerted authorities to the gruesome crimes taking place just outside of Charleston. John and Lavinia Fisher were arrested and brought to the Old City Jail.
The couple was then sentenced to hang for their crimes. The beautiful Lavinia is rumored to have worn her wedding gown to the gallows where she hoped after her husband was hung, she would find a suitor to marry her and save her from death. When one such man did not appear, her final words were “If you have a message for the devil, give it to me and I shall take it to him.”
It’s quite the story, don’t you think? Since her hanging in 1820, locals and tourists alike, claim to see the ghost of Lavinia, roaming Charleston in her wedding gown.
So why does this book exist? Well, there is a lot wrong with the legend, and so Bruce Orr, a Charleston local, set out to find the truth on Lavinia Fisher. As exciting as the legend is, much of the story is not true. The facts however, are quite engaging and interesting; so much so, I could not put the book down. It involves a highway gang, a president of the United States, a drunken jailer, a disagreeable sheriff, corrupt local government, and some other unsavory characters from historic Charleston. As sad as it is to find out the legend told to thousands of tourists each year is not the exact truth, the discovery of the truth in this book is even more exciting than the legend.
I originally picked up this book as a point of research for a historical fiction project I am writing, only to discover a well written, engaging, true story anyone who has ever lived in or visited Charleston needs to read!