Two hundred seventy-eight years ago Charleston, South Carolina became the home to America’s first theatrical-only-performance theater. On February 12, 1735, The Dock Street Theater was opened on the corner of Dock Street (currently Church Street). The first play performed in the theater was The Recruiting Officer by George Farquhar. (Brown) For the next few years, many different operas and plays were performed in this new American theater.
Five years after its opening, in the Great Fire of 1740, the theater was destroyed, along with many other buildings in Charleston. Nothing was done with demolished building until 1809, when the Calder’s bought the property and built Planter’s Inn or Planter’s Hotel in place of the theater. According to two articles, Brown and Wordpress, Planter’s Hotel was a place for wealthy men to gamble, drink, and encounter prostitutes. (Brown) (Wordpress) Planter’s Hotel was owned by the Calder’s until 1852, when John C. O'Hanlon took over management and renovated the hotel and advertised a new wine room. In 1855, it was renovated, as a hotel, for the last time, adding a recessed porch, carved wooden brackets, banded brownstone columns, and an iron balcony (Preservation Society).During the Civil War the purpose of the hotel was mute, due to the enlistment of many of the men who previously stayed at the hotel, and it was shut down. Following the Civil War, the hotel reopened in 1884 mainly as apartments for tenements. (Preservation Society)
In 2007, the theater begun a third renovation and was made more luxurious and handicap accessible. This renovation was completed in 2010. Currently about 600 shows are performed each year at the Dock Street Theater (Hollings).
Junius Brutus Booth was a known traveling actor who stayed in Planter’s Hotel often and partook in drinking, gambling, and rendezvousing with prostitutes. Nettie Dickerson was a prostitute who worked in the Planter’s Hotel in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Over the past one hundred years, locals have told the mysterious tales of these two lingering residents said to have been spotted at the Dock Street Theater.
Many spectators and actors have expressed seeing Booth on the balcony level of the theater. However, no one really knows who lurks in the balcony people just assume it is Booth because he was a regular guest at the hotel.
It is said that Nettie was stationed out on the second floor balcony of the hotel every night, after the wealthy men started avoiding her and she stopped making money. One night she was ridiculing someone over the edge of the balcony and the balcony rod was struck by lightning and she was killed instantly. Legend says that her ghost still haunts men at night, and even chases them down hallways.
Junius Booth and Nettie Dickerson’s spirits still lurk the property of the Dock Street Theater, however don’t be afraid, they probably won’t bother you. Unless you’re a wealthy white man, resembling those that started avoiding Nettie as a prostitute.
Brown, Alan. Haunted South Carolina: Ghosts and Strange Phenomena of the Palmetto State. Mechanicsburg: Stackpole, 2010. Print.
Hollings, Ernest F. “The Dock Street Theater.” The Library of Congress. The American Folklore Center. Web. 13 Oct. 2013.
The Dock Street Theater. Wordpress.com. N.p., 13 Mar. 2012. Web. 11 Oct. 2013.
“30. Dock Street Theater, 1736.” Preservation Society of Charleston. Preservation Society of Charleston. n.d. Web. 18 Oct. 2013.
Links for further research:
1740 (November 18) Fire
A brief summary of the Great Fire of 1740, which destroyed the Dock Street Theater.
The Dock Street Theater
A history of the Dock Street Theater without any paranormal information involved.
A guide to three of Charleston's haunted places
A guide to several places in Charleston, SC where a tourist could go to be spooked and potentially sight ghosts.