St. Helena family haunts the annual Beaufort ghost tours

Cassandra Menning and her daughter, Neilye
Cassandra Menning and her daughter, Neilye Captured Moments Photography

When St. Helena Island's Cassandra Menning put chicken on the stove last week, her children knew that things were about to get really scary.

It's not that their mom is a bad cook; this just wasn't any ordinary dinner. Menning was boiling the chickens ... so she could collect their bones.

Menning, or "Bloody Mary" as she's known in the Exchange Club of Beaufort's annual ghost tour, will use the chicken bones as part of her costume and in her role as a storyteller. The bones will "protect" the riders in her carriage tours from spooky spirits that lurk in the dark.

The event, now in its 20th year, benefits the Child Abuse Prevention Association of Beaufort County. Hourlong carriage and walking tours will be Oct. 14, Oct. 19-21 and Oct. 26-28 in downtown Beaufort.

While all children must be accompanied by an adult on the tour, Menning -- a St. Helena Elementary School kindergarten teacher by day -- is especially prepared to protect frightened little ones.

Each October for the past 12 years, she has boiled at least two chickens to gather enough bones to throw at the hags who chase after her carriage during the tours.

Menning's kneelong braids hold the bones as well as matchsticks, which she'll strike to repell spirits.

Her Bloody Mary character is based loosely on female pirates, including Anne Bonney from Charleston.

Each person entering Menning's carriage receives a matchstick from her hair as protection. A crystal dispenser of salt provides children with a handful of evil spirit deterrent.

"I anoint my carriage with a flask of vinegar, as well, especially for children who are particularly worried about being taken by a spirit," Menning said. "I protect them by sprinkling salt on them."

Throughout the tour through the streets of Beaufort's historic district, Menning, a native Beaufortonian, shares the tales passed down through her family. One of those involves her father when he was about age 11. It was about 1920 when he and some friends snuck into The Castle, where they received a good scare by the Gauche, reported to be the oldest ghost in America.

Menning is among the 50 volunteers on the tour, which features various visions and characters.

Since she was 7 years old, Menning's daughter, Neilye, has been a vision or a character in the tours. Currently 18 and a freshman at Technical College of the Lowcountry, Neilye is reprising her role as "The Spirit of Old Beaufort" for the fifth year.

Volunteering for the tour is family tradition. Menning's eldest daughter, Catey, is also a carriage storyteller, "Siddalee of the Ya Ya Sisterhood." Catey's husband, Rickey Reinhardt, and Catey's brother, Barrett, have taken on the roles of carousing pirates, who were know to bury treasure at Hancock and Short streets in Beaufort.

Menning said many of the stories she tells are based on fact and have been seen or experienced by someone in history.

Even Menning, with all her preparations, gets a scare now and then. During an especially foggy night last year, she said, people from two carriages commented on a man holding a smoking green pistol on The Green.

"We didn't have anybody on The Green," Menning said. "You never know when a real spirit is going to pop up. There was obviously a duel that had happened there. We sometimes see people we didn't place there and that makes it very interesting and lots of fun."


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