David Lauderdale

Hilton Head’s best ghost story: The legend of the ‘Blue lady’ haunting Harbour Town

Eric Thompson, general manager at CQ's Restaurant, stands for a portrait at the bar inside of the restaurant on Hilton Head Island.  Thompson has never seen the Blue Lady that is said to haunt the restaurant but he has heard footsteps, seen the lights flicker and witnessed the liquor bottles behind the bar begin to shake with no explanation.
Eric Thompson, general manager at CQ's Restaurant, stands for a portrait at the bar inside of the restaurant on Hilton Head Island. Thompson has never seen the Blue Lady that is said to haunt the restaurant but he has heard footsteps, seen the lights flicker and witnessed the liquor bottles behind the bar begin to shake with no explanation. dearley@islandpacket.com

Originally published Oct. 29, 2015

What’s a little he-said, she-said among ghosts?

As Halloween lurks, surly there’s not a ghost of a chance of interjecting something as tricky as facts in a beloved tall tale.

But I was called this week by a local woman who wants the Blue Lady never to wander too far from home.

The Blue Lady, as the creaky old story goes, was the daughter of a Hilton Head Island lighthouse keeper of the 19th century. He died dramatically, having just reached the top of the tower’s spiral stairway in the middle of a raging hurricane.

Young Caroline Fripp was wearing a long blue dress when she found her father. She carried out his dying wish that she keep the light burning no matter how bad the storm. Alas, her sorrow and exhaustion snuffed out her own life soon thereafter. But the Blue Lady was long known to visit the skeletal old lighthouse in what is today the Leamington section of Palmetto Dunes Resort.

That part of the story, we’re dead certain is true. So fetching have been the visions of the Blue Lady that people moving to rural Hilton Head in the 1960s told and retold the tale as owls scowled from moonlit oaks.

When Sea Pines started taking shape, founder Charles E. Fraser moved two buildings from the base of the Leamington lighthouse to an area he would call Harbour Town. And as islanders loved to attest, the Blue Lady tagged along with her home.

But as Joan Ballantine Newman told me, that’s where the true facts have started to get a little misty since her arrival in 1966.

It is said that to this very day that the Blue Lady shakes liquor bottles, turns on faucets and makes mysterious, unidentified phone calls to CQ’s restaurant next to the old cottages at Harbour Town.

It is said that the Blue Lady simply drifted next door when the restaurant building was shaped from lumber in the old lighthouse cottages.

Newman knows, however, that the CQs building was designed and built by her brother, the late artist Ralph Ballantine. He built it as his studio shortly after building his home in 1967. He used lumber rescued from old South Carolina barns. The flooring came from Savannah, she said, and the Blue Lady stayed in the little white cottages.

“There was no ghost in Bally’s studio,” says his sister. “It would be neat if were true, but I wanted to keep the Blue Lady in the right building while someone is still around to know.”

Ballantine later designed the adjacent Saddlebag Building, with Lowcountry rice barns as his inspiration, as well as the Old Fort Pub building on Skull Creek.

The two little white lighthouse cottages are still in Harbour Town. At first, one cottage housed a corporate library for Sea Pines. In 1972, Signe Gardo opened Signe’s Heaven Bound Bakery and Cafe there. Gardo has moved her business, but the cottage remains a deli. Over the years, the buildings have housed a women’s clothing store and real estate offices.

And the Blue Lady.

Or so the teenage boys told the girls in the mid-1960s on sultry Hilton Head.

The big pick-up line of the time for kids like Todd Ballantine and Collins Doughtie apparently went something like: “Have I ever shown you the Blue Lady?”

Which they found worked a whole lot better than: “Have you ever wanted to wander around in the dark with alligators, rattlesnakes and ticks?”

But if a lady in blue slides up to you at CQs this weekend, have your own pick-up line ready. She knows that the answer is blowin’ in the wind.

Follow columnist and senior editor David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale and facebook.com/david.lauderdale.16.

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