The ocean moved toward the shore as I moved toward the ocean – the Atlantic, and a city older than it’s country, yet still too country in many ways. I found a residence in Charleston, South Carolina and began to seek a job. I was lucky in more ways than I had hoped to be as I soon met an investor who wanted to open a dance club in an old behemoth of a building he owned, that mostly owned him instead. He imagined he would turn it into a popular spot for the fickle and frenetic Friday night revelers, and he needed someone to design and build a fantastic interior space. After being promised a budget I could feel comfortable with, I began to plan what Abraxas would become. I was ecstatic!
In order to know how to be original, I needed to see what other clubs and bars in the city had to offer, so I began to visit them one by one. A certain night I checked out a bar called enTRANCE, situated in a three story building that once must have been a factory or hotel, as large as it was. It housed a restaurant on the ground floor, a typical bar layout on the second, and a cavernous dance floor on the third. Not one to dismiss the perks allowed me while sizing up the competition, I had a marvelous free meal then proceeded to the bar for complementary drinks. I wasn’t wanting to get drunk though, as I needed to be observant and able to remember what I was seeing. The owner was there and he offered to answer whatever questions I might have, since he knew full well that a popular location would bring the tourists in and once there, they often hopped from bar to club to bar to restaurant to club and back again. He would see a sizable increase in traffic for his business if we were half the draw we hoped to be.
So I had a couple of drinks, talked about the patrons and their preferences and eventually excused myself to check out the dance area. I made my way up the stairs and entered a different space altogether than the bar area I had left behind. Here it was darker and more abandoned than I expected it to be. I was looking for lighting placements and the potential effects lights can have, working in succession, and if they complimented and enhanced the trance and ambient music playing there.
There were fewer patrons there than I had expected to see, perhaps twenty, and each of them seemed to be alone and self-satisfied, dancing drunkenly or hypnotically to the atmospheric sounds and surprisingly sparse lighting schemes. I walked to a back wall, leaned against it and watched, lost in the thoughts I was forming of my club-to-be and how it would make this place seem boring by comparison. I scanned the room and suddenly, as I was looking up for mirror balls, strobes and blinkers, a gradually-building-to-intense flash of light caught my attention. It wasn’t a large effect, being about the size of the moon when fully effected, but it was incredibly white, brilliant and complex. As I stared, this light seemed to pulsate and spin while moving in and out. It seemed as though it reached toward me and retreated, only to pulse and writhe again and again. Then, as suddenly as it appeared, it was gone. I looked for the apparatus that housed it yet could see nothing but the dark wall it should have been affixed to. I thought then that perhaps I had miscalculated it’s location and I made a mental note to ask the owner about it later. It was possible, too, that it was a retracting assembly that wouldn’t be visible until the DJ or light board operator flipped a switch. Dismissing an uneasy feeling, I finished my drink, gave my attention back to the music and returned to my mental musings of bars and clubs and exotic things that flash agreeably in the dark. I wanted music, lights and visible space to amplify each effect’s separate appeal at Abraxas. I wanted our patrons to have both an orgasm and a religious experience when they came there.
When I eventually returned to the bar level I remembered that I wanted to ask about the unique lighting effect I had seen and I sought out the owner to do so. I explained to him what I had observed and where, and waited for him to tell me how to locate his supplier. To my surprise he gave a shocked look and asked me to show him where I had seen it. I walked with him up the stairs and pointed to the space a little more than halfway up the wall and to the left of the DJ’s windowed booth where I had witnessed the effect. He assured me that no retractable effects were housed there and asked me to again explain what it had looked like. When I had finished attempting to completely describe it, he smiled ruefully and said:
“You aren’t the only one to have seen this light you describe. It has been observed a few other times that I know of and I can assure you it is nothing I had installed. I always hope to see it for myself but have not been so fortunate. I’ve been told it’s beautiful and somewhat unnerving at the same time.”
I told him it was a indeed a gorgeous effect but that I had been made somewhat uncomfortable by it, too. I thanked him for his time and conversation and left to check out a smaller bar, down a few doors, on the same street.
That was four years ago and sadly, Abraxas never made it past the planning stage. Situated in one of the most crime-ridden areas of the city, the site would have cost more in security and outdoor lighting than it would have been worth. We couldn’t be sure patrons would be willing to allay their fears and venture into such a dangerous zone. Sad as it was for me; I had developed numerous technical drawings and ideas for effects and sets that, once they were realized, would have amazed anyone who saw them, I continue to work for the investor I met then.
Recently a college friend and her husband came to visit and I endeavored to think of things we could do and sites we could see to make their visit memorable. It was decided one thing we should do would be to take a ghost tour. After all, being in America’s most haunted city, it just seemed right.
Charleston reportedly has numerous ghosts and so no less than six Ghost Walks exist to facilitate touring the city’s many haunted sites. We chose one and met the host and other walkers at about 11:00 pm one cloudy, dark night at the starting place. We then set out to visit a dozen sites around the Historic Old Charleston area and listened as our guide explained each site’s claim to haunted fame.
We had been walking for about an hour when we stopped in an older section of town and our host directed our attention to a three story brick building approximately thirty yards away.
“The building you see there was, in the mid 1800’s, a mirror factory. It’s third floor, now enclosed by the large windows you see, was mostly open and giant fans situated in front of the openings helped to pull excess heat from the room. Large vats, which held either molten glass or molten silver nitrate bubbled hotly, eventually reaching temperatures of 3000 plus degrees. Silver nitrate was used to coat formed panes of glass, thus giving the glass a reflective property.”
“It was during such a period of vat preparation that a nineteen-year-old employee had been instructed to adjust certain vents in the ceiling of the structure so that excessively gathered heat could escape the structure. Sliding along a platformed track assembly bolted to the ceiling, he approached levered vent panels and began to adjust their positions to allow larger openings for heat to dissipate. Somehow, at some point, the young man lost his safe position on the platform and fell, managing as he toppled to grab onto the edge of the platform. He hung there screaming while workers below scrambled to rescue him.”
“It just so happened that he had toppled off directly over the churning, roiling vat of liquid silver nitrate. While he hung, those witnessing the event excitedly labored to position a rolling ladder into place to retrieve him. He hung for as long as he could manage, but fatigue and gravity eventually overcame him and he plunged screaming into the dreaded vat before he could be rescued.”
“Some recalled that once he hit the surface of the liquid, the moisture in his body caused an explosion of steam and the liquid silver in the vat boiled over the sides and splattered, causing those standing nearby to be burned by airborne molten silver and rolling steam. A brief intense flash of light was observed as his flesh quickly boiled away and those who witnessed it said it was an all-consuming light: bright like a soul burning. The heat, they believed, had been intense enough to catch his very soul on fire!”
As our host spoke these last words of the legend, my eyes traveled to the structure and to the mammoth and dark windows of the third floor. Suddenly a bright, cascading light erupted from behind the black surface and reached toward me. One drawn out acute flash, then nothing, then, just as suddenly, another more intense build of eldritch light and then nothing again. The window was now dark. This sighting was familiar!
“Did anyone else see that?” I asked the entire group.
My friend’s husband admitted that he had. “What was it?” he wondered aloud.
No one else attested to seeing anything out of the ordinary so Mike and I began to describe to our host, and to those assembled, what we had seen.
“Well, I don’t know what it was” our host admitted, “I do know, though, that the building is empty. A few years ago a club called enTRANCE was situated there but it closed down about three years ago and the building has remained empty since.”
I suddenly didn’t know what to think. I hadn’t recognized the building as the club I had visited several years before, never having seen the building from this distance. When I saw it before, it was from much closer up and from the front.
I still understand little of what I saw on those two occasions, but I know now that I’m not the only one to have seen this strange light: bright like a soul burning.