Charleston, SC – There are people in her house. She doesn’t know them, but they come in droves. They eat in her living room, cook in her kitchen, and pay her no mind at all. After such a long life of lonely solitude, the air is thick with conversation and the scent of Lowcountry spices. Of course she hasn’t lived here, or anywhere, for a long time, and the house is no longer her home, but she continues to walk the floors and look out the windows, remembering a time that once was.
Every restaurant has a story. I’m not talking about the local Taco Bell chain, but the real, sit-down-and-order-off-a-menu restaurants. People go to restaurants not just for the food, but for the atmosphere, and the most successful ones are able to combine mouth-watering flavors with an atmosphere that makes people want to visit. The good ones, nurtured from a few patrons to a thriving business, have stories about what their building was before they got it, the trials and tribulations of running such a successful business, and sometimes about the ghosts that haunt the halls.
The building now occupied by Poogan’s Porch was actually built almost a hundred years before the restaurant’s birth. Who built it or why isn’t known, but some time around 1900 the house was owned by two sisters. Elizabeth and Zoe St. Armand were, by most accounts, spinsters who lived together in solitude. Elizabeth’s profession is unknown, though it has been speculated that she, like her sister, was at one time a teacher.
In 1945 Elizabeth passed away, leaving Zoe alone in the enormous house. Without her lifelong companion, Zoe’s mental state deteriorated. She was reputed to suffer from long bouts of depression, brought on by loneliness. When exactly she moved away is unknown, but the native Charlestonian left her home a few years after her sister died. When she passed away, it was in a city far away from Charleston.
Years later a West Virginian named Bobbie Ball, whose day job was as a court reporter for the South Carolina State, purchased the house and began the arduous task of remodeling it with the idea of turning it into a restaurant. At about the same time, a scruffy neighborhood dog began showing up on the house’s porch. He was friendly, and his presence seemed innocuous enough, so the dog, whose name turned out to be “Poogan,” was adopted by Ball. According to Ball, Poogan watched over the restaurant and, in 1976 when it first opened its doors, was onhand to greet the first customers. They loved the old dog so much that they named the restaurant after him and his favorite sitting spot. Although he died of natural causes in 1979, his picture still hangs on the wall. He was also buried in the restaurant’s front yard, where visitors can pay their respects.
There are many stories about Poogan’s Porch, at least one of which seems to be in part sentimental wishful thinking. According to some, diners and employees have looked out the window onto the front porch and claim to still see the faithful Poogan in his favorite spot, waiting for someone to come along and scratch his ears or feed him a few table scraps. Whether or not it’s true, the spirit of Poogan lives on in the hearts of the owners, and in those of anyone who came into contact with him.
The other stories about Poogan’s Porch have gained the restaurant notoriety from many sources, including being named one of the most haunted restaurants in the world by The Travel Channel. She is most often described as an older woman, dressed in black, and has been seen not only by employees and customers, but also by people staying at the hotel across the street. And although not everyone has seen her, the owners and employees are convinced that the presence in the home is Zoe St. Armand.
Owner Bobbie Ball had a run-in with Zoe one night while trying to close up for the evening. While trying to set the alarm, she was disturbed by heavy wooden stools being flipped over and large doors being slammed open. On another occasion, the daytime chef opened up, made coffee, and left his cup sitting on the stairs while he went to open the back door for the grocers. When he returned, his coffee cup was gone. Confused, and wondering if he really did pour himself a cup, he decided to go pour another, but when he returned, he found his mug sitting right where he left it, but with a faint lipstick stain around the rim.
Other incidents include a woman who saw Zoe banging on the inside of the window of the restaurant, as if she were locked in. When the police arrived, they found the place empty and the alarm undisturbed. She has also been sighted in the kitchen area and the bathroom, startling those who see her. Though it’s generally believed that she is a benign spirit, the site was reportedly enough to send at least one person, who encountered Zoe in the restroom, to run screaming from the restaurant.
In recent years the restaurant has undergone extensive renovation but has kept its charm and award-winning food. It has become an attractive gathering spot for celebrities including Paul Newman, Tennessee Williams, and Jodie Foster, and has even served as the location for scenes from 1989’s “Champagne Charlie.” And if that weren’t enough to bring a person to sample the cooking, there is still Zoe. She is still seen, and sometimes unseen, both by those in the restaurant and those across the street. The restaurant is so active, in fact, that The Travel Channel named Poogan’s Porch the third most haunted place in America.
There is not a bad time to visit Poogan’s Porch, as it is open 365 days a year (except for one single dinner seating on Super Bowl Sunday). Reservations are suggested and can be made over the phone or online. However, Zoe is most often seen in the late night, when customers have gone home for the evening. But there is still hope of seeing the lady. There have been many reports from the Mills House Hotel (across the street) guests who have seen her standing in the second-floor windows, waving at them.
For more information about the restaurant, visit them at their website, and don’t forget to pay your respects to Poogan on your way out.
See you in two weeks!
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