By Kristin Hackler
Buried along the back roads of Johns Island, built more than 200 years ago, is a creaking old home shrouded in mystery. Its grounds are covered in live oaks draped in ghostly Spanish moss and winds kick up at the oddest times. On the hill to the back of the property is a gigantic dogwood which mysteriously opens into full bloom and dies almost as quickly. But you won’t be able to find Dogwood Plantation on any map: it only exists in the mind of author Sandra LaBruce.
“I’ve had people say they know exactly where Dogwood Plantation is on Johns Island,” Sandra laughed. “And I would say ‘Really? Because I just made it up.’”
The presence of Dogwood Plantation on Johns Island, however, is hauntingly real in Sandra’s inaugural novel, Haunted Secrets.
As a native resident of Johns Island, Sandra has spent a lifetime collecting stories of the island from her grandmother. As her knowledge and passion for the island grew, they developed into a story; a combination of strange dreams and poignant facts that caused Sandra to spring out of bed one night and begin typing. Less than a year later, Haunted Secrets was complete and ready for publication.
“It took me 12 years to finally get this book published,” said Sandra. A combination of work and young children prevented her from finally publishing her novel, but now that she has it in print, she’s dedicated to bringing this fascinating story of fiction and Johns Island folklore to the public.
“I promote the book wherever I can,” said Sandra, recounting day of book signings in places ranging from restaurants to the Market in downtown Charleston.
While Haunted Secrets takes place on Johns Island, the time of the story ranges from present day to 1976 to the early 1800s. The novel follows the life of Vivian, who inherits the old plantation home from her mother; a property that she didn’t even know was in the family. Vivian spends months cleaning, polishing and renovating the old home, despite frightening instances of harsh winds, violent vines and the vague outline of humans cast in shadowy definition by the light of a full moon.
As she turns the house inside-out, Vivian comes across an old journal, recounting the story of the home’s original owners and the lives of the slaves that formerly inhabited the land.
Haunted Secrets is full of beautiful imagery and revealing glimpses into the history of a culture so embedded in the life of the island that it’s almost impossible to tear them apart.
Sandra LaBruce will be holding a book signing at the Johns Island Library, 3531 Maybank Highway, on Saturday, June 26, at 2 p.m. Sandra will give a reading of her book and copies will be available for sale. For more info, call 559-1945.