Ghostly mystery of stolen ring solved

  • Friday, March 14, 2014

  • Updated Friday, March 14, 2014 11:49 am

Gertie Dorn holding a ring found at Alice’s grave among items left by visitors.

I am so fortunate to have been chosen to tell the following tale. Though it may seem implausible, every word of it is true.

This remarkable story was told to me by Gertie Dorn, a woman some of you may already know. Gertie was born Gertrude Cribb in a house on Front St. in Georgetown on Nov. 20, 1927. Her parents were Ertha and Joe Cribb.

She grew up in Georgetown and Pawleys Island. Her father worked for Mr. Fred Brickman who owned the Lafayette Court and the original Pawleys Pavilion. The Court consisted of 6 rental cottages and was located just north of the South Causeway.

Gertie’s family lived in a 4-room house that was attached to the pavilion. She attended Winyah School in Georgetown and would walk from her home to the legendary Lachicotte’s store on Highway 17 to catch the school bus.

She grew up hearing the story of Alice Flagg from the cooks who worked at Lafayette Court. The cooks, from Sandy Island, told Gertie the sad tale of Alice and how she lost her ring. This story of romance, betrayal, death and ghostly happenings stayed with Gertie for the rest of her life.

She moved to Johnsonville in middle school to live with her Grandmother, Minnie Lanning, and finished high school there. She then took the Cadet Nurse Course and trained at the old Roper Hospital in Charleston, the State Hospital on Bull St. in Columbia, then back to Charleston to work at Baker Hospital.

Along the way, she met and married Robert Reid. They moved to Georgetown and had 2 children who were classmates of mine – Roberta “Happy” Reid and Robert “Bobby” Reid. Sadly, Mr. Reid died at the young age of 36.

Gertie did private duty nursing before joining the staff at Georgetown Memorial Hospital in 1952. She worked for Dr. Robert Lumpkin for 30 years before retiring.

Gertie’s second husband, “Red” Dorn, owned a gas station next-door to the house where I grew up. He was so nice, especially to my younger brother, Mark Johnson. Mark would go to the gas station with a quarter, enough to buy a bottled Coca-Cola in those days. He would come back with the ‘Coke’ and a bag of candy, chewing gum, and whatever else Mr. Dorn gave him.

Gertie and “Red” built a house at Waterford Heights at Pawleys Island. He died about 6 years ago, and Gertie still lives in the wonderful, rambling home.

Though most of you know the story of Alice, I’ll let Gertie tell it in her own words for those who don’t.

“Alice was the lovely daughter of the Flagg family and attended Ashley Hall School in Charleston. She had many suitors, but fell in love with a turpentine salesman who travelled much of the time. Her family was very unhappy about this. The young man secretly gave Alice a ring, and to keep her family from knowing, she wore it on a long chain around her neck.

In those long ago days, malarial fever was prevalent and almost always fatal. Alice became ill with the dreaded fever and her family moved her to their summer home, The Hermitage, in Murrells Inlet. This was quite a journey as they travelled from Charleston by horse and buggy.

Alice became so ill that she became unconscious. Her uncle, a physician, found the ring she wore around her neck. He was furious, pulled the ring from her neck, and threw it in the salt marsh in front of the summer home.

Alice died, but before she did, she begged for her ring. . . and has been looking for it ever since.”

There have been many reports of a ghostly Alice appearing at The Hermitage and at All Saints Cemetery at Pawleys where she is buried. There are no birth or death dates on the plain slab covering her grave, just the name “Alice.” We do know that her short life took place in the mid-1800s.

Growing up in Georgetown, I visited Alice’s grave many times. There are rituals connected to this grave – ways to get Alice to appear, or grant a wish. Many first-hand accounts have been written about this.

On Nov. 13th, Gertie was giving a tour of All Saints Cemetery, as she often does. The touring group was a family and when the grandfather in the family told Gertie that he saw a “real” ring on Alice’s grave, she dismissed it, thinking it was a plastic ring, a trinket someone had left. He insisted that she take a look, and to her surprise, she saw a beautiful ring with a large blue stone encircled by diamonds.

Though she was taught as a child to never disturb a grave, Gertie took the ring and began a 3-month journey to find the rightful owner. (She also returned to the grave and replaced that ring with a child’s ring.)

There was a name on the blue stone, as well as the date 2007 and the owner’s name inscribed inside the band. Gertie first went to Lowcountry Jewelers in Pawleys Island to seek help in finding the owner. The staff at Lowcountry made inquiries, but they were unsuccessful.

Gertie made phone calls to people having the same last name as the owner, but to no avail. Finally, someone in law enforcement gave her a solid lead and on Feb. 24 of this year she was put in touch with the mother of the young man who owns the ring.

The ring, along with other items, had been stolen from his car. This was his high school class ring and it meant a lot to him. The 24 yr. old is not in good health and Gertie hopes that regaining his ring will boost his spirits.

This, of course, does not solve the mystery of how the ring ended up on Alice’s grave. Maybe we’ll never know. Gertie, however, is satisfied with this ending.

She writes, “Ironic as it may seem, my dear long ago friend named Alice is still looking for her ring. Someday she will find it and know that her beautiful love story has endeared all lowcountry lovers who have Pawleys Island sand between their toes.”

To Gertie Dorn (and Alice) . . . thanks for the memories.

Debby Summey may be reached at (843) 446-4777 or djsummey@gmail.com.

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