I have always wondered about Goat Island. What would it be like to run away from home and live on an island? Close to Charleston, on the Intercoastal waterway, and only accessible by boat. When my husband and I moved back to Charleston after many years of absence, he proposed we look at a house on Goat Island. The mystery and romance of living on a barrier island captured me for a moment, but then I quickly squashed the idea when I started thinking about going to work in a suit on a boat, lugging groceries, transporting cats and other worldly possessions across the water to an island. No thank you. But I have never lost my curiosity about this little place called Goat Island.
When the opportunity presented to attend an event called Hope on Goat, I realized how little I knew about this piece of the Lowcountry that was steeped in legend and lore. Located just off the Isle of Palms, I had always heard stories about Goat Island, once inhabited by goats and a recluse, and now I wanted to know more about this island of mystery.
My typical “Google” search failed me. I found a few modern day references and stories but nothing dating back to the times it was inhabited by the “Goat Man and Woman”. This curiosity quest was going to have to be old school ~ THE LIBRARY!
The South Carolina Room of the Charleston County Library is the ultimate form of a history treasure hunt. Whether you are doing geneology research, trying to find out the history of a Charleston landmark or, in this case, learning how a barrier island got its name and the mystery of the “Goat Man and Woman”, this little room in the Calhoun Street location is pretty amazing and staffed with some very helpful folks. As I asked the Librarian for some information on Goat Island, within minutes she had pulled out a “hard file” of newspaper and magazine articles dating back to the 1950’s through 1990’s and before I could sit down to devour it, I had 3 more books tagged with the pages on Goat Island. And the mystery of the Goat Island Man and Woman was solved.
Henry Hollaway was a butcher at the city market in Charleston in the early 1900s. Around 1931 his wife, Blanche, started exhibiting strange behavior that had the neighbors concerned. So concerned that she was at risk of being committed to the South Carolina Asylum in Columbia. (It was later thought that she may have been suffering a “severe reaction to menopause”.) When Mr. Hollaway disovered what could potentially happen, he closed his butcher shop at the age of 54, left behind all of his wordly possessions, and escaped to a barrier island with his wife where they would live out their days for 30 more years until their passing. (He passed away at age 86 in 1962 and she follows his passing in 1963 at the age of 77.) Goat Island was named such due to the abundance of goats that lived on the island. At the time the Hollaways arrived, over 200 goats lived on the island.
There were many stories and speculations on their life and other’s encounters with them. My absolute favorite was from Edwin Stone in the June 1969 edition of the Sandlapper magazine. He summarizes his meeting with the Hollaways.
The sight of them standing there side by side was spellbinding. They were so quiet, so trusting, so serene. Their rough, weathered countenances were overshadowed by a strange warm aura that glowed from the depth of their inner being. These gentle persons were completely removed from the world of greed and plenty. They were the picture of humility, standing there sprinkled with the light and shadows of the forest, these…angels in rags.
This is how I will remember the lore of the Goat Man and Woman. I will remember it as a love story. A story of a man who loved his wife and wanted to protect her so he took her away from harm. They went to live on an island, surrounded by goats. They lived off the land and the sea with very little possessions but with laughter, merriment and resiliance in their heart.
After I attended the Hope on Goat event I realized the mystery of Goat Island continues. Somehow this tiny barrier island has claimed the heart and soul of it’s current inhabitants, stewards, descendents of early settlers. This island is full of love. It is in the love of the land that has been protected through first of its kind conservation efforts. It is in the care of the community and how friends and neighbors look out and support each other. It is in the respect for the food that is gathered from the creeks and cooked lovingly for others. It is in the laughter from children running wild, exploring, being free, barefoot and adventurous. It simply is what we all long for and many of us remember growing up in Charleston. Living in a community where love and respect abounds in each other, our children, the community and the land and wanting to preserve and protect all of it. The mystery is not in the legend, it is in the spirit of the legend that lives on in Goat Island.
Hope on Goat is a fundraising oyster roast to benefit Fresh Future Farm. Fresh Future Farm is a nonprofit urban farm seeking to addressing food, health, economic, and environmental disparities in southern portion of North Charleston, SC. They revitalize vacant city land to grow organic produce, sell eligible grocery products, raise livestock. What better tribute can we give the Hollaways than by offering sustainable hope to others. It is fitting that this event is titled “Hope” on Goat, as Goat Island was the sole source of Hope for the Hollaways.
Photograph contributor Jayne Rugg.