The oldest and best known of the Dismal Swamp legends is that of the Lady of the Lake, a myth the Irish poet Thomas Moore canonized in 1803 in his poem, "The Lake of the Dismal Swamp." Based on local legends about an Indian maid who died just before her wedding and who is periodically seen paddling her ghostly white canoe across the waters of Lake Drummond, Moore's poem tells how the bereaved lover came to believe that his lost love had departed her grave and taken to the Swamp. He followed her and never returned but was reunited with his Lady of the Lake in death.

But Oft, from the Indian hunter's camp

This lover and maid so true

Are seen at the hour of midnight damp

To cross the Lake by a fire-fly lamp,

And paddle their white canoe.

Through the years, many a hunter and fisherman has claimed to have sighted the ghostly white canoe with its fire-fly lamp.

Like all good legends and mysteries, the Lady of the Lake is rooted in reality. Eerie lights in the middle of the night are not uncommon and have been attributed to ghosts, pirates, madmen, or flying saucers. What causes these strange lights is Foxfire (a luminescence given off by the decaying of wood by certain fungi), burning methane escaping from decomposing vegetation, or smoldering peat.

The next most familiar Swamp legend is that of the Deer Tree, one of the gnarled, bald cypresses along the edge of Lake Drummond, which is said to have been a deer that changed into a tree to escape its pursuers. Other versions claim the deer was actually a witch who taunted hunting dogs Having run into the lake, she turned herself into a tree to avoid drowning and couldn't turn herself back into deer or witch.


Charleston History