There is a tiny barrier island, only 200 yards off the Isle of Palms, where legend still lingers. It is called Goat Island. In the early ’30s, a man and his wife lived there in self-exile without electricity or water, choosing to turn their backs on civilization forever. Goat Island remains a place of rustic solitude – a precious, slender slice of land beyond the reach of street lights and bus stops.
It is this sense of mystery and unknown in the midst of a controlled society that has created the “Legend of Goat Island.” It began long ago and has been passed down through generations of locals who sometimes share it with worthy tourists. I’m not a native, but I was lucky to discover the truth in it.
The legend of the Goat Man began in 1931, when a Charleston butcher, Henry Holloway, and his wife Blanche, decided to free themselves form the rules, regulations and stresses of modern day society. Repelled by the intrusion of what was labeled as “progress,” the Holloways retreated from the real world as we know it, into a timeless, peaceful life of seclusion on their own deserted island – an island whose only inhabitants were a herd of goats.
There, alone, in a driftwood covered hole in the ground, sheltered only by palm fronds, they claimed squatters’ rights over the island – the sole living heirs to the virgin paradise of Goat Island’s undeveloped beaches and marshlands.
Even though the Goat Man and his wife only lived 200 yards from the shore of the Isle of Palms, they shunned the developers and life on the far side of the waterway. They learned to naturally accept what God provided them with, drinking rainwater and eating the natural vegetation underfoot. They lived in solitude under the aimless canopy of tree limbs and palms on the tiny island that provided them shelter in the rainy seasons, shade in the hot, sweltering summers, and firewood in the deathly chilling, wet island winters.
While their nearby neighbors doomed fancy new shoes and Sunday clothes, they wore only their tans. They denied a domesticated existence, refusing to live under the watchful eye of any community. They didn’t go to church, work, or networking groups. Once they abandoned scheduled society, they never had to wake up to the sound of an alarm. Instead, they woke to the whispering wind in the morning and they saw their days end with pink sunsets over trouble free waters.
The Goat Man and his wife collected the discarded debris that drifted onto the shores and into their lives at the tide changes. They categorized the litter of society, like the bottles, tires, life jackets, and otherwise unwanted hand-me-downs that washed up as messages and reminders of the world’s disregard for their ability to live off the land.
The Goat Man and his wife eventually accepted handouts from curious visitors and passing yachts that sometimes slowed down to observe their unusual lifestyle. The Holloways were always gracious and courteous to those who offered sandwiches and leftovers from a day of picnicking on Dewees Island.
During the Goat man’s 32 years of self-imposed exile, civilized people I nearby communities who didn’t have to scavenge for their food, knew that the Goat People were out there, across the waterway. But people denied the possibility that the Holloways’ simple nomadic lifestyle might have been perfectly sane. The famous Charleston rumor mills spread the seeds that the Goat Man and his wife were out of their minds, as well as out of touch with civilization, because people feared the unknown.
Over the years, the legend of the secretive Goat Man and his wife has been told right around bedtime, at dusk, so that children and adults who are a little scared to explore unique possibilities during the day can dream of the unbelievable at night. Little children believed the island was haunted because their parents told them strange voices echoed through the trees and around in the thick underbrush. Some children dared to challenge the hereditary fear of the unknown. They crossed the water into the unknown only to discover that the alien sounds were the soulful singing of a content, solitary man.
In 1961, after 30 years of living in the natural elements, the Goat Man accepted a small hut as a Christmas gift from generous neighbors who were concerned that the Holloways were too old to live an unsheltered life. The recycled “Christmas box” was big enough to call home, and the Holloways climbed inside it like a Trojan Horse that had been built out of good faith. Soon after they moved in and took shelter from the same elements of nature that had provided for them in the past, their existence changed. The Goat Man caught pneumonia and died. Blanche was left to carry on the legend and tradition alone.
Blanche survived Henry in solitude on Goat Island for almost a year, but she also died inside the four walls in paradise. She died from burns received in a fire caused by the wood burning stove that was also a handout from civilized do-gooders. Ironically, legend says that after the Goat Man and his wife died they were buried together in the Lutheran Church Cemetery in Mount Pleasant, on ground that was marked for city people who never understood how to live off the land. Their paradise was left deserted to be overrun by looters who destroyed the organization of uncivilized life, in search of hidden wealth and buried treasure.
The only investment that the Goat Man and his wife ever really treasured was their partnership with nature and the life it yielded them. Their paradise wasn’t measured by material things, prestige or social acceptance. It wasn’t anything that looters could have stolen from them before of after their death. The wealth they possessed came from their own ability to challenge the unknown and to abide by the laws of nature. Even today, 30 years after their deaths, their legend lives on, wandering through the only untamed, immeasurable part of modern man: the imagination.
By Maria Zone