BLACKVILLE, S.C. - For longer than anyone has recorded history, water has bubbled from out of the ground at a natural spring in what used to be deep woods about an hour's drive down a two-lane road south of Columbia.
American Indians let four gravely wounded British soldiers in on the secret in 1781, leaving the men to astonish the garrison in Charleston that left them behind to die. Since then, people have flocked to the Healing Springs of Barnwell County for some restorative and perhaps supernatural help.
That's why Annabelle Galik of Goose Creek drinks the clear, cool water, which according to local property records was deeded to the Almighty God in 1944. Two and a half years ago, Galik, 50, was diagnosed with lung cancer and given about four months to live. She drank the water, along with some more traditional cancer treatments.
"I'd take a shower in it if I could," Galik said. "Jesus owns it, and if he's maintaining it here, it's got to be good."
Even with all the advances of modern medicine, people still come in bunches to the spring hoping for their own personal miracle. They bring anything they can use to carry water - five-gallon buckets, two-liter soda bottles, milk jugs, orange juice containers, even insulated mugs. Some people take off their shoes as they gather the water that pools under the taps, letting their feet soak it in, too.
A few gulps
"This is all my dad drank, and he lived to 90," said Walter Tobin, who grew up nearby, but now lives 50 miles away in Columbia. He stopped by for a few gulps on his way to visit his sister.
The water, likely originating underground in the mountains hundreds of miles to the north, heads downhill away from all the pollution on the surface of the earth. The crisp, clear water probably sprang through the rock after a huge earthquake long before Europeans arrived in modern-day South Carolina.
Deeded to God
After settlers bought Healing Springs from the American Indians for some corn, a Baptist church was built nearby. The springs passed through several owners until 1944, when L.P. Boylston deeded it to God and the site became known as God's Acre.
Instead of seeping out of the ground, Barnwell County installed about a dozen taps a foot off the ground that flow constantly, stronger if there are recent rains. The Department of Health and Environmental Control tests the water, which the agency said has no coliform bacteria and has most recently received its highest rating.
All those advancements in medicine in recent decades haven't diminished the popularity of Healing Springs, whether people believe in its healing properties or not.
"It tastes better than the town water," said Carolyn Hayes, who lives in nearby Blackville.
Nine giant buckets
Galik's husband rarely waits longer than two weeks before driving 100 miles back to Healing Springs, at least nine giant buckets tethered in the bed of his pickup. He came here before his wife's cancer diagnosis, and because he believes the water has given him more time with her, the 74-year-old former trucking company employee will keep coming back as long as he can.
"There's just something about this place. People for hundreds of years can't be wrong," Steve Galik said. "It's about as close as I think you can get to the Garden of Eden."