When one thinks of Savannah, what is often conjured in the mind is horse-drawn carriages clomping along brick roads passing intricate antebellum architecture, sultry summer vacation days drifting idly by like a kite carried in the Southern wind, the Atlantic rhythmically lapping at the pristine sand, tanning on the beach, and sipping cocktails that languidly melt in the sun. Of course, this part of Georgia is renowned for its historical sites, sprawling beaches and its array of regional seafood and thirst-quenching beverages. But after the sun sets and the tourists have tucked in for the night, Savannah takes on a much darker, more sinister complexion. Besides being a vacation mecca, did you know that Savannah is also arguably the most haunted city in the United States? What is it about this quaint city that has spawned so many tales of ghostly apparitions and manifested the most haunted places in Savannah? Join us as we explore them!
History Equals Haunted: The Long History of Savannah and its Hauntings
Ghosts are bookmarks in time, indelibly etched into the fabric in which they were created. Ghosts are the phantasms of history, of lives lived and lost. Savannah is a very old city, and it is out of this background that produces so many of these hauntings. Savannah has been the setting for battles in both the Revolutionary and Civil War. It was a harbor for pirates, and a bastion for slave-traders and outlaws. Looking over this expansive history it is little wonder that this city is Ghost Capitol, USA!
As we dive into the origins of this city, we soon begin to understand that the history of Savannah is the history of America itself. Shortly after February 12, 1733, when General James Oglethorpe and settlers from the ship Anne landed at Yamacraw Bluff, Georgia would become one of the 13 original colonies that would become the backbone in the formation of America. But the foundation on which Savannah is built, well, that may make the easily startled uneasy.
Savannah’s Haunted Squares: Wright Square
When General James Oglethorpe laid out the town of Savannah in a grid pattern, he designed it with greenspaces in mind. Although many of Savannah’s peaceful squares are adorned with beautiful Southern live oaks draped in ubiquitous Spanish moss, you’ll find that Wright Square isn’t one of them. Moss refuses to grow on any of the trees in the square. Many claim that the moss won’t grow in any areas where ghosts linger. If that’s true, then Wright Square has good reason to be moss-free, since it’s also known as the Hanging Square.
In the early establishment of Savannah, Wright Square was not an enjoyable place to be. In fact, this square was where the gallows were located in the city. It’s where some of Savannah’s earliest convicted criminals met their untimely death. Alice Riley was hanged there for committing the first murder on record in the city of Savannah way back in the year 1735. A few days before she died, Alice gave birth to a baby that was quickly taken from her. It is said her spirit still wanders Wright Square in search of a newborn baby to claim as her own.
For more on Savannah’s haunted squares, check out our article about Madison Square!
Savannah’s Haunted Cemeteries: Built on the Bones of the Dead
Savannah has been called the “City Built Upon Her Dead.” This slogan may seem a little melodramatic, but it’s actually quite true. The popular historic district was literally built over graves that were once a part of Colonial Park Cemetery. Before settlers buried their dead on this site, this area served as the burial ground for the Native Americans that lived in what would become Savannah. It is rumored the unevenness in the sidewalks is caused by subsiding graves. Colonial Park was established way back in 1750 and quickly tripled in size, attributed to the Yellow Fever outbreaks that plagued Savannah throughout its history.
The Great Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1820 killed as many as 700 people. Another outbreak in 1876 killed 1,066 Savannahians. Because so many were dying at once, those bodies were often buried in mass graves.
Colonial Park is the site of at least one such mass burial. Many believe victims of these Yellow Fever epidemics are bound to this earthly realm in ghostly form because their lives were cut tragically short.
It must be said that these kinds of mass burials often tend to create restless spirits, in search of eternal repose in a more comforting location. However, it must be noted, that over a century ago Colonial Park was a very popular ritual site for the practitioners of hoodoo, a type of voodoo performed in the Southern states. Who knows what kind of doors were opened that couldn’t be closed when they staged their dark arts?
The most famous ghost story to come out of the cemetery is the story of Rene Rondolier. Rene was an imposing seven-foot tall child killer who terrorized Savannah in the early 1800s. A lynch mob exacted their justice on Rene and hanged him in the cemetery. However, soon after Rene was hanged, more children were found murdered. Could it be Rene was still killing from beyond the grave? To this day, Rene’s ghost is still seen walking through the cemetery, or hanging from the “Hanging Tree,” which still stands.
Savannah’s Haunted Battlefields: Ghosts of the Battles Waged in Savannah
Ghosts are also produced from the sudden loss of life in extremely stressful situations. To walk the bloody fields of past wars is often unsettling, but many say it’s not just a feeling, but a reality in Savannah. Catastrophic conflicts abounded here throughout the centuries. These fatal clashes have left their mark on America’s most haunted city. From the Siege of Savannah in 1779, where 240 were killed, to the American Civil War’s Savannah capture by General T. Sherman that claimed over 200 souls, these conflicts have left a lingering spiritual residue and souls of unsettled soldiers haunt the land and homes of the bloodstained ground of Savannah.
Fort McAllister is said to have been haunted ever since the Civil War battle over Savannah. Visitors to the battlefield, along with people who work there, have reported seeing ghosts dressed in Civil War regalia, moaning over their wounds or claimed to have heard the residual sounds of artillery seemingly recorded in the environment itself.
Savannah’s Catastrophes and The Ghosts They Made
Savannah is known for its splendid 19th century architecture, but little survives from the 18th century. The reason for this is two great fires that ravaged this city. In 1796, a fire swept through the town killing dozens and leaving thousands homeless. The outbreak of disease in 1820 was accompanied by additional devastation on the morning of January 11 when a rapidly spreading fire broke out in a stable. The blaze destroyed 500 buildings before dwindling that afternoon. The untimely deaths resulting from these fires is said to have perplexed the deceased, many ghosts seemingly going about their daily routines, oblivious to the fact that their lives were consumed in flame over two centuries ago.
Until the start of the Civil War, Georgia’s “First City” was heavily dependent on slave labor. The bustling port city of Savannah played an integral role in the Atlantic slave trade. Stories suggest those once enslaved still seek vengeance against their captors. One of the most infamous stories recounts the sinking of French ship Grietely. The vessel arrived in Savannah in 1854 to pick up 71 escaped slaves. The ship sank while exiting Savannah Harbor. Sailors still say they feel a force pulling them off course and claim to hear disembodied voices speaking in French and the African dialect of Bantu.
Beautiful Calhoun Square is the only one in Savannah that still has all of the original structures surrounding it still intact. The square itself is allegedly the site of a massive unmarked slave burial ground. Visitors to the square often report feeling uneasy or experience oppressive emotions in some sort of sympathy with humanity who had lost their lives in the savagery of slavery.
In the late 1700s to early 1800s, Savannah was one of the leading exporters of cotton. Men known as cotton “factors” worked along the bustling riverfront, and it’s where they set the prices for cotton worldwide. Factor’s Walk is an area of Savannah that contains old brick storage buildings called the Cluskey Vaults. There is speculation that these vaults were used to store slaves who had just recently been brought in at the port. Today, the Cluskey Vaults are the haunts of ghosts and shadow people, with full-bodied apparitions regularly seen in this section of the city.
An interesting side-note, but those who were brought in chains as slaves to Savannah feared this city because of its ghosts. Because of this, there’s an old tradition in the South of painting one’s porch roof a color colloquially referred to as Haint Blue. Haint is an old term for ghosts from which derives the word “haunt.” Haint blue is a light shade of sky blue and traditionally ghosts couldn’t enter a building with the porch painted this color because slaves believed ghosts couldn’t cross water, so painting one’s roof haint blue would confuse spirits and, thinking it was water, would keep the ghosts at bay. One example of this practice of painting the porch a light blue is to be found in the Owens-Thomas historic slave quarters. The first floor’s ceiling is painted haint blue, and according to tradition is the oldest surviving example of haint blue paint in the entire country!
Haunted Historic Houses of Savannah: Beautiful But Ghostly
Savannah is an excellent walking city and as you stroll along its streets you will undoubtedly pass a myriad of haunted houses. Here are a few of the houses said to be inhabited by ghosts.
The Olde Pink House
The aptly named Olde Pink House is one of Savannah’s many taverns, but for over three hundred years, the bright pink mansion was known as the Habersham House. Strangely enough, the bright pink color of the Habersham House was an accident. The Habershams originally intended the house to be white. The house was built with red bricks, which were overlayed with white plaster. Savannah’s climate, with its rain, heat, and humidity, caused the bricks to bleed through the paint, giving the house a pinkish color. The Habershams had to continually repaint the house white to restore the intended color. Their efforts were futile, and the color constantly bled through. Finally, in 1920, one of the later owners decided to permanently paint the house pink, settling the matter once and for all.
This house sits on Abercorn Street, right on Reynolds Square, built by the influential Habersham family around 1771. The building has been through quite a few hands and has lived through some of Savannah’s worst times. The Habersham House stood strong through a massive fire in 1796, while over 200 other buildings were destroyed. The house also survived three wars and was seized by occupying forces twice. Several owners of the house kept slaves, many of whom were children. It was common for the children to contract Yellow Fever and die during childhood. The spirits of the slave children still live on in the house, and patrons of the bar have caught a glimpse of their apparitions playing in the basement. They’ve been known to knock down cutlery and lock the bathroom doors. The ghost of James Habersham Jr. also resides in the house, and is generally seen during the colder months. He tends to be pretty friendly, and most staff encounter him at some point. Mrs. Habersham is said to be in the house as well. Unlike her late husband, she’s not a jovial and often hisses at customers when they make too much noise in the restaurant.
The Wilson House
This pink tavern is not the only haunted house on this street. Walking by 432 Abercorn Street, you may not realize you are in front of one of the most haunted houses in Savannah. This home was originally constructed in 1869 for the Wilson family. It is whispered that the home was constructed atop a Native American burial site. It is said that the builder of the house killed his daughter soon after the house was built. In recent times, the home stood empty for roughly 40 years on one of the most sought-after lots in the entire city. The house actually had an owner for all those years…she just refused to live it! It has been said that a triple murder took place within this home. There is also the rumors that Anton LaVey attempted to purchase the house to use it as the East Coast branch for his organization, the Church of Satan.
The Davenport House
Two different ghost stories surround The Davenport House, located on 324 E State St. One involves the spirit of a ghost cat, who roams the halls and can be seen running from one room to the next. The next story involves a little girl seen playing in the attic. Many guests have spotted a little girl peeking around corners or skipping down halls, but when employees have investigated nobody was there.
If you find yourself ambling near 307 E. President St., be sure to check out the former house turned into a restaurant and inn called, appropriately enough, the 17Hundred90 Inn. There are at least three ghosts which are believed to haunt this location. Anna is the most well-known. Guests staying in room 204 frequently report strange happenings such as jewelry or clothing being mysteriously moved from one place to the other. Some have experienced being nudged or having bed covers moved. She always seems to be a friendly spirit yet always wanting to make her presence known. According to local legend, Anna was a bride of an arranged marriage who fell in love with a sailor in the early 1800’s. She is said to have thrown herself to her own death from a third-floor window onto the brick courtyard below, just as the sails of his ship left her sight and headed down the Savannah River to the sea. Some suggest that she was pushed from the window by her angry husband-to-be out of enraged jealousy.
A boy named Thaddeus is sometimes seen on the ground floor of the restaurant and tavern. Thaddeus leaves shiny pennies lying on the tables, bar and the desk. He too is a friendly spirit who is sometimes experienced as a warm unexplainable presence.
Of a less friendly nature is a spirit that sometimes roams the kitchen area of the inn. The clinking sound of metal bracelets is often followed by pots and pans being tossed about or spice jars being thrown at unsuspecting kitchen workers. Some have suggested that this ghost is a voodoo priestess who enacted her arts on this site!
Bradley Lock and Key is one of the lesser-known of Savannah’s haunted locations, but that doesn’t make it any less spooky! The shop, situated at 24 E. State St, was founded by the Bradley family in the 1800s. The founder’s son was friends with the famous illusionist, Harry Houdini, and even named his son after him. The shop is currently in the hands of the fourth and fifth generation of Bradleys. It’s been rumored that Houdini’s ghost haunts the place, very appropriate indeed for a person that in life was an expert lockpicker and escape artist. .
If you’ve ever wanted to see the oldest surviving building in the state of Georgia, head on over to The Pirates’ House on 20 E. Broad Street. The Herb House portion of the building was constructed in 1734 and is still standing today. The Pirates’ House has tunnels beneath it where pirates used to come and go from the river. The Pirates’ House currently operates as a restaurant popular with many tourists, but back in the mid-1800s, privateers reportedly targeted drunken men at the bar, knocked them over the head, and then hauled the unconscious men through tunnels below the house and out to sea. When the men awoke, they found themselves forced to work aboard pirate ships as imprisoned sailors. They were tossed overboard if they refused! The spirits of many of those sailors are said to haunt the building today. Moans originating from the tunnels and the sounds of boots echoing across wooden floorboards have been reported.
From a literary standpoint, the tavern would be made famous in a Robert Louis Stevenson book called Treasure Island. Although from Scotland, Stevenson was enamored by Savannah and the ghost stories associated with this city.
Plan Your Next Ghostly Vacation
Ghosts are as much a part of Savannah as fried green tomatoes and shrimp and grits. Of course, we are only scratching the surface of all the ghostly hauntings occurring within this old town, but this article gives an adequate overview of some of the encounters that await you. Whether you come for the weather, food, or history, be sure to tour these and other haunted hotspots in Savannah. You will get a glimpse into the past, a past that helped shape America and one that has made Savannah into Ghost City, USA!
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