Haints and Haunts in Historic Savannah, Georgia
By Megan Pasche
Moss is everywhere in Savannah, it drapes itself over the trees creating a thick, shadowy canopy. It hangs down in wispy grey tendrils, littering the ground of the city’s many public squares.
For something so beautiful in the daylight, it sure takes on a ghoulish appearance at night.
As the sun sets, the scene is perfect: Savannah seems made to be haunted. I hear that Savannah is one of the most haunted cities in the United States and I am ready to be spooked. It’s time for some Savannah ghost stories!
A Brief History
“My name is Jan”, our tour guide says, as she motions for us to scoot in close. It is a cool March evening, and the wind has been chilling our bones all day long.
“Well, my nickname is actually Wimpy Jan, because all the weird stuff happens on my tour.”
She goes on to tell us about the three times she had to call 911, as well as the more benign things, like cameras breaking, batteries being drained simultaneously, and orbs and figures showing up in photographs. The group giggles nervously, trying to decide just how seriously to take this tour.
According to Jan, 60 to 70% of the buildings in Savannah are haunted, and quite frankly, in this town, you’re nobody till somebody haunts you.
Having a good ghost story is a point of pride with people in Savannah. In fact, ghost stories and tours have become so popular, that there are 27 different companies that offer them. You can take a walking tour, a trolley tour, and if you are feeling hokey, a tour conducted from a hearse.
Walking is the best way, though; you get to see more; feel more. Besides, you only need to be able to run faster than one other person on your tour if anything too scary pops up. With this in the back of my mind, I follow as the group heads towards the first stop.
Too Haunted to Stay
The Hampton Lillibridge House was built in 1797 and was moved to its current location from another spot a couple of blocks away. This house was cursed from the start when a worker was killed during preparations to move the structure.
A year after this when construction resumed, workers found a crypt on the property where the house was to be moved. Not wanting to delay any longer, the construction foreman went ahead with it anyway; the house got moved and to this day it still sits on an old unopened crypt.
Twenty-six different families have lived in the house, and all moved out for the same reason: it was too haunted.
However, the current family has lived in the house since the 1980s and seems to exist fairly peacefully with their otherworldly housemates. But weird things happen on a regular basis: furniture gets moved around, items disappear and reappear, doors get mysteriously locked and lights go on and off at random.
Some tenants have said this is the work of a small boy who sometimes appears in a green suit and that you can hear him giggling after one of his practical jokes. Neighbors have also reported music and dancing coming from an empty house. One former owner reported that something (or someone) walked up the stairs, opened his bedroom door, and lay down in the bed beside him.
“Just think,” Jan said. “Could you live in this house?” Looking around the group, I could see the answer was pretty much unanimous: not a chance.
Savannah’s history is rife with horror stories, including several major fires and a yellow fever plague that killed 10% of the population at the time. It was a fire that claimed the lives of the girls at our next stop: The Old Orphanage located at 117 Houston St.
A Tragic End
The building served as the female orphanage with 17 girls residing there at the time it was burned to the ground. 11 of the 17 girls died during the fire when the building’s roof collapsed.
To this day, the people who live there claim they can hear the sound of girls singing and playing, and items that would be of interest to little girls are often found moved around the rooms.
“Children are interesting,” begins Jan, as we stand outside the somber looking stone building, “because when they die, they come back to the happiest place in their life to live out their childhood, but at nighttime, they reenact their deaths.
So in the daytime, you have happy ghosts, playing and laughing and at nighttime, you have the sounds of children screaming for their parents”.
Haints and Haunts
One of our next stops is outside a one-story wooden building, where the only things painted on the house are the door, the windows, and the porch: each is painted a sky blue color. This color is known as “haint blue”, and it was used as a way to protect houses from “haints”, which is a Geechee word for “spirit”.
[Geechee is an English-based Creole language containing many African loanwords and significant influences from African languages.]
The haint blue represented water, and it was thought that these spirits would not cross water to come get you. Haint blue is seen all over historic Savannah, and although it has become almost trendy now, it was serious business in the 1800s.
The reason Jan is telling us all this is because we are standing in front of one of the most haunted buildings in Savannah; a small wooden house which sits back several feet from the sidewalk and is almost unnoticeable in the dark next to the neighboring house.
This small wooden structure used to belong to a voodoo priestess, and oddly enough, today it is a bed and breakfast. Guests routinely wake up with night terrors, as well as inexplicable bruises, often on their necks.
“People actually pay to stay here!” Jan says, laughing.
Broken Hearted Leap
Moving on, our next stop is in front of another hotel. 17Hundred90 is popular in Savannah: there is a 30-day waiting list to get into room 203, which is the room where a woman named Anna jumped out the window and committed suicide after her heart was broken by a sailor.
If you are staying in room 203, it is said you have a 50/50 chance of getting Anna happy and in love or sad and melancholy, and people’s moods often shift accordingly. Although the name would suggest otherwise, this hotel was actually built in the year 1820, but because that year was such a horrible one for Savannah due to the great fire and yellow fever; nobody would ever name their building after it.
Bustling at All Hours of the Night
One of the last stops is a popular one: three to four other groups huddle outside Colonial Park Cemetery, with trolleys and hearses driving by at a fairly regular pace. Colonial Park is the oldest cemetery in Savannah, and even though it is relatively small it has over 10,000 bodies buried in it.
The only way to fit that many bodies in such a small space is to stack them, and it has been found that some of the bodies in this cemetery are only 12 inches below the ground.
To add to the “ick” factor, in 1902, the City of Savannah needed space for sidewalks, so they moved headstones, moved back the fence, and paved over the bodies. Now, under the sidewalks all around Colonial Park Cemetery lay the bodies of thousands of people.
As we stand outside the cemetery gate, our arms stretched through the rod iron fence, we marvel at how the temperature seems to drop significantly inside the cemetery.
Suddenly, a loud rustle comes out of the bushes, followed by a muffled scream. We all whip around to see Jan standing behind us on the sidewalk cracking herself up.
Recovering, we all smile sheepishly and trail behind her as she leads us away from the cemetery, her shoulders still heaving ever so slightly with continued laughter.
We make our way back to where we started, next to the statue of John Wesley in Reynolds Square. It is completely dark now and we all have a little extra skip in our step as we head back to our cars, glancing behind us as we go.
As interesting as some of the stories are, and as much fun as the tours can be, it sobers you when you realize that these aren’t just stories made up for people’s amusement. Whether or not you believe in the supernatural element, these were still people that lived, were loved, and walked amidst the shadows of the same Savannah moss.
The tour I went on was with Ghost Talk, Ghost Walk, and I highly recommend it if you are interested in getting a little bit of history along with your ghost stories. Tickets were $10 per person. You can visit their website or call them at 1-800-563-3896.
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