Spooky Savannah: America's Most Haunted City?

by KEVIN RAUB·
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Savannah is many things: Absolutely gorgeous, historically fascinating, and full of Old South charisma. But there's a harrowing, dark side to this sassy charmer. Disturbing tales of aggravated spirits, haunted homes and cemeteries, and things that go bump in the night often earns Savannah the title of America's Most Haunted City. If that weren't enough, John Berendt's 1994 bestseller, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, the captivating – and more or less true – tale of the mysterious murder of the town's hustler by a gay antique dealer, put the town's quirky characters and eccentric side out there for the whole world to see.

And visitors came in droves (tourism in Savannah multiplied tenfold after the book's publication) to see for themselves the haunted houses, the oddball characters and the peculiar tales and legends that have fueled this sultry Southern belle of the Georgia coast since 1733.

Kick off your 'creepy tour' at Clary's Café, a Savannah breakfast institution since 1903 but made infinitely more famous by 'the book', as Midnight is referred to in these parts. Inside, it now features a stained-glass rendering of the novel's dust jacket.

On Abercorn St you'll find one of Savannah's spooky graveyards, Colonial Park Cemetery. The Masonic bricks along the western edge of the park were put there to insure whatever is down below stays down below.  A quick jaunt northwest lays Wright Square, one of several haunted squares. Town hangings are to blame here, and locals say it's the only square with no Spanish Moss for this very reason.

Almost every establishment in the historic district has a ghost story, but some are better documented than others. Take Pirate's House, for instance. Death and murder were no strangers here in the 1700s and the secret passageways and tunnels below the restaurant have been known to spawn all sort of shrieks, cries and other unexplainable racket.

Another infamous homicide put Savannah on the map. The Mercer-Williams House Museum was purchased and restored by eccentric art dealer Jim Williams in 1969. Inside you'll find the room in which Danny Hansford was murdered under questionable circumstances in 1981. No one mentions 'the Book' here.

One square north is the site of the second bloodiest battle of the Revolutionary War, the Siege of Savannah. Of course, someone built a home on top of the unmarked graves of the 1500 dead soldiers who lost their lives there. Sorrel-Weed House, built in 1840, has attracted everyone from the Sci-Fi channel's Ghost Hunters to HGTV's If These Walls Could Talk.

Call it a night at one of several frightening beds, such as Kehoe House, where twins died in the chimney and haven’t vacated the premises since. Or you could risk life and limb in room 204 of 17 Hundred 90 Inn. Poor Anna, heartbroken over a boy, leapt to her death from the window in this room. It has been called the Most Haunted Hotel in America on more than one occasion since. By now you might need a drink. Head to Club One, where Lady Chablis – of Midnight fame – still performs once a month.

Late afternoon is the best time to stroll Savannah's most eerie burial grounds, the impressive Bonaventure Cemetery, located on the outskirts of town. The riveting gravestones here are indeed picturesque even for those who aren't cemetery buffs, but once you stumble upon little Gracie Watson's harrowing grave, you'll hightail it out of there so fast, you’ll think twice about returning to a cemetery again. 'Little Gracie' died in 1889, during Savannah's Yellow Fever epidemic. Her ghost is said to roam at Marshall House, another fine historic hotel.  Sculpted from a photo taken shortly before her death, her gravestone depicts Gracie in her Easter finery. It looks like a cross between the long-haired silhouette in The Ring and pretty much every of image of a ghost you've ever seen. Creepy. If I were you, I’d get out of there. The gates are snapping shut soon.

This is an abridged version of ‘Midnight in the Garden: Eccentric Savannah’ from our Trips series: The Carolinas, Georgia & the South Trips. Download the Georgia and Alabama Trips chapter.

Do you believe in ghosts? Maybe you've been spooked in Savannah or elsewhere? Share your spooky stories here.