Our Book: ‘Haunted Savannah’
by James Caskey
Greetings, and thanks for visiting the section devoted to sharing a few select ghost stories. These are excerpts from my recent book, ‘Haunted Savannah’. I hope you enjoy them. But first, a bit of legalese which essentially says ‘don’t steal my work’. My publisher gets awful touchy about that. If you want to share this, just link to the site, please.
Copyright © 2005 James Caskey
Originally published as ‘Haunted Savannah: The Official Guidebook to Savannah Haunted History Tour’. All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system without prior written permission of the Publisher.
Savannah- Why So Haunted?
Savannah Georgia: you can’t walk down the streets at twilight without getting the impression that there is a layer of deeper meaning, just beneath the surface. The old beautiful homes practically emanate the aura of history and pedigree, implying tales of lost loves, lives cut short, and other tragic circumstances. Simply by passing over the Savannah River on the Talmadge Memorial Bridge, descending the ramp off of Highway 17 and descending into the shadowy Historic District, you can’t help but feel transported to another time. Gas lamps flicker over rain-slicked cobblestone streets. Fog-shrouded vignettes seemingly ripped from the pages of history books appear live, and in color. And adding even more eerie ambiance than the storied architecture, Savannah’s famous Spanish moss-draped live oaks set the mood. This wonderful city is the scene of intrigue and mystery.
Savannah is so beautiful, the dead never truly depart. One just has to walk into a shop, hotel or restaurant in Savannah and strike up a conversation with the staff, and the talk will turn inevitably to the supernatural. Any old tavern worth its salt has a resident ghost. It is in these haunted stories we find common elements: tragedy, lost youth, and occasionally, redemption. Can you find a better backdrop for a ghost story than the Olde Pink House Restaurant, or the Kehoe House bed and breakfast? Savannah’s Historic District sets the scene like no other city.
But why would Savannah be considered by many experts to be so haunted? One of the theories regarding Savannah’s prominence in all realms supernatural has to do with energy. There is speculation that houses could possibly store a ‘dry charge’ of the energy expended in the structure, much like a battery can store electrical power. This energy could be bound to the property by moments of extreme emotional distress by the inhabitants, such as death or great sadness. And Savannah has experienced an immeasurable amount of tragedy over the years. There is also the possibility that an action repeated over and over again can also have this dry charge effect, which would explain why hearing footsteps is one of the most common forms of a structure being haunted. From time to time, when conditions are right, that stored power is unleashed. An analogy would be with sound waves: energy is released in audible form, and when conditions allow, such as an object bouncing the sound waves back toward the point of origin, the energy returns in the form of an echo. If energy can return in this way several seconds after the actual event, why can’t psychic energy return at a later time as well, sometimes even years, decades or even centuries after the fact? So the phenomena we label ‘ghostly activity’ may be an explainable occurrence in this way.
There is also another factor to consider: many old port cities have a reputation for being haunted. Seaports like Charleston, Savannah, Wilmington, and New Orleans have garnered the reputation of having many supernatural occurrences. Perhaps it is tied in with the close proximity to the oceans and rivers—if ghosts are life-force energy that has not faded away, then maybe the tidal action and ebb and flow of the water has somehow polarized the entire area, preserving the remaining energy and capturing it for a time when conditions are right.
Types of Hauntings
Supernatural activity may be defined by the type of occurrences observed or experienced. Some take the form of what is known as a ‘residual haunting’, such as hearing footsteps in a deserted hallway or seeing a brief glimpse of someone or something which disappears. Residual hauntings can be audible, visible or even olfactory, such as smelling pipe tobacco when no one in the house is smoking. If the residual energy is visible, the incident is often referred to as a ‘spectre’ or an ‘apparition’. Spectres or apparitions differ from true ghosts because there is no true interaction with the living. Imagine an endless video loop, where instead of an image playing on a television there is instead an image or occurrence which ‘plays’ on this physical plane.
If any of the eyewitness accounts in the following pages are correct, there are also ghosts which can interact with the living. Ghostly loved ones who can appear– usually in the middle of the night– to deliver words of comfort to the living; ghosts known for locking or unlocking doors, or even moving or hiding objects are some of the occurrences noted.
Another form of haunting is a poltergeist, which is German for ‘noisy ghost’. Poltergeists are not as easy to attribute to the spirit of a departed soul; a poltergeist more resembles pent-up energy which can create havoc in the area afflicted by such a phenomena. Poltergeists frequently (but not always) are associated with households with adolescent children. A poltergeist can be playful, destructive, or downright terrifying.
History is the Key
If any of these theories regarding how or why hauntings occur is correct, then why is Savannah a nexus for such supernatural happenings? What causes her to experience psychic echoes with such regularity?
To understand why Savannah is so haunted, one must look at her history. She’s endured several great fires, numerous Yellow Fever Epidemics, and has been involved in both the Revolutionary War and the War Between The States. Tragedy is her calling-card. The historical record is full of this Savannah mainstay: violent death tempered with an ironic spin. Savannah has a dark and twisted nature, and she certainly has a sense of humor.
So this link with tragic history may go a long way towards explaining exactly why Savannah is hailed as one of the most haunted cities in America. Certainly, the legacy goes all the way back to when the area was inhabited by the Yamacraw, a tribe of Native Americans. In 1736, the Yamacraw told Reverend John Wesley (the eventual founder of Methodism) that they believed that the spirits of their fallen comrades persisted near where they fell or were buried. Also, the Native Americans claimed to hear strange noises near where they had burned prisoners, which was a Native American custom at that time.
Another possible explanation is that there is such a strong Irish presence in Savannah. You cannot dismiss the strong storytelling tradition of the Irish people. The Great Potato Famine was ravaging the Irish at the same time that Savannah was booming with King Cotton, so a good number of transports full of refugees found their way to our shores, bringing their long history of oral traditions with them. The Irish have a healthy respect for the supernatural, and their stories reflect that attitude.
Another ethnicity which is conducive to the traditional art of ghost storytelling is the Sea Island people, called the Ogeechee, Geechee (or mistakenly referred to as ‘Gullah’) people. This unique cultural phenomenon was so important that it was dedicated a whole chapter in this volume (‘Slave & Geechee Culture’).
Perhaps her special connection with history as well as the special ethnicities of Savannah and the surrounding areas (Native American, Irish, and African-American) can explain why Georgia’s First City is forever associated with the supernatural.
Explaining why ghosts exist or what their scientific cause may be does not ask the more important question: why do ghost stories fascinate us? Whether you are a believer or not is irrelevant—the fact remains that Savannah is a town which believes itself to be haunted. Why do we care? What part of our curiosity is being satisfied by the telling and retelling of ghost tales?
It is my belief that we are looking for a touchstone to the past. Living downtown, I often see tourists wandering around in Colonial Park Cemetery, taking photos of tombstones with which they have no literal connection. But the truth of the matter is that there does in fact exist a correlation. In the old cemetery plot, we see ourselves, figuratively speaking. We as a society also are fascinated by antiques and old photographs. I believe we are looking for some sort of kinship with who or what was here before us. We want to feel like we can make sense of who we are and where we are going and the way to get a feel for the direction is to know where we’ve been. Learning about history connects us, and that same history is Savannah’s most precious resource.
My first (and perhaps even my second) reaction to something strange or unusual is not to blame it on the spirits of the departed. I always look for a logical explanation. More often than not, that bump in the night is a balky water pipe that has slowly worked its way loose, and the phantom footstep is nothing more than the settlings of an old house. But Savannah has so many bizarre happenings on such a regular basis, that after a while you simply cannot deny any longer her special connection to the spirit world. I feel I did not choose this hobby so much as it chose me.
Hank at the Olde Harbor Inn
My book Haunted Savannah was first published in 2005. It sometimes surprises me which stories resonate with people, and one of these is a tale from the eastern side of River Street. I don’t get down to that area of town as much as I’d like, but from time to time when the mood strikes me, it’s fun to take a Savannah ghost tour down to the Olde Harbor Inn and talk about Old Hank. Here is the story:
Situated on the east end of River Street, the Olde Harbor Inn overlooks the Savannah River, its exterior largely unchanged from the 19th century. The stone foundation of Olde Harbour Inn was laid nearly 200 years ago, but in 1892, a swift blaze caused nearly complete destruction of the original building. The current structure was rebuilt on the ballast stone foundation. The building was the former home to Standard Oil Company until 1907. In 1930, it was occupied by Alexander Brothers Company, a blue jeans and overall factory. The entire building was renovated in 1985, and was opened as the Olde Harbour Inn in 1987.
It has been said that during this 1892 fire that a surly worker named Hank lost his life. Many suspect Hank of setting the blaze himself, because the flames began around his office, and he was in an argument with management at the time of the suspicious incident. If he did indeed set the blaze, then Hank’s revenge backfired, because he lost his life in the inferno. He was the fire’s only fatality.
Hank still has a reputation of being surly. He has been known to knock on doors, twist door knobs, and even more disturbingly, he has been known to stretch out across the bed with unsuspecting guests. One woman awakened one night to feel the mattress compressing next to her. Thinking it was her husband, she rolled away and attempted to go back to sleep. Only then did she see her husband sleepily walk out of the bathroom doorway, heading back to bed. The ‘someone’ on the bed with her was not her husband! She screamed and rolled out of bed.
Apparently (and unfortunately for that couple), being the grouchiest ghost in Savannah can sometimes get pretty lonely.