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Monday, May 25, 2020

A Haunted Getaway in Historic Savannah

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If hunting ghosts is your idea of a great Halloween diversion, you’re in luck! Savannah is a convenient road trip destination from the Carolinas. It’s also Georgia’s oldest city, and has a reputation of being one of the most haunted cities in America. My sister and I spent a couple of nights there this past summer. We didn’t spy any ghosts. However, I gathered countless ghost stories, enjoyed crazy good food and explored the city’s rich history.

Haunted Stay

We stayed at The Marshall House, Historic Inns of Savannah Collection. It’s located in the heart of the city’s historic district. Built in 1851 by Mary Marshall, it’s one of the oldest hotels in the city. Union troops used the hotel as a hospital after the capture of Savannah during the Civil War. It was used as a hospital again during the yellow fever epidemics in the mid 1800s. When the Marshall House was restored in 1999, workers found human remains under the floorboards. It’s believed the bones were likely those from amputated limbs of Civil War soldiers when the hotel served as a hospital.

The hotel’s restoration was done incredibly well. Original wood floors, guest room doors, brick walls and fireplaces were lovingly refurbished. Several rooms include claw foot tubs that date back to 1880, too. As a result, The Marshall House received many preservation awards including accolades from the Historic Savannah Foundation and the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation.

Spend time exploring the hotel’s third floor. There you’ll find an impressive collection of letters, newspapers, documents and original prints that reflect the city’s experience during the Civil War. Display cabinets on the second floor showcase artifacts found during the renovation of The Marshall House.

Guests have reported haunted encounters like hearing disembodied voices, witnessing lights flickering and faucets turning on and off. Others claim to have seen a lady in white floating through the hallway and a well-dressed man reading by the window.


Davenport House Museum stairway


Historic Haunts

We really enjoyed a tour of the Davenport House Museum. Located on East State Street, the museum is within easy walking distance of The Marshall House. This brick Federal-style mansion was built in 1820 brick by master-builder Isaiah Davenport. It’s one of Savannah’s oldest structures and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In 1963, the home was established as a museum by the Historic Savannah Foundation. A pre-tour video provides a fascinating look into how the building was threatened with demolition in the mid-1950s. The video highlights the determination and dedication of Anna Colquitt Hunter and six other Savannah women who formed the Historic Savannah Foundation. As a result of their efforts, 350 homes have been saved and Savannah is considered a “living laboratory” with an international reputation of historic preservation.

The Davenport House Museum is an architectural masterpiece. The lofty elliptical staircase is self-supporting, and its railing is original to the home. Other authentic pieces include some of the home’s wallpaper, as well as the drawing room mantel, which was imported from north Africa. Family artifacts like Mr. Davenport’s watch, a map, Mrs. Davenport’s sewing machine and family silhouettes that adorn the walls are also originals.

Fun fact: The walls in the Davenport House dining room were painted green. It was believed that the color kept bugs away. During the restoration process, workers discovered that the green paint contained arsenic. The arsenic was likely the bug repellant.

Ghostly encounters reported from museum visitors include sightings of a ghostly cat darting from room to room. Others claim to have seen it sitting in the window sill. In addition, a young girl has been spotted walking through the house, playing in the attic, or peering out of the window of the upper floors. 

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The Marshall House


Haunted Eats

One of the staff at The Marshall House recommended dinner at Moon River Brewing Company. It has a haunted history, a solid menu and a great beer selection — a triple threat I can totally get behind!

The building was originally erected in 1821 by Elazer Early. He opened Savannah’s first hotel there in 1826. The building was also home to the town’s first branch of the United States Post Office, and was later used as a makeshift hospital during the city’s many yellow fever outbreaks.

Opened in 1999, Moon River Brewing Company touts a good sampling of small plates, shareable items and entrees. Their beer list is extensive and varied. House beers are available year round. Other seasonal and specialty brews are offered for a limited time, so enjoy them while you can.

The restaurant is actually a stop on local ghost tours. In addition, it was featured in ghost-hunting TV shows like PBS’ Southern Haunts, Syfy’s Ghost Hunters and Ghost Adventures and America’s Most Haunted Places, both on the Travel Channel. In fact, while we were there, some folks from the Travel Channel were taking a dinner break from filming an upcoming show that included the hauntings at Moon River Brewing Company.

Our waitress had lots of ghostly incidents to share — disembodied singing, doors frequently opening and shutting by themselves and glasses falling off countertops. Others claim to have seen shadow people and ghostly beings. Some have even reported to have been touched or pushed by an unseen force.


Little Gracie statue in historic Bonaventure Cemetery.


Grave Walks 

Our schedule didn’t allow for an evening or late night cemetery visit. For that reason, we spent a sunny afternoon exploring Savannah’s Bonaventure Cemetery. Cemeteries don’t creep me out at all. I actually love them. I’m awed by the craftsmanship of the monuments and the history represented within many cemetery gates. The “bird girl” sculpture made famous by the book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil used to reside in the cemetery. It was relocated to a Savannah museum after the book was published.

Bonaventure Cemetery is open all year long, so you don’t have to wait for Halloween to visit. It began in 1846 as a privately-owned cemetery called Evergreen Cemetery. It’s really beautiful. It was designed in the traditional Victorian way, with many trees, grassy areas and curved pathways. In Victorian times, families would often meet at cemeteries for picnics while they paid respect to their friends and loved ones buried there.

The cemetery was once part of the 9,920-acre Bonaventure Plantation. Today, the 100-acre cemetery is the final resting place for Oscar-winning songwriter and Capitol Records founder, Johnny Mercer. Silent film actress Edythe Chapman and Georgia’s first governor, Edward Telfair, are also buried here.

Don’t miss the gravesite of Little Gracie Watson (1883-1889). Gracie moved to Savannah with her parents, after her father became the manager of the well-known Pulaski Hotel. Everyone adored the little girl. Gracie’s happy personality seemed to bring joy to everyone she met. Sadly, she became incredibly ill with a high fever and terrible cough. She never recovered. She died just days before Easter of 1889.


An evening tour with 6th Sense World


Ghost Tours

You can’t really say you went ghost-hunting in Savannah if you don’t do an official ghost tour. We signed up for an evening tour with 6th Sense World. I’ve taken a few ghost tours over the years, and this was my favorite to date. Our guide, the “Spirit Formerly Known as Prince,” was very engaging and well prepared. He showed us old newspaper clippings and photographs to enhance his stories. He also shared with us a few interesting photos from past tour guests. The pictures revealed orbs, lights or images that couldn’t be explained and weren’t visible during the time the photos were taken.


Historical Photo from The Marshall House


Our tour included a stop at the iconic Mercer-Williams house. Confederate General Hugh W. Mercer (great grandfather to Johnny Mercer) originally owned the property. However, the Civil War halted construction on his home and he never saw its completion. The home was finished in 1868 by Dr. John Wilder. The home is widely known for its infamous resident Jim Williams, well-known Savannah preservationist and antiques dealer. Williams is believed to have murdered a local man, Danny Hansford in the home. The scandal was depicted in Jim Berendt’s book, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (and the later film of the same name).

Other stops included the old Candler Hospital, the Dr. Corson Mansion, the Espy House and Hamilton-Turner Inn. I don’t want to spoil your experience by detailing all the bone-chilling stories we heard. You’ll have to take a tour yourself!

Member Savings Alert!

AAA Members use code AAA for a 10% discount on your tour!

Plan Your Trip

Certainly, there are more haunted locations to explore in Savannah than a weekend time-frame would allow. For more Savannah travel inspiration, stop by your local AAA Travel store! I recommend grabbing a Lonely Planet Pocket Charleston & Savannah, as well as a AAA TourBook for Georgia. They both teem with must-see local experiences, handy maps and all the places you can save as a AAA Member!




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