Haunted America: Savannah, GA
When most people think “haunted North America”, Savannah, Georgia, usually doesn’t come to mind. However, ask any Southerner, and they will tell you that Savannah is one of the most haunted places in the South. It should be no surprise since the city is one giant graveyard. One of the oldest cities in the U.S., Savannah has seen its fair share of bloodshed, murder, and ghosts. To go through all the stories and hauntings of Savannah can be its own book, so in this article, we shall be going over only a few of the most famous and well-known stories the spooky city has to share.
In the heart of downtown Savannah, visitors can walk across Wright Square. Savannah is covered corner to corner in Spanish Moss, the plant growing over every tree in the city. The only place the Spanish Moss doesn’t seem to grow is among the trees of Wright Square. While there is probably a scientific explanation for this, the most interesting and chilling reason could be that Wright Square is the location where the first woman to be hung in Georgia was executed.
Alice Riley was a young Irish woman who came to America for a chance at a better life, just as many who came from Europe at the time were hoping for. A fresh start in a new country full of hope and opportunities. As a teenager, she left her country, which was suffering from famine, with a dream of freedom and a better life. Sadly, she would not find what she was hoping for.
As an Irish woman, job choices were slim, so she became a servant for a wealthy but cruel farmer named William Wise. What actually happened to Alice during this time is a bit unknown. Some say that Wise would sexually abuse and beat Alice, while others say that Alice would try caring for the old man in his poor and deteriorating health. What is known for sure is that one day Alice and her companion, Richard White, snapped and could no longer face another day of working for the ill old man. Together they drowned Wise in his home and fled the farm hoping to run away together and live happily for the rest of their lives. Sadly, this was not to be.
Upon being arrested by the authorities and sentenced to death, Alice begged to be spared on the principle that she was with child. After a doctor confirmed that she was indeed pregnant, Alice was able to delay being hanged in the square for eight months. Once her baby was born, Alice was sentenced to death and left to hang by the noose until her body stopped moving. One story is that Alice’s body was left to hang for three days, while others say that her body disappeared overnight.
There are tales where Alice’s spirit follows pregnant women and babies, searching for her child who died shortly after her hanging. Others will tell visitors that Alice was a witch that cursed the city and is the reason why the Spanish Moss refuses to grow among the trees in the square. Regardless, Alice Riley’s story is one among many of so many immigrants who came to America with visions of a new life and had their dream snatched from them.
As stated earlier in this article, Savannah, Georgia, is one mass graveyard. Much of this is due to all of the battles that were fought in the nation’s early years (the American Revolution and American Civil War, to name two), but it is also due to the diseases that ran rampant during the time. Yellow Fever was one of the top reasons people lost their lives in the early 1800s. However, while some did die from Yellow Fever itself, others found themselves in a situation worse than death: being buried alive.
Since medicine was not as refined between 1807 and 1820, it was not always clear if a person was clinically dead or in a deep coma, a symptom of Yellow Fever. The illness would cause a person’s heartbeat to become faint and slow, and this, along with the deep sleep and a victim’s pale coloring, would give the appearance of death. This is part of the reason why wakes were a common part of the funeral process, as it would give the undead party a chance to wake up from their comas and continue on with their life. These people were considered luckier than others since they would be given a proper burial and not just burned in a mass pile. However, for those who did not wake up before the burial process, what awaited them would be an unwanted surprise.
Some coffins have been dug up from the cemeteries of Savannah and found to have scratch marks on the inside. This is evidence that more than a few unfortunate souls were put underground and declared dead prematurely. To help combat this, strings attached to bells would be wrapped around the toes of those buried so that if one was buried alive, a graveyard caretaker would hear the bells ringing from the victim struggling and dig them out. Sadly, there hasn’t been a proven case where this method successfully saved anyone buried by mistake. Sometimes on still nights, the bells can be heard chiming in the graveyards; the noises are thought to be the ghosts of the victims still wanting to be unearthed.
Since Georgia was one of the original thirteen colonies, the state has seen a good deal of conflict, Savannah is no exception. In between battles between colonials and First Nation tribes, the American Revolution, and American Civil War, the lands over Savannah have seen a lot of bloodshed.
Savannah is the sight of one of the bloodiest battles of the American Revolution. The Siege of Savannah was a crucial battle in taking the city back from British forces, and the Americans and French lost miserably. The battle was so intense that as many as one thousand soldiers from both sides were reported to have lost their lives in the fight. That number is said to reflect the people who died in battle, so many more could have died afterward from infection and disease. Soldiers were forced to continue fighting over the bodies of their fallen comrades before leaving them behind altogether. Since the conflict was ongoing, there was no time to properly bury their dead, and there were bodies decorating the grounds as far as the eye could see.
Not only do ghosts haunt the area, but there have been reports of shadow people stalking the living as well. Shadow people are reported to be dark humanoid shapes with no distinguishable features and bring a lot of paranormal experiences wherever they go. They are also said to be aggressive and violent; one would be wise to avoid them during their stay in the city.
Battlefields are always said to be haunted by the souls killed during the conflict, with many visitors and locals confirming that they have witnessed silvery figures walking the grounds or hearing altercations that haven’t been fought in hundreds of years.
“Sorrel Weed House”
Where there is history, there’s usually some tragedy to add to the story, and the Sorrel Weed House will prove that right. The house is famous worldwide and is often a popular tourist destination for Halloween and for any fan of the paranormal. The house has been featured on a number of shows, too, such as Ghost Hunters and Ghost Adventures, and has also served as the location for popular stories, such as the hit webtoon Schoolbus Graveyard. The house is available now for tours and paranormal investigations to the public.
The house was owned by Francis Sorrel, an immigrant from Haiti who escaped the conflict in his home country and worked his way up to be a wealthy landowner in Georgia. Sorrel married into the rich Moxley family, doing business with them before and after his marriage to their daughter, Matilda. While the couple was reported to be happily married, Francis was not a faithful man and he began an affair with a slave in his home named Molly.
They didn’t do well in keeping the affair secret and were discovered by the house’s madam, Matilda herself. Enraged and heartbroken, Matilda leaped to her death from the top of the house, cracking open her skull and effectively killing herself. As sad and unnecessary as this action was, the suicide would not be the only one committed in the home. Not long later, Molly felt guilty for the death of Matilda and the affair, so she hung herself inside the house.
There have been reports of visitors feeling faint or lightheaded when touring the house, especially around the slave quarters. Some have even had paranormal attacks where they have said to feel like a noose was around their necks, constricting their airways. Many psychics who visit the property have said that they feel a dark and menacing aura when investigating the home.
These stories are just some of the tales the city of Savannah has to offer. There are many blogs and tours that can go more in-depth about the haunted city and all her secrets. One of these tours is actually a bar crawl that will take you from place to place, telling ghost stories and having a good alcohol-fueled time. While Savannah looks peaceful during the day with picnics and romantic strolls, at night, the spirits of the past come back to replay bloody scenes, the ghosts can not move on from.