I Was A Ghost Tour Guide In America's Most Haunted City — Here's What's Real & Fake
Savannah is home to unspeakable events that have left a lasting stain on the city.
This Essay is part of a Narcity Media series. The views expressed are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Narcity Media.
My hometown of Savannah, GA is regarded as one of the most haunted cities in America with its highly popular ghost tours. The "Hostess City" makes an impression on visitors with her live oak-lined cobblestone streets, budding culinary scene, and rich history.
But you can't acknowledge the rugged beauty of the coast without acknowledging its sinister attributes. Savannah is home to unspeakable acts of murder and mayhem, some of which have left a lasting stain on the city's reputation.
In Savannah, cemeteries are treated like public parks, where joggers frequent winding paths around cracked headstones. Cast iron gates in the middle of Downtown welcome you for a picnic between the crypts. Gravestones bare the names of the prominent families after which the streets are named.
Before beginning my career in journalism, (but still eager to indulge my love for storytelling) I dove into the paranormal. From 2017 to 2018, I worked as a ghost tour guide for two popular companies here in Savannah. During my tenure as "the ghostess with the mostest," I grew in my ability to scare the pants off naive tourists, but also to discern fact from fiction.
While most ghost stories are difficult to verify, their historical origins can actually be fact-checked. When it comes to some of Savannah's most repeated tales of horror, the storys' details just don't add up.
Taking a ghost tour can be like playing a century-long game of telephone. Some stories stood the test of time, while some endured hundreds of years of embellishments, leaving the modern-day recounts practically unrecognizable from the prior truth.
Some talented guides are passionate about the city's history and are eager to share paranormal hotbeds with frightened visitors. While others I believe are tourist traps, more interested in making money than in the guests' experience.
Here is what's real and what's fake — from the perspective of a local who grew up spending more time in cemeteries than playgrounds.
This article contains content that may be upsetting to some of our readers.
The Real Deal With Savannah Ghost Tours
Alice Riley in Wright Square
Alice Riley was the first woman to ever be hung in the state of Georgia. Located directly in front of the old courthouse, history confirms that Wright Square used to be "the hanging square." In 1735, this is how Riley met her fate. She was an indentured servant from Ireland who came to Georgia in 1733. She and her supposed lover Richard White were convicted for the murder of the cattle farmer they were working for, William Wise.
A letter written to James Oglethorpe in 1734 reveals White strangled Wise with a handkerchief and Riley drowned him in a pail of water at his home on Hutchinson Island. The pair were hung for their crimes, and the ghost of Alice Riley is frequently reported to be roaming around the square. To this day, it is one of the only squares in Savannah where Spanish moss mysteriously does not grow.
Colonial Park Cemetery
This 18th-century cemetery is the oldest in Downtown, Savannah. It is the home of 9,000 graves, though only a few hundred markers remain. It is known for being a hotbed of ghostly sightings, as well as for its extensive history. Its gates housed Union soldiers during Sherman's "March to the Sea" in 1864.
During this time, the Union soldiers passed time by desecrating headstones and altering dates and names for the sake of laughs. Some believe this stirred the spirits of those who lay rest there and resulted in viral videos of paranormal activity centuries later.
A mass grave at the Northern end of the cemetery holds the remains of roughly 700 yellow fever victims. Ghost tours delight in telling scared guests about the scratch marks discovered on the lids of coffins from victims who were buried alive. This is true, and there is a theory that the phrase "saved by the bell" originates from the practice of burying yellow fever victims with a string attached to a bell above ground, in case they wake up six feet under.
Moon River Brewing Company
This historic 1821 establishment was Savannah's first hotel. It is notorious for serving as a makeshift hospital during another yellow fever epidemic in 1876. Travel channel has called this one of "the most terrifying places."
Christopher Lewis, a long-time employee told Savannah Morning News "I've been sitting in my office before and had bottles thrown at me off the shelf. I've seen shadows walking by and heard little kids playing that aren't really there."
The building sat empty for 16 years, and Lewis said renovation plans came to a halt in 1979 "because of ghostly spirits that they couldn't finish construction." Their most reported sighting is Toby, the spirit of a child who likes to play tricks on customers in the cellar.
What's Fake On Savannah Ghost Tours
The "Shanghai Hole" at The Pirates' House
This 1734 structure does have history. Many believe the Pirates' House inspired Robert Louis Stevenson's novel Treasure Island when Captain Flint dies from drinking too much rum at an Inn in Savannah.
But tour guides are eager to share the tales of intoxicated sailors who were drugged, kidnapped, and dragged off to sea through a labyrinth of underground tunnels. There is no recorded evidence of this, and historically, Savannah's underground tunnels have been used for transporting the dead.
Anna In The Window
The historic 1790 Inn is infamous for the meddlesome ghost of "Anna." The story goes as such: a heartbroken young Anna threw herself from the window of room 204 after the sailor she was in love with left for sea. Some say she was in an arranged marriage, and her angry and jealous fiancée pushed her to her demise.
Either way, there is a mannequin in a black wig posed in an upper-level window designed to scare you.
Hanging In The Olde Pink House
What is now a popular dining destination used to be the home of James Habersham Jr. The Olde Pink House is said to be haunted by the ghost of James, who hung himself in the basement after discovering his wife has an affair. However, the laws at the time did not allow victims of suicide to be buried on consecrated ground, and his grave can be located in Colonial Park Cemetery, making this account highly unlikely.
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