Haunted Savannah: A Witch’s Trip to the City Built on the Dead
Every year my mom and I take a mother-daughter trip to somewhere new. This year we decided to visit Savannah, GA, the most haunted city in America. My mom is a ghost hunter, so this was right up her alley. And me being a witch, of course I was interested because of Savannah’s history and Conjure roots. I expected to get creeped out a bit but I wasn’t expecting to have such blatant brushes with Savannah’s restless ghosts. Here’s my story.
Why Savannah, GA is SO Haunted
Savannah locals are dead-serious (pun intended) when they say their city is most definitely haunted. It’s not debated. It’s a fact.
Savannah is called the “City Built Upon Her Dead”. This statement seems dramatic, but it’s actually true. The historic district was literally built over graves that were once a part of Colonial Park Cemetery. They even say the unevenness in the sidewalks is caused by disintegrating graves underneath. You might wonder why they didn’t move the graves. This is because the people believed yellow fever (which caused much death in the city back in the day) was contagious and if they moved the dead, they might stir it back up. So they left them and built homes, businesses and roads on top of them!
In addition to building over top the dead, Savannah has a sad, intense history of slavery. One that I won’t get too much into here, but suffice to say, I cried more than once during our visit learning about the heinous treatment of our African predecessors. Don’t forget there were wars fought here (Revolutionary and Civil), as well as two decimating yellow fever epidemics that killed hundreds of people at a time.
So is it the restless souls of the dead whose graves are covered by buildings and long-since forgotten that haunt the city? Or is it the sorrowful souls of the slaves brought to Savannah on ships and through tunnels? It could also be due to the “Native American burial ground” that people claim also existed there before the settlers ever came. Many theories abound as to why Savannah is so haunted.
The Marshall House Ghosts
Being that we were going to be in the most haunted city in America, we decided to stay in one of Savannah’s most haunted locations – The Marshall House Hotel. The Marshall House was built by Mary Marshall in the mid eighteen hundreds on property given to her by her father. It has a sad history – it was used as a hospital during the Civil War, as well as twice for yellow fever epidemics that ravaged the city. In 1990 after being vacant for some years, the hotel was renovated and legend has it that body parts were found in the floorboards. Some said it was from amputations during the Civil War, yet others claim there was no proof this actually happened.
Weird Smells & Ghostly Sounds
Multiple times during our stay, my mom and I had clairsalient moments (clairsalient means clear smelling). Yes, we believe we were smelling otherworldly smells. First, our room, located in the interior of the building, greeted us with a sickeningly sweet odor. It honestly reminded me of the smell cancer patients have in their end days (I am a nurse and this smell is pretty easy to identify). The strange odor came and went randomly. We couldn’t pinpoint it and researching online others have complained about this smell during their stay, yet there seems to be no explanation.
In the book Haunted Savannah, James Caskey writes about rooms 214, 314, and 414 having a strange odor that the hotel tried desperately to get rid of. They described it as “rotting meat”. The only way the smell was removed was by playing gospel music in the rooms for a period of time. I wonder if that was the same scent we smelled in room 222.
The second random aroma my mom and I experienced, we were sitting in the room relaxing when out of nowhere we smelled the scent of a just-blown-out candle. It was as if someone had blown out a lantern or birthday candles in our room. The smell came and went rapidly and we couldn’t figure out a source.
Now, onto the sounds I heard at night. The first night of our stay it was dead silent (no pun intended). But the second night, things got creepy. At 5 AM, I was woken by the sound of a bouncing ball outside our door in the hallway. It went up and down the hallway past our door twice. At first I thought it was just someone’s loud footsteps, but the time between each “bounce” on the floor was too long and drawn out to be footsteps. PLUS no one was staying in the rooms down that hallway except us. And the cleaning ladies don’t arrive until much later in the day. No, it sounded like someone bouncing a hard rubber ball back and forth. I didn’t sleep after that!
The 10,000+ Souls in Colonial Park Cemetery
As mentioned before, Colonial Park Cemetery is located in the historic district of haunted Savannah. The historic district itself is built OVER a large potion of the cemetery. My mom and I took a few walks there, checking out the headstones and exploring. There are headstones from as early as the late seventeen hundreds and many old brick family crypts. Surprisingly, my mom came across a gravestone with one of my paternal ancestors’ names! It’s a rare french name I’ve only heard in my family tree research from Maryland. When we used my mom’s EMF detector, it was spiking to red as I spoke to my potential ancestor and as I neared his headstone. When she used it, nothing.
Darkness & Faces in Photographs Taken
My mom, the paranormal investigator, says when you snap photos to always take at least three of the same setting so you can compare any anomalies. I took hundreds of photos in haunted Savannah and found a terrifying anomaly in photos I took while on our ghost tour outside Colonial Park Cemetery. There’s a dark cloud rising from the bottom right corner that shows up in 1 or 2 of the 4 photos I took in the same spot. But it’s not just the dark cloud that frightens me – it’s the 2 orbs with clearly defined male faces inside of them rising from the darkness! See the photos below.
First Photo Taken: Nothing Remarkable
Second Photo Taken: Bottom Right Corner – Darkness and 2 Faces!
Haunted Savannah: Factor’s Walk and the Cluskey Vaults
Speaking of clairsalience (clear-smelling), my mom and I were exploring and had another moment where we smelled something from the spirit world. While walking beside and under a set of historic old brick buildings known as Factor’s Walk, we stopped in our tracks and looked at each other and said, “it smells like horses.” Directly after this moment, we came upon a door that resembles a horse stable. Immediately we realized this was where the horses were kept hundreds of years ago.
Also located in Factor’s Walk is a set of old brick (seemingly) storage units called the Cluskey Vaults. While we read that people reportedly hear whispers and see shadow people in the vaults, we didn’t experience anything paranormal there. But, to be honest, they would be rather creepy in the dark! No one knows exactly what the vaults were used for. There’s speculation that they were used to store slaves who’d just recently been brought in at the port; while others claim they were merely storage units for cotton and other crops being exported/imported.
Conjure Culture in Haunted Savannah
We asked around for Conjure or Hoodoo shops in haunted Savannah, but unfortunately there are none. There’s one metaphysical shop called Cosmic Corner that we didn’t have time to visit. With such a rich history of Conjure and folk magic from the local Gee Chee culture, we were disappointed no shops exist. We were told by a local that these types of shops are typically ran out of business by other more dominant businesses. That the economy there doesn’t support the services/products of a Conjure shop. But don’t worry, folks! You know I still got my Conjure fix!
Paint Your Roof Haint Blue
There’s an old tradition in the South of painting one’s porch roof (and other ceilings) a color called Haint Blue. Haint blue is a light shade of sky blue and traditionally ghosts (a.k.a. haints) couldn’t enter a building with the roof/ceiling painted this color. The slaves believed ghosts couldn’t cross water, so painting one’s roof haint blue would keep the ghosts at bay. I found one example in the Owens-Thomas historic slave quarters. The first floor’s ceiling is painted haint blue, and according to our tour guide is the oldest surviving example of haint blue paint in the entire country!
Recommended for Witches Who Ain’t Afraid of No Ghosts
Listen, I’ll be completely honest with you, witches. This witch knows when a spirit is near and also knows how to exorcise them from homes. But does that mean that I was expecting to run into so many ghosts on our trip to the Haunted City of Savannah? No. I’ve been on a few ghost tours and never had any experiences. Savannah is something unique unto its own. If you’re a witch, expect to have run-ins with the spirits of Savannah. In addition, cleanse yourself head to toe before heading home…or you WILL carry a ghost-hitchhiker back home with you (I know from experience!) More to come on my hitchhiking ghosts in another post.