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Ghost Hunting in Savannah, Georgia

4 Feb
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Bonaventure Cemetery

My first full day in Savannah, I got myself coffee at a cute shop South of Forsyth Park. I walked through the squares that are about every two or three blocks. I browsed in book stores, smiled and waved at tourists and locals alike. Off of one of the squares was a beautiful, old home, painted a burnt orange and flanked by palmettos. I saw a couple of tour buses stop by and a woman dressed in 19th century garb board the bus and give a Southern drawl speech. I walked up to the house and read a placard outside that marked it as the “Sorrel-Weed House.” A woman came outside and offered to give me and an older couple who were also reading the plaque a tour of the house for $10 a person. The whole point of my Southern adventure was to do whatever I wanted and to let the vacation unfold as it may.

So I went on a rather boring hour-long tour. The guide pointed out chandeliers and antique furniture, explained why so many of the windows were floor to ceiling, gave details about the renovations. The couple on the tour were fascinated with the different types of wood, the craftsmanship of the decorating. I was politely smiling and nodding. She led us into the drafty, brick-lined basement where servants prepared the food, stored meat, and did laundry. She casually mentioned that bodies were buried under the brick, bodies most likely from the Revolutionary War. She led us into a back room in the basement, and as soon as I walked in, I felt something. Something dark, something unhappy.

“Not this room,” I heard myself say. “This room was used for something else.”

She looked at me, a little annoyed.

“Well, yes. This room was used by Mr. Sorrel’s son in the the late 1800’s. He was a doctor, and he experimented with medical procedures in this room.” She leaned against the wall and popped a couple of mints into her mouth. “I’m not as sensitive as other people. But, yes, I’ve had people refuse to come into this room. We have 24-hour video surveillance on the house, and I’ve seen enough from those cameras to know that we are indeed not alone in this house. Other guides talk about it, but it’s not what my tour is about.”

That’s the tour I want to be on, I thought to myself. Medical experimentation and ghosts are more interesting that crown molding any day in my book. So I signed myself up for a ghost tour that night and another one the following night.

My first tour began in Wright Square at 11pm. The four other people on the tour were skeptical and looked like they got lost on their way to a Miami nightclub. It was hosted by a middle-aged Georgia native who had a walking stick with a silver skull-head on top of it. He was a seasoned tour-guide who had plenty of haunting experiences to share about tours he has done and tours his friends have done. It was clear to me that people in the town of Savannah look at ghosts and the dead differently. Many of the stories were about people living in haunted houses and occasionally seeing apparitions, even interacting with them, and then just going on about their lives.

Savannah is the most haunted town in America, and I loved that this first tour guide referred to the ghosts as Savannah’s “permanent residents.” It seems that the ghosts are more friendly than anything. Little children would play in the cemetery with a ghost they called “Joanie.” One harpist had a doctor ghost live in his house and when he would throw parties, he’d set an extra place at the table for the ghost. Guests claim that sometimes the chair would move in and out by itself. The host and the guests would welcome the doctor and tell him they were pleased to have him join them.

I was skeptical like my too-cool-for-school tourmates, but the writer/reader in me loves hearing stories, indulging in what can’t be proven to be true, but what can’t be proven to be untrue either. Our second to last stop was outside of 432 Abercorn. The most haunted town in Savannah. Despite being worth $1.1 million and located in the heart of the historic district, it’s abandoned, and no one has lived in it for longer that 18 weeks. According to the guides, the current owner inherited the house, and she lived in it with her family for that 18 weeks in the 1970’s. Despite enormous offers to buy the property, she refuses to sell, because she doesn’t want anyone else to go through what she suffered living in that house. Black foggy masses smothering her and her sister. They’d wake up with scratches down their arms and backs, hear disembodied voices. The tour guide the first night wouldn’t even take us up to the house, because he claimed the last time he did, something shoved him three feet. I tried to take a picture of it with my phone, but every picture came out like this.

IMG_3190At first, I thought I was just getting my finger in the way, but I took a couple more, and they came out the same. The flash on my phone kept going haywire, and it was like something was moving across the front of my phone. From left to right, something would move in front of the flash and block the house. My camera has never done that before, and when I tried to use it the next morning, it was back to normal. It completely and utterly freaked me out. Ghost stories have been made up about the place, but they have all been proven to be untrue. 432 Abercorn was built on Calhoun Square, though, which used to be a site for mass burials of slaves, bodies discarded and thrown into a pile and paved over when the town expanded. If there was ever a reason for a spirit to be restless and pissed off, that seems like a good cause.

The next day, I wandered around Savannah and drove past 432 Abercorn a couple of times, wanting to get a good look at it in the daytime. Abandoned and creepy, yes. Haunted? In the daylight it seemed silly and impossible. I had spent hours the night before searching on the Internet for anything about the history of the house. All I could find were articles written by ghost tour companies. Unreliable sources to say the least. But I was most likely visiting that house again that night with a different tour company. I hopped in my car and drove out to Bonaventure Cemetery to spend a warm and sunny afternoon walking among the graves. It felt like a weird thing to do on a vacation. But it was beautiful and peaceful and all of Savannah feels like a graveyard anyways. Savannah is often called a city built on its dead. In the 18th and 19th century, a number of graveyards were constructed for the thousands of dead due to the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and three outbreaks of yellow fever. As the city grew, they moved the grave stones but not the bodies.

My second ghost tour was with Blue Orb Tours. I met the group at Chippewa Square at 10pm. Our tour guide was younger and less hokey. Again there were four other people on the tour (and a Shih Tzu named Cranberry.) The tour I had signed up for was called the “Uncensored Zombie Tour,” so I assumed it would be more about the history of voodoo in the area, but it was actually another ghost tour, covering some of the same areas that I had seen the night before. I liked this tour, because the tour guide Adam weaved creepy stories and carried along an iPad with articles/photos/videos to corroborate haunting stories. We once again returned to the 432 Abercorn house, and Adam proceeded to tell us more creepy stories of people getting ill on the tour, dogs growling at the house, thermal photos of cold figures floating behind him. His theory, or perhaps his tour company’s theory, is that the house has a “boohag” or a manifested force of anger due to the mass grave that lies below.

Sitting there for a second night in front of that house, despite the tinkering of my flash on my phone, I still wasn’t sure. Something felt off about that place, of course. A dilapidated, abandoned house, visited at night, surrounded by that melancholy Spanish moss blowing softly in the breeze. How could it not feel creepy? But was it really haunted? I had heard tour-guide Adam mention that he was a writer. Maybe he was just a gifted story teller, versed in the ways to rile up an audience. Maybe all the “evidence” was manufactured by people desperate to believe or desperate to sell a belief.

But that second tour was so much more fun than the first one, and I think it was because I was with a group of tourists who weren’t hip skeptics. They wanted to believe; they wanted to be scared. And that’s the crux of the thing, my time in Savannah was special, because I did feel like I was in the presence of something extraordinary, something scary and inexplicable. Me and those tourists shared our own personal ghost stories and squirmed at the right parts of Adam’s stories. Even Cranberry the dog let out a whimper or two on certain haunted corners.

I returned to New York still researching 432 Abercorn. Listening to EVP recordings on youtube, looking up ghost hunting tours in New York, or within traveling distance. I went out for my friend Andrea’s birthday and met one of her co-workers Carrie who happens to ghost hunt in her spare time. She had also been to 432 Abercorn, and her camera also broke! We chatted about ghost hunting equipment, about haunted places to visit. It’s a whole community, a whole set of experiences and methods. And I’ve chosen to believe in it, because it’s so much more fun that way.

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