This essay is part of a Narcity Media series. The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Narcity Media.
My hometown of Savannah, GA is considered one of the most haunted cities in America with its very popular ghost tours. The “host city” impresses visitors with its oak-lined cobblestone streets, nascent culinary scene and rich history.
But you can’t recognize the rugged beauty of the coast without recognizing its sinister attributes. Savannah is home to untold 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 the city center welcome you for a picnic between the crypts. The tombstones bear the names of the prominent families after whom the streets are named.
Before starting my career in journalism (but still eager to satisfy my love for storytelling), I dove into the paranormal. From 2017-2018 I worked as a ghost tour guide for two popular companies here in Savannah. During my tenure as the “ghost with the most”, I grew in my ability to scare naïve tourists, but also to discern fact from fiction.
While most ghost stories are difficult to verify, their historical origins can actually be verified. When it comes to some of Savannah’s most repeated horror stories, the details of the stories just don’t add up.
Going on a ghost tour can be like playing a century-old telephone game. Some stories have stood the test of time, while others have endured hundreds of years of embellishments, leaving modern accounts virtually unrecognizable from the earlier truth.
Some talented guides are passionate about the city’s history and eager to share paranormal homes with frightened visitors. While others I believe are tourist traps, more interested in making money than customer experience.
Here’s what’s right and what’s wrong – from the perspective of a local who grew up spending more time in cemeteries than playgrounds.
This article contains content that may disturb some of our readers.
The Real Deal with Savannah Ghost Tours
Alice Riley in Wright Square
Alice Riley was the first woman to be hanged in the state of Georgia. Located directly opposite the old courthouse, history confirms that Wright Square was once “the hanging square”. In 1735, this is how Riley met his destiny. She was an indentured servant from Ireland who came to Georgia in 1733. She and her supposed lover Richard White were convicted of murdering the cattle rancher they worked for, William Wise.
A letter written to James Oglethorpe in 1734 reveals that White strangled Wise with a handkerchief and Riley drowned him in a bucket of water at his home on Hutchinson Island. Both men were hanged for their crimes and the ghost of Alice Riley is frequently reported as wandering around the square. To this day, it’s one of the only places in Savannah where Spanish moss mysteriously doesn’t grow.
Colonial Park Cemetery
This 18th century cemetery is the oldest in downtown Savannah. It is the home of 9,000 graves, although only a few hundred markers remain. It is known for being a hotbed of ghostly sightings, as well as for its long history. Its gates housed Union soldiers during Sherman’s “March to the Sea” in 1864.
Meanwhile, Union soldiers were passing the time by desecrating headstones and altering dates and names for fun. Some believe it stirred the spirits of those buried 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 approximately 700 yellow fever victims. Ghost tours delight in telling frightened guests about the scratch marks discovered on the lids of the coffins of victims who were buried alive. It’s true, and there’s a theory that the phrase “saved by the bell” originated from the practice of burying yellow fever victims with a string tied to a bell above ground, just in case. they would wake up six feet under.
Moon River Brewery
This historic 1821 property was Savannah’s first hotel. It is known to have served as a makeshift hospital during another yellow fever outbreak in 1876. The Travel Channel called it “the most terrifying place”.
Longtime employee Christopher Lewis told Savannah Morning News “I was already sitting in my office and had bottles thrown at me on the shelf. I saw shadows passing by and heard little children playing who aren’t really there.”
The building stood empty for 16 years, and Lewis said renovation plans stopped in 1979 “due to ghostly spirits they couldn’t complete construction”. Their most reported sighting is Toby, the spirit of a child who likes to play tricks on customers in the cellar.
What’s Wrong About Savannah Ghost Tours
The “Shanghai hole” at the house of pirates
This 1734 structure has a history. Many believe the Pirate House inspired Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel treasure island when Captain Flint dies of drinking too much rum at a Savannah inn.
But tour guides are eager to share the stories of drunken sailors who have been drugged, kidnapped and dragged out to sea through a maze of underground tunnels. There is no recorded evidence of this, and historically Savannah’s underground tunnels were used to transport the dead.
Anna at the window
The historic 1790 inn is infamous for the prying ghost of “Anna”. The story goes: A heartbroken young Anna threw herself out of the window of room 204 after the sailor she was in love with went to sea. Some say she was in an arranged marriage, and her angry and jealous fiancée pushed her to her death.
Either way, there’s a dummy in a black wig posing in an upper-level window designed to scare you.
Hanging in the old pink house
What is now a popular dining destination was once the home of James Habersham Jr. The Olde Pink House is said to be haunted by the ghost of James, who hanged himself in the basement after finding out his wife was having an affair. However, laws at the time did not allow suicide victims to be buried on consecrated ground, and his grave may be located at Colonial Park Cemetery, making this account highly unlikely.