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Spooky Savannah article
One of the things I really enjoyed about my time in Savannah was having the chance to explore its beautiful historic squares in the downtown area. Another of Savannah's claim to fame is its being named one of America's most haunted cities. It was a lot of fun taking the "Ghosts and Gravestones" tour and going on a "Creepy Crawl" through the spooky streets. This article appeared in the October 2007 issue of Motorhome Magazine. Click cover or link above to read.

I was teased by Southern Belle Savannah in 2002 during my first year of fulltime RVing. That time was just a quick pass through on my way to a snowbird winter in Florida. I remembered a cool, foggy January morning at Skidaway Island State Park with the sounds of acorns falling onto the motorhome roof. The campground had a pleasant, dreamy feel and I still had visions of huge palmetto plants and graceful oaks draped with swaying Spanish moss.

Skidaway Island State Park - Jan. 2002
I couldn't forget her, so I decided to revisit for a more respectful period of time in the spring of 2007. Skidaway Island was even more beautiful all greened out. The campground is nicely laid out in four loops so you don't get that too big park feeling. And unlike many state parks, 30 of the 88 sites have 50 amp electric service; they also give you a few channels of cable TV. The quiet, woodsy park and its Sandpiper Nature Trail for bird-watching and marsh-side walks make the campground itself a worthy destination. An added bonus is that you're only about twenty minutes from downtown, making exploring Savannah from here a breeze. That's what brought the Bernards here from Houston and they said they liked the peaceful, natural setting and how "they don't cram us in here."
What turned out to be my favorite attraction was only six miles from Skidaway. Wormsloe Historic Site is the remains of a plantation that Noble Jones began developing in 1736. More than 400 live oak trees were planted by descendants in the 1890s. They have matured into majestic mossy beings that form a thick canopy along the mile long drive from the beautiful old masonry archway to the museum full of info on the grounds and structures.

I was fascinated with how Savannah, the first planned city in America, was laid out in 1773. Beautiful old homes and public buildings were built around squares featuring lovely gardens, fountains, monuments and even some burial sites of local heroes and legends. These restful mini sanctuaries were created with an eye for beauty and tranquility, certainly not for getting around town in a hurry. In March, the azaleas were displaying themselves in their full glory. Seeing those squares all decked out with colorful blooms and massive, mossy oaks made the return worthwhile just for that. I sat on the benches gazing at the graceful architecture of the homes surrounding them and wondered about the lives of the people who lived during those times.

Lafayette Square

Like any proper Southern lady, Savannah takes pride in herself and her place in our country's history. Not long after arriving, though, I discovered a side of her I had not heard much of before. After being named "America's Most Haunted City" by the American Institute of Parapsychology, many TV crews have tried with ghost buster detectors in hand to catch a glimpse of Savannah's supernatural residents. It's said that every square inch of the city is sitting square on top of innumerable grave sites, so if it's true that ghosts are unhappy about their final resting places being built upon, we've got lots of peeved paranormals here. As one local resident quipped, "There are so many ghosts in Savannah houses, they have a union. It sets up what houses they can haunt and what hours. Out in the country, though, they are still on their own."

The spooky side of Savannah was certainly helped to the forefront by the book "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil." Some of the characters sound stranger than fiction, but are actual accounts of murder and voodoo curses among the elite and eccentric society of Savannah in the 1980's. Bonaventure Cemetery is another stop made a "must-see" in Savannah by the book. You'll see images of the "Bird Girl" statute featured on the cover almost everywhere you go. So many visitors came to see her at Bonaventure that it was disturbing to both the living and the dead, so she was relocated to the downtown Telfair Museum

Another famous graveyard statue is still there, at least for the time being. "Little Gracie" was an only child and the light of her parents' lives in the 1800's when they managed the Pulaski House, a premier hotel then on the corner of Bull and Bryan Streets. Known for her sweetness and gaiety, she was a favorite with hotel guests. Tragically, she died two days after Easter in 1889 from pneumonia at the tender age of six. Until the hotel was torn down in 1957, many still heard her laughs in her favorite play place in the stairwell. That stairwell is now the restroom of a cafeteria, and it is said Little Gracie pulls little tricks on ladies there and that sometimes a small girl in period dress is seen running past them.

A life sized statue to her memory is at Bonaventure Cemetery where she is forever dressed in her Easter best. The statute is so beloved by locals that there are always offers to have her cleaned when the oak drippings discolor her in any way. Totally made of marble, there is worry of the weather's impact as well as man-made concerns. The fence that now surrounds her was placed just a few years ago because so many people were rubbing her for good luck it was wearing her down. Supposedly the chip on her nose came from kids shooting her with slingshots! So there is talk of moving her to the safety of Telfair, also. For now if you visit her at Bonaventure, listen for her giggling in the morning, but sobbing in the evening for her parents. Many locals who walk past her swear to this and say if you leave her a penny, you can hear a chuckle of delight. Guess she still hasn't heard of inflation where she is if pennies still pleases her.

Little Gracie

In any case, Bonaventure is a beautiful resting place - both for the permanent residents and for visitors who enjoy the setting next to the Wilmington River and the graceful statuary telling tales of lost loves and hopeful reunions in the next life. It was this river that inspired the song "Moon River" by Johnny Mercer, who is buried here, also appropriately of "That Old Black Magic" fame.

Conrad Aiken, the Pulitzer Prize winning poet, is another permanent resident. As a youngster, he lived in the historic district. One night he overhead his parents arguing, followed by gunshots. The poor kid found the bodies of his parents, his father having committed suicide after killing his mother. He said he felt haunted by his parents ever since. Hopefully he's at peace now beside the simple marble bench monument inscribed "Cosmos Mariner, Destination Unknown."

So I decided to get more into the "spirit" of things and check out this aspect of Savannah a bit more. It's not like you could miss it anyway. Go into any shop and you'll see countless books about Savannah's specters and the lives and deaths of eccentric residents, now equally eccentric ghosts. There are so many ghost tours of every kind offered year round that you wonder how they are all supported despite the many tourists who visit here just for that purpose.

You can get chauffeured around on Old Town's "Trolley of the Doomed" while a guy cloaked in black in his best gravedigger voice entertains you with tales of local terror and tragedy. I don't know why, but there's just something fascinating hearing of things that go beyond our usual daily experiences and standing where they took place.

You won't be disappointed in the "spirits" of the kind you will certainly meet on a "Creepy Crawl" from Greg escorts you into some of the spookiest pubs on an evening walking tour in the downtown district. Enter the 1790 Inn and Tavern and listen for the sounds of kitchenware hurled by Kissee, a former slave. Maybe you'll hear the cries of Anna, who threw herself from the window in a fit of despair as she watched her lover go out to sea. The distraught 17 year old was impregnated and abandoned by a sailor, and is said to remain in room 204 where she gets even with men by pulling the covers off of them as they sleep. I guess she could do worse, but there are many men who vacate the room in the middle of the night, refusing to return.

Of hundreds of pictures I took that night under all sorts of conditions, only one came out with an "orb." Some say these are ghostly globules and others insist they're earthly dust particles. Who knows, but I got a kick out of actually seeing one hanging out at Churchill's Pub!

Most hotels worth their spooky salt offer Haunted Hotel and Ghost Packages. These are popular for believers welcoming an out-of-this-world experience or for non believers wanting bragging rights about spending the entire night in a spooked out place. There are the run-of-the-mill strange happenings where areas of the room feel icy cold, unearthly lit orbs and shadowy figures flitting around, to the more disconcerting impressions on the bed like someone unseen is lying there.

But one of the benefits of RVing is that we don't have to sleep in anyone else's bed, so we're safer than the average traveler, right? Well, one of my favorite campgrounds in Savannah is Fort McAllister Historic Park. If you're interested in the civil war and grey ghosts of the confederate kind, here's the place for you. A smaller campground with 54 RV sites, it's on a marsh filled with palmettos, magnolia and oak trees dripping with the requisite spooky Spanish moss. Some of the sunsets from here rival a tropical paradise and if you stroll among the big blossoms on the Magnolia Trail you might never want to leave.

A tour of the fort is not to be missed. Sherman's infamous March to the Sea ended here when the fort was finally taken by land after holding off attempts by sea for years. There are reports of haunted activity here as well. People entering the bunkers have met with transparent figures, and even the fort's beloved mascot "Tom Cat" is still seen darting around the ramparts. The unlucky black cat was the only casualty of one battle in 1863. Some swear they feel a cat's arched back rubbing against their legs when nothing can be seen. In another attack, Major John Gallie was almost decapitated by a ricocheting Union shell. His comrades described the horrific scene as Gallie being "scalped" and that the blast "exposed his brains."

The fort holds battle reenactments every December and many visitors claim to have seen the half-headed body of Major Gallie pacing at night, still trying his best to protect the confederacy. On the grounds is a recreation of the building used for officer's quarters back then. In such a peaceful setting now it's hard to imagine the chaos of war taking place here. But I had a fascinating conversation with the campground hosts, Norman & Sylvia, about this house. Visiting friends stayed in the upstairs apartment and at 4:00 a.m. Norman got a call saying "We're outta here!" They said they heard footsteps on the stairs all night and saw the doorknob to the bedroom turning even though they were the only ones there.

Recreated Officer's Quarters - Fort McAllister

I didn't hear any stories about ghostly stuff at the campground itself except for reports of a small palmetto bush waving wildly when not a single breeze was blowing. With generous sized sites, hosts who exude southern hospitality, with fishing and crabbing within walking distance, and easy commuting to downtown Savannah, this campground is a perfect place to sit around a campfire and share ghost stories!

Some sites here are large enough for screen porches for bug-free dining as well as boats and bikes.

Fort McAllister Site #43

Site #43

If you have an appetite for treachery, have a meal at the Pirate's House and check out the site said to have inspired Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island. Look for the underground passage where unwary drunken sailors were dragged through when shanghaied. Maybe you'll have a run-in with the famous pirate brothers Jean and Pierre Lafitte, who docked here. In fact, Jean married a Savannah girl and said that he "was redeemed through the love of a noble woman."

Beloved by many, Juliette Low is best known as the founder of the girl scouts. She was born in the historic district in 1860. Her childhood home became Savannah's first National Historic Landmark and is one of the most popular tourist attractions to this day. Even though she was born on Halloween night, certainly her name does not usually conjure up images of anything spookier than roasting marshmallows. But the enduring love story of her parents, Willie and Nellie, led to Juliette writing to her brother about their mother, "She never pretended for a moment that he was not her first and last love, and we as nothing in comparison. I believe Papa thought that the triumph of his life! Maternal love is the inheritance of the ages, but love such as Mamma gave him, was a personal tribute." Willie died in 1912 and upon Nellie's final illness in 1917, she told her family not to cry or wear mourning. "I shall be so happy to be with my Willie again, everyone should celebrate." Her family witnessed his promise to come for her when she died, and some swear that they saw his ghost coming out of his wife's bedroom on the night she passed. Her children said "her face took on the radiance of a bride, going to meet her bridegroom." Although they don't tell the girl scouts who visit so as not to scare them, guides at the house today report seeing the ghost of Juliette's grandmother, Sarah, and hearing the faint sounds of the pianoforte playing. One said "Sometimes I feel as though the whole family were present, just watching me, and then continues 'life as usual' when we all go home."

Juliette is buried at Laurel Grove, another historic cemetery worthy of a visit. Her grave is regularly visited by girl scouts who leave little homemade thank you's for her part in their childhood memories. While the statuary is not as elaborate as Bonaventure, Laurel Grove has a more ancient feel to it and seemed a bit spookier to me.

Girl Scout Troup on porch of Juliette Low house

Savannahians may joke about "their" ghosts sometimes almost like pets or status symbols, but still seem to take this part of their history seriously. Many aren't taking any chances, because you'll still see many homes, door frames and window sills painted in a blue-green color representing water supposedly to ward off evil spirits. But most stories seem to indicate rather harmless entities that just don't want to leave their beloved homes. Getting to visit such national treasures is one the best things about RVing, and Savannah is one of my all time favorites in the six years I've been on the road, so who can blame them for not wanting to leave this fascinating and charming city?