There are some good reasons why ghost sightings and hauntings are so common in Savannah. Reminders of the dead and possible ghosts lurk everywhere in the historic downtown district. When planning the city, the founder, John Oglethorpe, divided the downtown area into 24 squares. Many squares have a monument that is also a tomb for war heroes. Public executions and bloody war battles took place in these squares in full view of residents. On Wright Square is the first Christian burial ground. It contains the remains of some of the original Savannah colonists.
During the yellow fever epidemics in the 19th century, victims were buried quickly in mass graves right under the squares. Just think! This historic area hasn’t had much renovation, so when you are downtown you are literally walking on the dead!
Add to all this the Spanish moss that hangs eerily from trees, especially large oaks. This eerie scene is most dramatic from twilight and into the night. This is prime time for small groups to get together and quietly share ghost stories.
Ghost stories have been exchanged between friends and families in a quiet and secretive way for many years. These stories are part of the oral tradition of storytelling. They are usually short with rapid advancement of the story to hold interest and suspense for the audience.
Following is one of the more popular ghost stories of Savannah.
The scene is set in an old mansion in downtown Savannah. This home was the birthplace of Juliette Gordon Low, founder of the Girl Scouts of America. On Halloween night in 1860, Juliette was born on this night of ghosts and goblins. Was this a premonition of a paranormal event to come?
Julliette’s father, William (Willie) Washington Gordon, was born in the same house. He married Nellie Kinzie, of Chicago. Even though her father and brother were Union officers in the Civil War, Nellie was loyal to Willie and the Confederacy throughout the war. Juliette had four siblings and the family enjoyed a normal life in Savannah.
In 1912 Willie became ill. When death was near, Nellie fell apart. She adored her Willie and wailed that she couldn’t possibly live without him! Very close to death, Willie replied twice that he would come back for her. For the next five years until her death, Nellie was at peace and told her family that Willie could come back for her.
True to his word, Willie did come back. As she lay dying, her five children were gathered around her bedside. A daughter-in-law was reading in the adjoining bedroom. Suddenly, the daughter-in-law, Margaret startled when the door to the hallway opened and Willie, dressed in his favorite grey suit, walked in without a word and entered his wife’s bedroom.
What happened in Nellie’s bedroom? Juliette Low and her four siblings wrote very similar accounts in their diaries. They told how their mother suddenly sat bolt upright and looked like a young bride, then fell back dead.
After the death, Margaret, visibly shaken after seeing the ghost of Willie, went downstairs with her husband, Arthur. They saw the butler, standing at the front door and weeping. The butler said that he saw Willie walk in the front door and ask where his beloved Nellie was. Then he walked up the stairs toward Nellie’s bedroom.
This classic ghost story was featured on the History Channel in the late 1990s. The series was “Haunted Cities, Haunted Savannah.” The paranormal episode was actually reenacted. This ghost story and many others from Savannah have frightened, fascinated, intrigued and entertained many people, young and old.