If you’re interested in the paranormal and find yourself planning a trip to Savannah, chances are you’re taking some time to research the city’s most haunted locations. After all, how could you visit one of the country’s most haunted cities and not take advantage of Savannah ghost tours and other bastions of paranormal activity? Once you’ve made your reservation for the ghost tour of your choice, you can use your excitement to fuel a ghostly research project: learning all about the haunted history of Savannah.
In 1733, General James Oglethorpe led a group of settlers to the coast of southern Georgia, effectively founding the town that would become Chatham County’s seat. However, Savannah history starts earlier than that—notably with the Creek Indians, a group that originally referred to those tribes living along the Ochese Creek but would become a term applied more broadly to Indigenous populations throughout the region.
The history of Savannah as a haunted city, then, begins with the Creek Indian burial grounds, sacred spaces upon which Savannah would be built. This sounds cliche, but, at its core, haunted Savannah begins quite literally on Indian burial grounds! To intensify the situation, though, the new locals didn’t have a dedicated cemetery or burial space of their own, meaning they, too, buried their dead in ill-defined spaces. Today, you’ll hear it said that Savannah is built upon its dead, a fact that’s hard to question given its history.
Through the remainder of the 18th century, Savannah would gather many of the ghost stories that fuel popular ghost tours today. In 1734, for instance, a reputedly cruel landowner named William Wise was murdered, with indentured servants Alice Riley and Richard White being convicted of the crime. In 1750, locals would get their dedicated burial grounds with the opening of Colonial Park Cemetery—still one of the most haunted locations in the city. 1753 marked the building of the Pirate House, an inn crafted to accommodate visiting sailors and since ripe with ghost stories of its own. The late 1700s also marked the construction of the Olde Pink House, said to be haunted by James Habersham Jr., the colonial who built the long-time restaurant, 17Hundred90.
1800s Savannah was home to Anna Powers, a woman who died after a star-crossed love story with a sailor and is now said to linger at 17Hundred90. This century also brought about its share of new haunted locations: the Owens-Thomas House completed in 1819, the City Hotel (now Moon River Brewing Company) in 1821, and the Hamilton-Turner Inn in 1873. Of course, General Sherman’s infamous March to the Sea hit Savannah in 1864; though the city was largely spared, the Marshall House, among other locations, would be used as a hospital through this period.
The 19th-century history of Savannah is most notable, though, for the yellow fever outbreak that ravaged this haunted city. Mass graves would add to the underground aspect of Savannah’s dark history, with a plaque in Colonial Park Cemetery commemorating these deaths. In nearby Bonaventure Cemetery, Gracie Watson died in 1889 at the age of 6, commemorated by a sculpture overlooking her gravesite. Many believe Gracie has a place amidst Savannah’s apparitions, and many leave gifts for her spirit still today.
Savannah ghost walks will often take participants to the so-called Juliette Gordon Low historic district, including the Andrew Low House, Juliette Gordon Low’s birthplace (the Wayne-Gordon House), and the first girl scout headquarters. Founder of the Girl Scouts, Juliette Gordon Low’s role in the area’s spooky stories is actually minimal compared to that of her mother, Nellie Gordon, who is said to be one of Savannah’s ghosts since her death in 1917.
Haunted venues throughout Savannah had further milestones through the later part of the century. In 1940, the Sorrel Weed House was reopened by the Society for the Preservation of Savannah Landmarks, and the Hampton Lillibridge House and the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) were purchased by Jim Williams in 1963 and 1990, respectively. Today, each of these locations is associated with paranormal experiences and plays a role in the spooky stories of Savannah.