Haunted Savannah- Another Theory to Explain All the Damned Ghosts

There are multiple reasons given as to why Savannah is renowned for it’s ghost activity. City built on the dead. Plagues and battles. Ghosts who refuse to leave the places they once called home.

One of my favorites involves the actual lay out of the original Savannah, the historic downtown squares. The whole downtown area is laid out in a grid fashion, with roads running north/south or east/west, very straight and true, sometimes detouring around neat and tidy park like squares. Obviously this makes for numerous cross points- cross roads.

According to folklorists the crossroad is the location where supernatural activity abounds, the place spirits of the dead may be contacted or encountered. The repetition of cross roads in the downtown area could be simply a beacon or magnet, drawing the ghosts to our city.

In the mythology of Greece Hecate, the goddess of the dead and of witches, had her offerings left at a crossroad. In Western folklore the crossroad was the perfect place to meet up with the devil. Hoodoo belief states that crossroads could be used to summon “The Black Man”, a euphemism for a devil.

There are numerous cultures that similarly believe in the magic power of the crossroad, from Romania to Ireland to Brazil. 

Come to Savannah, hang out at one of the numerous crossroads and maybe you will be the next person to experience something supernatural.


Tybee Island, Savannah’s year round playground

When you visit Savannah there seems to be countless opportunities for fun!

Tybee Island is Savannah’s ocean beach playground – even in winter.

Surf, shells, and sandcastles are obvious enough but Tybee is so much more!

First claimed for Spain in 1520 by Lucas Vasquez de Ayllon, Tybee has a rich and fascinating history, much of which can be explored by the whole family!

We love the beautiful, historic lighthouse museum and fascinating Fort Screven, with its 19th-century gun batteries.

Tybee also played a role in the American Civil War.

Confederates initially occupied the Island. In December of 1861, under orders from Robert E. Lee, they withdrew to Fort Pulaski to defend Savannah and the Savannah River. Union forces commanded by Quincy Adams Gilmore took control of Tybee and constructed cannon batteries facing Fort Pulaski, about one mile away.

On April 11, 1862, those cannon batteries fired a new type of rifled cannon at Fort Pulaski and changed warfare forever. Within 30 hours the new guns had such devastating effect on the brick fort that it was surrendered.

In addition to the historical sights, the Tybee Island Marine Science Center includes a delightful aquarium mere steps from the beach.

Tybee is fun for all ages and has an abundance of affordable rentals just a hop and skip from the ocean.

Tybee restaurants and bars are open and serving some of the best local food and drinks in Georgia.

No matter what time of year you visit Savannah, there is always fun and fascination waiting for you at Tybee!

The truly unique and unusual- Graveface Museum

Graveface Museum

In downtown Savannah, just steps from bustling River Street, we offer a fascinating trip down the rabbit hole of the macabre, Graveface Museum.

Graveface Museum is a wonderful collection of oddities, focusing on topics such as True Crime, cults, carnival sideshows, UFOs and the foundation of every living entity, bones. 

The True Crime collection will thrill any person interested in serial killers. Jim Jones sunglasses? They have them! Charlie Manson’s sweatpants? They have them! They also have a great number of John Wayne Gacy’s paintings. 

The finale of this magnificent collection is a room of horror themed pinball machines that you can actually play. 

They also offer tee shirts, pins and other wonderful paraphernalia for sale if you want a souvenir from your visit.

Plan on at least two hours to soak all this in. Usually open on selected days, 12-7. Call at 912-335-8018 to confirm hours.

The address is 401 East Lower Factors Walk. Factors Walk is behind the buildings facing the river and has a twisted history of it’s own, including assaults, prostitution, and rowdy sailors, though this is far in it’s past. 

Can’t get enough of Graveface? Take a short drive out of downtown Savannah to the hip and fun Starland District, less than ten minutes away and you can check out Graveface Records and Curiosities at 5 West 40th, just off Bull Street. This jam packed retail shop has vinyl records, books and yet more bones!


Colonial Savannah- Not A Pretty Sight

Today the city of Savannah is visually stunning. During it’s early days, not so much.

To build their primitive houses the colonists cut down numerous trees and quickly used the lumber to construct buildings. The lumber had not been cured properly so the boards warped and the small homes were soon distorting and becoming ramshackle. Streets were unpaved and were simply churned mud, polluted by manure from horses and even human waste. Chamber pots were emptied into the roadways.

Mosquitoes thrive in the low country and were a constant nuisance and an incredible health hazard to our early colonists. Many quickly died of such mosquito born illnesses as yellow fever and malaria, including the only doctor on the initial ship, William Cox. The primitive graveyard, located just south of Wright Square and occupied by a block of buildings today, was filling up quickly. In fact 50 of the 133 original colonists died in the first year!

The Savannah River was much more shallow in 1733 and alligators occasionally clambered up the banks, terrifying the English colonists. 

The idyllic Trustees Garden which was initially off to a good start soon fell prey to drought, frost and neglect and was largely gone by 1738. By 1751 all that remained were a couple of fruit and olive trees. Farm plots suffered from neglect as well and were often simply left uncleared and uncultivated.

Indentured servants were  introduced to assist the colonists. An indentured servant was a person who wanted to come to the New World but could not afford the passage. They would enter into a contract to be a servant for a certain period of years and their passage was then paid. An early colonist complained that their masters were “beating them in the streets”. A group of Irish indentured servants entered into a plot to slaughter the colonists and flee. Fortunately for the colony this was discovered before it was acted upon and more public lashings ensued. 

Rum and highly alcoholic spirits were initially banned but were easily available. Publick Houses, early taverns, abounded and in 1735 a colonist wrote that the Tybee Island lighthouse would never be completed because the workmen lay around drunk all day. In 1737 Elisha Dobree wrote from Frederica, “When people are driven to poverty, distress, they will drink when they can get it to keep up their courage….Our people are almost mad and I am obliged to drink with them”.

Colonists began to flee to Charleston SC and back home to England. The situation in Savannah deteriorated steadily throughout the next decade. Three of four houses stood empty. The Tybee Island lighthouse which had been completed , fell down in 1741. The squares were overgrown with weeds and full of vermin. The founder of Georgia, James Oglethorpe, left for England in 1743, never to return. 

The first decade of Savannah Georgia was hardly the utopia that had been envisioned by those who conceived of it and certainly not an accurate harbinger of the stunning city we have today. 

Alice Riley -oldest ghost in Savannah!

The story of Alice Riley, first woman accused of murder in colonial Georgia, is many tour guides’ favorite. There is pathos, drama, mystery, maybe a love affair, the accusation of witchcraft and of course, the murder itself. 

Alice Riley was a young indentured servant from Ireland. The young woman had arrived in colonial Georgia in January, 1734. How young she was is a matter of debate. Tradition has it that she was 17, but many people think it was possible that she could have been as young as 14-15. It is likely that Alice herself was not entirely certain of her age.

She was assigned to the household of a man called William Wise. William had a bit of a bad reputation. He had apparently brought his very own prostitute to Georgia, passing her off as his daughter. Because of his scandalous behavior, he had been exiled to the other side of the river.

Alice Riley, and a second indentured servant, Richard White, were sent there to assist William Wise.Two months later William Wise was dead in his bath water and Alice and Richard were notably absent. William had been strangled and drowned.

The two fugitives were captured, accused and convicted though both professed their innocence. There was a great deal of prejudice in the colony against anyone of the Catholic faith, which Alice and Richard were, so likely most of the colonists were easily convinced. Forensic investigation was not even thought about at the time. 

The dislike of Catholics and the shocking nature of the crime, likely committed by a woman, lead to murmurs of witchcraft. 

Richard, after escaping the ramshackle jail once, was executed but Alice’s execution was delayed by the fact that she was pregnant. The father of her child is a matter for much conjecture. 

Perhaps Richard was the father. He and Alice did run away together. They were two Catholics in a town that was hostile to their religion. 

Some believe that William Wise may have raped Alice, impregnating her. Conditions for indentured servants were often brutal and harsh. William had wallowed  in the arms of a child prostitute on the ship from England. He had been isolated from the town of Savannah because he was looked at as dissolute.

A third theory is that Alice conceived the child while imprisoned. Which would implicate a bailiff. 

Ultimately, no matter who the father was, Alice gave birth to a son and was shortly afterward, executed for William Wise’s  murder. Though not before cursing the city of Savannah! 

Alice Riley had been imprisoned in the jail, which was on Wright Square of today. She was tried and executed on Wright Square and likely buried in the original graveyard, just south of Wright Square. It’s no surprise that her unhappy ghost is often seen wandering the Square. 

Some believe that Alice is seeking the child she had ripped from her arms, others believe that Alice is seeking vengeance for her execution and the abuse she suffered during her brief stay in Georgia. One way or another, Alice is the oldest known ghost in Savannah. She has been here since 1735. 

I would love to hear your theories and commentary. Who do you believe was the father of Alice’s child? Do you believe that Alice was guilty, an accomplice or truly innocent, a victim of circumstance? 

Have you experienced something haunting in Savannah’s Wright Square? Please let us know.


Welcome to Savannah area adventures

Savannah area adventures

 “A cool breeze stirred my hair at that moment, as the night wind began to come down from the hills, but it felt like a breath from another world.” 

-Francis Marion


Adventure awaits

Savannah’s romantic charm is world renowned, yet a broad range of adventures await those who quest further. As Francis Marion’s words suggest, the beaches, woodlands, rivers, swamps and marshes surrounding Savannah are alive with natural southern gothic beauty, infused with history and culture, awaiting rediscovery on your own Georgia exploration.

From an island stewn with fossil shark teeth to elegant dining on the beach at sunset, you can craft your own coastal Georgia experience and make memories to last a lifetime. 

Mad Cat Tours is a small group of local guides, friends, history nerds and friendly folks. We like to share our own experiences and recommendations, we know Savannah and coastal Georgia inside and out. 

These posts are a great beginning, check back for updates, we try to add more regularly. If you have any questions or don’t see the information you’re looking for please reach out to us with the button below. We are locals and always happy to help.

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