The old southern port city has long been known for its dark tales and restless spirits
It was 1998, and Savannah’s Marshall House had been boarded up for decades. As construction crews worked to bring the inn to its former glory, they uncovered a macabre scene in the basement: dozens of bones of hands, legs, feet and arms, the amputated body parts of Civil War soldiers.
Or that’s what my tour guide tells me.
It’s just before sunset, and I’m riding in a refashioned, open-air 1987 Hearse Cadillac on the The Hearse Ghost Tour, passing the Marshall House, a four-story inn embroidered with wrought iron patios and forest-green shutters. Savannah claims to be the most haunted city in America, or, as our guide says, “Gettysburg ain’t got nothing on us.” And the Hearse tours are just part of the story—there are also ghost bar crawls, cemetery walking tours and haunted tours with paranormal investigative equipment.
With Savannah’s history, the town had no choice but to be haunted. A small backwater river town in the early 1800s, its population exploded when it became a vital port in the cotton trade. City officials began building roads and squares over cemeteries to accommodate its growing population and although there are a few hundred markers at Colonial Park Cemetery, thousands were buried there. A lone landmark with a menorah on a median on Oglethorpe Street commemorates where an entire Jewish cemetery used to be.
“You can’t take three steps in historical Savannah without stepping on a dead body,” our tour guide says.
An elaborate tunnel system runs beneath Forsyth Park and the city—some say it’s where bodies were moved during the Yellow Fever outbreak; others claim it was a shameful part of the slave trade.
“The interesting thing is to decipher what [the guides are] saying and get down to the nugget, the history,” says Hugh Osbourne, the innkeeper at the Marshall House.
A third-generation Savannahian, he grew up hearing the tales of ghosts and hauntings in his hometown. One place that was off the town’s radar was the Marshall House. Shut down in 1957, it was boarded up and forgotten until it reopened in 1999. After the limbs were found, anyway.
Want more spooky ghost stories? Read our web extra for legends from America’s most haunted city!
“That story has been told over and over again,” Osbourne says. “There’s some pretty horrific stories related to this supposed event.”
A few blocks away at the Kehoe House, where Osbourne is also an innkeeper, there’s the story of William and Anne Kehoe, who moved into the newly built home in 1892 with their 10 children. Their twin boys supposedly died at the house while playing hide and seek, and guests claim to hear children giggling at night. Today, the inn is an adults-only bed-and-breakfast.
But a haunted city is nothing without a scorned woman. At the 7Hundred90 Inn, the ghost of Anna haunts room 204, still mourning the sailor who left her behind in Savannah.
An hour before I’m set to tour Savannah in a Hearse, I’m at the Marshall House with Osbourne. He has some bad news for me: There were no bones in the basement floorboards. When Union Gen. William T. Sherman marched his 62,000 troops to Savannah in 1864, after burning down Atlanta, Savannah locals knew they didn’t stand a chance with their 9,000 Confederate troops. While there was a 15-minute skirmish, there was no battle and no amputations necessary at the Marshall House.
In fact, the Savannah casualties in those days were not from war as much as from diseases spawned by the rapid influx of people, dubious sanitation and other issues. Those are likely the ghosts still slipping around places like the Marshall House.
“The fourth floor is where people typically say, ‘Hey, I heard noises out in the hallway,’ or ‘I heard things in the room,’ or ‘I’ve seen a shadow person,’ or ‘I’ve seen orbs,’” Osbourne says.
Whether you believe in ghosts or not, sitting atop that Hearse I was keeping my eyes peeled for playful children, heartbroken teens and Civil War soldiers still lingering at their posts.