The drive down the Smokey Mountains from the cabin was beautiful…even though it had started to rain…since I am not on a motorcycle this trip, I am not worried at all. We are headed now through the Great Smokey National Park, then southeast through North Carolina and then heading south to Savannah, Georgia. I didn’t know much about Savannah before I went on this trip, but let me just say that with everything that happened while I was there…I will never forget it.
The drive begins with us gaining elevation through the park. Its incremental in a car, but I sure it would feel quite steep on foot. The route we are on is not a major highway at the moment, but a lesser route that goes directly through the mountain range….it is a spectacular drive.
Once we reach the end of this road we are onto a highway that will have us connect to the interstate, which is our route of choice today, although as you all know, not usually. We are going to stay on major highways since our drive day is roughly seven hours not including stops for breaks or lunch. So no galivanting to be done today.
All was going well until we hit the new connecting highway…we are now nearing the base of the mountains and the weather has changed. It has gone from rain in Gatlinburg, to sunny skies in the upper mountains to a torrential downpour at mountain base leading to the valley. And torrential downpour is being kind. The rain was coming down so hard that the wipers could not even begin to keep the windshield clean. There was clap after clap of thunder and a lightening show that would have made any fireworks display look dull. This is a 4 lane highway and there is traffic whizzing by, creating even more water on the windshield. We really want to pull over and wait it out…but there is no where to go. So slow and steady down the road we go. This by the way is the first day that we have been in any rain. The top of the mustang has been down the whole way so far…not today my friends…not today.
Finally we get to the interstate turn off and although the rain has subsided, it is still coming down. We decide to head to the first place we can turn off to take a break from the stress of the drive so far, and for some lunch. That place turned out to be Asheville, North Carolina…and even though we left early it is now 12:30 pm. We find an Applebees and in we go. After a nice little break, we head back out to the car and I spot a puppy. Across the parking lot I go to meet him since I am a huge animal lover…schedule be damned. The owner says she is just three months old and her name is Lil Girl. She knew so many commands which in itself at her age was impressive, but even more so…she knew them all in Russian. Wow…this little lady is a superstar.
We set off again and by three pm we make South Carolina.
One of the little towns we travel through is Spartanburg. Home to Wofford College, Spartanburg is where the NFL Carolina Panthers hold their summer training camp, right on the college football field. Being a big NFL fan, I wish we had time to go and watch them train. But its not on our agenda today…drive, drive, drive is our mantra today.
We travel through a small piece of the Sumter National Forest. This is a preserved are of over 370,000 acres and draws many hikers and white water rafters. Originally the hunting grounds for the Cherokee, it became a home to settlers who farmed timber and mined its gold resources. It is yet another beautiful area to take a drive through. Gosh… I feel so blessed and connected to nature on this trip.
St. George…what can I say. This little town of 2000 people had absolutely nothing to give it any notoriety or set it apart. Until…a local grocer a few years ago found out from the Quaker Oats company that this little town consumed more grits per capita than anywhere else in…the world…wow. So, in 1986, the townsfolk established the World Grit Festival, which brings in over 45,000 visitors to eat grits, roll in grits and just honor grits in general. Talk about making lemonade out of lemons…or in this case grits out of corn kernels. Way to go St. George!
We drive through Hendersonville and then onto Ridgeland. This town of 4000 was originally known as Gopher Hill. This was due to the town being the home of the Gopher Tortoise, which weighs up to 15 pounds and burrows deep into the sand to rest. This species is now endangered and protected due to humans destroying its natural habitat…this makes me sad. There is a statue paying tribute to this beautiful tortoise, that is five feet long and can be found in the Gopher Hill town square. As a note, I am not sure why the towns’ name was changed to Ridgeland, but I do like the story of the original name.
Finally, as night falls we reach Savannah, Georgia. Now Savannah by day or night is beautiful but Savannah by night is positively wonderfully eerie. With moss hanging from weeping willows and mighty oaks blowing in the wind, the whole vibe of this city is the presence of spirits…the ghostly kind…which it is.
Savannah was founded as a colony in 1733 by James Oglethorpe and several others. One of the first things Oglethorpe did was to ban slavery and alcohol. He also designed the colony in the form of 24 squares with a central square that housed shops, large homes and gardens. 22 of the 24 squares are still in existence today in the historic district.
In the 1860, General William Tecumseh Sherman was travelling from the west towards Georgia, and he and his troops had orders to destroy all colonies in their path. Upon arrival in Savannah, Tecumseh could not bring himself to destroy this beautiful colony. And so, he saved the city from destruction and on Christmas Day in 1864, he offered it as a gift to President Abe Lincoln…who then declared the city to be spared and left intact.
In the 1930’s, the Historical Savannah Foundation was formed to raise money to buy and preserve the historical homes and buildings of Savannah. Many were being knocked down in order for businesses to be built and the Foundation was at odds with this. Over time, they purchased all of the remaining historical buildings, and sold them to buyers, with the agreement that they would be restored and preserved and never knocked down. This strategy worked because Savannah is home to the most beautiful historical homes, plantations and warehouses I have ever seen. It is like stepping back into history. The large cotton warehouses on river were restored and the Riverwalk was created. This area is home to many restaurants and unique shops, and nightclubs…all housed in the warehouses. It is a lovely place for a stroll and a bite to eat. It is here that you will find the “waving girl” statue. This is to pay tribute to Florence Marcus, a young girl who stood in this spot for years, every day, with her dog and waved to the sailors on all of the ships coming and going from the very busy port. It is said that Florence had promised her sweetheart, who had gone to sea, that she would come there every day to wait for his return…sadly, he never did return to her.
Since it is already late, the first thing we do is find a hotel room and we want something right downtown to allow us the freedom to walk around and explore tomorrow. We get a nice room at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites and it overlooked Abercorn Street, which leads right to the the main area that we want to explore.
I am hungry and need to walk a little after sitting for so long in a car, so we head to the Riverwalk and look for a place to eat and take in the beauty of the lights of the city shimmering in the river. We find Bernies’ Oyster bar and in we go. Our wonderful waitress gave me some ideas about what to see while here and one of the things she mentioned was the Pirate House. This is a tavern that is rife with hauntings. She told me that one of her friends works there. It is customary for the person locking up to leave a shot of rum on the bar to appease the pirate spirits that do nasty things here. After her first shift there, she did not leave the shot out, locked up and went home. When she arrived to open up the next day, wine bottles and glasses were shattered all over the bar. She called the owner and the owner asked her if she had left the shot of rum out. She said she had not and that she thought that it was just a joke when she had been instructed to do so. The owner told her that it is no joke…the pirate spirits here get very mad if you do not leave them a shot of rum and they will destroy the place in anger. Wow. Now I need to go see this place.
We leave the restaurant and head over to the Pirates Tavern. Unfortunately it was closed for the night, but don’t worry, I do go inside tomorrow. I must say there is a really scary feeling walking around that building…it makes your hair stand on end. Stay tuned to find out what I see tomorrow.
After a good nights sleep and some breakfast we head out to explore. On our way we stop in at Grave Digger Tours and book a ghost walk for that evening….this is worth every penny….you will see why. I highly recommend this company as the tour is interesting, the guide is knowledgeable and entertaining and they pack a lot of stops into the 90 minute walk about. http://www.gravediggertours.com
We start our walk down Abercorn street and there is just so much to take in. I think the best I can do is to share some of the highlights of my walk.
The Lucas Theatre: Built by Arthur Melville Lucas Jr., it was known as the most beautiful theatre in all of the USA. It took 2 years to build at a cost of $500,000 and opened its doors in December 1921. It was a luxurious design, inside and out and drew the elite of Savannah to its movie nights. It was the first building in Savannah to install air conditioning in 1927…a must in the very hot climate here. The Exorcist was the last movie shown here in 1976 when the theatre closed. The historical Foundation purchased the property and it was soon restored by new owners. In 1997 Clint Eastwood held the wrap up party for the movie Midnight in The Garden of Good and Evil (which was filmed here and based on Jim Williams who lived here…more on him later). The event raised over $200,000 which Mr. Eastwood donated to the owners of the theatre to maintain it. Today the theatre presents events for the orchestra, opera, cabarets and country music. It is also haunted. There is the ghost a former ticket taker who was shot at the entrance by gangsters and now throws open the locked doors at the entrance and stumbles into the lobby and then collapses and vanishes in the spot where he died. At times, employees hear the theatre filled with the applause of a large crowd…and there is no one in the theatre. A film projector will start up on its own and during renovations it did the same thing…when it wasn’t even installed. A beautiful building with a great story and some current hauntings…a must see if you are here.
The Andrew Low House: This is one of Savannahs prized restored homes. Now a museum, it houses some of the best preserved furnishings of the period. The front garden and the rooms are an exact replica of the way it appeared when Mr. Low resided here in 1848. Mr. Low, his wife Sarah and their three children were awaiting the completion of the house when sadly Sarah and their youngest son died suddenly of an illness. Mr. Low moved into his house with his two daughters and eventually remarried a lady named Mary May Stiles. They had a son named William who married Juliet Gordon (she becomes famous…keep reading to find out who she is). When Andrew and Mary die, William and Juliet take over the house. William was a naughty guy…he had a mistress and thought it a good idea to live with her in the house…while still married to Juliet, who also lived there…this will never work out William. William eventually has a stroke and dies (some say he hung himself in the basement, but they called it a stroke and hid the rope marks on his neck…otherwise he could not of had a funeral and been buried in the family plot; according to the laws at that time.). There are of course hauntings in this house. Tom, Andrew Lows’ butler, who likes to move items back to where they were when he lived there with Andrew Low and he always appears in period clothing at the entrance when visitors enter. Quite the welcome isn’t it? Andrew Low’s rocking chair will start rocking on its own, with no one in the room and you can smell Juliet’s perfume on the staircase leading up to her bedroom. I did the tour and it was time well spent. Learning about how the house was constructed with internal running water was really interesting…and the house itself is splendid.
Now lets talk about why Juliet became famous. Juliet became famous for being the founder of the Girl Guides. Juliet and William never had any children, but they did travel frequently, especially to England. It is here where Juliet met Lord Baden Powell, the founder of the Boy Scouts. He encouraged her to start something for girls and so she did. The Girl Guide meetings were first held on the ground of the Low House…how amazing that it is still in existence today. As a note, you can walk up the street and see the home that Juliet was born and raised in.
I am hungry for some lunch and I figure it is a good time to check out the Pirates Tavern that I mentioned earlier…besides its daytime and I won’t see any angry pirate ghosts right? The Pirates Tavern is first tavern built in Savannah and the oldest standing building in Georgia having been built in 1734. Oglethorpe originally used the land to create Trustee Garden. On this plot he had planted spices, indigo, cotton and medicinal herbs from all over the world. Thinking he could have an impact on the wine and silk industries, he planted Mulberry trees. The soil and weather of the area was not conducive to these plants growing, although he was successful in growing the first peach crop of Georgia (now known as the peach state) and cotton. Oglethorpe had build a small cottage on the property known as Herb House, for the gardener to live in. By 1754, the gardens were gone and a tavern and boarding house for seamen was constructed, keeping the Herb House intact. At this time a tunnel from the rum cellar in the basement to River Street was made by some shady seamen. If a captain needed a crew for his ship, he simply went to Pirate House, waited until the men were drunk and passed out and then they were taken down to the basement and through the tunnel and tossed onto the captains ship. When the poor seamen awoke, they were hundreds of miles from shore with two choices: work on the ship or be tossed overboard…they had been shanghaied. The tunnels have long been covered up, but many voices and moans were heard by the workers as they were sealing the tunnel…and there was no one in them. There are many hauntings here, one I have already shared and the building itself is creepy. I went over to the stairs leading to the sealed tunnel and there was no way I could find the courage to go down them. Back to my table I go. Lunch was good and I had two of their specialty rum drinks called “the skull crusher”…they came in a skull mug which I happily brought home with me. This was a lunch I won’t ever forget.
We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the squares, enjoying beautiful Layfette park and the Forsyth Fountain which is the focal point of the park and its easy to see why. The fountain is the most photographed icon of Savannah, and it has stood the test of time. It was ordered from a catalogue and has remained intact since 1858. Many wedding photos are taken here as well as engagement proposals…what a romantic setting to say “yes”.
More walking took us past the Clarys restaurant, made famous from the movie Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. There were so many landmarks and homes to see, I couldn’t possibly name them all. I will say that one of the houses we walked by was incredibly creepy…I mean walking up to it struck fear in you immediately…even in broad daylight. I have never felt such negativity walking past a house in my life…and I don’t even know its history yet. You will find out all about it, later on our Ghost walk.
I had dinner in the Crystal Beer Parlour and then lazed around the hotel room until we walked to the meeting spot for the ghost tour at 9:00 pm. Let the hauntings begin.
I will give you just the highlights of this walk, because our guide gave us so much information on the history of the houses and park and of course their hauntings, I cannot share it all with you. But, there were two things that happened that need to be shared.
Remember the creepy house I mentioned earlier? Well this house is located at 432 Abercorn and it has has numerous owners. The house keeps changing hands because the ghosts “living” there frighten everyone so badly that they move out, never looking back. This house was likely destined to have some bad luck as it is built on the mass unmarked graves of the slaves of this area…pretty disrespectful. This home was built in 1868 for Benjamin Wilson and his family. Shortly after they moved in, Mrs. Wilson died of yellow fever. Ben became very depressed after her death, and became unkind, very strict and overbearing and constantly disciplining his daughter. His daughter was forbidden to play with the children attending Massie school (across the street), as Ben considered the children that went there to be of a lower class. His daughter went over to the school one day while Ben was out and played with the children…Ben caught her and loudly berated her and took her home. The next day…she went over again when her father left the house. This time, when Ben caught her, he decided she needed a stricter lesson. He tied her to a chair which he sat in front of her bedroom window, tightly binding her legs and wrists to the arms and legs of the chair. The window faced the Massie school and she was being forced to watch the children that she longed to play with, play in the school yard. Savannah experienced a major heatwave that year, and despite hearing her cries and screams, Ben left his daughter, without water or food, tied to that chair for 4 days. On day 5, when he felt she had learned her lesson, he went into her room…and found her dead of heat exhaustion. He was never charged for his crime due to his affluence in Savannah, but he did pay for his horrid act. His daughters ghost came to haunt him one day, and it send Ben into painful remorse. He went to her room, sat in the chair, which was still in the same spot it was the day she died, pulled his revolver and shot himself. Wow…some story, right? The ghost of the little girl haunts all who enter the house and sometimes the ghost of her mother is seen with her. On the night we stood there, I clearly saw the image of an older woman’s face in an upstairs window, just staring out into the night. As interesting as this was, I was more than happy to move on to the next stop.
For more eerie tales, we head to the Colonial cemetery, where there are over 10,000 people buried, on 6 acres, and only 1000 grave markers. This spot was the area where many duels took place and voodoo rituals and ceremonies. We were told the story of a little girl who is buried here, whose ghost has been seen many times…actually there is a You Tube video of her running in the cemetery and then leaping into the high branches of a tree…(authenticated by experts as not tampered with or a hoax)…aka…a real apparition. The little girl lived in the house across the street, and had been playing with other children one day when they decided to play on the roof. Unfortunately, she little fell to her death. I have to say that with the dark of night, the odd mist that hovers over the cemetery, day and night, and the Spanish moss swaying in the breeze from the massive oak trees, this is cemetery will certainly give you chills.
This last spot that I will share with you is perhaps the most memorable of the evening…The Mercer-Williams house which was built in 1868 for General Hugh Mercer, the great grandfather of songwriter Johnny Mercer. General Mercer died before he was able to move into the house and after it went through several owners, it was eventually purchased in 1969 by Jim Williams, an antique dealer (which is reflected in the home today when you visit…opulent antiques and curiosities from all over the world fill every room). He bought the home for $55,000 and as a note: it sold in 1990 for seven million dollars…quite the jump in price. Tragedy is associated with this home. In 1969, while the home was vacant, 11 year old Tommy Downs went into the house with some friends, to hunt pigeons. While on the roof, Tommy fell to his death, impaling himself on one of the iron spikes of the fence below. His friends have said that it looked like Tommy was pushed off of the roof, even though none of them were close to him and there was no one standing behind him. You can still see one of the broken spikes that Tommy landed on when you walk by this house.
Lets get back to Jim Williams, because his story is the basis for the movie Midnight in The Garden Of Good and Evil. Jim had an assistant named Danny Hansford, who was also Jim’s lover. One evening, during an argument, Jim shot Danny in the library of the house. Jim was tried for murder, and after a trail that lasted 3 years, he was found not guilty…(the judge who had presided over the trail said that he knew Jim was guilty, but since Danny was “trouble with a capital T anyway”, best to let Jim go free). Jim remained in his home for 6 months after the trial was over, at which time he contracted pneumonia, and died…on the very spot were he shot Danny Hansford. Some karma at play here it seems.
There are some notable ghosts in this home…orbs, images in windows and Jim seem walking the halls. Jim always threw a lavish Christmas party every year on the same day, for the elite of Savannah, and to this day, if you pass this house on that day, the chandeliers light up on their own and images of guests entering the house in period clothing and walking room to room with drinks in hand can be seen. One of the ladies in our tour group was busy taking pictures of the front of the house while our guide was wrapping up our tour. When she went to view her photos, she said to me “look at this”. I looked at the photo and what I saw was incredible. In the upstairs bedroom window, was an very bright orb… there were no lights on in the upstairs to create this image and no street lights that were shining in that direction. Trust me…we all checked. When we looked again, while standing on the exact same spot…the orb was gone…and then…reappeared. I don’t know what your beliefs on this might be…but I feel that the spirit of one of the souls of that house was making itself visible to us. (I tried to find my photo of the orb but I couldn’t locate it….if I find it I will share it in a future blog).
The Mercer-Williams House is now a museum that is an absolute must see when you visit Savannah…and no…it is not open at night…drat.
With ghosts on our brains, we head to our room. It has been an amazing day…I am a little unnerved from the eerie events of the evening. It is time to rest because tomorrow we head out to…we don’t have any destination in mind or planned. Simply drive up the Eastern coast and see what the day brings us.
Stay tuned because tomorrow is a day filled with disappointments, detours and a few other mishaps.
Such is travel
Live Your Life. Jan