Savannah, Georgia, has no shortage of ghost stories. With its reputation as “the most haunted city in America,” Savannah lures those intrigued by the paranormal. It only made sense that on October 31, Halloween night, I should join a tour of haunted pubs.
Ghost hunters abound. Few are as bold, however, as André Frattino,who assured me: “I know my shit.” An artist, writer and onetime consultant for SyFy network’s “Ghosthunters,” he met me at the Six Pence Pub on Bull Street and began our Creepy Crawl Haunted Pub Tour.
For the next 2½ hours, he filled me with stories sure to induce nightmares. Give him credit for every ghost story I’m about to tell:
Wally’s Sixpence had already been an English-style pub for more than 40 years when its current owners bought it in 1999. They thoroughly renovated, even adding an antique British phone box outside. Perhaps the renovation upset Wally and Doris, the original owners, both of whom had passed on. Ever since, strange events have taken place in the kitchen — pans and pots flying off countertops, light bulbs bursting from sockets, room temperatures randomly falling. On one occasion, a former manager said he watched an office chair rotate and slide across the floor.
The Six Pence ghosts seem to be no more than mischievous. On Chippewa Square, the Foley House Inn hides a killing that occurred around 1900, just as its construction was being completed. An ungentlemanly guest — one who wouldn’t take “no” for an answer as he pursued owner Honoria Foley, a wealthy widow — snuck into her room as she slept. When his hostess was abruptly awakened, she grabbed a nearby candlestick and swung it as hard as she could, killing him.
Neither the intruder nor his body were every seen again … until 1987, when workers giving the Foley House a facelift tore down a wall and discovered a skeleton inside. It is assumed that Mrs. Foley’s handyman friend, whose skills included carpentry and masonry, disposed of the body. Presumably he was well rewarded.
We moved on to McDonough’s, which claims to being the oldest Irish pub in a city (Savannah!) with the second largest St. Patrick’s Day celebration in America. Late owner Billy Lee, who died at age 85 in December 2017, was convinced that the strange goings-on in his establishment (disembodied voices, footsteps, shifting of objects) could be ascribed to the building’s unique history: In the 1860s, it was a curiosity shop with strange plants and animals on display, and fight nights — matching men against a live bear! — in the alley behind.
The six-acre Colonial Park Cemetery is the largest in the historic district. Between 1750 and 1853, almost everyone who died in Savannah was buried here, so long as they weren’t black or Jewish. That should have meant about 13,000 burials, yet there are fewer than 600 tombstones here. Many of them, said Frattino, died of yellow fever beginning in 1818 — which he said gave rise to many phrases common in modern American English.
Carried by mosquitos, the fever struck quickly and elusively. Oftentimes, after victims lapsed into unconsciousness, their families saw fit to bury them quickly lest the disease spread to other loved ones. Sometimes, they were errantly buried alive. Bells were attached to the wrists of supposed corpses, with guards assigned to “graveyard shift” assigned to listen for ringing bells … in case anyone needed to be “saved by the bell.” Some of them, unfortunately, were “dead ringers” whom no one would touch “with a 10-foot pole.”
Frattino also had a tale about an undertaker, dressed in black from head to toe, who has haunted residents of an apartment across the street from the cemetery.
Our next stop was the 17 Hundred 90 Inn, built in the early 1820s. Its most famous ghost is a teen-ager named Anne, possibly a servant who was the mistress of the building’s elderly owner. As Frattino told the story, she fell in love with a visiting sailor. After she was prevented from eloping with the young man, she threw herself from her bedroom window and died on the bricks below. It is said that she still maintains a non-malevolent presence in Room 204.
Warren Square was the site of the 1824 lynching of 14-year-old René Rondolia Ash. Young René, apparently, was afflicted with gigantism. He had no understanding of his own tremendous strength, and as a result he would inadvertently injure or kill small animals. When a young girl was found with her neck broken, locals blamed the boy, hanging him from a large oak tree. Sadly, the killings continued for a time thereafter — and René’s ghost is still said to frighten visitors to the square.
Our last pub stop was Abe’s on Lincoln — which, as a Southern dive bar, most certainly never would have been named for Abraham Lincoln. Nonetheless, the Lincoln Street establishment has hundreds of patrons’ caricatures of the 16th president tacked to the walls and ceilings. Even though the upstairs apartment is reported to be haunted, no one yet has claimed to see Honest Abe’s ghost in the pub.
Frattino, who is also an artist and writer, really does “know his shit.” I’d be pleased to recommend him to anyone seeking to do a ghost tour of Savannah. Look for “Creepy Crawl” on viator.com. Meanwhile, you can read my “Notes on a Visit to Savannah, Georgia,” here.