Savannah has a dark side.
Maybe it's the way the Spanish moss hangs from the live oaks in the moonlight, casting a spell over the city. Maybe it's the realization—as you might hear from tour guide Savannah Dan—that there are whole sections of the city built on the former burial grounds that entomb victims of malaria and yellow fever. Maybe it's the fact that if you're walking in the historic district at midnight, you're likely to be passed by a rowdy, open-top hearse in which travelers are being regaled with Savannah's ghost stories. It's perhaps stories of ghosts in the ladies bathroom and a forgotten suicide in the basement of one of the town's most beloved restaurants. Whatever it is, it's clear that the story of this city isn't all mint juleps and billowing dresses of debutantes.
The town's spooky past was captured in the cover and pages of John Berendt's 1994 non-fiction novel, "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" (and the 1997 movie version of the book). On the cover, the "Bird Girl" statue became emblematic of the city's underbelly, but today the past blends into a city that capitalizes on its haunted structures and gloomy sites (as equally as it capitalizes on the genteel and glamorous history of old money and plantation owners' dazzling and historic homes).
While you're in Savannah, you can take any manner of ghost tours—walking, in a bus or even in a hearse—but you could also plan to visit a few odd and haunted spots while on your own exploration. If you want to see a little flavor of Savannah's dark side, start with these six destinations:
You simply have to start with a cemetery, and there are two on our list. At Bonaventure Cemetery, Spanish moss-draped avenues route you to historic (and contemporary) grave sites, and of course this was the once the home to the famed "Bird Girl" statue (since removed to preserve it from the threats of vandals).
Telfair Museum of Art
There's nothing particularly spooky about this wealthy home turned museum, especially considering its well-lit white walls, but the draw is to stare at the eery-yet-beautiful "Bird Girl" statue located on its upper level. It's not the only appeal; the classical art and antique furniture collections are also worth your time. While you're at it, buy the all-access pass to see the associated Telfair museums at the Owens-Thomas House and the Jepson Center, all within walking distance in the Savannah Historic District.
The Hampton Lillibridge House
It's reputed to be the most haunted home in Savannah (something about a sailor's suicide), if you believe in that sort of thing, but others say it's not haunted at all. Ultimately, it's your call on what you believe. Curiously, the home isn't even in its original location in town, so if it is haunted, it may prove that ghosts aren't dissuaded by house movers.
The Olde Pink House
Formerly a residence, now an acclaimed restaurant, the story of The Olde Pink House has it that women in the bathroom (a large bathroom) can feel the presence of a ghastly spirit in there with them. The other story goes that the home's first owner, James Habersham Jr., hung himself in the basement of the house, but to me the whole basement suicide story seems a little thin. If you go to the basement, you'll find an amazing, dimly lit bar with a great fireplace and well-made cocktails, but you'll also realize that he must be a short man indeed who could hang himself in this cramped area. Anyone over 5 feet probably couldn't have done it.
Colonial Park Cemetery
Located right in the middle of the Savannah historic district, the Colonial Park cemetery was where residents were interred before the Civil War. The spooky side of this is that when the Union soldiers captured Savannah in the Civil War, they set up camp in this cemetery, removing and breaking headstones, even emptying out some above-ground tombs to sleep in (perhaps a more sturdy sleeping destination than a canvas tent). You simply don't conduct that sort of business without disturbing a few dead souls.
The only souls haunting this dive bar are hipsters, but just coming in the door and turning left to see the enormous painting of a Chinese conjurer with extremely long fingernails (above) might make you think there is more to this place's dark side. Order a drink; the music scene is diverse, and staff members at The Jinx are friendly, but they definitely aren't cut from the seersucker cloth of Old Savannah.
In the center of this historic square, you'll notice a memorial to railroad-industry mogul William Gordon, who is buried under the memorial. But what's more interesting is that long before a railroad man had a monument here, Gen. James Oglethorpe (the founder of the Georgia colony) had the remains of his friend and local Yamacraw Indian chief Tomo-chi-chi buried and memorialized here. To build Gordon's memorial, the square was bulldozed, desecrating Tomo-chi-chi's remains. The desecration was so chilling that Gordon's own daughter-in-law had an enormous granite boulder cut from Stone Mountain in Atlanta, Ga., and shipped to the site to memorialize Tomo-chi-chi—and to spite her deceased father-in-law.