Savannah, Georgia: Dispatches From The US’ Most Haunted City…
It was a response to an era when I had realized I was getting too comfortable – at that point I had lived up and down the West Coast, I had travelled almost constantly for several years, and even the trips when everything went wrong, I realized that everything too easily worked itself out. I wanted to push my boundaries again. I wanted the feelings that came from being completely outside of my comfort zone. This is always where I had felt that I learned the most, the situations that always resulted in the memories that shaped me and came up in conversation years later.
I decided I wanted to move to a place where everything was completely foreign to me – the food, the language, the day to day life. After having spent only a single afternoon there on a road trip where on a whim I drove hours out of my way, I decided I wanted to spend a year in Savannah, Georgia. I didn’t know anything about the city, nor did I know a single person living there. I only knew that it was eerie, and beautiful, and completely distant and different than anywhere I had spent any time before.
I spent the days riding my bike throughout the traffic squares, hiking flat trails through swamps and Spanish moss. The social center of town was Forsyth Park, a large park in the middle of town between the art school and downtown areas, and the residential neighborhoods, and if you hung out in that park long enough, just about everyone you knew would walk or ride their bike through it over the course of the day. I would usually buy snacks at the health food store at the park’s edge, and then pitch a blanket in the lawn with a book or a radio, and see who passed by and what was happening that night.
The old houses all had clawfoot bathtubs, hundred year old oak trees lined the roads that couldn’t be widened around them and people in town told me if you crashed into one, the police would most likely check on the tree’s condition before they checked on yours. My small house shared an alley with one of the few places in town with vegan options, and when I would leave town, the cafe servers would grab my mail for me and deliver it to me with a bowl of soup wrapped in a bow when I got back. And not owning a car, we would just walk everywhere. The slower pace matched that of the town’s.
But above all else, the town’s history pervaded everything. One of the beautiful old Southern towns spared Sherman’s scorched earth reign of a destruction in the Civil War, it’s past wealth was apparent. Ghosts lived there, and walking tours along with tours given with people sitting in viewing platforms in the rear of converted hearses to visit haunted locations was a nightly occurrence. The tour guides told me they never had a set route, but would just meander through town as the stories called to them on any given night. The cemetery was a full on necropolis – the most striking and ornate I had ever seen.
Strange things had happened in every downtown neighborhood in its past, and buildings still had secret rooms and passageways. The old port city’s lawless history could be felt in the cobblestones and cavernous buildings.
The pace of life was slower out there – disconnected by about five and a half hours from the nearest major urban area. Freight whistles pierced the air, Tybee Island – the nearest beach town – was a cluster of bungalow homes standing only a story or two tall, the occasional bands who drove far enough out of the way to visit town were greeted with lively house shows, bars had stacks of party cups allowing patrons to pour their drinks into plastic and head out onto the streets, and for some reason, the streets always felt empty at night. The town’s wealth and catering to a wealthy tourist clientele typically meant that we could give a friendly nod and then proceed to explore buildings without question – one of my favorite spots being the hotel where the rooftop door was always unlocked and we could sit with legs dangling 14 floors above the aqua-lit swimming pool late into the night.
Over my time there, I would explore everything I could, knowing it would only be temporary for me…
Below are a few very early cell phone pictures from those haunted days…
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