Would you be game to take a trip to America’s most haunted city?
It was 11pm on a muggy May night in Savannah when we came to an eerie, three-storey mansion on a quiet square with moss-covered trees – the last stop on our ghost tour.
The home on Abercorn Street, a dilapidated Greek-revival structure, is owned by two sisters but has sat empty for decades, our tour guide, Kerry, explained. And while it doesn’t have the documented tales of horror, like other homes in Savannah, it was reportedly built on an old slave burial ground and is a source for strange activity, he said.
“A lot of people get weird feelings when they come here, and some people lose battery power on their phones or cameras,” Kerry said. “People have captured orbs and other strange things in pictures. It’s pretty creepy.”
They call Savannah, Georgia, America’s Most Haunted City – a town rich in history where remarkably well-preserved Gothic mansions tower over garden squares draped in silvery Spanish moss.
It was a place I had longed to visit, and my partner and I finally settled on a road trip that would take us from St Augustine, Florida, up the Georgia coast and through South Carolina Lowcountry, ending in Charleston. With Civil War history, antebellum mansions, ghosts, alligators and fried food, we figured the trip had a little bit of everything.
St Augustine is often overlooked for more popular destinations in the Sunshine State, but for history buffs and fans of Spanish Colonial architecture, it is well worth the visit.
The town was founded by Spanish explorers in 1565 and is the nation’s oldest European settlement.
Its main attraction is the Castillo de San Marcos, the oldest fort in the continental US It’s a must-see for the historic re-enactments of cannon and musket firings and sweeping views of St. Augustine Bay.
We enjoyed strolling along cobblestone streets in the historic district, and had a tasty barbecue dinner at Mojo BBQ on Cordova Street, followed by beers at Scarlett O’Hara’s Pub – next door to Rhett’s Piano Bar.
The next day we crossed the Georgia border, passing tall trees and petrol stations peddling peanuts and preserved alligator heads.
After a roughly three-hour drive, we were in Savannah’s Bonaventure Cemetery, made famous by the best-selling novel Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.
Set on a scenic bluff overlooking the Wilmington River, Bonaventure is arguably one of the most stunning cemeteries in the world. We wandered the lush pathways surrounded by 250-year-old live oaks covered in Spanish moss and marvelled at the haunting statues of angels and grieving women.
A few of the cemetery’s famous residents include Johnny Mercer, who wrote Moon River, Jim Williams, the unfortunate protagonist from the aforementioned book and the poet Conrad Aiken, whose grave is actually a stone bench that invites visitors to sit and rest. The 65-hectare cemetery offers several highly rated daytime tours and a spooky night tour.
We opted to stay in Savannah’s historic district in a 19th-century brownstone vacation rental.
From pirate attacks and yellow fever to slavery and war, Savannah has a macabre history and residents are proud of its Southern Gothic appeal. The town offers more than 30 ghost tours by foot, horse carriage, trolley, and even a hearse.
For lunch we sipped on mint juleps and ate fried green tomatoes and crispy chicken livers at The Olde Pink House, a former antebellum mansion that was converted into a restaurant and watched the sun set over the Savannah River from a rooftop bar called Rocks on the Roof.
About 110km east is sophisticated Charleston, once the wealthiest and largest city south of Philadelphia. Today, Charleston is a town rich in Southern charm where horse-drawn carriages rattle down streets lined with antique churches and flickering gas lamps.
As an old saying in the South goes: In Atlanta, they ask you what your business is; in Charleston, they ask you your mother’s maiden name; in Savannah, they ask you what you drink.
And no trip to South Carolina is complete without trying shrimp and grits – at the popular Poogan’s Porch Restaurant on Queen Street, I savoured sweet local shrimp and creamy grits with a squeeze of lemon.
Through Groupon we found a deal for a walking tour on Charleston’s history of slavery, and we were fascinated to see that some of the historic mansions still have thick metal barbs over entryways that were designed to keep out intruders in the case of a slave revolt. The city also has a museum on the site of a former market that once housed slave auctions.
At twilight, we walked along the historic Battery seawall and took in views of Fort Sumter – ground zero for the Civil War – as the smell of Confederate jasmine mingled with the salty sea air.