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The Sorrel-Weed House

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Found on Madison Square, the Sorrel-Weed House has gained a reputation as the most haunted spot in a city known for ghouls. The house has been the subject of just about every sort of “Ghost Hunting” reality show that exists, and even offers visitors the chance to take a spooky nighttime tour. But Jürgen and I decided to check it out during the day, on an architectural tour.

Haunted Sorrel Weed House

This house was built by the shipping merchant Frances Sorrel in 1837. Sorrel had acquired a fortune while living in Haiti, but fled the island nation after its successful slave rebellion. He installed himself in Savannah, a city which still believed in the honorable institution of slavery, and proceeded to extend his fortune.

It seems safe to assume that Mr. Sorrel was a jerk, and this theory is supported by his amorous affair with the beautiful Molly, one of the slaves under his command. Soon after the tryst came to life, his wife Matilda fell from the house’s third-story window to her death in the courtyard. Her family claimed she fainted, while society believed she had committed suicide. But there were also whispers that she was pushed. And when Sorrel’s lover Molly was found hanged in the carriage house, the whispers grew louder. Was it another suicide, or was Mr. Sorrel cleaning up his mess? Today, the ghosts of both Matilda and Molly are said to haunt the Sorrel-Weed House.

We met in the ground-floor salon, where we learned about the house’s history, and then followed our guide through the various rooms. The tour wasn’t as comprehensive as we would have liked, as much of the Sorrel-Weed House is still under renovation, but the rooms we were able to see were beautiful. This is one of Savannah’s most sterling examples of Greek Revival architecture, and was one of the first homes in the city to be protected as a State Landmark.

Haunted Sorrel Weed House

We went to the second floor to see the family’s private quarters, and then out to the carriage house where the slaves lived, and where Molly either committed suicide or was murdered. Did I detect any paranormal reverberations while standing in this famously haunted spot? Well, of course not, but others have claimed to.

Many of Savannah’s classic mansions have been around for so long, and have such unique histories, that they seem to have taken on characters of their own. The Sorrel-Weed House is no exception. You get a sense that the house itself is just as alive as its former residents. Perhaps there’s something to this idea of ghosts… not that they’re roaming the halls, rattling chains and spooking visitors, but that the people who lived and died here have somehow seeped into the walls and the floors; that their vital essence has been transferred.

Or maybe it’s just an old house. We’ll let you decide.

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Sorrel-Weed House – Website

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April 6, 2016 at 11:41 am Comments (0)

Madison Square

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Madison Square, on Bull Street between Chippewa and Monterey Square, is possibly the most monumental in Savannah. With a magnificent tribute to William Jasper as its centerpiece, Madison offers a wealth of things to see and do.

William Jasper

South Carolinian revolutionary hero Sgt. Jasper was mortally wounded during the Siege of Savannah. He had found fame during an earlier battle with the British, when he recovered a shot-down South Carolina flag and held it aloft in the midst of heavy fighting. The statue in Madison Square pays tribute to that event, and includes other scenes from his life.

Madison Sqaure’s southern flank is symbolically protected by defunct cannons from the Savannah armory. And a monument to the ill-fated 1779 siege, which cost both Jasper and Casimir Pulaski their lives, can be found in the square.

Around Madison, there’s enough to occupy an entire afternoon. You can visit the Green-Meldrim House, where General Sherman famously stayed during his sojourn in Savannah. With its cast-iron fence and extended covered porch, this National Historic Landmark from 1861 is a stunning example of the Gothic Revival style, and is connected to St. John’s Episcopal Church. According to legend, the ladies of the congregation, offended by the next-door presence of the enemy Yankee, rang the bells through the night, without pause. Sherman responded by having the bells removed.

Green Meldrin Garden

On the northwest corner of Madison is one of Savannah’s most famous residences: The Sorrel-Weed House. One of Savannah’s best examples of Greek Revival and Regency architecture, the house is the subject of numerous ghost stories.

Across Bull Street is of Savannah’s most unfortunate buildings: the Hilton DeSoto. An ugly, towering blight on the city’s skyline, the Hilton has loomed over the middle of Savannah since 1966, when it replaced the lovely red brick DeSoto hotel. Continuing clockwise around the square brings you to the most popular independent bookshop in Savannah, E. Shaver’s, where Jürgen and I stocked up on Savannah literature, during our first week in the city.

On the southeast corner of Madison is the SCAD shop, which is the perfect spot to hunt for unique gifts. And should you need a break while touring the houses and shops of Madison Square, you can stop in at the popular Gryphon Tea Room. With its high ceilings, cozy furniture and classy interior, this former pharmacy is a great place to relax tired feet.

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January 26, 2011 at 1:49 pm Comment (1)

Spanish Moss: Neither Spanish nor Moss

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I clearly remember the first time we entered Savannah, and turned onto 37th Street, where we would be living for three months. Huge oak trees canopied the street and random rays of sunlight squeezed past the Spanish moss, which hung apathetically off branches like the embodiment of sorrow. Years from now, when I shut my eyes and think “Savannah,” Spanish moss washed in sunlight will be what I see.

New Spanish Moss

Spanish moss doesn’t come from Spain. It’s indigenous to the Southeastern US, with a range between Florida, Maryland and Texas. There are a bunch of stories for why it’s named after the Spanish, but the most likely explanation is that the newly-arrived British thought this odd, mossy plant looked like the graying beards of their Spanish rivals.

And not only is Spanish moss not Spanish, it also isn’t a moss. It’s an airborne plant which takes its nutrients directly from the air. It’s actually a member of the same family as the pineapple, which is just bizarre enough to be true. Spanish moss doesn’t harm the trees it rests on, which are predominately Live Oaks and Bald Cypresses.

One of the first things we learned in Savannah was not to touch the Spanish moss, because of the red, biting bugs which live on it. Of course, this lesson was learned immediately after we had fashioned a “hilarious” moss coat for our dog, and wigs for ourselves.

I’ve often wondered to what extent the Spanish moss unconsciously influences life in the South. It fits perfectly in Savannah, creating an atmosphere of mystery and beauty, and it’s impossible to imagine the city without it.

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January 24, 2011 at 7:56 pm Comments (6)

Happy 2011 in Savannah

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As 2011 rolled in, we had some things to celebrate… mainly, the fact that we still had another month in Savannah! We’d been having a great time, and were in no hurry to leave. Our New Year’s celebrations had been just like Savannah itself: weird, hilarious, a little disturbing, and unforgettable. And as we stumbled home after a wild party, the city showed us a new trick: a dense fog had settled in on the streets. Oh Savannah, stop being so gorgeous!

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January 23, 2011 at 12:29 pm Comments (3)

Alex Raskin Antiques

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I found myself in the middle of a fevered dream. Alone on the third floor of a house on Monterey Square, I knocked about a room filled with antiques. Chinese vases, broken beds, faded photographs in golden frames with faces I faintly recognized. I climbed steps to the fourth floor and looked out a broken window at the nearby Mercer-Williams House. I shuddered. It was cold and in my haste to leave, I stumbled, nearly crashing into a warped, full-length mirror. “Time to wake up, Mikey”.

Antik Geschäft

But this was no dream. I really was inside this mansion filled with unbelievable antiques. I’ve never seen a store quite like Alex Raskin Antiques, at 441 Bull Street. Mr. Raskin has operating out of the Noble-Hardee mansion for twenty-five years, and has spent most of that time filling it with finds made at auctions around the world. We went inside knowing full well that we couldn’t afford to buy anything, but just wanted to see the house. Paint is peeling off the walls and windows are broken, but the dilapidation adds enormously to the charm. The guy working allowed us to wander around at our leisure, and the sheer vastness of the place won us over immediately.

If you’re in the market for antiques, or even if you’re not, don’t hesitate to visit Alex Raskins. There are some wonderful and strange pieces of art, and the eerie feeling inside this historic, deteriorated house is one-of-a-kind.

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January 17, 2011 at 7:36 pm Comments (13)

Old Town Trolley Tours

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Hey, you know what Savannah has plenty of? Tours. Carriage tours, walking tours, hearse tours, haunted tours, pub tours, haunted pub tours, Civil War tours, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil tours.

Best Trolley Tour in Savannah

Hold on, I’m just getting started! Black history tours, Girl Scout tours, dolphin tours, gates and gardens tours, Paula Deen tours. And trolley tours. Lord, are there trolley tours. There are more trolleys than cars in Savannah. There are more trolleys than blades of grass! Yesterday, I got hit by a trolley on the street and another trolley rushed me to the hospital, which was itself inside a trolley. The Hospital Trolley Tour. It’s awesome, check it out.

So we’ve done a few trolley tours. How could we not? I won’t mention the less impressive ones: the dumpy ones with plastic covering the windows, you know who you are. If you’re planning on taking a tour in Savannah, hunt down the Old Town Trolley. They’re orange and green, and impossible to miss. The tour is a little more expensive than some of the others, but worth the extra money.

The trolleys have sparkling clean glass windows, none of this plastic nonsense, and the driver we had managed to be both interesting and legitimately funny. Often, these tour guides rely upon the same old corny jokes… but Savannah seems to have its share of colorful and amusing folks, and at least some of them work for Old Town Trolley.

The tour is long and comprehensive; perfect for people who don’t have all that much time in the city, and want to see as much as possible in one shot. You can hop and and off as often as you want during the day, so it’s an easy way to navigate Savannah’s deceptively large historic district.

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January 12, 2011 at 8:54 pm Comment (1)

Seeing Savannah’s Evil Side from a Hearse

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What could be better than touring Savannah in a hearse with a raised roof, so you can poke your head out the top? Nothing comes immediately to mind, does it? I mean, a ghost tour in a tricked-out hearse is kind of like the pinnacle of human culture.

Ghost Tour Savannah

I didn’t know what to think the first time I saw this bizarre vehicle cruising around Savannah’s squares at night. The passengers seemed to be having a grand time, drinking out of to-go cups, gawking at old mansions, and completely oblivious to my baffled staring. “On the one hand,” I thought, “that’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen.”

“On the other hand, my parents are totally going to love it.”

So when my parents came to visit, I booked spots on the Hearse Tour, arranging for a pick-up outside the Pirate’s House. What ensued was an entertaining trip around Savannah’s dark side. Our guide was completely into her character as spooky chauffeur, and her enthusiasm for the supernatural was contagious. There wasn’t a dull moment; a lot of houses in Savannah have some story of fright, whether a horrific crime or an unexplained phenomena. A lot of the tales were new to me, and I felt chills when we went by the old psychiatric hospital on Abercorn. It might have been the booze, but I swear I saw the outline of a face in one of the hospital windows.

The Hearse Tour isn’t exactly inconspicuous. I lost count of how many pedestrians laughed at us, yelling “Oooooooh, spooooky!” But if you’re able to tune out the mockery, it’s a great time, especially if you’ve got an interest in the supernatural.

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December 31, 2010 at 3:38 pm Comments (5)

Colonial Park Cemetery

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A historical marker in Savannah’s Colonial Park Cemetery reports that “nearly 700” victims of the 1820 yellow fever epidemic are buried there. In fact, exactly six-hundred and sixty-six people died of the disease. But the church had issues with putting the Number of the Beast on a sign, and demanded the figure be rounded up.

Colonial

That’s just one of the disquieting anecdotes from the Colonial Park Cemetery, established around 1750 and closed to burials just before the Civil War. Another concerns the original size of the cemetery. Today, it fits nicely into a tidy square bounded by Abercorn, Oglethorpe, Habersham and Perry, but it used to be much bigger. As Savannah grew, property developers began buying up the cemetery’s prime real estate. Since digging up and moving bodies is so troublesome, corpses were left where they were; only the headstones were moved. The result is that every building surrounding Colonial Park is built on top of the desecrated dead.

A number of prominent Georgians are buried in Colonial Park, though I’ll confess to have never heard of any of them. Someone called Button Gwinnett has the most impressive monument (and the coolest name). After the Civil War, occupying Union troops were garrisoned there, and some of the soldiers amused themselves by defacing tombstones, changing dates and names. I found the gravestone of a woman who supposedly died when she was twelve, but had a son who passed a year later at the age of fourteen.

A green, creepy oasis of death in the center of Savannah, Colonial Park Cemetery is the perfect place for a stroll on cold, sunny, winter afternoons.

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December 21, 2010 at 10:41 pm Comments (8)

Arrrr, Matey! Dinner at the Pirate’s House

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The Pirate’s House, on the northeastern corner of Savannah, is thought to be Georgia’s oldest building, and is certainly one of its most famous. Captain Flint, from Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, is said to have died here after drinking too much rum.

Pirate House Savannah

Now, this is a touristy place, so you shouldn’t go expecting fine cuisine. But much like Paula Deen’s restaurant, the Pirate House a Savannah institution and we felt compelled to check it out. Our food was decent, if a little overpriced. But that’s to be expected; at the Pirate House, you’re paying as much for the experience as the dinner. We started with fried pickle slices, and I had a kind of seafood lasagna bake. “Arrr, delicious! Fry me pickles and bake me fish!”

I kept up the pirate voice, having a big time, until Jürgen begged me to knock it off. “Arrrr, I be annoying to me matey!”

Legends abound in the Pirate’s House, including one that concerns the underground tunnels leading from the basement of the house into the sea. These tunnels were used to shanghai drunken sailors: villains would wait until they had passed out, then steal them away onto ships bound for unknown destinations. The “Pirate’s House” was a rough, dangerous place, and normal 18th-century Savannahians knew to stay well away from it.

After our meal, our waitress led us on a tour of the house. She explained its history, and showed us into the haunted Herb House, the oldest structure in Savannah. It’s also the the restaurant’s fanciest dining room, available for parties.

We had a good time at the Pirate’s House. It’s fun to simply be inside a building with so much history. And should you wear an eye-patch, and insist on talking in pirate-voice to your dinner companions, you’ll enjoy yourself even more. But they might not.

The Pirate’s House – Website
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December 19, 2010 at 7:09 pm Comments (4)

Calhoun Square

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Calhoun Square was named after the South Carolina statesman John C. Calhoun, who was our seventh Vice President, and served under both John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson. He was fiercely pro-slavery and was one of the leading proponents of Southern secession: views which apparently won him respect in Savannah, who named their newest square after him, one year after his death in 1850.

Spooky Church

Calhoun Square is the only square in Savannah with all its original buildings still intact, and is thus one of its most picturesque. The most important standing structure is the Massie School, which opened in 1865 as Georgia’s first public school. Today, it’s the home of the Massie Heritage Center, dedicated to the city’s history.

Calhoun Square is also notable for the Greek Revival houses which encircle it, including the empty mansion at 432 Abercorn, recognizable by the empty oval underneath its stairs, and its sense of foreboding. This is one of Savannah’s most haunted houses, with numerous tales surrounding it, and a favorite stop for the city’s many ghost tours.

432 Abercorn’s most famous story is of the father who forbade his daughter from playing out in Calhoun Square with the children from the Massie School. When she continued to disobey him, he tied her onto a chair in the top floor of the house, faced toward the window, so that she could see all the fun she was missing. She remained tied there until she died of heat exhaustion. Her ghost can still occasionally be seen, wistfully staring out the window, hoping to one day join her friends again in the square.

I’ve never seen her myself, although I look every time we pass by. Regardless of the story’s veracity, the house is legitimately creepy. And I still haven’t heard a good reason for why this historic property in one of Savannah’s most sought-after residential zones has been empty for so long.

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December 11, 2010 at 7:33 pm Comments (7)

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The Sorrel-Weed House Found on Madison Square, the Sorrel-Weed House has gained a reputation as the most haunted spot in a city known for ghouls. The house has been the subject of just about every sort of "Ghost Hunting" reality show that exists, and even offers visitors the chance to take a spooky nighttime tour. But Jrgen and I decided to check it out during the day, on an architectural tour.
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