It may or may not surprise you that many of America’s most haunted places are located in the South. Whether you believe in ghosts and ghouls, you must agree that there is a sort of fanaticism that has grown around the idea of the after-life, especially in relation with Halloween.
There are always a slew of movies, such as more recently released “Paranormal Activity” (1,2,3 and 4), that attempt to capture the idea that ghosts and demons walk among us, and on occasion, toy with us.
As is the case with “Paranormal Activity,” they are usually cheesy and border on the comedic as opposed to the intention of horror.
However, acts of violence and horror are very much a part of the American and the Southern tradition. Whether it be genocide of the Native Americans, the Civil War and the long history of the slave trade, it can be argued that the South has a few “skeletons” in its closet.
So, just in time for All Hallow’s Eve, here are a few of the South’s historically accurate horrors. Take them as you will, but keep in mind the words of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: “Where there is no imagination, there is no horror.”
Being from Savannah myself, I know a thing or two about spooky surroundings. Growing up, I had a friend whose family lived in a large, historically Southern house that was used as a hospital during the Civil War. While many of my friends claimed to not believe in ghosts, you rarely saw any of them accept slumber party invitations. The house was as beautiful as it was creepy.
Even just behind the house, there were gravestones with cages around them. For years, I had just assumed they had been vandalized at some point or another but I later found out that they were believed to be the graves of accused and executed witches. It was believed that the cages would keep the witches from rising.
While there are several
instances throughout history in Savannah — fire, diseases, war and even murder — that lay the way for a good ghost story, the graves throughout Downtown Savannah have always been the scariest to me. There is just something about knowing that there is a corpse just feet from you that is unsettling. Even more unsettling is the bells located by the graves, particularly in the famous Laurel Grove Cemetery located on the block of Ogeechee Road and 39th.
The fear of being buried alive is perhaps as old as the fear of death itself. While you don’t hear of this happening today, premature burial was actually something of a problem throughout the 18th and 19th centuries (though accounts of live burials date much farther back). These accounts and fears were included in famous works of literature such as “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Cask of Amontillado” and Edgar Allan Poe even wrote a paper in 1844 called “The Premature Burial” that allegedly contained accounts of people being buried alive.
This caused a fear in many and spawned the invention of the safety coffin.
The first recorded safety coffin was constructed on the orders of Duke Ferdinand of Brunswick before his death in 1792.
A number of safety coffins can be seen in Laurel Grove Cemetery. The seemingly typical graves have poles standing next to them from which a bell hangs. On the top of the bell, a piece of rope is tied and the rope travels down into the ground. The rope is actually tied around the wrist of the corpse. The idea is that if a person awakens in the coffin after it has been buried, this person can ring the bell and alert those above ground to dig them up.
This has spawned tales of restless souls in the cemetery who ring the bells to give passersby a spook, but many just attribute the ringing to the wind. Nevertheless, after a long night of River Street, walking by the cemetery at 2 a.m. and hearing the subtle ringing of the bells still strikes a chill.