When we went to Savannah last February we took a ghost tour, sitting in a tricked-out, roofless hearse with a half dozen high school choir students and a guide who could apparently only speak in a W.W.F. wrestler voice:
“See that puddle over there? That ain’t rain: it’s hooorrrrsssse piss.”
The high school kids laughed. Drew and I gave each other worried looks and buttoned up our coats and tried to buckle our nonexistent seat belts in preparation for a bumpy night.
“That cemetery over there used to be a lot bigger,” said our guide after he whipped around a corner and screached our hearse to a stop just outside Colonial Park Cemetery. “See where that playground is now? There are bodies underneath. Actually,” he announced with a pause, a new idea appearing to hit him on the spot, “the whole city was built over graaaaveyarrrrds!”
The kids laughed nervously. They ended up laughing and talking a lot on that trip, sometimes even screaming out of genuine fright. Mr. W.W.F. was full of tall tales that the kids couldn’t get enough of; they gobbled them up, instantly accepting them as truth. Me, not so much. When it comes to ghosts, I’m skeptical. Sure, I’m morbid and all for taking ghost tours and hearing gruesome stories about strange deaths and weird occurrences, but they have to have some basis in fact. I have to be able to go back to the hotel, get out my laptop, and find some kind of proof, whether it be a scanned-in official record from the past or just a Wikipedia page. If the only sites I can pull up on a ghost story are a bunch of Geocities pages with spooky background music or photographic evidence splotched with “ghost orbs” then I end up doubting the story and feeling a little ripped off.
Our guide didn’t take us to 432 Abercorn. The place is so notorious around town that he probably figured we’d all been there before. And as it happened, Drew and I had been there earlier that day. Our friends, who had just been to Savannah, came back telling us about the ghost tours and how they’d seen an extra creepy abandoned house with a tragic past. Something about Civil War generals and suicides and murdered/and or abused children: pretty much the makings of a perfect Southern ghost story. But the weirdest thing about the house was its location: it’s not unusual to see abandoned houses in Savannah’s less crowded areas, but the home at 432 Abercorn is in the heart of the historic district, prime real-estate facing beautiful Calhoun Square.
432 Abercorn definitely looks like your average haunted house. It’s especially dark and faded in comparison to the colorful Savannah mansions around it, with some of its windows boarded up and its facade in need of a good cleaning. Inside, it’s even creepier, in all sorts of disrepair (or maybe repair). The basement, like all brick basements from the Victorian era, looks like a readymade murder scene. 432 Abercorn is creepy by day and even creepier by night. It’s abandoned and located conveniently on one of the city’s historic squares: no wonder it’s such a favorite of ghost tour guides.
But is it really haunted? If you search around online you’ll find lots of legends and stories about the place, but not much in the way of fact. 432 Abercorn fan sites will tell you that the house was built by Confederate general Benjamin J. Wilson in 1868. After Wilson’s wife died of yellow fever he was left to raise his young daughter, but ended up accidentally killing her in a punishment gone wrong. And in 1959, three young women were killed in an unsolved triple murder. Apparently that murder was also an undocumented one, since I can’t find a word about it online. Angry online forum-commenters (can you tell that I’m a fan?) also point out that there is no Benjamin Wilson listed in the Civil War history books. Just a minor oversight, but no matter. When the ghost tour guides run short on facts they just have their groups bring out their cameras. Point-and-shoots and iPhones will prove what the history books can’t.
“See that spot in the front window? It’s the little girl’s face . . .”