When it comes to ghost stories in Savannah, we’re encouraged to think beyond what we can see and rather think about what we can’t see.
Colonial Park Cemetery is a popular stop on ghost tours. Guides love to share how there are hundreds of marked graves and thousands of unmarked in that plot and possibly extending outside of the cemetery’s gates.
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They will also bring groups to the Jewish Burial Ground monument in the median of Oglethorpe Avenue at Bull Street. It memorializes the first public Jewish burial ground in the colony.
Here is where those guides will tell crowds ready for a good scare that Savannah is a city built on the dead. Anywhere you walk downtown could be someone’s grave.
While that may be a small exaggeration, it’s not completely off.
There is documentation of old cemeteries and burial grounds being turned into developed land. Some bodies and headstones were moved, but documentation of those moves is limited. That’s why it’s no surprise that old human remains are found occasionally when a building, street, or square is being worked on.
What would surprise most people is that instances of cemeteries and burial grounds being developed aren’t in the distant past. The Coastal Empire is haunted by forgotten cemeteries that need to be remembered.
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Last year, I began following two stories: the old Strathy Hall Cemetery in Richmond Hill and an old burial ground for enslaved people in downtown Savannah.
Strathy Hall Cemetery is in the middle of the Strathy Hall neighborhood. The cemetery began as a burial ground for enslaved people who died at the plantation that gives the neighborhood its name. All around it are homes built after the last burial there in 1970.
I’ve spoken with members of the NAACP and Richard Appleton who now owns the cemetery. They and other volunteers have been working hard to clean it up, locate unmarked graves, fix broken headstones, and eventually build a walking path.
Neighborhood kids from the 70s through today have whispered about the abandoned cemetery and the ghosts that lurk among the rustic headstones. I’ve heard all kinds of tales of paranormal encounters and curses from people who grew up there.
The ghost stories aren’t helped by two now dilapidated homes that were built within the cemetery’s borders. The decaying homes sitting on the banks of the Ogeechee River certainly give the area an insidious feel that’s very different from the calm atmosphere of the nearby graves.
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Strathy Hall Cemetery has all the markings of a Southern Gothic novel, but one thing that separates it from fiction is that there is an active movement to not just clean up weeds and brush but to actually make sure it’s remembered and honored.
A few months ago, I interviewed Richard Appleton for my YouTube channel. We stood just inside the cemetery grounds as he caught me up on everything that’s happened in the last year.
Appleton was obviously excited to show off the progress.
The burial ground certainly looked better than the last time I had been there. More of the thick vines and brush had been cleared out which meant I could actually see more of the cemetery and walk through it without tripping over something.
The Girl Scouts put up an informational stand with a map that outlined the cemetery’s borders and listed the names of recorded burials.
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While there’s still quite a bit left to do, more has been done for Strathy Hall Cemetery in the last year than has been done in the last 40 years.
Thinking back to some of the stories I heard from previous neighborhood residents, I asked Appleton if he’d ever had any ghostly encounters in the cemetery. He said he hadn’t even though he’s been out there during all hours of the day and night. Maybe it’s because the spirits know he’s actually trying to right some of the wrongs.
Headstones tell the history
Meanwhile, back in Savannah, I’ve watched as Patt Gunn and Rosalyn Rouse, the co-founders of the Center for Jubilee, Reconciliation and Healing, have pushed for the city to do something to recognize the burial ground that covered the areas of Calhoun and Whitefield Squares before they were developed.
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Much like Gunn and Rouse, I had heard the tales of a forgotten cemetery lying under the squares. I’m happy that attention is finally being called to the area.
If you go out to Laurel Grove South Cemetery, you’ll see an area marked by a sign reading “slave burials.” Some of these graves may have come from the old burial ground downtown.
The details on the headstones vary. Some have full names, birth dates, and death dates. Others simply have a single name.
Every time I walk through Calhoun and Whitefield Squares, I look for any new signage or anything that would acknowledge that the land I’m on is hallowed. Nothing yet.
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This isn’t the only forgotten cemetery that needs to be recognized.
Just outside of downtown on President Street, an archway with a sign displaying “LePageville Memorial Cemetery” hides behind a Dollar General and a Waffle House. It’s the only thing marking where a thriving community of African Americans lived from 1885 to 1967.
LePageville had homes, a church, and a cemetery. The buildings were razed in the late 60s, but the graves are still there.
According to the LePageville Memorial Cemetery, Inc.’s website, many of the graves would have been marked with wooden crosses. Those are likely all gone now.
Over the years, there has been momentum to host clean up days and eventually build something that brings people back to the area. Unfortunately, the pandemic seems to have taken the steam out of those efforts for now.
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Savannah’s tourism industry is built on its past. Our history draws visitors from all over the world who come to hear about the Hostess City’s haunted history. We owe it to our past and our future to find these forgotten burial grounds and give them back the dignity they deserve.
Enocha Edenfield is no stranger to Savannah ghosts. You can find more of her ghost explorations on YouTube and TikTok.
IF YOU VISIT
Strathy Hall Cemetery; Facebook.com/Strathyhall-Cemetery-101271481666125
LePageville Memorial Cemetery; LePagevilleMemorialCemetery.org
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