Saturday, October 26, 2013

Did I see a ghost? Southern gothic comes to life

I recently spent some time in the city of Savannah, Georgia. It was my first extended stay in that city, though I had driven through and by it on several occasions throughout my life.

Savannah is a truly Southern gothic city. Even by day there is a spookiness about it. Perhaps it's the two-hundred-year-old buildings, more than a few of them mansions by today's standards, that reside at every corner. Perhaps it's the strict layout of the old city, roads written upon a map so filled with precision it almost screams "the Illuminati were here!" It could also be the creepy Spanish Moss that hangs from huge, crooked trees older than the nation in which Savannah resides.

It probably doesn't help that there are at least a half dozen ghost tours, with signs and posters advertising such not uncommon.

There are plenty of ways to tour Savannah, with plenty of "official" tours available, either on foot or on bus or trolley or even by bicycle. There are multiple tours of the city itself, then individual tours for particular sections of the city, then tours for individual buildings, museums and libraries and huge churches and the like.

Savannah is a city doing well in capitalizing on its history.

But back to the ghost tours.

Savannah is a city labeled "America's most haunted city." I'm not sure about this, but my guess would be there are a few other cities that also use this label. New Orleans comes to mind, for instance. As mentioned above, the city of Savannah is spooky enough that I have no qualms considering it a haunted city.

While I personally did not witness or experience anything there that made me a hardcore believer, there were a few little incidents that were strange.

But first I want to take a step back. For those who don't know me, I want to point out that I am not a believer in the supernatural, the mystic, the transcendental, etc. But I'm not a complete skeptic either. As I've said elsewhere, I have never experienced anything that has made me believe 100 percent in any of this stuff, but I try to keep an open mind. To my way of thinking, to completely disregard even the possibility of the supernatural, that's just as dogmatic as those who go around espousing not only belief in such, but who try to make sure everyone else believes as well. None of that's me. I'm interested enough as a writer to do a little investigation of my own from time to time, but I'm not convinced one way or another.

Okay, back to Savannah.

As I said, during my recent visit there, a few odd things happened.

First off, there were the photographs. And let me apologize here and now for not having any of the photographs available here. They weren't my photos, as I did not take any. I'm not a person who feels a need for a camera at every single event in my life. I'd rather have the memory of the experience than the memory of me holding up a camera to capture some image I'd probably never look at more than once or twice the rest of my life. If perchance I have access to the photos at some future point, I will post them here on this blog, but as is the photos belong to some friends who live far away from me, and I don't know how they would feel about my using their images in a public venue.

Anyway, the photos.

Some friends and I went on one of the ghostly tours. Basically you ride around in a bus with about 20 other people. It's night. The driver cruises you around town, stops every so often and informs you about the supposed supernatural occurrences that have allegedly occurred at one place or another, usually an older residence or former residence that has been turned into something else, a museum house or art gallery or something similar.

During this tour, which lasted about an hour and a half, I did not notice anything out of the ordinary. The hair didn't stand up on the back of my neck. Nothing like that.

Afterwards, as my friends and I were driving back to our hotel, a couple of the women mentioned that they thought they saw something moving behind the curtains of one particular house, and that this minor event had unnerved both of them. As I was with these two the whole time, I did notice that neither of them had gotten together to discuss this particular house or the window there before we entered the car. This isn't enough to make me any kind of believer, but it was a bit odd that two separate people shared a minor event that unsettled both of them. Still, it could have been anyone behind that curtain, not necessarily a spook.

Once we got back to our hotel rooms, everyone broke out their iPads and their smart phones and started comparing photographs they had taken during the tour.

Things got a little more spooky here.

At first I saw nothing unusual. Several people pointed to a small blurry figure seemingly standing next to one of the old buildings we had seen. Everyone in the group said the figure looked like a little boy. To me it looked sort of vaguely like a fire hydrant, or perhaps a short garbage can. No one could remember a child around the building, but I also couldn't recall a fire hydrant or a garbage can. I mark this up to usual expectations from various opinions concerning ghostly images.

The next photo was apparently the creme de la creme, everyone seeing it (but me) believing it showed a pair of ghosts, a man and a woman embraced in a kiss. Everyone but me raved about how strong the image was, about how you could see the two figures with their arms wrapped around one another and their lips touching. Me, I saw a tall tree with some shadows of leaves from other trees. I was told repeatedly there had not been a tree in that spot. I could not remember a tree either, but it's not like I go around remembering where trees are located. I looked at the photo multiple times, and I still never saw anything unusual.

Another photo was of the window where the two women in our party had seen something moving. There was indeed a darkness behind the window that was unique to it when compared to the other windows, a dozen or so, of the big house, but does that really mean anything? A shadow behind a window in the night? It could have been anything. The way the light laid upon the window. Someone in the room. A gust of air brushing against the curtains. This photo did nothing to convince me of anything.

Then came the last photo. This one showed two figures standing atop the roof of one of the large houses. I can write this with a straight face because that is what I saw. The figure on the right was a man wearing a tie, his collar high and stiff and white, like the old paper collars common in the early parts of the 20th Century. The second figure, the one on the left, was harder to make out as it was much more blurred, but it also seemed to be a man. The two figures were looking out from the roof in the general direction of the camera taking the photograph. Were these two figures ghosts? I don't know. I don't necessarily believe they were, but it does raise some questions. What were these two individuals doing on the roof of an old house late at night? Were they paid to be there? Were they part of the tour, sort of actors who filled a roll? I repeat, I don't know. I do know the tour guide did not point them out and made no mention of seeing anything weird during the tour itself. But two people on a roof doesn't make them ghosts, even if the house is supposedly haunted in a city that is supposedly haunted. And why were they wearing older style clothing? Again, ghosts? Maybe, maybe not.

I'm still not convinced, but that last photo struck me as more interesting than the others.

Besides the photos, there was also a little "episode" I personally experienced on my own.

I was in a candy shop downtown Savannah with my significant other. While she was waiting in line to purchase some chocolate-covered almonds, I went in search of a restroom. I meandered around for a while with no luck in my quest, when I finally saw a sign for a restroom, the sign pointing out of the candy store proper and into a sort of indoor mall that was connected to the store.

Strolling my way into the small mall, I found it was mostly full of art galleries, which seem common in Savannah. Following another sign for the restrooms, I found my way up a stairway of curling black iron. Then I came out on the second floor of the building.

Until that moment I had not thought about the age of the building I was in. The downstairs portion, the mall and the candy shop, had looked very modern. Upstairs was a different story. There were a couple of art galleries up there, but the lay of the land was quite different. Most of the walls weren't covered with sheets of dry wall, but were old brick. Looking around and taking note of the general shape of the ceiling and what I could make out of the various doorways and the like, I decided the mall was stationed in what must have been an old warehouse or some other large structure from a much earlier time.

My reaching that second floor, and realizing the age of the building, set me back a little. Nothing unsettling happened, but I was surprised after all the glitz of modern life below. Also, whereas the candy shop and the mall had been bustling, up there I found myself quite alone.

Looking around, I finally found the door to the men's room.

Immediately upon entering, things felt ... different. The room was cold, chilling to the bone. And that didn't make sense because the outside temperature was in the 70s and the rest of the building had not been overly air conditioned. Also, the walls and ceiling and even the bathroom fixtures themselves were old, quite old, I'm talking late 19th Century old. Everything had been painted over, of course, there was no denying the age of the room.

But all of that was nothing to the sense I had of being watched. I even looked around for a mounted security camera, but nothing came to view. It was as if someone else was in the room with me, watching me, even judging me. It wasn't a hostile feeling, but it was definitely a sense of unhappiness, as if someone was saying, "You are not wanted here."

So, I wasted no time doing my business, washing my hands, and exiting.

Was that a ghost? Or something similar? I'm not convinced it was. The coldness of the room could be explained away in several fashions. And that weird feeling I had? It could have just been the moodiness of the old room bringing about an affect upon me. That, and the ghost tour and all the talk about ghosts (which is practically impossible to avoid in Savannah), could have infringed upon my mind so that it would have been almost impossible for me to not have had such an experience.

Ghosts? Maybe, maybe not. I cannot say one way or the other. But I did enjoy my stay in Savannah, and I'll likely head back that way eventually.

1 comment:

Charles Gramlich said...

New Orleans often bills itself as the most haunted city in America. I've not been on any of the ghost tours but they have a bunch in the French Quarter. every con down here features ghost hunters and I have some acquaintances who are involved and claim amazing experiences. Some day I'm gonna have to give some of it a try.