Savannah, Georgia is a town with a whole lot of character and a whole lot of ghosts.
As the city expanded over the years, many old burial grounds were covered up, paved over, and built upon, often without moving the graves that lay beneath. This has led Savannah to gain the nickname “The City That Lives Upon Her Dead,” and it’s also led to plenty of ghostly tales and spectral sightings all over the city.
Ask any local, and many will tell you the most haunted place in all of Savannah is the Colonial Park Cemetery. The oldest extant burial ground in the city, the Colonial Park Cemetery lies right in the middle of the town’s famed Historic District, on the corners of Abercorn and Oglethorpe Streets. The six-acre cemetery was founded in 1750, and acted as the city’s primary burial ground until 1853. More than 10,000 people are estimated to be buried in Colonial Park, though the cemetery is home to fewer than 1,000 grave markers.
Roughly 700 of the cemetery’s permanent residents lie in a mass grave, victims of the yellow fever epidemic of 1820. Some stories say that the dead actually numbered exactly 666, but that the figure was rounded up to “nearly 700” to avoid association with the number of the Beast.
Many of the dead are interred in the brick family burial vaults for which the cemetery is famous. These vaults, which were once underground structures that have been compared to root cellars, held the bodies of deceased family members on shelves. When time and the Savannah climate reduced the corpses to little more than bones and dust, the remains were transferred into a large family urn, and the shelf reused for the next family member in line.
During the Civil War, General Sherman’s Union army spared Savannah from complete destruction in his “March to the Sea,” presenting the city to President Abraham Lincoln as a Christmas gift in 1864. However, members of the Union army did desecrate and vandalize the tombs in Colonial Park Cemetery, often in strange and creative ways. These included moving headstones around and carving new dates on the tombstones with their bayonets. One man had his death date changed to indicate that he lived to the ripe old age of 544 years, while the vandals changed the dates on another stone to show that a man’s son had been born 1,000 years before his father.
Over the years, the boundaries of Colonial Park Cemetery have shifted, and there are some who claim that the dead are interred beneath the streets that border the cemetery. In the 1960s, workers doing construction on Abercorn street supposedly found human bodies. Some point to the pattern of rises and depressions in the sidewalk that borders the street as evidence of wooden coffins beneath.
Of course, any place with such a rich history of death and burial is bound to be home to more than a few ghost stories, and Colonial Park Cemetery is no exception. Some such stories concern the dueling grounds that were said to lie just beyond the south wall of the cemetery. Back when dueling was still legal, this was where gentlemen came to resolve their differences, often permanently. Today, the grounds are home to a basketball court and a children’s playground, but some say that if you travel by at night, you’ll see the ghosts of those who died in duels.
One of the most famous ghost stories associated with the Colonial Park Cemetery concerns a man named Rene Rondolier. Rondolier’s ghost has often been reported walking through the cemetery, or hanging from the “Hanging Tree” which lies near the back wall of the grounds. Rondolier’s ghost is said to be easy to spot because, in life, he was almost seven feet tall. The story goes that he murdered two young girls in the cemetery, and was later lynched, either from the Hanging Tree or in the nearby square.
Though there’s little historical evidence to corroborate Rondolier’s existence—in life, let alone in death—plenty of visitors to the cemetery report strange occurrences within the cemetery grounds. There are tales of shadowy figures, and even a green mist moving among the remaining headstones. Colonial Park Cemetery is considered so haunted, in fact, that local paranormal investigators have taken to calling the graveyard, “Paranormal Central.” Of course, upon your visit, you can schedule a ghost tour.