It’s dead time in the late 1800s, and a young seamstress is discreetly following a handsome gentleman she had caught sight of through the streets of Savannah, Georgia. She watched him quietly gliding into The Colonial Cemetery. Was he there to pay his respects to a passed-on relative? Or was he there to duel? As she watched, the man dissipated into the Habersham family graves. Amazed and stunned the young seamstress told her story to friends as many others who have seen the ghost of James Habersham Jr. walk the same path, night after night. His spirit is said to haunt the original Habersham residence, now called The Olde Pink House, a world-class restaurant on Abercorn Street. There will be more about The Olde Pink House at another time.
Savannah is a city that lives upon her dead. The cemetery was established in 1750. The main entrance is at 200 Abercorn Street in the heart of the historic district. Colonial Park Cemetery has over 12,000 bodies buried within and near its 6 acres of land. There are four types of grave markers. These include headstones, table stone vaults, and family vaults. The oldest headstone is a slate stone for William Bower Williamson, who died in February 1762. The last official interment was eight-year-old William Francois Joseph Thomasson, who died on April 19, 1861. There are approximately 700 grave sites intact because when some of the newer roads, like Abercorn Street, were created graves weren’t moved. The builders chose to pave over the deceased. Although the cemetery stopped allowing burials in 1853, it is considered one of the South's most beautiful and hauntingly active cemeteries.
One of America's finest miniaturist painters, Edward Greene Malbone is buried near the main entrance. Other notable Savannahians entombed in the Colonial Park Cemetery are Archibald Bulloch, the first Governor of Georgia and whose great-great-grandson was President Theodore Roosevelt, American War of Independence Captain Denis N. Cottineau De Kerloguen, Original burial place of Revolutionary War hero Nathanael Greene (his ashes were buried underneath his monument in Johnson Square) and Lieutenant Colonel John Maitland of the 71st Regiment Scotch Foot (later his remains were also removed to another location), The Habersham Family, Brigadier General Lachlan McIntosh, and signer of the Declaration of Independence Button Gwinnett.
Before becoming a protected park in 1896, the cemetery had several names, including the Old Cemetery, Old Brick Graveyard, South Broad Street Cemetery, and the Christ Church Cemetery. But for some in the 18th and 19th centuries, the cemetery was euphemistically called the field of honor or the dueling grounds. From 1740 until 1877 men settled their disagreements in the burial grounds. The most well-known duel was between Button Gwinnett, a Georgia signer of the Declaration of Independence, and Revolutionary War hero, Brigadier General Lachlan McIntosh. They were arch-enemies in life and dueled, in what is, with pistols, just south of the grounds on May 16, 1777. Both men hit their targets. McIntosh lived and defended his honor. Gwinnett did not survive and died days later. Buried near each other, visitors have seen the two men on certain moonlit nights infinitely locked in a duel.
Some of the dead died from the dreaded yellow fever epidemics that periodically struck Savannah. The worst yellow fever epidemic happened in 1820. About 700 yellow fever victims are buried in a mass grave in the cemetery. The actual number is said to be 666, but the religious people of Savannah decided to round the death number up to avoid any sign of the Devil.
If you look closely at some headstones, you may see curious birth and death dates that do not add up. For instance, on the back wall, there is the defaced Muir family headstone. The father Josiah died age 11 years, the wife Mary died age 17 years, and the son Lewis died age 12 years, all in the year 1820. Depending on different sources, some report that Sherman's troops camped in the cemetery and vandalized the tombstones. Others claim it was the Confederate soldiers trying to confuse the Union soldiers that desecrated the tombstones. Vandals have always left their mark in the cemetery. We may never know who is responsible. Visitors believe this is another reason for the multiple hauntings.
January 11, 1820, Savannah experienced one of its most devastating fires. On the same night Rene Asche Rondolier, also known as the Frankenstein of Savannah, was being pursued by a mob demanding to have him hung for murdering children. Thought to be an urban legend, the story of Rondolier never-the-less has expanded over the years. He is described as a seven-foot tall, 490-pound, grotesque man. A spectral Rondolier is, at times, sighted near the tree where he was hung. By the back wall, sightings of a tall, black shadow figure have been captured via photography. Because of the multiple sightings and the murders he allegedly committed, Colonial Park Cemetery is called Rene's Playground.
Unsuspecting visitors have seen a floating couple making their way through the cemetery. The couple has been described as missing their heads and their arms from the elbows down. Green mist has been seen and multiple images of orbs have been photographed.
December 31, 2008, a young visitor to the cemetery filmed what appeared to be a child playing around the gravestones. As he panned the ghost child with his camera, the child ran to and fro around the ancient graves before jumping from a tree and disappearing into the ground. None of the other visitors seemed to notice the child. You can view the video on YouTube.
So if you're in Savannah and want to stroll through one of the most beautiful and haunted cemeteries in the world, the Colonial Park Cemetery is a must-see.
We did not record any E.V.P. or unusual photographs on our last visit. We plan on visiting again in November 2023. We will keep y'all updated!
The Colonial Cemetery Park is open to pedestrians from 8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. November - March, 8 a.m.-8 p.m. March - November, and is free. For more information, https://www.savannahga.gov/879/Colonial-Park-Cemetery (912) 651-6843.
About the Creator
Cameron Hampton is a painter, photographer, illustrator, cinematographer, animator and writer.
She now works in Georgia, London and NYC.