Savannah So Spooky, We Don’t Need Ghosts
My main squeeze and I were promenading through Wright Square late Friday evening when I felt a tickle on the back of my neck.
I leapt straight up like a roadside armadillo. “Was that you?” I hissed.
“Hmm?” murmured my spouse, both thumbs occupied with a political argument on Facebook.
I whipped my hands around wildly. “Something touched me! It felt like fingers!”
Suddenly, the breeze kicked up and the temperature dropped. My scalp pricked and I scooched into Mark’s jacket.
“Maybe it was this?” he asked, undraping a piece of Spanish moss from my hair that I must’ve picked up while searching for early camellia blooms in the bushes.
I let loose a piercing shriek and amped up the armadillo dance—because we all know redbug bites warrant more drama than any wayward spirit wandering around downtown.
Not that Savannah isn’t definitely haunted, though its actual menaces are far more terrifying than the gory nonsense spouted by histrionic tour guides to bunches of bored tourists. We passed by such a clichéd cluster as I recovered from my bromeliad breakdown, and I was tempted to toss a few handfuls of moss at them just to give them a real thrill.
Though there are local tours that treat history with reverence and dignity, it gave me the creeps to overhear a pimply teen bedecked in Party City’s idea of 18th-century period dress natter on about the ghost of Alice Riley, the first woman executed in the colony of Georgia “right here in this very square bwahahaha!” No one questioned that an indentured servant finally freed of her moral coil had better things to do than spend her afterlife trying to capture the attention of Girl Scout troops from Ohio.
This slack-jawed willingness to accept drivel as fact evoked one of my favorite scenes in Kingdoms of Savannah, the enchanting new mystery by our own rascally raconteur George Dawes Green. In the beginning chapters, a few characters confront a particularly egregious and erroneous tour guide over his presentation of poor overworked Alice, who was not a witch or a prostitute and for sure not a silly ghost to be exploited for tourist dollars, but simply “another victim of Savannah shittery.”
With so many true stories still buried like unembalmed corpses around here, it’s so frighteningly dumb that we keep rattling the bones of the made-up ones. George’s book may be fictional, but he was inspired by the real-life history of escaped enslaved Africans who established a hidden fortress 20 miles up the Savannah River after the Revolutionary War. The site was attacked by white slave owners several years later and lost from the local narrative ever since, a hair-raising horror itself.
“I think the most terrifying creatures aren’t the ghosts of Savannah, it’s the zombies. Every white male citizen, as far as we can tell from the records, was completely subscribed to this system of slavery and these horrors that were being perpetrated,” muses GDG.
“While there was a substantial abolitionist community in the 1840s, they were gone by the 1850s, chased out by what seems like zombies—people who were just following the wealthy planters and doing whatever what was being asked even though it was to the detriment of their own livelihoods and families and futures.”
How’s that for a historical through line?
Our best-selling author was in town last week to present this forgotten tragic tale with Dr. Sylviane Diouf, the world’s foremost scholar on America’s overlooked maroon communities, along with prolific local author and one-man history channel Dr. Paul Pressly and U.S. Wildlife archaeologist Richard Kansaki, all of whom gave credence to a Savannah that’s far more fascinating than anything spouted by a kid in a costume being paid by the hour. If you’re looking for true stories to send tingles up your spine, read Kingdoms of Savannah, then dig deeper with books by Dr. Diouf and Dr. Pressly—the real stuff is enough to haunt you for several lifetimes, bwahahaha!
If you’re looking for more immediate frights, however, Savannah got some trickery and treats for you this week. First off, is it even Halloween season without the Alee Shriners scaring the bejeezus out of the masses at their super sinister headquarters on Eisenhower Drive? I don’t care how many times you’ve been chased by clowns with chainsaws, it never gets old.
Those who like their gorecore freaky, sexy, and full of inside jokes, The Rocky Horror Show LIVE at the Bay Street Theatre is a must—but better get your tickets before they sell out, sluts. And remember, castles don’t have phones!
On Wednesday the 27th, snag a pass or sneak in like a specter to the SCAD Film Festival for the highly anticipated debut of the gastronomical thriller The Menu, filmed in Savannah and starring no one’s favorite dark wizard Ralph Fiennes and onscreen chess fashion plate Anna Taylor-Joy. The creepy kitchen features a bevy of local chefs, including my BFF and Sixby proprietor Natasha Gaskill, whose adorable little murder hands can be glimpsed garnishing a dish in the trailer.
The ghosts of musical past take the stage Thursday at Victory North as Savannah’s coolest musicians put on a tribute rock ‘n’ roll fest for the ages (or at least for anyone born before 2000.) We’re all stoked for the resurrection of this longtime Halloween tradition of The Jinx, now shuttered but forever living on in our loud black hearts.
On Saturday, the gloriously goth Graveface fam brings their own macabre take to the cover band game this year with a show featuring Basically Nancy raging as the Sex Pistols and whole lotta other delightful noise at Lodge of Sorrows. Much mazel to Ryan for sticking it to the real estate Man and taking ownership of the Starland building they’ve occupied for years!
If the walking dead is more your jam, this weekend unearths the return of Widespread Panic—ouch, did I just hurt my own feelings?! Whatevs, the boys are bound to be a blast, though I understand those of y’all staying home to watch the livestream, because what is scarier than a bunch of middle-aged weirdos microdosing in a giant arena?
On Sunday afternoon, those who survive or avoid any or all of the above are cordially invited to the Witches Dance & Magic Crawl in Forsyth Park, our annual attempt to topple the patriarchy with enthusiastic flashmobbery and absurd spellcraft. The percussive conspirators Samba Savannah will help drum up the spirits, and the choreography is easy—learn it here or just show up at *2pm sharp* and follow along. Afterwards, see what the folks at Ordinary Magic and Cosmic Corner are brewing up for Samhain…don’t forget your broom!
Whew, by the time Halloween finally rolls around I’m gonna be too dead tired to do anything but haunt my porch and eat fun-sized Snickers. Good thing Savannah is spooky all year round—but watch out for those zombies.
Creepin’ it real ~ JLL
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