This time of year Bonaventure Cemetery and Colonial Park Cemetery are crawling with tourists hoping to catch an orb in a picture or hear a disembodied voice whispering something terrifying. But these aren’t the only cemeteries with a spooky past.
Any tour guide will happily tell you that Savannah is a city built on the dead. As the original colony grew, graves were relocated to make way for progress, but it’s a lot easier to move a headstone than to move a casket.
Even now, it’s not entirely uncommon to find bones during downtown building renovations.
I could spend all day telling you about that, but that’s what my TikTok is for. Instead, I’m going to tell you about four hidden cemeteries you should check out next time you visit.
The 1733 burial plot for Savannah’s Jewish community
Resting in the middle of Oglethorpe Avenue between The Collins Quarter and The Independent Presbyterian Church of Savannah is a marker covered in stones. This is the only visible reminder of Savannah’s first burial plot for the Jewish community in use from 1733 to 1765.
Savannah is home to Georgia’s first Jewish congregation and the third in U.S. history. Not long after the first ships carrying English colonists arrived, Jewish families started the same trek hoping to find better treatment in The New World.
Bonaventure Cemetery has a very large Jewish section, including the burial site of the cremains of Holocaust victims. But before Bonaventure, there was a burial plot on the outskirts of the colony.
Time and progress may have swallowed this cemetery, but if you walk around the back of the marker, you can see the names of those who were laid to rest there. This is by no means a complete list just the 17 names that could be found.
One name sticks out. Sheftall Sheftall “died very young”. According to the plaque, he died by being fed acorns by his nurse. I have so many questions about this.
De Lyon – De la Mota Cemetery (or the Levi Sheftall family burial grounds)
I’m not sure if Levi Sheftall and Sheftall Sheftall were related. It’s certainly a possibility.
This tiny cemetery was founded in 1773, and according to the plaque on the outside, was used for 80 years.
It is closed to the public and tucked away behind Garrison School for the Arts and some college student apartments.
You can still peak in from the outside though. Quite a few of the graves closest to the gate looked like children’s graves.
I think it important to recognize this cemetery because it’s easy to miss, and it’s important to realize how big of a part the Jewish community has played and continues to play in Savannah.
“The Old Negro Burial Grounds” (Don’t come at me. That’s what it was historically called. I didn’t name it.)
Under the Calhoun and Whitefield Squares are countless bodies from 1763 to 1851. This property wasn’t just used as a burial ground for slaves. It’s also where free Black people were buried.
The historical documents call it “The Old Negro Burial Grounds”. Some of the graves were later moved to Laurel Grove Cemetery, but as is the case with every other old cemetery in town, not all the bodies were moved.
The two squares were built on top of the cemetery with no mention of what the land was before. There are no monuments, no statues, no plaques, no markers.
Whitefield Square has a gazebo and Calhoun Square has some benches. That’s it.
Recently, there’s been a bigger push to have the squares renamed and visibly recognized as a burial ground. I really hope that happens soon.
You can read more about it and find a link to sign the petition here.
I found out about this cemetery after a TikTok follower emailed me about it.
LePageville was built in 1885 as an affordable rental community for Black railroad workers in Savannah.
For decades, it was a thriving community with a church, a graveyard, and a storehouse (similar to a grocery store), but when the railroad industry took a turn in the 1930s, it was the beginning of the end for LePageville.
In 1967, the community was closed and residents moved elsewhere. The dead didn’t go with them though.
Many of the markers were simple and made of wood. Over time, they fell apart or were forgotten. We have no idea how many people are still buried there.
A news article I found from a few years ago said there was hope of coordinating with Savannah State University to scan the area with ground penetrating radar in order to identify graves, but I haven’t found any follow ups to see if they did.
If you search Lepageville Drive in Google maps, you can find the location of the cemetery. There isn’t much there right now, but my hope is that work will continue to identify who was left behind.
Trips there should always be done with a partner. There’s a homeless camp nearby, and while most of the homeless here are just people trying to get through life like everyone else, some do have mental health issues. Mental health issues + poor diet + poor sleep = unreasonable reactions sometimes. So play it safe.
Since it’s October, and that means the weather cools off a bit (it’s slightly less humid), I’ve been getting a lot of requests for my favorite haunted and creepy spots to visit in Savannah. Moon River Brewing Company is always one of my recommendations.
The food is good, the beer is fantastic, and there are plenty of ghosts to haunt your Halloween dreams.
The brewery was not named for the Johnny Mercer song from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”, even though a local river was renamed in honor of the song. It was actually the result of a late night brainstorming session by the owners before they opened. One wanted a celestial name and the other suggested they add “river” because it’s close to the Savannah River. But if you want to tell yourself it was inspired by Audrey Hepburn sitting on a fire escape while strumming a guitar, you go right ahead.
Aside from the good food and beer, Moon River attracts people because of it’s haunted history.
The building was Savannah’s first hotel from 1812 to 1864. It was later used as a warehouse and then an office supply store, before finally becoming the brewery.
During its time as a hotel, it saw famous people, at least one deadly shooting, and a pair of lions. Yes, you read that right. Lions.
The lions would sit on the first floor during the day because the owner thought they made the hotel seem glamorous and hoped they would also dissuade people from starting fights.
In the evening, the lions were allegedly chained in the basement. Some people say they can still sense the presence of the once wild animals now eternally trapped in captivity.
I was talking with a friend who used to work there, and she told me there’s more than just lion ghosts in the basement.
She told me that several employees, including herself, have encountered a dark presence down there. She said the first time she saw it left her so traumatized that she refused to go down there alone after that.
The ghosts that most people will tell you about at Moon River are the ones on the main and upper floors.
One is believed to be a hotel worker who died in the building. She’s known as Mrs. Johnson or the Woman in White. Mrs. Johnson is blamed for missing and moved tools, and people claim she pushed a construction worker’s wife down the stairs during remodeling.
The other ghost is James Stark. Stark, according to most sources I’ve found, was not a nice guy. His anti-Semitic words pushed a local doctor too far one day.
Dr. Phillip Minis challenged him to a duel since Stark refused to apologize for his hateful views of Minis and his faith. There was a disagreement over the time and place for the duel, and Stark ended up telling everyone in town that Minis was a coward. This all ended when the two came face-to-face on the main floor of the hotel that became Moon River. Shots were fired, Stark died, and a trial found Minis not guilty of murder.
Now it’s said that James Stark’s loathsome spirit haunts the first floor of the restaurant making life hard for workers, and occasionally, following people home to wreak havoc until he’s forced to leave.
So if you want to dine with the hottest of haunts, hit up Moon River Brewing Company next time you’re in town.
Okay. Let’s get one thing straight before I start. If you’re looking for historical accuracy, ghost tours really aren’t the place to look.
Savannah has plenty of historic tours you can choose from for that, but right now we’re looking at tours with the best ghost stories/experiences. Unless otherwise noted, all the tours are walking tours.
I went on this tour once with visiting friends. They picked this tour because it was on a trolley, and they were tired from walking all day.
While driving around town doesn’t give a storyteller much time to convey the sense of dread you’d normally find in a ghost story, I thought the ghosts hosts made good use of their time.
Even though, most of the tour is spent riding around, the tour groups do get to go into two locations. Right now, those are the Andrew Low House and Perkin’s & Son’s Ship Chandlery.
As much as I love walking tours, I know there are people with mobility issues. Ghosts & Gravestones does offer accessibility help. They just ask that you contact them ahead of time, so they can prepare.
Always wanted to ride around in the back of a hearse, but didn’t want to die to get there? Your macabre dreams can come true on the Hearse Ghost Tour.
I’ve gone of this tour twice. It was fun, but it definitely depends on your driver/guide as is true with any ghost tour really. The first guide I had was a good storyteller. The second guy? Not so much.
But I did get to ride around in a hearse! The ride is a little bumpy though.
Some of my derby teammates and I went on one of these tours a few years ago when the company sponsored our team. Part of it could have been because of my friends, but we all enjoyed ourselves.
The guide stopped to take EVP readings and replay them for us. At one point, he asked one of my teamies to try talking to the ghost of Casimir Pulaski in Polish. He caught a voice saying hello back to her.
I’m not sure if the EVP readings are a staple of the tour, but it was certainly a unique experience.
Recently, I wrote an article for Do Savannah about how COVID was affecting the ghost tourism industry. Jodie, the owner of the tour company, was nice enough to let me tag along during one of his tours.
The crowd for his, and some of the other tours we passed, was certainly smaller than normal, but it put us in the mood to listen to Savannah’s struggles with yellow fever in the 19th century.
Jodie had great stories and periodically stopped to share tidbits about other Savannah things. Since some tours can feel scripted, that was a nice personal touch.
October will be here tomorrow, and that means it’s time for haunted houses and ghost stories.
You may not think of Fort Pulaski as a place to checkout for something spooky, but in a spot where you can easily feel the echoes of the past, maybe you should.
You’ll find Fort Pulaski National Monument on Highway 80 between Savannah and Tybee Island. The spot had been used as various forts and defenses throughout Savannah’s history, but it was it’s incarnation as a Civil War fort that leaves it haunted.
It was a Confederate fort during the Civil War. In order to defeat them, Union soldiers set up a rifled cannon on Tybee Island and fired at the fort. The Confederates surrendered and were held as prisoners of war in their own fort.
If you’re not familiar with POW camps during the Civil War, it was pretty rough on both sides. It was especially hard for those at Fort Pulaski because basic supplies were in high demand but short supply. A lot of sickness and death followed.
Now the specters of those who fought and died at the fort can sometimes be spotted wandering the grounds. Some areas of the fort allegedly echo with the sounds of people dying and screaming in pain.
While that all sounds terrible, there is one story that makes me laugh. My favorite ghost story from Fort Pulaski involves extras from the film “Glory”.
Parts of “Glory,” starring Denzel Washington, were shot in and around Savannah. Before heading to set one day, a few extras dressed as Confederate soldiers decided to explore the fort. That’s when they say a Confederate officer stopped them and reprimanded them for not saluting him. After barking orders at them, they say he just disappeared.
A different ghostly sound has been heard around the fort. It’s credited as being the site of Georgia’s first baseball game. On January 3, 1863, some Union soldiers decided to play. It was New York vs New York. (In case you’re wondering, New York won.)
Now some people claim to hear the crack of a bat and men yelling in excitement. I guess spending your afterlife playing baseball isn’t the worst thing.
Normally, Fort Pulaski offers a nighttime tour in October to talk about the history of death and the macabre, but I don’t think they’re offering that this year due to COVID restrictions. Still, you should like to fort on Facebook to keep up with events once its safe to have them again.
Storms over the past few years, left it with a lot of debris and damage. In a weird bright side to the pandemic, it’s given the NPS a chance to clean up and repair areas of the fort, making it even more accessible.
Aside from the fort itself, Fort Pulaski offers plenty of trails, a picnic area, fishing, and even a dog-friendly beach.
If you’re planning a Savannah visit, I highly recommend a day at Fort Pulaski. (And if you happen to see any ghosts, please let me know.)
I’ve mentioned before that I love watching urban explorer videos on YouTube and how, if I weren’t deathly allergic to black mold, I would love to explore abandoned buildings.
Recently, I was watching a video from Sidestep Adventures where they explored what was left of an old railroad town aptly named Junction City.
I was captivated by a beautiful house that was slowly being consumed by time and nature. Looking it up on Google, I found out that it was only 3 1/2 hours from Savannah.
My friend Jazzy who had gone with me to check out Strathy Hall Cemetery said she was interested in going with me, so we quickly made plans.
We also decided to bring our skates because how cool does skating around a ghost town sound?
Since roller derby has been canceled this year due to COVID, I’ve really missed road trips with friends. An entire day catching up on life with one of my dearest friends was exactly what I needed.
Jazzy and I are just the right amount of cautious and chaotic. That’s why I knew a photographic exploration of central Georgia would be fun.
Along the way to Junction City, we spotted other places to check out. As we were driving past a cotton field, we saw what appeared to be an abandoned train depot. Both of us got excited and decided to find the road that led there.
As we pulled up, it appeared to have been used exclusively for crops. Jazzy and I walked around the outside taking pictures and video. I decided to walk around the side facing the railroad tracks.
It was obvious that the depot and the train tracks hadn’t been used in ages. I hopped from ballast to ballast along the track, carefully avoiding rotten wood in order to take more pictures.
As I was taking pictures, I thought to myself that I hoped there weren’t any snakes hiding in the tall grass. That’s when a large cat jumped from a hiding spot in the overgrown grass and darted under the depot scaring the absolute shit out of me.
The depot was shut up rather well, but there was one spot where we were able to stick our cameras inside to see what was there. It looks like it’s farm storage now.
As we were driving through another small town, I noticed a church that looked like a castle. At the same time, Jazzy noticed a tank. Both of us were squealing with excitement, so we stopped to take more pictures.
Reynolds was an adorable little town. Near the church there were several homes that appeared to have been built in the 1920s. We also noticed an antique shop across the road and decided to stop there on our way back.
As Google maps led us into Junction City, we saw a railroad trestle. Stopping to take pictures, we spotted an abandoned car and house. Curiosity got the best of u,s and we decided to check it out.
The home was locked up except for one door that was cracked open slightly. I was dying to get a better look at what was inside and thought I would just stick my head inside, but when I tried to open the screen door in front of it, it was locked.
I was able to smell the mustiness inside the home and was briefly taken back to my great grandparents house. Like this home, their house hadn’t seen many updates since the 70s. I imagined old telephones sitting by empty beds, a box of Corn Flakes forgotten in the pantry, and porcelain flowers resting under dusty glass domes.
We wandered around the house for a few minutes more coming away with legs covered in sand burrs. (We really should’ve worn pants.)
Driving into what was once downtown Junction City, we spotted an old general store, a city hall, and the large house I had seen in the video.
We wandered around the house trying to catch a glimpse of what was left inside. There was only one window we could see through. Y’all, this house has pocket doors! I would’ve loved to go inside this place and see what other architectural features it had.
The roof of the front porch was sagging dangerously, and I was surprised it hadn’t fallen yet. It made me sad to think that this gorgeous house would probably continue to fall apart in this nearly forgotten community.
On the way back to the car, we noticed an RC Cola machine outside the tiny city hall. On closer investigation, it was plugged in! I ran back to the car for change to see if it was still stocked. I dropped two quarters inside and pressed the Peach Nehi button. It worked!
Since we brought our skates and derby gear with us, Jazzy and I decided to skate around a few roads. Despite the fact that I hadn’t skated down steep hills in god knows how long, it was a lot of fun. I’m definitely taking my skates on every road trip now.
On the way home, we stopped at the antique shop in Reynold’s and noticed a working phone booth outside.
Did we fall through some kind of time rift? First the RC Cola machine and now a working phone booth? Of course, we had to take pictures.
We had left my house around 8 a.m. and arrived back in Savannah after 8 p.m. It was a fantastic day spent exploring tiny towns and communities in Georgia that we probably wouldn’t have thought of if it hadn’t been for that video.
Somewhere out there someone is telling a friend about their trip to Savannah in early 2012 where they got to meet zombies at a Civil War fort. One of those zombies was probably me.
In January of that year, I was sitting in Forsyth Park with a few friends. One of them said, “Hey, Eenie! You like zombies, right?”
If I’m being honest, I don’t like zombies. I’m terrified of zombies, but I also really like zombie movies. I’ve never claimed to make sense.
My friend told me that she had heard about a zombie film that would need extras and mentioned that one of our mutual friends was working on the film, so I should reach out to him.
Why not? I’ve got nothing better to do.
I showed up at Fort Pulaski National Monument one February morning right after I got off of work at the news station. I was exhausted after working overnight but excited to be on a film set.
At least I got to use that tired look to my advantage. I found out I would be one of the featured zombies.
That meant that on top of the skirt, flowy top, and bonnet to hide my short hair, I would also get to sport some sexy white contact lenses that took two people to put in because my eyes hate contacts.
Once the contacts were finally in (I swear the makeup people on this film were saints), I walked out on set and was pointed towards one of the featured actors.
“See that guy?” Only a little. I quickly realized that the contacts turned people into weird moving shapes. “You’re going to fight him.”
Well, I guessed it was a good time to see what all stuck from my stage combat class in college.
The guy I was “fighting” was Chip Lane who was playing a Secret Service agent for Abraham Lincoln . (Before you say anything, no, that’s not historically accurate.)
The film we were making was “Abraham Lincoln vs Zombies,” a mockbuster by The Asylum to cash in on “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.” The Asylum is the company behind the Sharknado films and Z Nation, so you know we had a very tiny budget.
Chip and I had our fight scene, he cuts off my head, I lie in the grass for the rest of the scene, and then I’m done…. or so I thought.
The budget on the film was so small that many people pulled double duty. Some actors were also crew members, the director played a small role in one scene, and lots of the zombies played more than one zombie.
You can see me at 18 minutes into the film as Bonnet Girl (a nickname from the director), and at 37 minutes with a seashell pillowcase on my head. (They had to hide my short hair somehow, and the director said I was too identifiable in another bonnet.)
My friend Perry is the first zombie you see at the fort. He’s also the zombie in a dress and bonnet at 30 minutes into the film. He makes a really terrifying lady zombie.
The small budget also mean that they couldn’t afford to close the fort to visitors while filming. Between shots, a lot of zombies would pose for pictures with tourists wandering around Fort Pulaski.
There’s a joke that working as an extra is a lot of hurry-up-and-wait. That is 100% true. While I was waiting for whatever shot I was needed in, I wasn’t able to do much. The contacts meant I couldn’t read anything, and I couldn’t listen to music because my phone didn’t get any service inside the fort. Instead, I listened to stories from the other zombies about other films they had worked on. Part of Robert Redford’s “The Conspirator” had also been shot at Fort Pulaski, and there were plenty of stories about what that was like.
The things that really stuck out to me about this film was how kind and considerate everyone was. I mean everyone.
We knew we weren’t making any kind of Oscar- worthy film, but we were all having totally-historically-inaccurate fun. Some of the featured actors (actors with lines other than “grrrr”) would check on the zombies between scenes. A few even offered to bring me water since all I could do was stare straight forward like a fake-blood-covered mannequin.
I made so many new friends on the set, and we’ve kept in touch through social media. You should definitely look up the actors on IMDB and check out their recent projects. Sadly, Don McGraw, who played Stonewall Jackson, passed away in 2019.
Bill Oberst, Jr. did a stellar job as Abraham Lincoln. He was actually a last-minute replacement. Even though he only had a small amount of time to prepare, Bill gave the role a fantastic sense of importance.
The funny thing to watch for is his height. Bill is 5’8″, but Lincoln was 6’4″. There are ways to work around that in a movie, but with such a small budget and limited time to shoot, it’s not perfect. Bill’s height will magically change between shots. It’s just one of a number of things that made it into the ALvZ Drinking Game.
Drinking game? Yes, the director Richard Schenkman said we should start a drinking game of all the weird things in the movie.
Take a shot when
Lincoln changes height in the same scene.
An actor’s voice sounds dubbed.
A gun looks historically inaccurate.
Someone says “zombies.”
A zombie dies and miraculously reappears later.
Finish your drink
For Stonewall Jackson’s beard.
“We knocked before we broke down your door!”
When Agent Chamberlin screams, “Alright! Who’s next?”
Feel free to add to the game. It’s all in good fun.
If you ever visit Fort Pulaski, I recommend watching this film before you go. Figuring out what scenes were shot where is entertaining.
Fort Pulaski National Monument
US 80 East
Dr. Fletcher said something that hit hard with me. She said that those funeral homes and cemeteries offered something in death that some Black people weren’t always given in life: dignity.
I’ve explored many cemeteries spread out across the South. The ones I most often see forgotten and unkept are for BIPOC.
When I was producing a Black History Month special for my last news station, I came across a story from Tampa about a Black cemetery that had been cleared and sold off for development. Almost a century later, people started asking questions which led to an investigation. More than 120 bodies were found on the site of an apartment building. You can read more about it here.
So I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise that a historic Black cemetery, with graves dating back to the 1700s, had an entire neighborhood built around it and slightly on top of it.
Tucked away next to the Ogeechee River is the Strathy Hall Plantation. And while the home is certainly gorgeous, it was a plantation worked by African slaves.
When those people died, they weren’t allowed to be buried in proper cemeteries. Their loved ones had to make their own. These slave cemeteries were usually in swampy or undesirable locations.
I first visited Strathy Hall Cemetery in July. What started as a cemetery for slaves had grown to include descendants and other notable Black families from Richmond Hill. Over the years, a neighborhood had been built around it and nature began to reclaim the cemetery.
There had been efforts in the last 20 years to clear out the plant growth, so families could pay respects to loved ones without having to hack through kudzu vines and dodge thorn bushes. Unfortunately, without someone to maintain the cemetery, it was only a matter of time before the headstones were lost to vegetation again.
The Bryan County chapter of the NAACP started looking into what it would take to maintain and restore it. They were able to join forces with Richard Appleton, who owns the Strathy Hall Plantation, to track down the owner of the property and help establish a nonprofit to run the cemetery.
Now the biggest challenge is clearing it out.
When I tell you that nature had swallowed that cemetery, I’m not exaggerating. Richard is slowly going through with weed killer to make it easier to clear by hand. He told me he has to do that because many of the headstones are so delicate that getting hit by a lawnmower or weed eater might break them or erase part of the inscription.
From what he had already cleared, i could see what he meant. The inscription on some headstones had been hand-etched, others had been knocked over, and some were so worn by weather and time that I couldn’t read them at all.
When I went back recently with my friend Jazzy, I could tell that some progress had been made, but there’s still a lot left to do.
Aside from fixing up the known graves, they also have to track down all the unmarked graves. Some of those can be found through ground penetrating radar, but others may actually be under two homes.
Those homes were built within the boundary of the cemetery. At last check, family members of the original homeowners’ are trying to figure out who actually owns them.
It’s a neat cemetery, and I’m glad people are finally making an effort to preserve it. I don’t recommend visiting it on your own just yet because the graves aren’t all marked.
There are two things you should know about Savannah. 1. Everything is connected. 2. Time moves differently here.
A few weekends ago I was bored and the dogs were dying to get out and do something, so I decided to open my Randonautica app and go exploring. I did not expect it to take me to a park inside a cemetery I didn’t know about.
My youngest sister introduced me to Randonauting when she visited me back in July. For those of you who have never heard of it, Randonautica is an app that takes you to random places close to you.
When my sister and I tried, it kept trying to send us to Hunter Army Airfield or neighborhoods with limited parking, so we kind of gave up. But this time when I tried it, the app popped up a location I didn’t even know existed.
I had heard plenty about how Bonaventure Cemetery got started. I knew there was a plantation and that it burned down and maybe that’s why this other cemetery slipped past me.
Greenwich Cemetery is next to Bonaventure and was also built on the plot of a mansion that burned down. Since you have to drive through Forest Lawn Memory Gardens in order to get to Greenwich, maybe that’s also why I never noticed it.
As soon as I pulled into the cemetery, I was awestruck at how beautiful it was. The road winds along the outside of the cemetery giving you a fantastic view of the river.
Even though it shares some similarities with Bonaventure, Greenwich is definitely unique. Many of the headstones are more modern but have an artistic flair you rarely see in newer cemeteries. You can also still buy burial plots there.
The park inside it is right off the water and includes a little pond fed by the river. (Watch out for alligators. I haven’t seen any, but there’s always a risk in southern states like Georgia.)
When I was researching the cemetery, I found out that this is actually a spot where some couples choose to have their weddings. And it’s not just gothy/horror types getting married there. It’s just totally normal people. (I love it when normal people let their inner weirdness shine!)
This home had so much priceless art. When it burned down, much of it went with it, but you can still see some of the statuary at the Mary Telfair Museum downtown. (Seriously, if you’re an art lover, go read Forest City’s post. You will cry at what was lost.)
The only parts of the original property that you can still see are the stables and a fountain.
Remember how I said everything in Savannah is connected? There are two major stories with ties to Greenwich Cemetery.
When the mansion caught on fire, everyone escaped safely. One of the children was forced to jump out of a second story window. That little girl was Sandy West who grew to become a children’s book author and painter.
Ossabaw Island, the island she and her family moved to after the fire, eventually became an artists’s colony. Sandy was a huge advocate for not only the arts but also environmental preservation. She lived on the island until 2016 when she moved back to Savannah. (She’s still alive and kicking at 107.) You can read more about Ossabaw and how to visit it here.
The other connection to Savannah lore in the grave of Danny Hansford. His death and the four murder trials of Jim Williams are the main story of “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”. (There are a bunch of other stories in there that all tie together because EVERYTHING IS CONNECTED HERE!)
I know I’ve hinted at the story here and there, and I promise I will write a full post on The Book (and movie) eventually, but suffice it to say that poor Danny played an important part in Savannah’s history.
I won’t comment on his personal life. (He had areputation around town.) I didn’t know him. In fact, he was killed a few weeks before I was born. That and the fact that it’s hard to dig up any info on him outside of the trial makes it very difficult to get a sense of him as a person.
His death at the hands of Jim Williams is one of those stories that people around town tell that seems ancient and recent at the same time.
Locals’ relationship to tourists is always complicated. Growing up in Florida, every local I knew would cringe when Spring Break season rolled around. While the rest of the country gets a week, Spring Break is a full season in the Sunshine State, and that always means teenagers and college students from all over the U.S. (and even Canada) looking to blow off steam.
Some kids are just looking for a little fun, but some get destructive. I’d like to say people outgrow that, but I’d be lying. In fact, destructive tourists have taken away a unique part of one place to visit in the Lowcountry.
The Old Sheldon Church Ruins in Beaufort County, SC mark two big moments in American history. The first church built there in the mid 1700s was burned to the ground in 1779 by British Loyalists during the Revolutionary War. It was rebuilt only to be burned down again by Gen. Sherman’s troops during the Civil War. (There are some letters that say the church was actually gutted to rebuild homes burned during Sherman’s March to the Sea.) The bits left of the church are brick columns, a portion of what was probably the pulpit, and some nearby graves.
For years, visitors could wander through the ruins and feel America’s past. Photographers took pictures of families and couples were married between the old columns. No one can do that now.
The ruins are still there, but due to defacing and theft by some visitors, the old church is now surrounded by a fence. No one is allowed inside.
The Old Sheldon Church Ruins are on the National Register of Historic Places but the land is owned by St. Helena’s Church in Beaufort. The private property is free to visit, and you can still look at the ruins from outside of the fence. The pictures in this post are from a visit with my mom a few years ago.
I did find an article in a local newspaper that said St. Helena’s Church does have plans to allow people inside the church again as part of tour groups. The pandemic has most likely put those plans on hold.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not anti-tourist. I love for people to visit places I love. I love sharing that experience with them. I’d just like visitors to remember that these places don’t exist just for them. We all have to be responsible to make sure places like the Old Sheldon Church Ruins continue to exist for the visitors after us.