Moon River Brewing Company: my favorite haunted restaurant

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.

Some believe the worn part of the posts is where the lions were chained.

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.

Does a dark presence haunt this basement?

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.

Moon River Brewing Company
21 W Bay St.
Savannah, GA

A Randonauting adventure to an unknown cemetery

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!)

If you want to read more about the insanely lavish the mansion that used to exist there, you can read more about it on Forest City of the South’s website.

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 a reputation 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.

Like I said, time moves strangely in Savannah.

Greenwich Cemetery

330 Greenwich Road

Savannah, GA

A boat trip with some salty dogs

My friend Magen and I have been talking about going out on her boat for a few years, but the timing just never seemed to match my schedule until this week.

Since I haven’t been swimming at all this summer due to one of my favorite beaches being closed and the others being too crowded for comfort, this Floridian was excited to be on the water. I was also excited for my dog, Vash, to finally have his first boat ride.

For all his barking and bouncing around my yard, he really isn’t an adventurous dog outside of it. Vash was apprehensive about getting on the boat and it took me and Magen both to coax/pull him on. He nervously paced around and tried to hide underneath me, but he eventually got used to it.

Magen and I had talked about looking for Shark Tooth Island, but due to uncertain weather, we ended up off the coast of Pigeon Island between Shipyard Creek and the Skidaway River, which part of the Wormsloe Historic Site.

Since it’s protected property, people aren’t actually allowed on the island. You can stay just off of it. Magen told me there aren’t any gators or wild boar, so it was safe for the dogs to run up and down the tiny beach while we swam. That’s the closest we got.

Even though Magen and I were just splashing around, we were still able to enjoy some wildlife. Magen pointed out an eagle as we were pulling into shore. Its huge nest in one of the pine trees was hard to miss. While Vash and Magen’s dog Miles were busy playing tug of war with a stick they found, I spotted a dolphin a little ways off the coast. Magen wondered if it was the same dolphin she spotted earlier this summer near the Isle of Hope Marina.

If you head out to Pigeon Island, DO NOT GO ON THE ISLAND! You don’t have to worry about being chased by a wild boar or eaten by an alligator, but it’s important to protect natural habitats. I can’t tell you how many nifty places I’ve seen ruined by careless tourists with no regard for nature or history. (More on that in next week’s post.) Being just off the shore is still fun, and there are plenty of good photo opportunities.

A walk around Wormsloe

I love taking my dog, Vash, and my foster dog, Hemingway, out for scenic walks. Before the pandemic, Vash and I would walk around downtown most weekends and end at Gallery Espresso for a puppuccino. Nowadays, it’s too crowded for my comfort level, so we look elsewhere. Luckily for us, Wormsloe Historic Site is close by, dog-friendly, and gorgeous.

When we arrived, I stopped by the office to say hello to my friend Gretchen, who works at the park as the site manager. She gave the boys some homemade dog treats that she keeps on hand for all the dogs that visit. In fact, Georgia State Parks are incredibly welcoming to dogs. There is also an entire program dedicated to them called Tails on Trails! Gretchen was able to explain a bit about it before the dogs signaled that they were bored and wanted to starting hiking.

Tails on Trails offers hikes at 42 different parks across Georgia. A $20 membership gets you a t-shirt for yourself, a bandanna for your dog, and a checklist for your explorations. You can learn more about it on the website. I didn’t have time to get my membership on this trip, but I’ll definitely get it next time.

Once the dogs got me outside again, we headed down the trail to the tabby ruins, which is all that’s left of the home built by Noble Jones in the early to mid 1700s.

The Tabby Ruins

I stopped there to give the dogs a break and some water while I shot some video of the ruins. I’m always amazed at what it took to live in places like Coastal Georgia before the invention of air conditioning. You can still see the remnants of a cellar inside the fenced-off portion of the ruins. That probably was a relaxing place to steal a few moments on hot summer days.

The dogs and I kept hiking down the trail along the water before taking another mini-break at the family burial ground. If you ever go to Bonaventure Cemetery, you’ll notice Noble Jones has a family plot there. His wife and son are still buried at Wormsloe though. In fact, some descendants of the family actually still live on the property. You pass their home as you drive to the Wormsloe visitor’s center.

Hemingway and Vash sported their new bandannas from Buddy Bandana.

After some more wandering, we ended up at the Colonial Life Area. There’s a blacksmith shop and a small home with a garden. It was quiet the day we went, but this spot is buzzing with activity in February during the Colonial Faire and Muster. There are reenactors showing how early settlers would make tools, cook, harvest, trade, and defend the area. (Vash may have been startled and growled at a Revolutionary soldier, who laughed it off and told him to use that attitude on red coats.)

Poor Hemingway was getting tuckered out by this point, so we had to cut the trip short because he’s just a bit too big for me to carry. On previous visits, Vash and I have explored more of the 3.2 mile trail. During the summer, this trail is perfect because it’s shaded and breezes from the nearby salt marsh keep it cooler than some other hikes we’ve been on. If you’re tackling this trail, don’t forget to bring bug spray and water. Sand gnats and mosquitoes are no joke, and the humidity makes it easy to get dehydrated.

One of the things I love about Wormsloe is the photographic opportunities. Some of my photographer friends love taking clients out to the park because the canopied drive and salt marsh offer beautiful backdrops, so when you visit, don’t forget your camera.

Skating through the streets

There’s something liberating about street skating. While nothing beats a freshly polished indoor skating rink, skating outdoors is equal parts dangerous and delightful. To make it a little less dangerous, I always wear my protective gear: helmet, wrist guards, elbow pads, and knee pads.

Eenie, doesn’t that get hot in the summer? It does, but it also saves my brain and knees from serious damage, so it’s worth it. Now with COVID, I also get to add a mask which makes me look like a mysterious roller skating bandit.

In Savannah, one of my favorite paths to take downtown is the Lincoln Street bike path. It’s been painted a bright green to let drivers know that it’s exclusively for non-motorized transportation. It’s also a fairly smooth skate. There are portions that are a bit bumpy because of tree roots or brick crossroads, but it’s also shaded. Perfect for summer skate time!

In my last post, I told you about the Birthday Bash at Leopold’s Ice Cream that happens every year in August. (Fingers crossed that they’ll be able to have it this year too.) That’s one of my favorite times to skate downtown because you really work up a sweat. That makes the ice cream taste even sweeter by the time you get there.

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50's costume contest! #leopolds96

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I won the costume contest one year. Can you spot me?

Outside of Savannah, my favorite place to skate is the Spanish Moss Trail in Beaufort County, SC. It’s about an hour’s drive from Savannah. Its a 10-mile paved walking trail that takes you past some gorgeous scenery filled with marshes and historic buildings.

You might be tempted to skip wearing protective gear on this trail, but I wouldn’t recommend it if you plan to skate the entire trail. There’s a tunnel with a rough grate on both sides, plus there’s always the possibility that you’ll need to jump over a snake like my friend Krystal did.

She’s fine.

If you’re ever in the Savannah area and want to go on a street skate, you are more than welcome to message me. I love an excuse to lace up and roll!

Chillin’ at Leopold’s

When people ask me for a list of places they absolutely must visit in Savannah, Leopold’s Ice Cream is always on that list. One visit, and you’ll see the magic for yourself.

In Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, there are places in America that hold real magic, such as House on the Rock. While Savannah is never mentioned in the book or the TV show, I still feel like Leopold’s should’ve been added. Every time I visit, something new and amazing happens. Plus, their ice cream is just so good! I don’t know what old god the Leopold Family made a deal with to have ice cream that delicious, but it’s worth it.

The black marble soda fountain and wooden back bar are original to the first location.

The ice cream shop was originally opened by the Leopold Family in 1919. It’s now owned and operated by Stratton and Mary Leopold. The shop you see today is in a different location, but the family tradition of quality ice cream continues. Aside from some of the fixtures in the shop, another holdover from past years is their signature flavors like Tutti Frutti and Rum Bisque. My personal favorite flavors are Lemon Custard (perfect for cooling off on hot days) and two seasonal flavors: Rose Petal Cream (the lightest, creamiest floral taste) and Lavender (which strangely tastes like the milk left in the bottom of the bowl after you finish your Fruity Pebbles).

Yes, they have seasonal flavors, and they aren’t what you’d expect. They offer Guinness flavored ice cream in March, Spicy Mocha in July, and Sugar Plum Fairy in December. There are loads more to try and even vegan and gluten-free options.

One of my favorite Fourth of July traditions involves Leopold’s. I go for an evening run downtown right before the fireworks on River Street. If I time it just right, there isn’t a line. I run in, take a picture with the Captain America: The First Avenger poster, and grab a scoop of whatever strikes my fancy before heading to my secret fireworks-watching spot. Unfortunately, that won’t happen this year. The fireworks have been cancelled due to COVID-19.

Stratton Leopold was a unit production manager on Captain America. Also, you may not be able to read it, but my shirt says, “on your left.” I admit I’m a nerd.

If you’re wondering why there’s a movie poster in Leopold’s, well, there’s actually a lot of film memorabilia. Stratton Leopold’s other job is in the film industry. He’s been a producer, a production manager, and a bunch of other things on movies you may have heard of. He has posters, clapboards, props, and pictures all over the ice cream shop.

You can see how Stratton’s work with productions pays off every August for the annual Birthday Block Party! This year marks 101 years in business for Leopold’s Ice Cream. I’m not sure if the pandemic will mean postponing the celebration or not, but if you have a chance to go the party, do it. Broughton Street in front of the shop is closed to traffic. There’s dancing, music, a car show, a photo booth, games, contests, and tons of ice cream!

When I say Leopold’s is a magical place, I really do mean it. There are special moments that only seem to happen there. Back in my news producer days, I was there with a reporter who was interviewing Mary Leopold. Mary would stop every so often to check in on customers. Towards the end of the interview, we ended up outside where a group of ladies, all wearing sparkly green cowboy hats, were sitting with their ice cream. Mary asked where they were visiting from, and they told her they were all from Ireland. They had seen Leopold’s on a travel show and made it a point to stop there. Mary thanked them for coming, and then this group of Irish women started singing. I don’t remember what song it was, but I remember being entranced. It felt as if I had entered a dream. I’ve lived in my fair share of tourist attractions, but I never experienced the same sense of happiness I felt coming from Mary and these women. When I think about Leopold’s, I think about that moment. There’s a special magic there if you look.

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