The Haunted South
Savannah Ghost Research Society founder Ryan Dunn might just know more about Savannah’s spooks than any other human being, living or dead. He and his team have conducted more than 100 different cases in and around Savannah, with highlights eventually making their way onto his Afterlife Tours. Thoroughly researched and fact-based, each of his hauntings speaks to the often terrifying history of Savannah.
South magazine contributor Barry Kaufman is participating in a “lock in” at Moon River, overnighting among its famous ghosts with Ryan Dunn and his team. Check out southmag.com when we unveil the ghostly footage this Halloween, Oct. 31.
Welcome to Milledgeville
For generations, it was seen as the ultimate threat for misbehaving children, barked by parents at the end of their rope. “If you keep that up, I’m sending you to Milledgeville!”
Any child who wasn’t, well, crazy would immediately follow the impulse of that chill up their spine and do as they were told. No one wanted to be sent to Milledgeville. There were stories, so many stories, that carried the weight of that parental threat. Stories of patients locked up against their will, penned in like animals. Stories of maniacal doctors who would lobotomize their patients, scooping out their brains and leaving them nothing but shambling zombies. Stories of raving madmen pounding their heads against padded walls until electroshock therapy reduced them to drooling terrors. Stories of unimaginable horror.
They were stories, designed to scare children into minding their parents. And sadly, they were stories that carried a kernel of tragic truth.
Opened in 1842 as the Georgia Lunatic, Idiot, and Epileptic Asylum, Milledgeville was, at first, a bastion of humane treatment. Or, at least it was in comparison to the previous care that the mentally ill received, which was often a life on the streets or an early grave. Dr. Thomas A. Green, who ran the asylum for 34 years, abolished rope and chain restraints and would often dine with the patients.
But as the years went on, the asylum became overcrowded as the definition of “insane” became stretched to their limits. Anyone who was determined a little bit “off” earned a spot in the asylum, and as their numbers grew, any pretense of care was drowned out by the screams of its victims. By the end of the 1950s, the Atlanta Journal Constitution found thousands of patients being cared for by just 48 doctors, none of whom were psychiatrists and some of whom were themselves patients at the asylum.
Central State Hospital was founded as the Georgia State Lunatic, Idiot, and Epileptic Asylum in Dec. of 1842. More than 25,000 patients are buried in unmarked graves throughout the hospital grounds.
The Friendly Ghosts of the Foley House
As I turned a corner of the Foley House Inn, I startled the desk attendant. “Oh, sorry,” she gasped. “Around here, I have to make sure you’re human.” The halls of the historic home are known for being haunted, but their guests of the supernatural variety tend to be more helpful than harmful. “A gentleman woke up the other night and said it felt like someone was trying to make the bed,” she told me. “They’re pretty polite.”
Another legend involves a man in a top hat. Rumor has it that the man was courting the original owner, Honoria Foley, when he snuck into her room one evening. Surprised, she hit him with the first thing she could grab – a candlestick – killing him instantly. During a 1980s renovation project contractors turned up a skeleton in the walls. Was it the slain man? Obscured by time, the truth of the story evades us - but imaginative minds can speculate.