As late daylight turned into darkness, a light drizzle lifted a haze into the soft glow of the streetlights. I focused on my balance along the glistening cobblestones, as I thought, “how appropriate?” It was Halloween night, and I was about to learn the wretched truth about my charming Savannah.
There are few towns that charm me more than does Savannah, Georgia. Perhaps it’s the friendly folks stopping to chat, as their Great Danes sniff at the cabooses of their tiny cohorts in stately neighborhood squares. It may be the sounds of fun floating over from the ultimate frisbee game playing out on the far lawn of Forsyth Park. Though, I suspect I’m most enchanted by the Spanish Moss that drapes and sways in slow motion in the live oak canopy above me.
My first visit to Savannah was two years ago. It was a consolation prize for a cancelled holiday road trip to Maine from our home outside D.C. (thank you, Covid concerns). It would be the first Christmas I’d spend away from family, and certainly the warmest. My partner and I found ourselves on a spontaneous drive south, and soon barefoot and sun kissed in the coastal sands of Tybee Island.
We explored the hauntingly beautiful Bonaventure Cemetery along the Wilmington River and perused Ardsley Park—home of the iconic Savannah Bananas baseball team—where we checked real estate listings. Closer in, we stayed in a loveable row house that was walk-able to the streets of Savannah proper and their southern allure. I was hooked.
Check out the Ecopsyched! YouTube VIDEO!
Bonaventure Cemetery: Garden for the Gone
Jump ahead two years. We haven’t (yet) bought a house in Savannah, though I found myself back in town for a work project in October. I was thrilled!
My Savannah work week included sunny ferry rides across the river, to and from my hotel and the Convention Center. I dined at delectable restaurants with co-workers who were savvy on the city’s tastiest adventures. And it just so happened that I was in town during Halloween, one of my favorite holidays. Established in 1733, Savannah’s rich history holds stories that were primed for my curiosity of the macabre.
All Hallows' Eve
A co-worker and I set out to explore the darker side of Savannah on a misty Halloween night. I signed us up for a True Crime Pub Crawl along dimly lit backstreets and through small, crowded pubs with founding dates etched in stone at their entrances.
The heavy stories of Savannah’s morbid past caught the collective breath of our group. From the gruesome murder of a teen committed by his best friend to a factory manager’s scandalous fall from grace (and a third story window), our grisly Halloween expectations were exceeded. I should also mention that unique signature drinks at each of the pubs heightened our sensitivity to the ghastly.
Beyond the tales of crime came the most intriguing part of the evening for me. It so happens that in 1820, for the second time, half of the city was destroyed by fire. In that same year, one in ten people were killed by an outbreak of yellow fever. The toll was high, and the city was lacking space to bury the dead. In a cemetery of 600 headstones, there are likely closer to 10,000 bodies of the departed entombed in the earth below, with remains extending far beyond the gates and under the city streets. In fact, the uneven bricks of the cobblestone sidewalks we stood on hinted at shifting coffins.
Our ghoulishly garbed guide told of the cemetery attendants who heard midnight moaning rising from fresh graves. These “graveyard shift” diggers would resurrect the not-so-dead from their not-so-permanent resting places and welcome them back to the living. Because of such frequent occurrences, a practice was instituted of burying bodies with ropes that ascended through the soil to a bell atop the grave, so that the living below could ring the living above and so be “saved by the bell.”
However, it wasn’t unheard of that the bell would ring through the dark night air only for the grave digger to find a truly deceased person beneath the topsoil. Alas, this was attributed to inadvertent rope tugging during postmortem twitching, a natural bodily occurrence during which stored chemicals in nerve endings are gradually released, triggering corpse animations. And so, the grave digger would toil only to discover a “dead ringer.”
Oh sure, you can find modern-day fact-checkers that debunk tales of “graveyard shift” workers resurrecting those who be “saved by the bell” who might otherwise have become “dead ringers,” but where’s the romantic horror in that? And were they there to fact-check in 1820 Georgia? Doubtful.
I believe in you, Savannah.
You must. Below are not-to-miss adventures, bites, and sips in Savannah, Georgia suitable for all holidays and a random Tuesday or two. I hope you’ll share your adventures with me in the comments below. Bon voyage!
WHAT TO DO
Make time for a leisurely walk beneath the canopy of live oak trees. Continue along the streets beyond to meet friendly folks in lush neighborhood squares.
Stroll the iconic cobble stone street along the Savannah River.
This quaint square includes outdoor dining options with good eats.
Savannah Belles Ferry
Hop a free ride on the river ferry from points north and south on River Street and to the Convention Center across the way.
Mad Cat Tours
Of course, I highly recommend their True Crime Pub Crawl after dark! Their Hell Cat Ghost Tour looks like a ghast, too!
There’s a waitlist! Book in advance to attend in Ardsley Park’s Grayson Stadium or join the lottery to score tickets to attend an exhibition game near you.
Picnic along the river, and then stroll among the weathered headstones where John Muir once camped during his Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf.
Skip the hustle of Hilton Head and escape to this beautiful residential island for a relaxing day at the shore. Park (for a fee) near the Fishing Pier and Pavilion for a spot on the beach near rest rooms and snacks.
For indoor adventures:
Head inside for performances at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) and peruse dinosaur displays and holiday decorations at the JW Marriott Savannah Plant Riverside District.
WHERE TO EAT
B. Matthews Eatery
With its historic wood and brick interior, this eatery is a cozy spot to savor fantastic food. Not to miss are their Crispy Brussels Sprouts and Steamed Mussels to start, rounded out with their Low Country Boil. Be prepared to share or take some home!
Tequila’s Town Mexican Restaurant
This is a side-street must for authentic Mexican food in Savannah. Don’t miss out on the Queso Fundido with Choriso and corn chips!
At lunchtime, create your own half-price ($12.99) hearty and delicious salad by simply checking the boxes next to your options on the menu.
Grab drinks and dinner at the rooftop bar for a casual evening out.
Vinnie Van Go-Go’s
For the love of cheese grease, I walked by every day and did not snag a slice of their New York-style pizza due to the line at the walk-up window. I’ll be back.
Leopold’s Ice Cream
I visited this Old Movies-themed ice cream shop after most meals for a child-size scoop of rich deliciousness. It’s so delectable, that I grabbed a scoop for breakfast on my way home at the airport when I happened upon their concourse kiosk!
Mint to Be
The meeting place of our True Crime Pub Tour, this is where I watched the best mojito of my life come to life with freshly smashed blueberries and mint topped with a floating stick of sugar cane. You may even sneak a peek at a secret entrance to La Aparicion Speakeasy Lounge at the back of the bar.
The entrance to the Peacock Lounge is no secret with its alleyway neon blue bulbs, yet the descent to and dimly lit allure of the lounge below beckons speakeasy enthusiasts. Try their mocha inspired martini for a sweeter treat.
I offer prompts during my story circles to help participants recall their own life stories to share. Here’s a prompt for you.
Recall a time when you realized how grateful you were to be alive.
Happy storymaking, friends!