Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Legends of Savannah's Tunnels ~ Day 6

Savannah is a city built on her dead. Well, what does that mean? Exactly??


I don't know about you but the thought of mysterious underground tunnels gives new meaning to walking down the street at night. A series of centuries-old tunnels exist beneath much of Savannah's historic district. And to know what might've gone on down there is enough to keep you up at night.

Not much is known for certain about these tunnels. They were most likely built at different times and for varying purposes. For example, some were likely built by the British as part of the city's early defense system. And not surprisingly some were most likely built as part of the underground railroad. But it's those other tunnels that make the little hairs stand up on my arms.

Adjacent to the old Candler Hospital is the entrance to one tunnel. It's actually where the old morgue used to be. But before it was Candler Hospital, legend has it, doctors used this secretive area to perform illegal autopsies and human experiments. (Can you say Frankenstein?!) It runs under the hospital parking lot to Drayton Street.

Savannah's first major yellow fever epidemic occurred in 1820 and 666 people died. The 1854 epidemic followed killing 1,040 and it culminated in a final yellow fever outbreak in 1876, killing 1,066. By September of that year 5,000 of Savannah's 28,000 residents had fled. During the yellow fever epidemic, it is believed that some of the underground tunnels were used to hide the bodies of the dead until nightfall when they would be buried in secret away from the prying eyes of Savannah's frightened citizens.

Yellow fever was a mysterious and frightening illness causing uncontrollable hemorrhaging and sudden death. Also according to legend, many were believed to have slipped into a coma and been buried alive.


About a block away from the Old Candler Hospital, on Calhoun Square - the only square with all it's original buildings still intact, sits a dilapidated Greek Revival structure known as 432 Abercorn. The house was built in 1868 and belonged to Civil War general Benjamin J. Wilson who's wife was one of Savannah's yellow fever victims.

She left behind a young daughter who is said to have died from heat stroke after being punished by her father and according to witnesses the little girl and her father never left. Years later 432 Abercorn is purported to have experienced a triple murder (of 3 little girls) and a missing person. You might also hear that the bodies of 10,000 slaves who died on their trip from Africa were deposited here. Most Savannians will tell you just walking by the place will give you goose bumps.

And, if it's pirates ye fancy, well mateys, they had a tunnel, too!

Dug directly beneath the Pirates' House Inn & Restaurant, built way back in 1753, is a tunnel known as the Pirate's Passage. It is said to have extended from the rum cellar to a dock on the Savannah River a block away. Druken patrons of the tavern sometimes awoken to find themselves aboard ship headed to China having been "shanghaied" by pirates through the passage.

And according the Pirates' House place mat, Robert Louis Stevenson was once a guest and it was here he is said to have met the real Captain Flint and inspiration for his classic novel, Treasure Island. Of course, Captain Flint is among the myriad of restless souls who are said to haunt the place but I'm guessing none of them look like Johnny Depp.


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