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Map of Georgia with Savannah locator
Map of Georgia with Savannah locator

Savannah, Georgia was founded by James Oglethorpe in 1733 on the Savannah River in southeastern Georgia. Known as the City of Festivals, it was America's first planned city. For a while during the eighteenth century, Savannah was Georgia's capital and became a shipping and cultural center for area planters, leaving it with a historic district over two-and-a-half-square miles, set up in a grid of tidy squares in which one thousand historic buildings still stand. The author learned more about the ghosts from the many available tours offered in this lovely town, detailing this information in Ghost: Investigating the Other Side.

Book cover: Ghost: Investigating the Other Side
Book cover: Ghost: Investigating the Other Side

Among the most infamous places is the red brick Mercer House on Monterey Square, initially owned by General Hugh Mercer, the great-grandfather of singer Johnny Mercer. Built in 1861, it eventually came into the hands of the infamous Jim Williams, an antiques dealer who was responsible for saving and restoring around fifty of the town's historic buildings. Millions of readers and movie fans know Williams as the slightly sinister character at the heart of John Berendt's "nonfiction novel," Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, which starred Kevin Spacey when it was made into a film. Few know what a contribution he made to the city.

Book cover: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
Book cover: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

Williams lived in the grand Mercer House, which he spent two years restoring and from which he ran his international business in antiques. He bore great passion for preserving Savannah's history, and he's credited with asking a priest to exorcise one of his restored homes on East St. Julian Street that had so much persistent "activity" that Williams could not get the carpenters to work on it. He himself heard footsteps and loud crashes that did not belong there. (It's currently included on the local ghost tours and supposedly sightings still occur there.)

Danny Hansford
Danny Hansford

Each year Williams threw the Christmas party of the season until 1981, when he shot and killed Danny Hansford, a young man who lived with him. Claiming self-defense during an argument in which Danny approached him with a loaded gun, Williams went through four separate trials, assured by his investment in voodoo magic that ultimately he would be acquitted. And he was — at least by the jury. He threw one of his famous galas in honor his of freedom.

Mercer House
Mercer House

Williams seems to have fared a little worse at the hands of Danny's ghost: He remained in the house and at the age of 59, he died of pneumonia. The odd thing about his death is that he is reported to have fallen to the very spot where he would have lain had Danny shot him, as he claimed Danny meant to do. In the novel, the voodoo practitioner whom he had consulted had warned Williams that Danny was angry and must be appeased. Apparently, he failed to take this seriously. Or it was fate that got him.

A few years after Williams death, there were reports from people who'd come to view this infamous house on the anniversary of his annual parties. They saw lights ablaze and heard the sound of revelers, despite the fact that no one was throwing a party at the time. Others have supposedly seen him wandering in one of his other restored homes, so he seems to be enjoying his spectral stay on earth. The Mercer House is open for limited hours for touring, and contains furniture and art that had belonged to Williams. Perhaps it houses some restless spirits as well.

Now let's go west to visit a legendary town that cannot seem to let go of its past.

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