432 Abercorn Street: The Legend, the Facts, and the Fiction of the Most Haunted House in Savannah
432 Abercorn Street in Savannah, Georgia is a mid-19th century Greek Revival Structure that sits at the corner of Abercorn and East Gordon, on Calhoun Square, in Savannah's historic district. The house was built in 1868 (at that time the home was valued at over $20,000, and was considered to be one of the most expensive houses in Savannah) for Civil War veteran and cotton merchant, General Benjamin J. Wilson and his family, who moved into it in 1869. The house now stands empty and abandoned, as it has for some time, its once elegant facade looking warn and time ravaged, as the building slips further and further into disrepair. The current owners seemingly have no desire to occupy the premises, or to have them occupied by anyone else.
Savannah Georgia abounds with tales of ghosts, and haunted houses. One such house, known simply by its street address: 432 Abercorn Street, is considered by many to be the most haunted house in Savannah (to be considered the most haunted house in a city that is considered to be the most haunted in America says a lot). This reputation is due as much to the history of the house, and the land on which it stands, as to the myths and rumors that surround the property, and its previous owners. Here we will look at the history as well as the rumors, and attempt to separate the fact from the fiction.
I am not really a big believer in ghosts or haunted houses (I want to believe but have yet to see anything that would convince me, though my experiences with 432 Abercorn Street come very close) but when my wife and I were planning a trip to Savannah I started researching interesting things about the city that I wanted to see and experience, and came across 432 Abercorn.
One of the stories I read was that General Wilson's wife had died of yellow fever in the house, thus leaving the general to raise their daughter on his own. As the story goes Wilson's young daughter liked to play with the children from the Massie School, which is a school for children from poor families, located on Calhoun Square, just up from 432 Abercorn. Legend says that the general disapproved of his daughter playing with these poor kids, and when his efforts to put a stop to it were unsuccessful he punished his daughter by tying her to a chair in the living room window where she could do nothing but watch the other children playing in the square. After a few days of sitting like this, in the window in the intense heat of a Savannah summer, the little girl died from heat stroke and dehydration. Years later the general also died in the house, by his own hand, and rumor has it that the pair never left. People claim to have seen the daughter still looking out through the living room window where she perished. They also say that the image of the generals face appears in the plaster beside the window.
Another story told of a triple murder in the house back in the late 1950s or early 1960s, and that the spirits of the victims were also haunting the house. In addition I had read that the property was cursed because it had been built on top of an old slave cemetery. I also read numerous reports of guests to the home reporting seeing ghostly figures and hearing strange sounds, including that of children's laughter. Though not a believer in the supernatural I was intrigued enough by all of these tales to add 432 Abercorn Street to my "must do in Savannah" list.
I did little or no additional research on this property prior to visiting Savannah but was inspired enough by my experience at this site to research it further upon my return home. During the course of this research I discovered that some of the more disturbing parts of this story are fiction but the most disturbing part of all is one hundred percent fact.
The house was, in fact, built in 1868 for General Benjamin J. Wilson, who moved into it with his wife and five children upon the home's completion in 1869, and his wife did die shortly there after of Yellow Fever, (Exactly when is uncertain. An 1870 census shows her still alive in that year) leaving the general to raise his children on his own. This, however, is where legend and reality, as regards the Wilson family, split off in different directions. Though it is unclear as to when and how the rumors about the general's cruel treatment of his daughter, that eventually caused her death, got started, what is clear is that they are just that; rumors.
The propagation of these rumors concerning the Wilson family are due in no small part to ghost tour operators who use the sensational and frightening tale to attract business. Not all tour companies, however, are comfortable with this practice. Ghost City Tours of Savannah, for example, has done some research into the stories in order to present, as much as possible, their clients with a truer story of the house, and its history. In their research they uncovered a census record from 1870 that clearly shows that all Wilson family members, including both daughters, were alive in the year 1870. They were also able to determine that not only did Benjamin Wilson not commit suicide at 432 Abercorn but that he didn't even die in the state of Georgia but actually passed away in Colorado, in 1896.
Through further research I found that both the Wilson daughters lived into adult hood. The oldest daughter, Carrie, married a man named Lewis Tye, and moved to Atlanta, where she died in 1942 at the age of 82. There is less information available on the younger sister Mary, though I was able to learn that she did get married, to a man named Potts.
Though there is little information available on Benjamin Wilson and his family there is enough to prove that the terrible stories about the family are completely false.
As to the supposed triple homicide in the late fifties or early sixties, I could find no evidence to substantiate this, nor any of the other stories that are told about the history of the house, except one.
432 Abercorn Street, and, in fact, all of Calhoun Square, is built right on top of an old slave grave yard. When the city of Savannah decided to develop this area, instead of relocating the bodies buried there they decided simply to build right over them. It is estimated that more than 1000 slaves are buried in pits beneath this area of the city. If this house is indeed cursed and haunted, as many people claim, it seems to me that this would most certainly be the reason. It is difficult to understand why anyone would find the need to create sensational tales to support the haunting when this true story of human cruelty and injustice exists. If there are restless spirits here I have no doubt that they belong to some of these poor souls, whose bodies lay beneath the city, their graves unmarked, their names known only to God.
My Experience at 432 Abercorn
As I stated earlier, I am not much of a believer in ghost stories and haunted houses but I felt that my visit to Savannah would be missing something if I did not visit 432 Abercorn. So one evening my wife and I set off on foot, cocktails in hand, through Savannah's historic district, to visit this infamous house. Even though I am not, as I have stated, a believer, I could not help but feel just a little spooked walking those dark streets, past those old, historic houses and buildings, with tales of long ago murders and restless spirits playing on my mind. I didn't really expect to encounter any ghosts, or experience anything supernatural but, as it turned out, I was in for a bit of a surprise.
Our intention when we set out was to go to the house so that we could at least say we had been there, take a couple of pics to document our visit, and perhaps post on facebook, then return to the Azalea Inn, where we were staying, for a nightcap. So, upon arriving I took a couple of pictures of the house then passed the camera to my wife so that she could take a picture of me on the stairs. So far so good. My wife then handed me back the camera and I took a picture of her standing on the sidewalk in front of the property. That was the last picture I took that night. When I attempted to take another the camera malfunctioned.
The camera in question is of good quality; a Canon EOS Rebel T3, which, at the time, was fairly new, in excellent condition, and had only days before been in for cleaning and maintenance. That night, however, it just went bizarre: the lens began moving in and out of focus, and zooming in and out on its own whenever I pressed the shutter release button. I switched off the auto focus but this did not help. I tried changing lenses, to no avail. Automatic functions began going on and off at random so I switch to manual, still no good. The camera just would not work.
When we got back to the inn I tried again to take a picture but it was no use. When I removed the chip from the camera and placed it the laptop to download the pictures I was in for another surprise. In the photo I had taken of my wife, the last picture I had been able to take, she is surrounded by a bright, glowing aura.
Do you believe in ghosts?
I took the camera out again the next day but it still failed to function. As we were leaving the following day for Florida I decided to wait and bring the camera in for service when we got to Orlando. On the way down we stopped to visit my wife's cousin in Jacksonville. While telling her the strange story of our visit to 432 Abercorn I took out the camera to show her and discovered that, for some mysterious reason, it was now working perfectly, and has continued to ever since. Strangely enough it seems that all I had to do to get the camera working again was to leave Georgia.
I know that I have said this at least a couple of times already, I am not a believer, but I cannot deny that something strange occurred at 432 Abercorn. I will not go as far as to say that it was ghosts, or the restless spirits of mistreated and forgotten slaves, or anything of the sort, but certainly something happened. And though the story is not as sensational once the rumors have been removed it is still an interesting, and somewhat disturbing, tale, and a place worth stopping by for a look, and a photo op, should you happen to find yourself strolling at night through the streets of Savannah.
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© 2017 Stephen Barnes