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The Most Haunted House in Savannah: the Legend, the Facts, and the Fiction

Updated on February 2, 2017
432 Abercorn
432 Abercorn | Source

The House

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 having no desire to occupy the premises, or to have them occupied by anyone else.

The Legend

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.

The Massie School 1889.
The Massie School 1889. | Source

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 that the most disturbing part of all is one hundred percent fact.

Calhoun Square
Calhoun Square | Source

The Facts

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.

1870 Census of Savannah showing the entries for the Wilson family.
1870 Census of Savannah showing the entries for the Wilson family. | Source

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.

Savannah City Plan, 1734
Savannah City Plan, 1734 | Source

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.

The author on the steps of 432 Abercorn Street
The author on the steps of 432 Abercorn Street | Source

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, 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.

The authors wife, Kim, standing on the sidewalk in front of 432 Abercorn Street.
The authors wife, Kim, standing on the sidewalk in front of 432 Abercorn Street. | Source

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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 been 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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    • Stephen C Barnes profile image
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      Stephen Barnes 4 weeks ago from St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador

      I recently received an email from a lady that had read this article and had noticed something in one of the pictures that I had not. I found this interesting and thought others may as well so I have copied both the lady's email and my response here.

      "I just came back from a ghost tour this evening. Nothing on the tour made me a believer.

      I was scrolling through the Internet and read your story.

      I zoomed in on your pic and my heart skipped a beat. If you zoom in on the glass, top left hand corner, beside where you are standing, it looks like a dark head figure. I'm hoping it's not. I want to remain a non believer."

      Hi Michelle,

      First, thank you for reading my article, I hope that you enjoyed it. I had not noticed the shape in the window before you pointed it out to me, so I went back to the original image and looked closely at it. Upon examination of that image I came to the conclusion that what I was looking at was a piece broken out of the glass in the shape of a face which made that area of the photo look darker, and thus resemble a human face. However, I went back to the picture of the house alone, that I used for the first picture in the article, shot only 2 minutes before the image in question, and discover that the window is completely intact and the face shape is not there. So, I have no idea what it is. I guess it gives both of us something to think about.

      Cheers,

      Stephen

    • Stephen C Barnes profile image
      Author

      Stephen Barnes 7 weeks ago from St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador

      To be honest, Robin, I did not come across any stories concerning the finding of British soldiers beneath the basement floor during my research. As this article points out, a great deal of the stories that surround this, and pretty much any other proported haunted houses, are just rumours that have grown with retelling and become accepted by many as fact.

      As to floating orbs showing up in photographs and videos, I have seen examples of this but cannot attest to their authenticity. What I do know to be true is what happened to my camera the night my wife and I were there, a camera that has worked perfectly ever since. Knowing this I have to believe that at least some of the other reported incidence of this nature are true.

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      Robin 8 weeks ago

      Visited 432 Abercorn with one of the Ghost Tours. Was told owners of the house discovered British soldiers were buried underneath a slab of concrete in the basement.

      Upon taking photos in that area, small orbs can be seen dashing around on film and video. Is this true? IDK. Seems there are a lot tourist attraction stories

    • Stephen C Barnes profile image
      Author

      Stephen Barnes 8 weeks ago from St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador

      That is very interesting indeed. Not only did I have my own personal camera experience there but, in my research for this article, I discovered that malfunctioning electronics, especially cameras, is a very common occurrence at this property. Perhaps restless spirits are adverse to having their picture taken.

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      tiffandroxy 8 weeks ago

      I also had an interesting experience with 432 Abercorn Street. On my first day of exploring Savannah as a tourist I came across this house and had no idea about its reputation. I was instantly drawn to it and started taking photos. I remember thinking to myself how much I liked this house. Imagine my surprise when on a ghost tour a few days later I discovered this was the most haunted house in Savannah! I had been taking photos of "haunted" properties all evening on this tour and they all turned out, but none of the photos I took that night of 432 Abercorn St worked, every photo was pitch black. Interesting!