The Ultimate Haunted Road Trip of the South
Part Two- Heading for the Coast
Welcome back to our Ultimate Haunted Road Trip of the South! We left part one in Asheville, NC and now, we have magically traveled 120 miles to Charlotte on our way down the coast to Wilmington, Charleston and Savannah! Enjoy this 485 mile leg of our haunted road trip, which could be completed in an extended weekend or take a week and take a slow road trip.
HAUNTED CHARLOTTE, NC
Charlotte, NC, The Queen City, originally founded and named after the wife of King George III. Today it is one of the fastest growing cities in the country, but the past still demands to be heard. My favorite fun fact about Charlotte is that the famous Hornet’s that are so closely connected to the city were inspired by Lord Cornwallis during the American Revolution. He didn’t expect the outnumbered Patriots to put up a fight, but in true American style, they so stubbornly resisted defeat that he was heard to say as he left: “Let’s get out of here; this place is a damned hornet’s nest.” The official city seal bears a hornet’s nest, and many local organizations carry the name, including the NBA team, The Charlotte Hornets.
You’ll want to get checked in to your hotel before your Nightly Spirits Charlotte Haunted Pub Tour. The Dunhill is on the tour so you know it’s haunted! The ten-story, 100 room Mayfair Manor was built in 1929 and opened just one month after the crash of the stock market. Great timing! But despite the financial woes of the country, the Hotel thrived, until the 1980’s when it sat empty with an uncertain future, like everything else in the 80’s. Finally, renovations began to bring it back to life. With this new life, came an expired one.
While the building sat empty, it became a sort of an unofficial homeless shelter. While work was being done to get the elevators running again, a dead body was found at the bottom of the shaft. It was assumed that a homeless man fell to his death one dark night. Don’t feel too sorry for him though because Dusty, as he has been named, has chosen to spend his afterlife in this beautiful hotel playing pranks on staff and visitors! The elevators are quite a ride. They will shake a little bit as they go up & down, sometimes stopping on random floors. The elevator doors fly open & slam shut multiple times before finally allowing the elevator to take off and get you to your floor. Whenever the room service staff feel a little uneasy while in the elevator they just ask Dusty to knock it off until they get out. He will usually oblige.
The tour begins in the delectable Dandelion Market. Built in 1910, it is believed that this place was originally part of a textile mill. There is a well-known (to the staff at least) ghost that haunts this building, that is nicknamed Hank because the mill used to produce handkerchiefs. He likes to jump around on the roof and toss around cell phones and iPads. I won’t give too much away, but I will say that when I gave the first tour after our grand reopening, I was standing in an alcove that had two hanging lamps. The moment I started talking about Hank, one of the lamps began to swing while the other one was still as could be. I kid you not, it stopped swinging when I said “Alright Hank, knock it off!” It was a great way to begin the tour. Thanks, Hank!
Right behind Dandelion is a municipal cemetery dating back to 1776. It is, of course, haunted and featured on the tour. It is also convenient because the grilled cheese and tomato soup at Dandelion Market is to die for!
After the tour, you are probably going to want to head back to the third stop because there are so many spirits there that you will need more time with them! They also have beautifully cold drafts and awesome live Irish bands. You will learn all about the hauntings on the tour, but my favorite spirit, besides the whiskey, is the little girl who keeps writing her ABC’s on the wall in the front lobby area. When the brick was exposed during a fire about a decade ago, the writing appeared. Employees have tried scrubbing it, buffing it, painting it, but it just would not go away. So they decided to just let the little girl have her way and they left it there.
Ri Ra is across the street from the Dunhill, so you won’t have far to go when you decide to call it a night. The next stop on our Ultimate Haunted Road Trip of the South is Wilmington, NC, 3 hours away. There is a lot to see there, so don’t spend too much time with the spirits!
HAUNTED WILMINGTON, NC
The beautiful, historic, coastal city of Wilmington is a great place to relax, unwind, and find more than a few scares. President Woodrow Wilson was once a resident of this town that craftbeer.com named one of the “Top five Beeriest Beach Towns” in the country, so you know you are gonna have a good time!
For a great historic scare, you should check out The Bellamy Mansion. It was built between 1859 and 1861 as a private residence for the family of Dr. John D. Bellamy, a prominent plantation owner, physician, and businessman. The Bellamy’s and their 10 children lived in the main house and they had nine enslaved workers in the outbuildings. The home was taken by Union troops during the Civil War, it survived a disastrous fire in 1972, and now it is a fully functioning museum of history and design arts. And, of course, it is haunted!
The Bellamy Mansion is believed to be haunted by members of the Bellamy family and their servants. An elderly couple has been reported in a window and young children have also been seen and heard on the top floor. Guests often feel strangely drawn to the top floor, which was where the children’s rooms were (remember, there were 10 of them!). However, once they get up there, most people say they begin to feel sick and no longer want to be up there. In total, there were 19 people living on the property in the beginning and many of them died and had their funerals there too. So taking a tour of this beautifully preserved ani-bellum home is a must-do for any paranormal enthusiasts.
The USS North Carolina was commissioned in 1941 and a major part of WWII offense operations. The ship lost 10 sailors in battle and survived being struck by a Japanese torpedo in 1942. It is now a floating museum and is considered one of the most haunted places in North Carolina. One of the spirits is a soldier who was killed by a torpedo strike in the battleship’s washroom. Visitors have seen full-bodied apparitions in passageways and experienced being touched by unseen hands, objects being thrown, disembodied voices, and the sound of running footsteps. It is a great stop to combine a love of history with the thrill of ghost hunting.
The Cotton Exchange is a shopping and dining complex made up of eight historic buildings that have been around since the Civil War, so obviously there are more than a few spirits hanging around. There are rambunctious spirits that knock down displays, unfold shirts, pour syrup on countertops and unplug fixtures in the ice cream shop. One of the buildings, the Dahnhardt Building, used to be a three-story mariner’s saloon. Spirits seen there are often dressed in Victorian clothing and just watch silently as shoppers mill about. “Fred the Ghost” is said to be quite the prankster and spends time in each shop, playing pranks. He is especially fond of the bars!
Cape Fear Wine and Beer has over 300 varieties of beer to choose from and one, very picky ghostly connoisseur named Walt. Walt is actually the first spirit I have ever heard of that is attached to a specific beer. Or any beer, for that matter! A rep came in offering Original Flag Porter 1825. “It is the closest you will come to a traditional porter,” he told the staff. Then he told the story of one of his ancestors, Walt, served under Major James Craig, who led the British into Wilmington during the American Revolution, and that the Porter’s recipe is so original that Walt could’ve been tasting the exact beer hundreds of years ago. Cool story.
Little did everyone know that with the addition of Original Flag Porter, Cape Fear Wine and Beer would also be getting Walt as a permanent patron. Soon after they began serving it, strange things started to happen. Doors would violently shake as though someone was trying to get in, a shadowy figure paced in front of the coolers, and doors of the cooler that stored the Porter would fly open and the lights would switch on. Finally, Walt could no longer control his craving and as the bartender was at the door ready to leave, he flipped the lights off and heard a loud pop coming from the coolers. The front bottle of Original Flag Porter had simply snapped in half. The bottom half was on the shelf and the top half, with the cap still on, was on the floor of the cooler. The creepiest part…not only was the bottle empty but there was not a drop of porter spilled inside that cooler.
When the company moved to a larger location, they were afraid that Walt would follow. But sure enough, as soon as they were settled, Walt popped a top and enjoyed his favorite brew. They say that each time the bar introduces other original porters made from this same strain of yeast, that Walt has to try them before they will offer them to guests!
There is an incredible story here about Topsey the Elephant. She was visiting with the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus in 1922, when she sneakily snuck away and began a two-day rampage of downtown Wilmington. On this site was the Eureka Pressing Company & Dye Works. It was where the Dram Yard restaurant sits. Topsy busted in through the back and couldn’t find her way out. She saw a vat of dye and mistaking it for water, she stuck her trunk down in it. It gave her quite a surprise and she spit the dye all over the room and backed up into a brick wall, creating her own exit. Topsy was eventually caught and safely returned to the circus. I highly recommend learning more about Topsey’s adventure. There is a more detailed account in John Hirchak’s book, Legends of Old Wilmington and Cape Fear. If you have Amazon Prime, you can read it for free!
Today, they have pieces honoring Topsy placed all over the restaurant at the hotel, The Dram Yard. She is on their aprons, a part of their logo, on their door handles, and they even have a wire sculpture of her hanging up on the wall she ran into.
The other buildings that make up the hotel once served as a convent and accommodations for Hollywood when Wilmington had several movies filmed there, like Iron Man 3, The Conjuring, and the hit TV shows, Dawson’s Creek and One Tree Hill. Maybe one day James Vanderbeek will be joining the spirits of Topsey and the nuns! That’s a thought that will give you interesting dreams! We’ve got to head out early for Charleston.
HAUNTED CHARLESTON, SC
In 1670 Charles Town was founded in honor of King Charles II. After the Revolutionary War, nobody wanted a city named after British Royalties, so it changed to Charleston. Fun Fact: When you stroll the city, you’ll notice lots of homes accented with a dark green known as Charleston Green. After the Civil War, the Union sent buckets of black paint for residents to use when fixing up their damaged homes. Well, they weren’t about to paint their homes Yankee black, so the citizens mixed in a bit of Southern yellow and created the distinctively dark green hue. Charleston is about 2 and a half hours down the coast and you’ll want to arrive hungry for a Nightly Spirits Charleston Haunted Food Tour. Again, I don’t want to spoil the spirits so I will just give you my favorite.
The food tour begins at Henry’s on Market, the oldest continuous restaurant in South Carolina. Henry O. Hasselmeyer ran a grocery and retail liquor store, later opening Henry’s Cafe, which later evolved into Henry’s Restaurant. Henry was one of the top players in the bootlegging game, ending up in court many times. Each time he was arrested, he pled guilty, paid the $100 fine, and got right back to it! Eventually, the place cleaned up became a staple in Charleston Fine Dining. But Henry is still up to his old hijinks. In fact, on our very first tour in Charleston, as soon as I finished my intro, a small fire broke out at the top of the staircase. There was no obvious explanation for how the fire started and while tons of smoke filled the room we were in, there was no damage done. I have to remember to be more careful on opening tours that have ghosts named Henry! Anyway, they have amazing crabcakes and make a mean Manhattan.
When you are in a city with so much haunted history, you have to throw in a visit to an abandoned dungeon? That is exactly what is in the basement of the Old Exchange Building. This infamous dungeon housed countless war prisoners, pirates, and slaves. They were shackled in miserable conditions and most of them suffered horrific deaths. Their bodies were left there, still chained to the wall, until space was needed. You can take a look at the holding cell that was not much bigger than a California King sized bed. There was no bathroom and often, prisoners were packed so tight, they had only the space they stood in.
Those punished for petty crimes were also thrown in with the hardened criminals, men and women alike. No one was ever told how long their sentence was and often, they were simply forgotten about. You can feel the tension of these tortured souls in these dark chambers. The last time I visited, it was very sobering to be down there and think about those conditions.
I did not have a ghostly experience inside the dungeon, however, when I left, I was waiting on the light at the crosswalk right next to the building and there was a man walking his dog waiting with me. The dog was sniffing around one of the small windows to the dungeon and suddenly he began to whimper and tried to run across the street. His owner had to forcibly pull him back on the leash. Something down there spooked this pup so bad, he tried to run into traffic!
For dinner, I recommend one of the coolest dive bars around. The Griffon is an English pub housed in a building that’s over 200 years old. The décor consists of over $60,000 worth of dollar bills signed by thousands of patrons. If you were to pull back the bills on the top, you can see the yellowed ones behind it that were around when smoking was allowed inside.
Recently, a lot of the bills were taken down to pay the staff who were not able to work due to the Covid-19 shutdown. Let’s hope they used LOTS of hand sanitizer! This joint has been a bar for most of its existence. It was even a noted stop for pirates coming in from the wharf. There’s an old legend that says when a pirate left for a voyage, they would leave money behind so if they didn’t get enough booty in their pillaging, they could still buy a drink when they got home. They have a menu of elevated pub fare and the burgers are delicious.
After dinner, head across the street for a nightcap at the Vendue Rooftop. The Vendue is housed in several historic commercial warehouses. It is a luxury hotel where no two rooms are alike other than the complimentary bottle of sherry! The famous rooftop bar can give you an overlook of all of the spirits roaming the city. The view is incredible and I am in love with the Red Moon Margarita (10 Belle Isle Honey Habanero Moonshine, Cointreau, Blood Orange Puree, Lime Juice, Sparkling Wine).
Now, I have not personally stayed at this haunted Charleston hotel. There are quite a few, so I am working my way down the list with each visit. But I will tell you that I am looking forward to it and you’ll learn why in a moment. Here’s the story: In 1843, a rich guy had a grand mansion built near the harbor. It was abandoned during the Civil War and then renovated by another rich guy who sided with the Union and hoped to hold gatherings in the home to patch up the rocky relationship between the north and south. Too soon, rich guy. Too soon. The years were not kind to the home. It fell into disrepair and was abandoned after Hurricane Hugo took its toll. Luckily, it was rescued in the 90’s and renovated into a beautiful hotel. With lots of ghosts!
Room 3 has the spirit of a young girl who has been seen playing in the fountain just outside and then tracking her tiny wet footprints inside. She also likes to play with cell phones. Room 8 hosts a large male torso. Yep, just his torso appears, usually to male guests, followed by the sound of hefty chuckling. Those who have encountered him believe him to be quite a seedy character and not at all a gentleman.
In fact, the gentleman stays in room 10. A ghostly gentleman caller, that is! Single female travelers have seen him watching them before he climbs into bed and gently puts his arm around them. Strangely enough, they all describe it as startling at first, then strangely soothing. They say it’s the best night’s sleep they have ever had. And yes, this is why I want to stay at the Battery Carriage Inn and don’t judge me. I am a single female with loads of anxiety!
Brunch is one of my favorite things. Brunch in a haunted old church-turned-restaurant, is killer! The Church of the Redeemer was constructed in 1916 and held services until the 1960’s when it became a restaurant. The spirits don’t seem to approve of this type of operation. Bottles behind the bar have been thrown off the shelf and broken and electrical problems often occur with the restaurant’s system and computer systems. But these uptight ghosts are worth fighting off for the food. You are going to want the Praline French Toast or Pork Belly Benedict. And I insist on the Mimosa Flight- $15 for four different flavored mimosas (I flirted and got five)!
Before we continue down the coast, you may want to get some shopping in! Charleston is home to one of the country’s oldest public markets. There are sections both inside with a/c and in open-air stalls selling things from handmade baskets to locally sourced honey to gag gifts for your favorite redneck! Back in 1804, the wares were much more…smelly, featuring meat, fish, and vegetables. Some of the biggest repeat customers were the “Charleston Eagles,” aka buzzards. They would flock to the market hoping for scraps. As you shop, keep your eye on the sky. That is one ghost animal I do not want to stand under!
HAUNTED TYBEE ISLAND
After walking off a delicious brunch in the market, it will take about 2 hours to get to our next stop on the Ultimate Haunted Road Trip in the South, one of the most haunted cities in the country: Savannah. Before we settle though, we’ll head over to Tybee Island to visit the haunted lighthouse and watch the sun go down.
The original lighthouse was built in 1736, but storms and erosion broke it down. Then the second one. The third one built further inland but was destroyed during the Civil War. The fourth structure seems to be standing strong since the 1870’s.
Apparitions and unexplained whistling are sometimes heard in the small spiral stairway. Some visitors have reached the top to run into a friendly lightkeeper that shares some interesting facts about the tower. When they get back down, they tell the docent at the bottom how wonderful the actor upstairs was. Spooky thing is that the lighthouse does not use reenactors.
If you decide to brave the steep spiral climb of 170 steps, beware that if you run into a 5-year-old girl on the dangerous trek and she warns you not to go any further, it’s best to take her advice. She usually appears just before a storm. I have made the trip to the top of the lighthouse on a couple of occasions. It seems to get harder every time. Of course, the first time I visited I was 24, and the last time I visited I was… not 24, so that could explain it. The view is worth the workout.
Since you’re on an island, and you’ve just exhausted yourself with that climb, you might as well head over to the beach access and watch the sunset with a cocktail. Just check the water if you decide to take a dip. The area is known for jellyfish. Then make the short drive back to Savannah to clean up for dinner at one of the most famous haunted restaurants in the country.
HAUNTED SAVANNAH, GA
In 1733, General James Oglethorpe landed on a bluff near the Savannah River and named it Georgia, it after King George II, and it would become lucky American Colony number 13! Oglethorpe immediately made friends with the local Yamacraw Indian chief, Tomochichi. They basically promised not to kill each other which gave Savannah quite an advantage in allowing peaceful development. People were free to worship as they chose UNLESS they were Catholic, and slavery, liquor, and lawyers were forbidden. Yep, Georgia was founded as a free colony. Unfortunately, money became more important than morals.
One of the hardest parts about a haunted road trip through Savannah is trying to decide which haunted restaurants to visit. You would be here for weeks if you tried to eat at all of them. The Pirate House is definitely one of the most iconic. In 1753, an Inn and Tavern was founded for those sailing the sea’s and holding port in Savannah. The rowdy drinking spot became a hot recruiting ground for Pirates and Sea Captains. If there were no volunteers, hungover patrons might find that they had been drunkenly dragged through the tunnels that led out to sea to become the newest member of some motley crew.
The Pirate’s House Restaurant now occupies the former Inn and the creepy tunnels in the basement have been bricked over. But that doesn’t stop the screams, moans, and dragging sounds that are heard coming from the basement. Some even believe that the spirit of French Privateer, Jean Lafitte, stops in between his New Orleans haunts (Don’t worry, we’ll get there)!
In the dining room, Clunking footsteps, full-bodied specters, and drunken laughter are regular occurrences. It can be argued that The Pirate’s House Inn is where some of Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel, Treasure Island takes place. The food is great. Try the award-winning Honey Pecan Fried Chicken and be sure to ask the Pirate at the front to give you a tour!
Built in 1812, this hotel has an interesting history of being the first parsonage of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. It was also the John Wesley Hotel and was known as Savannah’s premier brothel! Alright, then Methodists! After a devastating fire, it was renovated and reopened as the Planters Inn. There is a monument to John Wesley in Reynolds Square, out front. Our guides refer to him at tall Lord Farquaad.
One of the hotel’s permanent guests today is a woman often seen arranging wall art in the halls. The living guests have reported the smell of cigar smoke wafting through the halls and some have even found cigar ashes in their bathroom sink. Most of the ghostly goings-on are believed to be the hijinks of the brothel’s ladies of the evening and their guests that chose to never leave. One couple that stayed there was kept awake every night by the sounds of their neighbors… enjoying each other, if you catch my drift. They finally decided to mention it to the manager who informed them that the room next door had been vacant since they checked in. That’s right. You can spend your night listening to ghosts getting it on! I suppose it’s only fair after sharing your bed with the ghostly gentleman in Charleston.
In the morning, you can walk down to the next square to visit. We talk about the Owens-Thomas House on the tour, but we only see it when it is dark and creepy and closed. During the day, you can take a tour and actually go inside. It was built in 1816 and has only had 3 owners. Originally known as the Richardson House, it was first owned by Richard Richardson (Come on parents, that name!). Then George Owens, who was Mayor of Savannah, bought it. When he passed, the house went to his granddaughter, Margaret….you guessed it, Thomas! Margaret never married, nor had any children so rather than let the “vulture’s swoop in and pick her beloved home apart,” she left it to the Telfair Academy, on the condition that it become a museum.
While this house is stunning, it also has its dark side. With one of the oldest urban slave quarters still intact, remaining practically untouched for two centuries, visitors can get an up-close look at the shameful conditions that slaves were kept in. The ceiling is painted “Haint Blue.” It was believed that spirits, or “haints,” could not cross over water, so this color served as protection from the restless ghosts who refused to move on. Even with the “Haint Blue” ceiling in the slave quarters, the Owens-Thomas house just might be the most happening hot spot for hauntings in Savannah.
Should you visit the museum, keep a lookout for the hunky gentleman in the parlor watching as you admire the house. (Again, with the handsome dude ghosts!) You may see the bright blue eyes of the spirit in a riding coat and boots as he walks straight towards you. There is also the figure of a small blonde girl wearing a tattered blue dress who may sneak up behind you. You could hear the sound of a match striking, followed by the smell of the ghostly smoker puffing on an unseen cigar. The museum docents say that the antique dishware has been found dirty and strewn about as though some slobby entity had just thrown a party.
Should you come upon a small cat prancing through the garden behind the home, you may have just run into Margaret herself, who is safe to take that form. On more than one occasion, a sneaky little cat has slipped out from beneath the gate and followed our tour group until they are out of sight!
The Moon River Brewing Company is probably the most famous haunt in this famously haunted city. The brewery now does its own in-house tours, so if you want to get up close and personal with the spirits, that’s the way to go! The building began as the cleverly named, “City Hotel” in 1821. It served as a hospital during the yellow fever epidemic and closed its doors when General Sherman and the War of Northern Aggression arrived. Throughout the years it was used as a warehouse and an office supply store until Hurricane David ripped the roof apart in 1979. Jerk.
The Brewery opened in 1999 and has more than its fair share of paranormal activity, specifically in the basement and on the third floor. You can find this place on several ghost hunting shows. There are numerous tales of personal sightings, photographic and video evidence, EVP readings, and downright heebie jeebie’s in the Brewery.
The third floor seems to be filled with the spirits of children and their caretakers. There is a young ghost named Toby who tends to throw things and push people when he gets in a hurry. A lady in white has been captured on video on the third floor. There is a girl who approaches the bar, as though to order a drink, but she slowly fades into nothing while all the bartender can do is stare. The basement holds a much darker haunt. The spirits seem hostile, spewing profanities and scratching those who journey down there. They like to slam heavy objects into the wall and try to lock people down there with them for all of eternity.
You may want a little liquid courage to make it through lunch. Some of their brews miss the mark, but there are others that I crave, especially the Taterlicious- a sweet potato ale with sugar pumpkin spice crumble on the rim of the glass. Soooo yummy! Their flights are very generous, giving you 4oz pours of everything that is currently on tap (usually 8-12 beers)!
The beauty of our Savannah tours is that we can cover more haunted ground because we can just get our drink to-go! One of the highlights is a secret spot down by the river that some locals don’t even know about. Echo Square is a hidden gem that gets some great reactions out of our guests. It is engineered so that when you stand in the middle and speak to one of the corners, you will hear your own voice echo back to you. Of course, most will say the echo has to do with the formation of the bricks in the square, and the sound barriers from the buildings and the water. But it’s totally ghosts!
Dinner here is a bit pricey and you will want to make an RSVP, but it is absolutely worth it. It is fine dining at its best in a 250-year-old haunted house! And it is another one of my favorite ghost stories. In 1771, James Habersham Jr. began construction on his dream house, but British soldiers interrupted to use it during the Revolutionary War, so it took seven years to complete! But Habersham was in for more headache because the red bricks that made up the main structure wouldn’t stop bleeding through the white plaster on top of them, making the mansion a dainty shade of pink. Habersham, being a heroic Major in the Revolutionary War, couldn’t allow his masculinity to be tainted by a pink house! However, no matter how many times it was painted over, the bricks continued to bleed.
Finally in the 1920’s the woman who ran a tea room out of the mansion decided to embrace the shade and had it painted pink. Habersham must have finally embraced it too because he has been seen throughout the years keeping an eye on the living guests of the now popular restaurant. Down in the tavern, he has been seen raising his glass in a toast or relighting the candles should they go out. His grandson’s spirit has even joined him for a drink on occasion. He doesn’t seem to be bothered by his old basement bedroom being occupied by spirits of the drinking variety.
There are several dining rooms in the Olde Pink House. Most of them are quaint, comfortable, colonial upper-class looking rooms. My ma and were sat in a small dark room on the second floor. Our server told us it was an addition to the original house and used by James Habersham Jr. as an office, so it was more simple than the other rooms that his wife had control over. It was the perfect spooky setting. There were only six tables and we all got very excited, then the candles on the one empty table started to waver and dim. It is said that James often makes an appearance in that room!
The Planters Inn is right next door, but if you want to walk off dinner, the squares of Savannah are absolutely stunning at night.
Reluctantly, it is time to leave the coast, but there are more than enough ghosts to look forward to as we continue our journey.
Stay tuned for
The Ultimate Haunted Road Trip of the South Part Three!