Among the antebellum architecture, countless ghosts and spirits linger about in the city of Savannah. The historical town is known as one of the most haunted in the country. Its landmarks provide a haven for many of its long lost residents. This makes Savannah a prime place to experience eerie encounters and witness ghostly happenings. To check out our Savannah Ghost Story Tours, go here.
The city’s twisted historical past makes it a hotbed for supernatural activity. The Southern charm and stunning architecture make it appealing to many residents and tourists alike. Its streets are filled with beautiful homes, art, and culture. However, thanks to the tragic events in its past, Savannah has definitely seen its fair share of death.
As one of the thirteen original colonies, Savannah has survived through a long history of the country’s tragedies. The city was the location for more than a few deadly battles. It also grew on the backs of tortured slaves and experienced deadly diseases and ravaging fires. With so much death, it’s no wonder that Savannah is swirling with supernatural activity.
A visit to Savannah can give you a glimpse into the city’s torrid past. You’ll find out why the spirits refuse to leave this charming, coastal town. By day, you can relax under the mossy oak trees and wander the cobblestone streets of the historic district. Then, at night, you’ll have a chance to encounter the spirits of some of Savannah’s most historic residents.
A Stately Property Located in Savannah Georgia
On the southwest corner of Monterey Square, the Mercer Williams house makes quite the impression to passersby. At three stories tall, the home commands a great presence. Its perfectly restored exterior has the classic beauty reminiscent of the old south.
The red brick giant is the only private residence in Savannah that takes up the entire city block. The Mercer house property also boasts a carriage house and courtyard. The large, beautiful French windows add character and create stunning views in and out.
The black wrought iron accents and eight balconies lend to its Southern charm. As do the expansive pillars that flank the front door. The thoughtful architectural details make the estate truly one of a kind.
The Rich History of the Mercer Williams House
The Mercer Williams house as a long, rich history. Built in the 1860s, its walls hold the tales of many dark secrets and tragedies. Since its original owner, many residents and visitors have left a significant impact on the home.
The house was originally built by New York architect John Norris for General Hugh Mercer. Mercer was a banker that enlisted in the Confederate army during the Civil War. Construction of the house, however, was then paused during the war. Ironically, no one from the Mercer family would end up taking up residence in the home
After the war, Mercer decided to move to Baltimore instead of completing building the house. He sold the home to John R. Wilder unfinished. Wilder hired John Norris’s assistant to complete the construction to the original specifications and plans.
After two more years of construction, Wilder completed The Mercer Williams House and took residence. The home would go on to change owners many times over the following years. It was even home to the Savannah Shriner’s Alee Temple for a period of time. However, after the Shriner’s vacated the house, the property sat vacant for many years.
Tommy Downs Died at the Mercer Willaims House
During this time, a curious 11-year-old boy wandered into the vacant property. Tommy Downs figured that the abandoned home would be the perfect place to look for pigeons. However, this mischievous adventure proved a deadly choice for the boy.
Tommy ventured to the top of the home, the most likely place to find the birds. Tragically, he somehow lost his balance. It’s not clear whether he was on the roof or one of the eight balconies when he fell. Tommy sadly plunged from the house to his death.
In a horrific turn of events, Tommy managed to fall right atop the wrought-iron fence that still surrounds the property. Two of the spikes tragically impaled the boy’s skull. One of those fence spikes is still broken to this day. His body was found on the fence on the south side of the property, arousing a lot of rumors and mystery.
Many believed that Tommy’s death was simply a careless accident caused by an unsuspecting roaming boy. They simply chalked it up to an innocent pigeon hunt gone tragically wrong. It was assumed by many that the young boy simply lost his balance and landed on the fence by a pure instant of bad luck.
However, others think something much more devious occurred. Some question whether Tommy was pushed out of the Mercer Williams house to his death. Many wonder if he went to the house willingly or even alone as originally thought.
If Tommy was truly alone, there’s no way to tell what actually happened that fateful night. Was the young boys unexpected death just a horrific accident? Could a force of evil have been with Tommy in the house that night? As time goes on, it seems that the truth will remain murky.
Either way, it’s been said that Tommy’s presence remains in the house. Passerbys have reported watching his ghost depict his tragic fall from the home, his soul unable to stop reliving that horrible night. His spirit has also been reportedly seen wandering the grounds of the estate.
The stunning manor is the perfect photo op. Many visitors take photos from outside of the Mercer Williams house as they explore Savannah. They, however, capture a souvenir that they never expected. People have taken a closer look at their pictures and have made eerie discoveries.
The ghost of Tommy Downs has appeared in many people’s photos over the years. The fair-haired boy can be seen peeking out from windows or perched on the roof. It makes you wonder if Tommy’s spirit will ever be released from the historic property.
The Great Restoration of the Mercer Williams House
The house had fallen into great disrepair during its many years of vacancies. By the 1960s, The Mercer Williams House was in desperate need of thorough restoration. The job required the tough of an experienced preservationist with great attention to detail.
Jim Williams restored over fifty homes in the Savannah area and across South Carolina and Georgia. In 1969, Williams decided that the crumbling Mercer Williams house would be his next project. He purchased the home and began a strenuous restoration process that would take him two years.
Williams was successfully able to reignite the stunning beauty of the home. He moved into the home after the arduous project was complete. The carriage house in the rear became the perfect new home for his antique restoration business.
The home became a quiet haven for Williams. He was able to enjoy the fruits of his labor and run his business without incident for years. However, in 1981, everything would change.
A Love-Fueled Murder at the Williams House
Williams hired the young Danial Hansford. The 21-year-old tradesman quickly became enamored with Williams. The two began a volatile romantic relationship that would have many ups and downs over the next two years.
On the morning of May 2, 1981, the couple’s tension came to a breaking point. Hansford lost his temper and broke a grandfather clock that Williams treasured. Hansford then confronted Willams in his study and pulled a gun on him. His lover, Williams, responded with angered shock and dismay.
Hansford forcefully pulled the trigger, aiming the gun at Williams. Shockingly, the gun jammed and Hansford found himself left vulnerable. His intentions to kill Williams were made clear and he was too late to flee. Williams then grabbed a gun from his desk and shot Hansford in retaliation, killing him.
Williams was arrested but was able to promptly post bail and was released. He adamantly claimed that he shot his employee purely out of self-defense. Conveniently the crime scene evidence reinforced this claim. However, prosecutors would later suggest that Williams manipulated the scene to lead investigators to this conclusion.
In 1982, Williams stood trial for the shooting death of his boyfriend and employee. He was convicted and ordered to serve life in prison. He immediately appealed, stating discrepancies in the police report. For this reason, a judge overturned the guilty verdict in 1983 and ordered that a new trial was to take place.
At the second trial later that year, Williams complicated the story. At the encouragement of his lawyer, he revealed to the jury that he and Hansford were indeed in a romantic relationship. Despite this tactic, he was again found guilty of murder and sentenced to life behind bars.
Williams again appealed the decision, this time questioning the validity of the sheriff’s expert testimony. The verdict was overturned yet again and a new trial was ordered. Williams would stand trial for the murder of his lover for a third time. ‘
In 1987, the processing of the police’s evidence came into question during the third trial. The jury deliberated tirelessly but was unable to come to a unanimous conclusion. The result was a hung jury and a mistrial was declared, resulting in yet another trial.
The final trial took place in 1989, eight years after the shooting death of Hansford. Being tried four times for the same crime was a new record for the Georgian criminal justice system. This time, the trial would take place in Augusta instead of Savannah.
The location change proved very lucky for Williams. The jury acquitted him after a short deliberation and he left the courthouse a free man. He returned to the Mercer Williams house, the scene of his crime.
After his death, Hansford was buried in Greenwich Cemetary. His mother would later be laid to rest alongside him over two decades later. His soul, though, remained restless as Williams remained free.
He took to haunting the house to get his needed revenge. He tortured Williams to the point that he was forced to bring in experts to attempt to rid the house of spirits. His efforts failed and it’s said that Hansford’s ghost still haunts the estate to this day.
The tale is so tragic that it prompted a dramatic literary tale. The book Midnight in the Garden of Good Evil is a true-story account of the events surrounding Hansford’s death. The film based on the story generated even more interest and visits to the Mercer Williams House.
Visitors say they have seen and felt evidence of Hansford’s presence. He has been tortured by the lack of accountability for his death. His haunting might even have led to the eventual death of his lover turned killer.
A Mysterious Death – Williams Dies at the Mercer Williams House
Less than a year later, Hanford’s ghost would have his wish granted. He would finally get the justice he felt he deserved. The life of James Williams would come to a mysterious end on January 14, 1990.
Williams would be found dead in his study by his employee Doug Seyle. Seyle came to the house and Williams failed to answer the door. He let himself in and found Williams unresponsive on the floor of his study.
The autopsy showed that Williams died unexpectedly of pneumonia and heart failure creating even more mystery. Surely, with such a serious illness, Williams would have likely had symptoms. Could there be a more chilling reason Williams suddenly died?
Williams was found near the same spot on the floor that he took Hansford’s life. Was this just pure coincidence? Or did the stress of Hansford’s haunting finally drive Williams to the point of heart failure?
It’s been thought that Hansford’s relentless haunting led to the death of Williams. Did his ghost’s constant torture cause enough stress that caused Williams’ heart to fail? Was Hansford waiting for an opportunity to suddenly scare Williams enough to stop his heart? No one will ever know if his death truly was an illness or if Hansford finally got his much-deserved redemption.
The Spirited Social Life of Williams
Williams was known for his extravagant lifestyle and roaring parties. Each year, he would host a Christmas Gala. It was a must-attend event for the Savannah socialite scene. Witnesses have said that they have seen the festive event still taking place today.
A visit to the house in December can prompt this unique vision. Williams adored his much-anticipated Christmas party. Not even death could force him to give up hosting his soiree.
He threw his last party just the month before his death. However, people have reported that the home is still a happening party spot one evening each December. Ghosts have been spotted dancing in the windows as the house is aglow with festivities. The best-dressed of the town has been seen mingling and celebrating the holiday season, even after their deaths.
Visiting the Mercer Williams House
In the daytime, it’s business as usual at the Mercer Williams House. The house is open during the day for tours and visits. You can even shop for a souvenir at the carriage house where James Williams ran his antique store. The furniture and decor inside the house are stunning, but the home is much more impressive at night.
The stories that have occurred at the house seem to only come alive after dark. The spirits are more likely to been seen and felt after the evening sun goes down. A nighttime visit to the home can prove successful in witnessing supernatural activity. Checking out the Mercer Williams House is a must for any ghost enthusiast visiting Savannah.
Other Savannah Haunted Houses
One of the beauties of Savannah is the vast opportunities for ghostly experiences. The streets are lined with history and haunted homes of the past. A visit to this stunning city is the perfect chance to experience a creepy encounter. The Mercer Williams House isn’t the only ghostly hangout.
The Davenport House
The Davenport House stretches tall over Columbia Square. The stunning brick facade and sweeping front staircases are impressive to visitors. However, the home’s history is even more stunning and interesting than its appearance.
The home was built in 1820 by the mysterious architect Isaiah Davenport when he moved to Savannah from Rhode Island. He soon grew a booming business that crafted many of the homes along Savannah’s streets. His family home is now a historical landmark and popular museum.
The Davenport House is also the spot of many ghostly sightings. Most notably, people have said to have spotted a four-legged inhabitant. The museum employees have seen the cat perched quietly in multiple rooms of the house.
Many of the museum’s younger visitors have also spotted the feline roaming about the halls. The orange and white tabby cat seems content with visitors trickling in and out of its habitat. You can even take home a plush version of the feline friend from the museum’s gift shop.
The Olde Pink House
The Olde Pink House was transformed into a restaurant in Reynolds Square. However, it’s still said to be home to an original inhabitant. A visit to this haunt can give you the chance to see the house’s former owner.
James Habersham built the home over a span of twenty years. A stickler for perfection, he took his time ensuring that it was just right. He and his wife were only able to enjoy the home for less than a decade before she passed away. Not able to live without her, Habersham ended his own life two years later.
You can now dine in the restaurant where this tragedy unfolded. Keep your eye out for Habersham. His spirit has been seen moving about the dining room, meticulously ensuring its tidiness. Even after death, his strive for perfection hasn’t waivered.
The Owens-Thomas House
The Owens-Thomas house is truly a sight to behold. The mansion was built in 1819 and the property includes a carriage house, garden, and slave quarters. Visiting this home can give you a glimpse into it’s complicated and tragic past.
After the original owners, The Richardsons, could no longer afford the home, they sold it to George Owens, then the mayor of Savannah. Owens lived in the house with his family and slaves before eventually leaving it to his granddaughter Margaret Thomas.
Margaret took up her residency until her death in 1951. With no heirs, the home was donated as a site for a museum to honor her family. The museum opened its doors to the public in 1954.
However, Margaret loved her family home so much, she may have never left. Her spirit has been seen wandering through the expansive halls and roaming lovingly through the gardens. An evening visit to the Owens-Thomas House is a perfect opportunity to spot Margaret’s spirit.
The Hampton Lillibridge House
The Hampton Lillibridge House is one of the quaintest homes on the city’s list of haunts. Its modest exterior is not as grand as the haunted mansions scattered around the city. However, many say it’s one of the more haunted residences.
Originally built by Rhode Island transplant Hampton Lillibridge, his New England roots came through in the Cape Cod exterior. The home changed ownership for many years. Eventually, it landed in the hands of Mercer Williams House owner James Williams.
Williams set out to restore the home as he had done countless others. His workers reported hearing noises and footsteps coming from empty rooms. People were seen in the windows and screams were heard coming from the uninhabited house. Later, a crypt was found under the home’s foundation, further feeding the mystery of the home’s past.
Savannah’s Supernatural Scene
Savannah’s one of the best cities in the United States to encounter spirits. With so much diverse and rich history, there are opportunities for ghost spottings around every corner. The homes of the past provide forever homes for the spirits of the families that once lived there.
A visit to these homes can provide haunting glimpses into their tumultuous pasts. They are havens of many memories and have so many stories to tell. A visit to The Mercer Williams House and the other Savannah haunted residences give you the chance to peer back into the city’s torrid and twisted past.