Savannah is the home to some of the richest history in America. The oldest city in Georgia, it’s past is full of tangled and tragic events. Bearing witness to both the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, the beautiful Southern city has seen its fair share of death and catastrophe.
The city of Savannah itself is a stunning place to take in. The cobblestone streets and antebellum architecture are like no other location in America. The perfectly manicured gardens and lush, towering oak trees provide a beautiful landscape for an adventure. However, Savannah is also home to some of the country’s greatest mysteries.
Many of those mysteries have a common setting. Graveyards are notorious for being eerie and ominous. The cemeteries across this coastal city have an abundance of reported spiritual happenings. However, few of these burial grounds have more history and bone-chilling stories than the Colonial Park Cemetery in downtown Savannah.
The History of the Haunted Colonial Park Cemetery in Savannah
The Colonial Park Cemetery is older than our country itself. It was established in 1750 during the British colonization of the land. Savannah was then the capital of British-controlled Georgia, the last of the original thirteen colonies.
Over the years, the cemetery was expanded several times until it reached its current span of six acres in 1789. The vast number of tragedies that struck the area would cause a constantly growing need for burial space. During its operation, the cemetery would become the forever home for many Savannah residents.
The cemetery started as a place for The Christ Church Parish to bury congregation members that had passed away. However, after its size was expanded, it was opened to all residents. It soon became the primary public cemetery for the growing city.
In 1820, when yellow fever spread across the country, many Savannahians fell victim to the illness. The city was quickly overwhelmed with the bodies of those that lost their lives. Nearly 700 of these deceased were buried in The Colonial Park Cemetery. The cemetery inevitably became full to capacity and closed its gates to burials in 1853.
In late 1864, during the climax of The Civil War, General William T. Sherman began his infamous March to the Sea. He had captured the city of Atlanta and was determined to terrify all of Georgia into leaving the confederacy. His path of destruction aimed to destroy both military bases and civilian targets to frighten the citizens into supporting a Confederate surrender.
Sherman and his 60,000 troops traveled across the state, leaving a trail of fear and destruction. However, the city of Savannah was spared. Sherman even gifted the city with a large amount of cotton. All of the city was left relatively untouched, except for The Colonial Park Cemetery.
It’s been said that the occupying Union soldiers sent a message by forever altering the sacred burial grounds. Making the cemetery their temporary home as they passed through, many stayed inside the cemetery’s burial vaults. They changed the dates on the headstones as a dark and twisted joke. The soldiers also supposedly moved bodies, angering the spirits of the dead that rested there.
Famous Duels in Colonial Park Cemetery
The Colonial Park Cemetery wasn’t just the city’s primary burial grounds, it was a popular site for dueling to resolve conflict. Driven by pride, dueling became a popular practice in Savannah. Many men lost their lives in and around the cemetery fighting to their deaths.
One of the most famous of these duels was between Button Gwinnett and Lachlan McIntosh. After an argument in The General Assembly, the two squared off just outside The Colonial Park Cemetery walls. McIntosh won the duel, killing Gwinnett with his first gunshot from just twelve feet away.
Over the years, many more duels would take place in and around The Colonial Park Cemetery. Countless men lost their lives on the grounds. Finally, in 1809, Governor David B. Mitchell signed an order to outlaw the practice of dueling.
Despite the order, Lieutenant James Wilde and Captain Roswell P. Johnson also dueled in the cemetery in January of 1815. For unknown reasons, the men decided their dispute was worthy of a fight to their graves. Johnson shot Wilde on his fourth shot, ending his life.
James Wilde’s brother, Richard Henry Wilde was a famous poet at the time. He wrote a poem after his brother’s tragic passing. This first stanza reads:
“My life is like the Summer Rose
“That opens to the morning sky;
“But ere the shades of evening close
“Is scattered on the ground to die.”
This stanza along with the story of Wilde and Johnson’s famous duel can be found on The Duelist’s Grave plaque in The Colonial Park Cemetery. It serves as a heartbreaking reminder of the lives senselessly lost on and near the grounds.
Dueling continued for many years until the last known Georgian duel in 1877. Men continued to meet at The Colonial Park Cemetery to battle until one perished. The burial grounds served as a witness for many unnecessary and tragic deaths.
The number of angry, dueling men that lost their lives on the grounds is unknown. However, their spirits are likely still tortured by the violence that they experienced in their last living moments. The Colonial Park Cemetery is a setting where many men cursed their opponents with their dying breaths. It would be no surprise if these tortured souls remained at the very location that their lives sadly ended.
The Ghost of Rene Rondelier
Rene Rondelier was one of Savannah’s most infamous and troubled residents. Born in 1777, he was said to be a behemoth of a man covered in a layer of fur. His presence and off-putting behavior troubled the residents of the city.
Rondelier was terribly troubled and lived next door to the cemetery. He would torture and kill neighbors’ pets and wild animals. It’s said that his immense strength was completely out of his control. His intimidating size made residents uneasy about trying to stop his violent behavior.
Legend has it that a wall was built to keep Rondelier inside his home. He, however, managed to escape due to his strength and size. No wall was big enough to control Rondelier’s deep evil spirit.
Eventually, Rondelier took to torturing humans. He found that his large hands were perfect for snapping the necks of small girls. He reportedly would kill them and take their bodies to the system of tunnels that ran beneath The Colonial Park Cemetery.
One day, residents found two girls with their necks mangled outside the cemetery. Rondelier failed to cover his tracks and his large footprints were found near the bodies. It was clear to residents that the giant killer was responsible for the ruthless killings.
A lynch mob found and captured Rondelier and took him to the swamp to be hanged. They decided that only death would stop him from taking any more lives. They left him for dead, dangling from a noose.
Mysteriously, more victims were found near the cemetery after Rondelier’s execution. Was his evil powerful enough that it allowed him to still take innocent lives even after his death? Or did his strength allow him to free himself from the noose so he could still continue his pattern of torturing and killing his victims?
Some have said that they have seen Rondelier still hanging about his favorite murder scene at The Colonial Park Cemetery. It’s been said that his gigantic silhouette has still been spotted wandering the grounds. A walk through his infamous killing grounds can give you the chance to spot the imposing spirit.
Of course, history records no such person, so the story of Rene Rondolier is just that. A story. Every storyteller has their own version of Rene, but if you think about hundreds of people telling this tale, decade after decade, it’s not so crazy to think that our words alone could have manifested some amalgamation of Rene Rondolier and he’s in there, right now, trudging past the broken graves, on the hunt.
Nathanael Greene was a great general and an integral part of Washington’s army during the Revolutionary War. He’s also a very important figure in the history of The Colonial Park Cemetery. The mystery and intrigue surrounding his death and burial make the graveyard even more significant.
After the war ended, Greene moved to Savannah to work on the plantations he received for his outstanding wartime efforts. He settled in at Mulberry Grove Plantation, just outside of town. He would live out his life on his property until his untimely death in 1786 at the young age of 43.
What happened after his tragic passing was a complex turn of events. His body was placed in The Graham Vault in The Colonial Park Cemetery. Ironically, this put his body right alongside John Maitland, his archrival from the war, a situation that could not have made Greene’s spirit very happy.
Years later, Nathanael’s oldest son George Washington Green passed away. His body was placed in The Graham Vault along with his father’s. The two would remain there, next to Nathanael’s enemy, for over a century. Over the years, the record of their resting spot would be lost.
Finally, in November of 1902, Rhode Island Society of Cincinnati President Asa Bird Gardiner was successful in orchestrating a proper burial for Nathanael Green and his son George. Their bodies were finally located in The Graham Vault. They were moved to Savannah’s Johnson Square. A monument was erected over their final resting place that still stands today.
A visit to The Colonial Park Cemetery can give you the opportunity to see the temporary resting place of Greene and his son. A plaque near The Graham Vault tells of the 114 years that Nathanael Greene’s body rested alongside his enemy. This story just adds to the rich and mysterious history surrounding the cemetery.
Hauntings seen at the Cemetery in Savannah
With The Colonial Park Cemetery’s dramatic and complicated past, it’s no surprise that people have reported some mysterious things happening within its walls. It’s considered one of the haunted places in all of Savannah. Walking by at night as proven to be eerie for many that have witnessed its unexplainable activity.
Passerbys have reported seeing spirits lurking among the gravestones. Mysterious noises have been heard coming from inside the empty cemetery. An unexplained, eerie green mist has been seen gently floating over the headstones.
With the sheer number of deaths at the cemetery, it’s no surprise that it’s a hotbed of paranormal activity. Those that have died at the cemetery are likely tortured by the decision to duel that ended their life. The dead that will rest forever within the grounds are likely unsettled by the soldiers’ efforts to tamper with their headstones so many years ago.
Between the victims of yellow fever and the other Savannah citizens buried in the cemetery, it’s permanent residents are diverse. Notable figures like the legendary, evil Rene Rondelier and the heroic Nathanael Greene show that death doesn’t discriminate. Together, the cemetery’s everlasting population tells a unique story.
The Colonial Park Cemetery Today
Over the years, The Colonial Park Cemetery was neglected and inevitably began to deteriorate. The land was threatened as the growing city pondered other uses for it. In 1896, efforts were finally made to restore its former beauty by the city’s Park and Tree Commission.
Over the years, various groups would make efforts to improve the neglected grounds. The Trustees Garden Club made efforts to restore the property. Finally, in 1990, The City of Savannah took steps to preserve the historic landmark.
The city performed research to document the cemetery’s history and develop a more accurate mapping of the property. All of the grave markers were photographed and inventoried to ensure accuracy. The restored grounds are open to the public to explore and enjoy.
Visiting The Colonial Park Cemetery
A visit to The Colonial Park Cemetery can be a memorable event. The grounds are open daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Taking a stroll through the cemetery can give you a first-hand glimpse into its interesting history.
Passing through the cemetery’s impressive stone arches is an impactful feeling. You’ll get a sense of the heavy events that took place on the grounds once you’re inside the iron fence. Take your time breathing in the history as you meander through the shaded grounds.
You’ll notice the immense expanse of grounds the cemetery covers. Its size is remarkable and ominous. The sea of the over 9,000 gravestones can take your breath away.
Pay close attention to the headstones, especially the dates, as you travel centuries back in time. Wander to the southeastern corner of the cemetery where headstones are hung on the brick walls. Visit Graham’s Tomb and the plaques for the Duellist’s Grave and Yellow Fever victims.
For a truly unique experience, check out The Colonial Park Cemetery after dark. Just because you can’t go inside the walls, doesn’t mean you won’t get to witness a supernatural occurrence. Many of the reported ghostly sightings have been seen from outside the cemetery’s walls.
Just walking by at night can give you an eerie feeling to make your hair stand on end. You may feel the spiritual presence that many have said to have experienced. Peering into the cemetery after dark can give you the chance the see the mysterious figures roaming among the grounds or the eerie, green mist floating amongst the gravestones.
Other Haunted Savannah Cemeteries
If a visit to The Colonial Park Cemetery makes you want to check out more paranormal sites you can explore the other haunted Savannah cemeteries. Luckily, the city is host to several eerie graveyards.
A visit to the segregated Laurel Grove Cemetery can prove very interesting. It will take you back to Civil War times as you notice the stark differences between the graves of the different races. The grounds even have two separate entrances.
The segregated grounds aren’t the only interesting thing about Laurel Grove Cemetery. Visitors have reported hearing footsteps and seeing a woman in bridal gown walking among the headstones. Years ago, trolley riders would report hearing a child crying from inside the cemetery as they rode by the grounds.
The Bonaventure Cemetery is picturesque and definitely worth a visit. The stunning landscape, shaded by beautiful moss-covered oaks, provides the perfect setting for a stroll. It also gives you the chance to check out a piece of history.
Six-year-old Gracie Watson was laid to rest at the cemetery after her tragic death from pneumonia. Check out her grave and the statue that was created in her honor where many leave gifts for the sweet girl. Those that have visited have reported seeing the little girl as they approach her grave. Others have said that they have heard sounds of giggling and crying throughout the beautiful grounds.
The Colonial Park Cemetery is one of the most haunted places in Savannah, but it’s among the many notorious haunts scattered about the city. The peaceful streets have seen their fair share of spiritual activity. Its rich history makes Savannah one of the best places to experience an eerie encounter.
Restaurant diners have seen spirits wandering through dining areas. Hotel guests have felt the presence of unexpected visitors in their rooms. Many have had surprise spiritual encounters simply walking down the street. Keep your eyes and ears peeled when you’re exploring Savannah. Your very own paranormal experience could be just around the corner.