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The Haunted Wright Square in Savannah

The haunted wright square in savannah

Since the beginning of recorded history, there have been tales of otherworldly occurrences, especially tied to locations that have seen tragic, violent or otherwise gruesome ends to human lives. Some believe that when a life ends in such a manner the soul gets trapped instead of moving to the next. 

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Other instances of occurrences are tied to burial grounds, strange rituals or other locations that have supernatural properties that science cannot fully explain. It seems like the older a location is, or the more history it has, the more chance that a soul has gotten stuck somewhere between this world and the next.

The Mysterious History of the Wright Square

There are two prominent ghosts stories that stand out in the haunted history of Wright square. The tragic revenge tale of Alice Riley and the Desecration of the Grave of Tomochichi.

These legends add an air of mystery to the already beautiful landmark that is a part of the original layout of the city that was envisioned and executed by the city’s founder General James Oglethorpe.

Savannah was built around four open squares that measure 200 feet by 200 feet. Often people think that this was done for aesthetic reasons but most historians think this was actually done for more utilitarian reasons, mainly that the 4 square layout mirror the standard british military camp of the time.

The open areas would have been used as common areas such as town meetings, gathering, militia practice drill grounds and of course public executions when the need for colonial justice inevitably arose. 

Another reason that Savannah was founded using the “Square” layout was because of fear of the cramped building and squalid living conditions that had contributed greatly to the Great Fire of London in 1666. The four original squares built during the founding of Savannah were Johnson square, Wright Square, Ellis Square and Telfair Square and were built in this order. 

As the city grew over time the layout of the Square system was kept and would eventually have 24 of them although 22 survive today in the historical downtown area. Because of the age of the city each one of them has its own monuments to history, historical landmarks, and legends that offer both a physical and ethereal link to the past.

The History of Savannah, Georgia

the history of savannah, ga

Savannah is one of the older cities in the United States of America and has a distinct history in and of itself. It was established in 1733 by the British general James Oglethorpe and would go on to become the capital of the British colony of Georgia in 1751.

The city would hold a strategic value for the British all the way to 1782 as it was their southernmost sea port and to this day remains the largest port in the State of Georgia. 

During the time of the Civil War, Savannah would serve as one of the confederacy’s ports and an enticing target for the Union. Luckily for the City of Savannah and its historical architecture, the Union was able to negotiate a surrender rather than bombard and destroy the city, leaving much of the Victorian era Architecture intact. 

Savannah has a distinct look, feel and history of the old world that is sometimes described as Southern Gothic. Consequently it was the setting for John Berendt’s “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” which is based on historical events relating to a murder supposedly perpotrated by a weathy antique dealer. 

When asked why he chose Savannah for the setting of the novel, Berendt replied, “I didn’t choose Savannah, it chose me… I was overcome by the beauty of the place, its people and its stories”.

The book would later go on to be made into a major motion picture that was directed by Clint Eastwood who in an interview said, “there are alot of fiercely independent and quirky people there… stories like this are appealing to me… I liked the place very much”. 

The murder depicted in the story is one of many strange and dark events in the city’s history that have contributed to it being one of the most paranormally active cities in America. Prior to the arrival of the Europeans, the area had been settled by the Shawnee tribe who had themselves taken over lands that had been settled by the Westo tribe long before that. 

Since people had been living in the area for a very long time and the geography of winding estuaries snaking from the ocean, rivers to the north and south of the city and hills to the east have made reusing real estate a necessity.

This reality meant that often long forgotten gravesites and desecrated burial grounds were built upon, sometimes the bodies of the dead were moved, sometimes they weren’t and sometimes even when they were moved a few may have been overlooked.

Consequently Savannah’s quaint sidewalks and cobblestone streets have more than a few people looking up at them through the layers of time, history and the warm Georgian soil.

Where is Wright Square Located?

Wright Square is located in the central part of the historic Savannah downtown area and is adjacent to the Tomochichi Federal building and Courthouse.

Appropriate to the historical tradition of Savannah, the buildings that line the streets adjacent to the square showcase a series of Victorian buildings with sweeping and wide arches and traditional verandas that hint at Savannah’s European old world roots. 

Even the more modern buildings in the area conform to the visual and aesthetic tradition that the older buildings set as architectural president. When one walks through this area and takes a moment to sit in Wright square in the early hours of the morning it almost seems like time has stopped long ago and the distant past and present are one in the same, indistinguishable; Like asking the old oak trees why?; and them responding only with the sound of the early morning Georgia breeze through their moss covered branches. 

The Historic Significance of Wright Square

Wright square was originally called Percival Square, named after Lord Percival, who most historians believe named the colony of Georgia after King George II of Great Britain. It wasn’t until 1763 that it was renamed Wright Square after James Wright who was the last of three colonial Governors of Georgia. 

As this was one of the first four squares that the city of Savannah was founded with, there was no real deeper symbolism at the time of its construction rather it was built for aesthetic and functional reasons. Later on it would be the burial site of the Native American Chief Tomochichi who helped General James Ogelthorp settle the area and come to an understanding with the local tribes people. 

When Tomochichi passed away, he was buried in the square as a sign of appreciation for all that he had done to establish this key strategic city and a traditional pyramid made from locally gathered stone was erected as a monument. Some time after this another monument was put over his grave dedicated to William Washington Gordon, a local businessman, who replaced the pyramid that honored Tomochichi. 

Gordon is actually the only native Savannian that had a monument in one of the city’s squares which is how the disrespect to Tomochichi’s burial site was justified. Later on Gordon’s own widow, who had been against the monument to her husband in the first place, would insist that Tomochichi was properly honored and obtained a large boulder that was naturally shaped like a pyramid and placed in the park to properly honor Tomochichi. 

Wright Square was also where the locally infamous hanging of Alice Riley took place. The story ties to early Savvanian history and sightings of Riley’s ghost pop up from time to time in or around the square where she was hanged and buried. Her soul trapped near her final resting place. 

Who Was Alice Riley?

who was alice riley

Alice Riley and her husband Richard White were two Irish indentured servants that came to the new world along with 33 other poor souls on a voyage from Great Britain with the hopes of finding a better life in the New World of Colonial America.

Their hopes and dreams began to be shaken by the perilous journey at the time that involved long days and even longer nights sailing across the Atlantic ocean with its icy winds and waves that would rock their ship from side to side. 

In the early 18th century sailing halfway across the world was less of an adventure and more of a gamble as there was no guarantee that the schooners of the day could withstand the rough conditions that the spirits within the waters would throw at the ship at their own vengeful whim. The journey took over a month and oftentimes if something went wrong along the way there would be no one to ask for help due to the vastness of the ocean. 

One can only imagine Riley and her husband huddled together below deck praying that the boat would make it to the other side, that the water on board wouldn’t go stale, that the stores of food would suffice and that land would soon be within sight as the ship was at the mercy of the oceans conditions with only the skill of the crew who were navigating by celestial assisted guesstimation would get them to the other side. 

Their hardships wouldn’t end when their ship pulled into the Safety of the Savannah harbor. As indentured servants they were not slaves but had no rights until the term of their service contract had been fulfilled to whoever had financed their journey to the new world.

Some indentured servants would end up working for benevolent Master’s. Unfortunately for Alice Riley and Richard White, their contract had been financed by William Wies and he did not fall into this category. 

Wies operated a cattle farm near Savannah and often worked his indentured servants extremely hard and demanded that their service extend past their agrarian duties.

He was said to order his servants to baith, cloth and groom him on a daily basis and supposedly specifically picked on Alice in the presence of her husband to humiliate Riley and to belittle her husband White. It would later become known that Weis often made sexual advances towards Riley and raped her on more than one occasion. 

It is an account that was entered into evidence to the court magistrate that Riley and White got to a breaking point one day and murdered their cruel and abusive master.

The official theory of the crime was that White strangled Weis with a scarf to incapacitate him and then he and Riley held his head in a bucket of water to finish the job, delighting in their avenging of their year of mistreatment at the hands of their cruel master.

When Weis’s body was discovered all the indentured servants were toiling away, all but Riley and White who had fled the cattle farm. This was one of the main points of evidence used against them despite their proclamation of their innocence. The argument was that if they were innocent they would not have fled the scene of the crime unless they fled to avoid justice. 

Both Riley and White were convicted of the crime and were to be punished by drawing their last breath at the end of a hangman’s noose for perputrating the first murder in the history of Savannah. The prevailing logic of the time was that even if they were innocent a message must be sent to keep all other servants in line to not upset the natural order of things and in the off chance that they were innocent, God would be happy to console them in the kingdom of heaven.

A twist came shortly after the conviction as it turned out Riley was pregnant and many speculated that the child belonged to the recently deceased Weis as he was a fan of ravaging his female servants and Riley particularly had drawn his craven eye. In a move to appeal to the Christian values of the Colony, Riley’s execution was stayed until after the birth of the child that was torn from her arms immediately after her painful labor. 

Riley was set to go to the hangman’s gallows first and proclaimed that she was innocent till the very last moment. As the town’s people watched, she was forcibly walked up the gallows that had been erected next to what is now Wright Square. One can only imagine the terror she must have felt in those last moments, with each step up the stairs she got closer to the hangman’s noose and ultimately to her fate. 

The rope was tied around her neck and as she took her last look at the world it is speculated that all she wanted was to see her child one more time. She would draw her last breath, the floor would drop out below her and the noose would strangle the life out of her as she struggled feutally suspended in the air. 

As a further statement, her lifeless body was left to hang for three days, dangling in the breeze as the crows pecked away her bloodshot eyes first, and her pale skin second. Her body was buried next to the gallows that sealed her fate. 

Her husband would temporarily delay the same fate by perpetrating a daring escape but was captured after a brief stint on the lamb and would meet an end similar to that of Riley; Another soul set free by the hangman’s rope.

The Ghost Sightings of Alice Riley

the ghost sightings of alice rhiley

Throughout the years, there have been plenty of accounts of sightings of a semi translucent apparition of a woman looking for her child in and around the area of Wright Square. This makes sense as one of the final wishes of Alice Riley was that she have one more opportunity to see her newborn child before being led away to the gallows 

The sensations associated with these apparitions have a range of experiences. Some people reported feeling a chill go down their spine and radiat out through their body. Others say that the hair on their arms and neck stood straight up as they felt a presence next to them, and yet other people have reported a rapid change in temperature rapidly changed in the area immediately surrounding the ethereal presence. 

What all of these accounts have in common is that they took place in the area where Alice Riley met her final moments in terror, begging only to see her child one more time. It would see that her emotional pain in those last moments transcends time and is bound only by the area surrounding Wright Square. 

Final Recap

In summary, Wright Square is a cornerstone of the original city plan of Savannah that presents a curiosity of a destination for locals and visitors alike. It’s central location and peaceful setting hides something darker from a bygone era that draws in the imagination.

Since the beginning of recorded history, there have been tales of otherworldly occurrences, especially tied to locations that have seen tragic, violent or otherwise gruesome ends to human lives. Some believe that when a life ends in such a manner the soul gets trapped in this world instead of moving to the next.

Other instances of strange occurrences are tied to burial grounds, strange rituals or other locations that have supernatural properties that science cannot fully explain. It seems like the older a location is, the more history it was, the more chance that a soul has gotten stuck somewhere between this world and the next. 

Since the beginning of recorded history, there have been tales of otherworldly occurrences, especially tied to locations that have seen tragic, violent or otherwise gruesome ends to human lives. Some believe that when a life ends in such a manner the soul gets trapped in this world instead of moving to the next. 

Other instances of strange occurrences are tied to burial grounds, strange rituals or other locations that have supernatural properties that science cannot fully explain. It seems like the older a location is, the more history it was, the more chance that a soul has gotten stuck somewhere between this world and the next.

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