Hauntings in the Hostess City

Armstrong archaeology student Amelia Lux, a former walking tour guide, draws from her experiences at the Sorrel-Weed House to highlight the role archaeology plays in uncovering the Hostess City’s haunted history.

Hauntings in the Hostess City

As a tour guide in the historic district for three and a half months last summer (it turns out I wasn’t cut out for the heat, the walking, or all of the Forest Gump questions) I learned my fair share about Savannah’s charms and mysteries. I specialized in walking tours covering the general history of the city (yes, it was Georgia’s first city), the Civil War (yes, it was that Sherman), and the stories of ghosts that still linger here (well, no, I’ve never seen one personally… but!).

Savannah is home to a rich history, a flourishing culture, and some of the most beautiful sites the eye can behold. That’s not to say the city is without an ugly side; stories of deceit and betrayal, of crime and passion, and of lust, love, and murder swirl through the Spanish Moss-covered oaks in Wright Square, rise from the graves at Colonial Park cemetery, and peer from the upstairs balcony window of 432 Abercorn Street. Of all of the city’s ghostly tales, by far, the tour groups begged to hear most, was the story of the Sorrel-Weed House.

Legend has it (and by legend, I mean my 62-year-old tour mentor Willy) that the home was built in the mid-19th century by a wealthy plantation owner named Francis Sorrel. After the death of his wife, Lucinda, he married her younger sister, Matilda. Neither marriage was enough for Francis, whose heart belonged to one of his slaves, Molly. During the home’s construction, Francis requested a special carriage home for Molly, where the two could consummate their love under the veil of night. After the home’s completion, Matilda caught the pair together from the third story balcony, where she jumped to her death, shattering her skull on a large stone left from the build. Several weeks later, Francis’ lover Molly was found hanged in her room, where the two had solidified their love. Her death was ruled a suicide, though the suspicion of murder hung in the air.

While there is no way to re-piece the exact events from that night, archeology allows us to try. Currently, we are in the midst of a dig in the carriage house basement— the first-ever project of its kind to take place in the home. Last weekend I joined several of my peers in the excavation process. Though not many artifacts were found, a piece of porcelain and several iron pieces were collected. Additionally, we recorded the various measurements of our unit, and took several photographs detailing its stratigraphy, which could help corroborate the home’s haunted history, or reject it altogether.

Coming equipped with an expectation to see shadowy figures and hear faint cries for help, the day proved to be especially interesting for me. While I made a point to avoid being alone in the basement, nothing out of the ordinary was seen or heard. The experience did, however, alter my perception of the tourism industry in the city.

So much money is made by exploiting these homes for their history. We would be doing ourselves, and our visiting friends, a great service by performing digs at some of the city’s “most haunted” places in an effort to uncover the past, and, by giving a voice to the characters whose stories we love to tell, and retell, time and time again.

At the end of the day, I left with dirt on my shoes, (and, somehow in both my hair, and pants) as well as a new outlook on archaeology. I had spent my morning sifting through fresh dug-dirt, examining clumps of iron and coal, differentiating between the various layers of soil we’d uncovered, and trying to piece together what it all meant—before re-filling the unit (which I learned, is a crucial, and awful part of the process!) While we can expect lab results within a few weeks, the project is on-going, meaning I’ll have plenty of chances to go back and uncover more of what makes not only the Sorrel-Weed House so special, but also the sweet, southern city we call home.

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