Tag Archives: Georgia Ghosts

The Ghost of Alice Riley and the Legend of Spanish Moss

Traveling to Myrtle Beach from our home in Greensboro was always a magical journey for me when I was a little boy. And one of the first things I looked for once we started getting close to the coast were the big oak trees that I called “grandfather oaks”. I called them that because of the “beards” that hung from their branches.

Go to any coastal town in the South and you’ll see huge, centuries-old live oaks with limbs covered in Spanish moss. From Myrtle Beach down through Charleston and Savannah, and on into Florida, the huge trees are the last living elements of the Antebellum South. These old sentinels even predate most of the haints that roam through the southern countryside, or rattle chains in the attics of our homes.

This brings us to the story of Alice Riley and her connection to Spanish moss. Alice and her husband Richard worked as servants for a wealthy Savannah businessman named William Wise in the early 1700’s. Mr. Wise was tyrant, abusive to both Alice and her husband until one day Mr. Wise was found strangled to death in his home. The day was January 19, 1735.

Alice and her husband were the prime suspects. They fled Savannah but were caught hiding out on a nearby island and promptly hauled back to the courthouse where they received a speedy trial and an even speedier sentence – both were sentenced to be hanged by the neck until dead.

Richard was the first to go to the gallows in Wright Square in downtown Savannah. Alice, being pregnant at the time, was allowed to give birth before taking her trip to the gallows, the logic being that only she had received the death sentence, not her child. Alice used her last breath to proclaim her innocence but it was to no avail. The hangman carried out the sentence and her body hung in Wright Square for three days before it was taken down and buried.

Wright Square in Savannah, Georgia

The ghost of Alice Riley is said to haunt Wright Square. She sometimes appears on the evening of January 19 and roams the square for three days searching for her lost child. To this day no one knows if she was really innocent or not. But one thing that is known is that trees of Wright Square, unlike all the other trees in Savannah, bear no Spanish moss.

As legend has it, Spanish moss will not grow where innocent blood has been spilled.

The Surrency Ghosts

One of the most famous hauntings in the history of the South occurred in the early 1870’s in the town of Surrency, a small hamlet located about sixty miles southwest of Savannah, Georgia.

The Surrency Family

Allen Surrency, founder of the town, built his family a large, two-story farmhouse near the railroad tracks and set up his household. But not long after moving in it became horrifyingly apparent to the family that they were not alone in the house. Things started to happen, strange things, and before long the family realized their house was nothing more than a den of angry, restless spirits.

It was a violent haunting witnessed by every member of the family. No one was spared the rage of the ghost, or ghosts that inhabited the house. Windows slammed shut, doors opened and closed and the clock on the wall spun wildly. Silverware flew from the drawers, along with pots, pans, and anything else lying around the house. Wailing voices and angry screams pierced the night while the family tried in vain to sleep. Boots worn by invisible feet walked down the darkened hallway outside the bedrooms.

What makes the Surrency haunting so unique is that it was one of the most verified hauntings in American history. Word traveled across the county about the small town and its haunted house, and visitors came from all over to witness the haunting firsthand. Few were disappointed as the Surrency ghosts were anything but shy.

The haunting went on for several years until one night, after his son was chased down the hall by a floating andiron wielded by unseen hands, Allen decided enough was enough and moved his family out of the house. But the ghosts followed the family to their new home.

Strangely enough, the Surrency haunting ended when Allen Surrency died in 1877. Were the ghosts finally satisfied that they had their man, or was it a coincidence? Rumors spread that Allen had dabbling in the dark religion, or had committed some other heinous sin that warranted the haunting. No one knows for sure.

Few people talk of the Surrency ghosts anymore. All the witnesses to the haunting have long since passed and the story has almost been lost to time.  The town is still there, located where highways 341 and 121 cross but Allen’s house is long gone, having burned to the ground in 1925.

The Haunted Fields of Andersonville

When it comes to haunted places in the Deep South, two cities often come to mind. They are Charleston, South Carolina and Savannah, Georgia. If you’ve ever been to either of these two cities you’ll understand why. They just look haunted, to be honest. And considering their history, how could they not be? Given the bloodshed of the Civil War as well as the horrible Slave Trade, it is easy to understand why these two cities carry a reputation for harboring the souls of the dead.

But there is another haunted place in the Deep South, one that is brimming with wandering souls and restless “haints”.  It is known as Andersonville.

If ghosts are your thing look no further than the 26 acres nestled deep in the heart of the Georgia countryside near Sumter County. There you will find the former location of the Civil War prison camp known as Andersonville. The actual prison camp is gone now, but most of the ghosts of its Union prisoners remain, and they can often be seen wandering in the area.

An actual Andersonville survivor

Living conditions were so bad at Andersonville, also known as Camp Sumter, that over 13,000 Union prisoners of war died there from 1861 to 1864. There were no buildings at Andersonville, only crude tents that provided little protection from the weather. A swamp ran through the middle of the prison and this contributed greatly to the squalid living conditions in the camp. Scurvy, diarrhea and dysentery were rampant among the prisoners. There were no latrines or clean drinking water, and little food was supplied to the camp.

And if the horrible living conditions weren’t enough, prisoners also had to fear “the dead line”. Any prisoner that crossed the dead line, an imaginary line that marked a boundary between the tents and the stockade wall, was shot immediately by the sentries in the guard towers.

The execution of Henry Wirz

Conditions were so inhumane that the Confederate officer that commanded Andersonville, a Swiss-born man named Henry Wirz, was hanged for war crimes after the war ended. In what some would say was a fitting end, the hanging did not break Wirz’ neck and thus spectators were treated to the image of his body dancing on the end of the rope until he finally suffocated. The ghost of Captain Henry Wirz can often be seen walking along the roads that lead to Andersonville.

Andersonville graves. Photo courtesy of Jud McCranie

People who visit the location of the Andersonville Prison, now preserved as a national historic site, routinely report seeing Union soldiers walking in the woods and fields around the site. When the sun goes down or the weather darkens, cries of agony can often be heard wafting across the grassy fields and through the rows of tombstones that mark the final resting places of the thousands of former prisoners buried on the site.

It is a well-known fact that both sides treated their prisoners horribly during the Civil War. We as a nation can only hope that such grim times never visit us again. The wandering souls of Andersonville should serve as a reminder of how dark the human spirit can become when calmer heads do not prevail.