“You know someone is up there, right? On your couch?”
“Her neck. There’s something wrong with her neck . . .”
“She’s not scary, no. More like very proper looking, in a Victorian-style dress. But her neck. There’s clearly something wrong with her neck.”
Over the past two years, at least five or six customers – unrelated to one another – have reported seeing a well-dressed Victorian-era woman calmly sitting on a couch at Cool Savannah, located at 42 E. Bay Street in historic Savannah. Two things they have in common: these eyewitness reports have all been unsolicited and they all mention her neck. Some believe she was hanged. Others simply refer to a neck trauma or mention her clothing around her neck – but all of the customers have rubbed the fronts of their own necks, as if elongating that body part, when describing her.
Who was this woman? Why was she in this building? What happened to her while she was still living? The reality is that we simply don’t know – but that doesn’t mean we’re not trying to find out, searching historical references and collaborating with experts in detecting spiritual presences.
Deciphering Clues through Historical Research
Everyone who sees this woman mentions her Victorian-era appearance. The Victorian era corresponded with the incredibly long reign of Queen Victoria in Great Britain from June 20, 1837-January 22, 1901. During that time, women wore what is now called Victorian-style clothing.
At least one person who saw the Cool Savannah ghost noted that she has a high neckline in her outfit, one that covered her neck, which helps to narrow down the timeline. In the 1840s-1850s, even though clothing was voluminous for women, the necklines were low. In the 1860s, though, although necklines remained low for evening wear, higher-necked dresses became fashionable for daytime wear – and necklines remained higher in the 1870s-1880s, and even higher in the 1890s.
So, could this woman have lived – and died – sometime between the 1860s-1890s?
The next angle to pursue is another element that threads its way through the sightings: that the woman may have been hanged. Is that possible?
Well, people were hanged in the United States as a form of capital punishment throughout its colonial history and beyond, including a hanging in Delaware as late as 1996! But, hangings of females have been much less common – and so we turned to a site that has gathered together information about women being hanged, and we found five examples in the state of Georgia.
- Alice Riley (January 19, 1735): this poor soul was hanged in Savannah, convicted while pregnant. She was allowed to give birth before being executed for the murder of her master, William Wise; her boyfriend and accomplice, Richard White, was hanged on the same gallows the very next day.
- Polly Barclay (Friday, May 13th, 1806): also convicted as a co-conspirator, she was hanged in Wilkes County for the murder of her husband.
- Susan Eberhart (May 2, 1873): at the tender age of 19, Susan and employer, Enoch Spann, allegedly strangled his wife to death. Six days after the murder, they were arrested. After a speedy trial, they were sentenced less than 30 days after the crime had been committed. Spann was hanged on April 11, 1873 in Preston in Stewart County. On Susan’s execution date of May 2, she showed up in a new dress and bonnet kindly provided by the sheriff, with neatly braided hair. She told the 700 spectators that she didn’t mind dying, as she would be better off. Her race was noted as white.
- Margaret Harris (October 19, 1883): She was hanged at Calhoun for poisoning young Lela Lewis. Her race was listed as black.
- Amanda Cody (November 22, 1895): She was apparently having an affair with a man named Florence English, and the duo was accused of murdering Amanda’s husband, Cicero. Hanged together in Warrenton, Georgia, they sang a hymn in unison until the gallows dropped.
Chilling as all of these stories are, only three fit the time period, and only one of those three women was white, as Cool Savannah’s ghostly visitor is: 19-year-old Susan Eberhart. The spirit-world visitor is well dressed, and Susan’s dress was new. The spirit visitor has been described as calm and content, and Susan claimed to be at peace with dying. Could the ghostly presence in fact be Susan?
Bittersweet Saga of Susan Eberhart
Female hangings, as mentioned, were rare, indeed. Susan’s sent a shock wave throughout the country, and her story even appeared in the New York Times. “To-day was the saddest ever witnessed in Georgia.” She was convicted, the article stated, as being Enoch F. Spann’s accomplice in the May 4, 1872 murder of his wife; interestingly enough, the wife’s name did not appear in the paper.
She was convicted on May 29th of that year. Susan, the reporter shares, admitted in a statement to being present at the murder, saying that Spann asked for a handkerchief to fill his wife’s mouth – so she handed one to him. Holding hands, they walked together to the wife’s bed “at his command and compulsion and through fear, and . . . she begged and entreated him not to kill his wife.”
Spann told her that, even if he needed to hang within five minutes, he was going through with the killing. He then, Susan said, “forced her to go off with him.” Through tears, she begged Spann to leave her but he said that, if necessary, “I will pick you up and tote you off.”
A contemporary article attributed to the Georgia Enterprise adds more lurid details, sharing that Spann had “attempted time and again” to murder his wife, but had previously been “prevented by this girl whom he had promised to marry after his wife was dead” until the night he dragged Susan from her warm bed to “witness and partly participate in the dark and damning crime.”
Throughout their journey, she “begged him to let her go back home.” She denied confessing to her captors and believed that, if the “actual truth had been given in the testimony, whatever might have been her punishment, she would not be hanged. But, considering her condition, she thought it was best for her to die now. She was perfectly willing; she did not fear death. She believed that she would be better off, and that it would be better for her kindred.”
Her story continues in this heartrending way. “When she was first brought to jail she determined to seek earnestly God’s forgiveness and salvation. Some six months ago she found peace, and now regarded death as a deliverance to be desired rather than dreaded.”
At 8:00 a.m. on the day of the execution, the Baptist pastor visited her and “found her composed, cheerful, confident, and perfectly willing to die.” The guard appeared at 11 a.m. and “formed a hollow square” to allow the sheriff and Susan to ridge in a buggy, with ministers walking to the gallows, located a quarter of a mile away in a “grove of tall pines.”
She told the sheriff that she was “not the least shocked, and was no doubt less troubled than any other present.” Her clothing has been described as a “white, small-figured, cambric-flushed dress, neatly arranged and trimmed at the expense of the sheriff. Her hair was plainly combed in two long braids, one on each side, the ends tied together at the back. She wore a calico sun bonnet.”
The day, however, was not sunny – figuratively, of course, but also literally. It was, in fact “a gloomy day in Georgia when this friendless girl perished on the scaffold for this crime. A few hours before the execution it is said that the heavens seemed to weep at the terrible tragedy that was about to be enacted in the South Western portion of the State. The rains descended from the black clouds in torrents and all around seemed clothed in darkness and despair.”
The countless appeals made to the governor were for naught, even after the jury itself “begged that justice be tempered with mercy, and the poor creature be spared to live. But all in vain! The iron heart of the Governor of Georgia was too hard to be touched by such pitiful appeals, and turning a deaf ear to all their entreaties, refused to either fully pardon or commute her sentence.”
When Susan arrived at the execution site, she received assistance to “alight” and then sat on the steps of the Webster County Courthouse as the minister read aloud the 88th and 130rd psalms, offering “a few words of encouragement,” stating that he had “great confidence in the genuineness of her professions of conversion and faith.” Following an “earnest prayer,” Susan “took leave of her friends,” saying in a “firm voice that she had freely forgiven all and loved them, and was ready to die.”
After confirming once again that she truly was ready, the sheriff placed a black cap on her head and adjusted the rope, the same one that had hanged Spann only three weeks earlier. She requested that it be loosened, as she did not want to choke to death. He slackened the rope a bit in response and asked if that was right. When she agreed, he asked her to place her hands behind her, and tied them. Asking again if she was ready to die, she replied: “Yes – ready – willing.” The platform dropped at “precisely 11 1/2 o’clock.”
Pronounced dead at 11:41, she was cut down at 11:49 to be placed in her coffin and carried for the night to her father’s home. She was buried by the Preston church the following day. Her neck was not broken; so, ironically, she was suffocated to death, just as Spann’s wife was. “The sickening sight of her death struggles,” the Georgia Enterprise reported, “are too horrible for description.”
Then, the New York Times shared, “doctors with an electric battery tried to resuscitate her, but failed to produce a single symptom of life. None of her kindred were present.”
The Georgia Enterprise tribute read as follows: “she is dead. Her soul has gone to the great God who gave it; and idle words can avail nothing now . . . Her career is ended. Poor, unfortunate, friendless, young and beautiful, she has paid now the full penalty for the crime she was charged with. Let her faults be as countless as they may, they now slumber with her remains in the disgraceful grave that she has been compelled to fill.”
But, is her grave really full? Or is the woman who graces Cool Savannah with her presence really Susan Eberhart? The era is right and so is the calm demeanor. And, she has been described as having an “elongated neck,” which occurs more often when a hanged person’s neck does not break, one who dies of suffocation.
But, if so, why Cool Savannah?
Ghostly Portal of Haunted Savannah
None of us knows why a ghostly presence chooses a particular spot – or even if they really get to choose. Some sightings make sense in our limited mortal understanding, such as the Civil War soldier who wanders the battlefield at night, or the woman who paces on a balcony as she watches and waits for her ship captain husband to return home. But, so much of the unseen world is beyond our ken.
Here, though, is one potential explanation. Some places, because of their history, are more spirit-friendly than others – they are, in other words, portals that provide a connection between the spiritual world and our daily lives. Such a place, according to paranormal field researchers 6th Sense World, is Cool Savannah. More specifically: “This is an extremely significant discovery in the paranormal world,” according to 6th Sense World founder Shannon Scott. “I can’t explain why the C[ool] Savannah building is like this toll booth on the spirit world highway, but it’s definitely like nothing I have ever seen or studied in any other Savannah building. In my intuitive estimation, it fits the profile of a thoroughfare that spirits use to enter and leave Savannah.”
None of this, of course, proves that the ghostly visitor is Susan Eberhart. But, are you entirely sure that it’s not? Perhaps she still haunts the earth where her life was cut short, maybe to finally find redemption, or perhaps to warn others off from the dark path she’d trod. Maybe, in spite of her claims that she was ready to die, she still has unfinished business on the mortal plane.
Do you feel a kinship with or at least empathy for Susan, a woman who perhaps was more sinned against than sinner? One who was clearly not afraid to meet her maker? If so, then we invite you to visit Cool Savannah, to explore its nooks and crannies, to get your own sense of what hovers in our home.
More of Haunted Savannah – and the Ghost Tours in Savannah
The reality is that all of our beautiful city has experienced tumultuous times, as the “property became home to Georgia colonists who lived with daily hardships, later primitively quartered slaves awaiting auction in the basement, bivouacked military personnel during the Civil War, and saw fortunes lost during the cotton economy’s collapse.”
And, although Cool Savannah’s property is clearly at the front seat of this 300-year history, there is so much more to explore in the city – and we’ve got just the ghost tours in Savannah to provide an incredible experience:
- Our Savannah ghost tour will take you to more than ten haunted sights in your search for the spirits that still roam the corridors of Savannah.
- Wanting to quench your thirst along the journey? Sign up for our haunted pub tour! Hear the stories that cover 300 years of history, ghosts, pirates, and many other fascinating facts that make Savannah the Most Haunted City in America. Get ready for an incredible evening of the best tales and spirits on Savannah’s favorite tour!
Questions about our ghost tours in Savannah? Call us at (912) 231-3571 – and stayed tuned for more information about what Ryan Dunn – author of Savannah’s Afterlife: True Tales of a Paranormal Investigator and its chilling sequel – and his Savannah Ghost Research Society team discovered during their recent ghostly exploration of Cool Savannah Tours and Gifts!