by Jacqueline Patterson @jacpatterson
You feel the silence like a weight on your soul. Above you, a hiss of wind shifts the moss dangling from the rows of dying oaks.
Witches’ hair, the locals call the moss.
Tonight, in the heavy atmosphere, you’re almost ready to believe there are faces on the other side of the moss.
One of the South’s most haunted cities, Savannah allegedly has a ghost on every corner. Tourists who know nothing of the legends call police when they run into a distressed soul, only to later discover the one seeking their aid has disappeared.
When you walk through downtown, you are trespassing across stolen land and forgotten graves. Uneven rises in the sidewalk are said to be caused by collapsing coffins beneath. Squares rich with history coax you into exploring them, trapping you in their ethereal atmosphere before they reveal their true history. It took months of exploring my favorite spot, Wright Square, before I discovered it was actually the “hanging square,” haunted by the ghost of accused murderer Alice Riley.
I heard the story like this:
Alice Riley arrived in Savannah two months before she became a murderer. Nothing is known about the life she left behind her in Ireland, but certainly she was desperate to get out, given that she had indentured herself as a servant in return for passage to the colonies. When the ship finally arrived, the indentured servants aboard were storm-tossed and nearly starved.
Despite the dire circumstances, Alice must have been hopeful when they landed.
A new country.
A new start from whatever she left behind.
But instead she was sent away with the worst of masters: abusive degenerate William Wise.
According to legend, he used Alice in any way he pleased. She was forced to bathe him, while her lover and fellow indentured servant Richard White combed Wise’s long hair. Wise used his fists and words with brutal regularity.
In March of 1734, according to legend, Alice and White had enough: they would kill Wise and escape together to Charleston, where they could begin a free life together. They came as usual to begin Wise’s morning grooming. Alice set the bucket of water behind Wise’s head, and White moved in position to begin combing his master’s hair. Instead, White grabbed Wise’s neckerchief, strangling him. Then Alice plunged Wise’s head into the bucket. Already in frail health, Wise died quickly.
Alice and White fled the scene of the crime. When Wise’s body was discovered, the Savannahians’ suspicions were raised, and a manhunt ensued. White was caught first, then Alice. White was taken immediately to the gallows, but a discovery halted Alice’s execution.
She was pregnant.
Some claim the baby was White’s, created in love, and others that the pregnancy was forced upon her by her wicked master. In either case, pregnancy only delayed her eventual fate. Alice gave birth while awaiting execution.
On January 19, 1735, her baby was ripped from her arms, and Alice was taken into Wright Square to be hanged, protesting her innocence and cursing the city for not believing her.
Her body swung on the gallows for three days.
Her baby, James, died two weeks after.
Centuries after the hanging, we still don’t know the full truth of the story. Was Alice a forced accomplice in Wise’s death? Or was she the instigator, tired of Wise’s rapes and abuse?
Perhaps we should ask Alice herself.
Her ghost is said to haunt Wright Square to this day, one of the most often reported ghosts in the US. It’s said she appears to pregnant women and mothers with infants, in an attempt to take their babies.
As for the curse? People have many theories, but one thing is clear: to this day, Spanish moss doesn’t grow on the trees in the park. After all, the legends say the moss won’t grow where innocent blood was spilled.
Who knows? Maybe one day I’ll do an investigation myself.
And Frankly, My Dear . . . That’s all she wrote!
Dragon Tamer. Ancient Rome fanatic. Writer living on the edge of fictional worlds. J. A. Patterson attempted to teach herself to write at the age of four, wrote her first book (featuring eerily violent chickens) at age five, and has been immersed in books ever since. Sometimes literally. When she isn’t writing, you can find her studying music, reading, and searching for portals to new fantasy worlds. Talk to Jacqueline about books, and she will be your friend forever. You can connect with her through her website and blog J.A.Patterson, on Twitter and Instagram.