'Connect' Article by Linda Sickler
New book tells Savannah's ghostly side
By Linda Sickler
June 22, 2005
“It’s almost a status symbol,” says James Caskey, tour guide, historic re-enactor and author of the new book, Haunted Savannah.
“Old seaports have that reputation,” Caskey says. “Southern seaport cities, especially.”
Caskey’s book is subtitled The Official Guidebook to Savannah Haunted History Tour. It details all the stops made during tours led by Cobblestone Tours, Inc., which Caskey owns.
The tours cover Savannah’s extensive and often tragic history, including duels, wars, plagues and murders. In addition to the stories, the book includes some photographs of what appears to be spectral energy.
The photo of Caskey that is on the back of the book depicts him with streams of energy shooting around his face. The photo was taken by his brother.
Caskey’s book came about over time. “I originally started just writing out scripts for tour guides,” he says. “I found if they had written material, it helped them a lot more than me telling them the same things over and over.”
At one point, Caskey opened the file of scripts he kept on his computer. “I was very surprised to see how much I’d written,” he says.
Then Caskey met Savannah author Murray Silver. “We must have talked a couple of hours,” Caskey says. “He urged me to get in touch with his publisher.”
The publisher is Cristina Piva, owner of Bonaventture (yes, it has two Ts) Books. “She was very enthusiastic about it,” Caskey says.
The book not only has ghost stories, there is a lot of history about Savannah. The book already is selling briskly locally. “The response has been overwhelmingly positive,” Caskey says.
Readers have turned out for readings and signings Caskey has done so far. “One woman drove in from Pooler to meet me,” he says with surprise.
Caskey moved to Savannah 13 years ago to attend the Savannah College of Art and Design to study painting. At that time, he did not believe in ghosts.
“Then I took a job at the Fort Screven Inn on Tybee Island,” Caskey says. “The owner warned me it was haunted, but I didn’t believe in it at all. I thought he was a little off.”
Then Caskey began to hear strange noises in the hallway -- the sound of heavy boots walking, even though there was no one there. He blamed the sounds on the settling of an old building.
There was a door leading down to the basement that was always kept locked, yet often while Caskey was doing his daily duties, he would find the door unlocked. One time, he locked it and turned to walk away, only to hear the door unlock behind him.
Still, Caskey wasn’t convinced, so he locked the door and backed down the hallway so he could watch the bolt. It didn’t move, so he walked back to the door. As he reached for the knob to test it, the lock unlocked itself.
That was startling, but a truly frightening experience awaited Caskey. After graduating from SCAD, he was making his living as a decorative and portrait painter.
Caskey was hired by a couple living on Barnard Street to do several projects in their house. He often listened to music while he worked, which was sometimes at night when the couple was out.
One night, Caskey took the CD out of the CD player, which had been switched off. He was engrossed with his work when he heard Nina Simone singing, of all things, “I put a spell on you, ‘Cause you’re mine. You better stop the things you do, I ain’t lyin’, NO, I ain’t lyin’.
The music so frightened Caskey that he ran outside, threw his key through the mail slot and ran to his car.
Did he finally believe? “Oh my, yes!” Caskey says. “It gets your attention. It was such a personal message, I decided to run.”
The next morning, Caskey returned to the house and checked the CD player. It was still empty, just as he’d left it, and the owners said they hadn’t touched it.
When Caskey asked the lady of the house if it was haunted, she said she sometimes felt a presence on late evenings. The downstairs apartment also was haunted, as Caskey learned when he was hired to paint there, too.
To write the book, Caskey conducted several lengthy interviews. “I spent a lot of time with the people who own these haunted buildings,” he says.
Tourists often share their personal ghost stories with him during the walking tours. “I have found people from all over who have ghost stories,” Caskey says. “Some have had frightening things happen that they don’t understand.”
The tours began as an outgrowth of Caskey’s interest in history and his fascination with Savannah. “As a child, I was tremendously shy,” he says. “It surprises even me that I would do so much speaking in public.”
A friend who owned a tour company hired Caskey as a guide. When the friend closed his business, Caskey decided to start his own.
While writing the book, Caskey spent a lot of time at the Georgia Historical Society. “They told me I needed to set up a tent there,” he says. “They were incredibly helpful.
“i’m not a historian at all,” Caskey says. “Jewell Anderson and the rest of the staff at the historical society did all the research. They were very patient.”
While conducting his tours, Caskey wears a Confederate soldier’s uniform. “I’ve been a re-enactor,” he says. “I try to dress as accurately as I can.”
Among Caskey’s accomplishments are participating in the burial of the Hunley crew in Charleston last year. “I was conducting a tour for some re-enactors and they told me they were one member short for an upcoming event and asked if I could help out,” he says.
When Caskey asked them what the event was, they told him it was the burial of the Hunley crew. “I almost fell over,” he says.
“Since I had never been around a real firing cannon, they gave me the job that had the least activity concerning the cannon -- I was the commander,” Caskey says. “You can get hurt very easily around a cannon when you don’t know what you are doing.”
Caskey’s tours have been featured on the Travel Channel program, America’s Most Haunted Places -- Savannah. A particularly memorable tour was re-enacted for the program.
It showed Caskey leading a group through an upper floor of the Moon River Brewing Company. One of the ghosts that apparently haunts Moon River is a woman, who sometimes pushes men as they are going down the stairs.
“This fellow was walking in front of me,” Caskey says. “He had told me at the start, ‘I don’t believe in this stuff at all, I’m only here because my wife wanted to come.’
“When we got upstairs, he stood with his arms folded,” Caskey says. “He had a look on his face that said he wasn’t buying any of this.
“It was a cold evening and he was wearing a red scarf,” Caskey says. “As we were going down the steps, I saw him slap the side of his neck and give me a dirty look.”
The man later apologized to Caskey for his actions and for his remarks early in the evening.
“He said, ‘I had something happen to me at Moon River that I can’t explain,’” Caskey says. “What he felt was a hand reach down into his jacket and try to take the scarf.”
Assuming that Caskey was playing a joke on him because of what he had said, the man slapped at what he thought was Caskey’s hand.
“There was no hand there,” Caskey says. “When he turned around to look at me, I was 8 feet behind him with a lantern in one hand and a beverage in the other.”
That was not the only person to have a supernatural experience on one of Caskey’s tour. “People more often than not will usually feel a sensation, a change in air pressure or a temperature change,” he says.
“I had a woman one time who had a shocked look on her face,” Caskey says. “She asked me about ‘the woman in period costume up there.’
“I was the only one in the group in period costume,” Caskey says. “I took her back upstairs and showed her there was no one else.”
When Caskey asked if the woman minded if he shared her story with the rest of the tour group, she begged him not to say anything. “She told me her boyfriend already thought she was kind of flaky,” he says.
Although Caskey thinks spectral phenomena probably has a natural explanation, he has no theories. “I don’t know what ghosts are,” Caskey says. “I do know there is something out there because I’ve experienced it. It’’s something we can’t explain with science yet.”
Savannah deserves its reputation as “America’s Most Haunted City,” Caskey says. “It would be hard to imagine any others as haunted as us.”