Forsyth Park Inn
(c) copyright 2005 James Caskey
Forsyth Park Inn
The Forsyth Park Inn, built in 1893, is one of the most beautiful bed and breakfasts in Savannah. Overlooking the picturesque Forsyth Park fountain from Whitaker St., the Inn has nine uniquely dressed guestrooms which evoke the splendor of the 19th century while providing the comforts of the 21st. The Inn also has another feature which is not advertised in their brochure: the ghost of fourteen-year-old Lottie Churchill, who has been racked by a guilt so powerful that it drove her insane. But to tell her story, one must first tell the amazing tale of her uncle, Captain Aaron Flint ‘Rudder’ Churchill, a distant relative of Winston Churchill.
Churchill’s Amazing Feat
He was born in 1850, in Nova Scotia, and at the age of sixteen served as first mate on the large cargo ship Research, commanded by his uncle. She sailed from Quebec with a cargo of timber bound for Scotland, and during the chilly November voyage her rudder was snapped off in a storm. First Mate Aaron was called upon to save the ship by attaching a new rudder. The crew lowered him over the side by a rope into the stormy sea, and Aaron and managed complete the repairs even though it meant spending over three hours in the near-freezing ocean. The ordeal nearly killed the boy. The new rudder did not last long, and Aaron was called upon to replace the rudder not only a second time, but a total of eight times. He is credited with saving the lives of the crew and saving the ship, complete with cargo. After a voyage of eighty-eight days (and eight rudders!), the ship finally arrived at her destination. The company was so grateful to Aaron that he received a hefty reward for his efforts. By the age of twenty-one, he was captain of his own ship, and at the age of twenty-four he had amassed enough money that he decided to retire to Savannah, with presumably was one of his ports of call during his sailing days.
But Aaron ‘Rudder’ Churchill had only just begun his career. He opened his own stevedoring business on the Savannah docks, and four years later he began his own steamship line. One of the main cargoes transported on his steamships was cotton, and so Aaron began to invest in cotton plantations—meaning he was sending out steamships with holds full of cotton that he himself had produced. He even invented a new process to wrap the cotton into tighter bales, thus making it easier and cheaper to ship.
Due to his great success as a Savannah merchant, Churchill built what was then known as ‘Churchill Mansion’, a larger and grander house that his residence in Nova Scotia. It was this house which would eventually become Forsyth Park Inn.
Churchill, presumably remembering his days as a deckhand, treated his employees exceedingly well. During World War I, the Churchill Steamship Line, Aaron’s company, adopted the policy that if any employee wished to join the armed services, that employee was guaranteed a job making the same salary upon returning from the War. Also, a spouse of the employee would receive half of that salary until the employee’s return— paid out of the company’s own pocket.
Sadly, the one area of his life where Captain Churchill did not excel was in creating a family. He and his wife Lois were unsuccessful in their efforts to have a child, so they adopted Lois’ fourteen-year-old niece. Lottie came to live with Aaron and Lois, and they treated her as if she were their very own. Not long after Lottie was adopted, in 1899, Lois’ sister Anna came to live with the three of them. Anna was recuperating from a long illness. Anna and Lottie became close, and she felt a deep bond developing, as if Anna was the older sister for whom she had always wished.
Lottie’s Dark Plan
One night, Lottie walked past an open doorway, and spotted a couple embracing passionately. She stepped forward to say hello to Uncle Aaron and Aunt Lois, but suddenly she had a numbing realization. Her uncle was embracing Anna, not Aunt Lois!
Lottie was tortured by the knowledge. She spent a sleepless night, tossing and turning, and the more she thought the angrier she became. Most of all she felt betrayed by Anna. She felt as if her perfect life with Uncle Aaron and Aunt Lois was about to end, and it would be because of someone that she had once trusted enough to consider her like a sister. If Anna were removed from the equation, the harmony between her aunt and uncle might return, and she could continue living happily with them. Anna would have to pay for her sins. Lottie devised a plan.
Lottie fixed afternoon tea for her two aunts, but the cup she handed to Anna had more than just steaming water and tea leaves: Lottie had added some poison, in the form of oleander. Sitting together in the garden and not realizing Lottie’s scheme, Anna and Lois happily accepted the afternoon refreshment. Lottie watched from a distance as the deadly poison took effect. Anna collapsed and died in her sister’s arms.
For a short moment, Lottie was ecstatic, thinking she had saved her aunt and uncle’s marriage. But her elation soon turned to despair when Lois sat her down after the funeral and delivered some stunning news: Anna had not just been Lois’ sister, but she had been Lottie’s real mother, as well! Lottie, wracked by guilt, eventually had to be committed to an asylum. She never truly recovered.
One of the few times Lottie emerged from the institution was to attend the funeral for the man who had shown her such kindness: her Uncle Aaron, who died in 1920 at the age of seventy.
A Spectral Presence
Lottie’s ghost is said to still roam the house and garden of the old Churchill homestead, now the Forsyth Park Inn. She has been seen still frequenting the halls by both guests and the owner of the Inn, still appearing to be an insecure fourteen-year-old girl. She has been noted to disappear from sight quickly after being seen—perhaps she is still mortified by the thought of inadvertently killing her own mother after all these years.
She has been seen by guests to still walk the garden of the Inn, perhaps visiting the spot where she procured the oleander with which she poisoned a woman who turned out to be her own mother.
The owner had another strange experience at the Inn, this occurrence taking place in the kitchen. She couldn’t find the keys to the Inn, because they were missing from their customary hook in the kitchen. She hunted high and lo for the keys, and was about to give up her search when the kitchen door opened on its own, the keys were tossed through the open door, and they landed at her feet.
A couple staying at the Forsyth Inn also had a strange instance in their room: the television flipped on by itself one evening. Then the set turned off, then on again. No one was near the remote. Then the channel switched, on its own, to the 2004 conclusion of the trial of Scott Peterson, who was accused of killing his pregnant wife, Laci. The couple relating the story had not heard the story of the young murderess Lottie Churchill, and so didn’t understand the delicious irony: the soul of a departed murderess, turning on the television to check the progress of another accused murderer. Perhaps Lottie took a special interest in the Scott and Laci Peterson case because of the similar murder of a mother by a (supposed) loved one.
The calm and tranquil setting of the Forsyth Park Inn, scene of such a tragic death, is now haunted by the ghost of fourteen-year-old Lottie, who could be seeking atonement for her poisoning scheme gone awry. What lies in her future? Will she ever find the peace for which she searches? Unfortunately for Lottie, the tea leaves showing her fortune are tainted by oleander, perhaps forever.