Arts & Culture

Hair-Raising Tales from the South’s Most Haunted Cities

Five ghost-tour guides share their own brushes with the paranormal

Photo: Brennen Wesley for Bulldog Tours

Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston, South Carolina.

The South offers no shortage of spine-chilling ghost stories, from the moans and footsteps said to emanate from the infamous LaLaurie Mansion in New Orleans, to tales that the spirit of alleged serial killer Lavinia Fisher still skulks in Charleston, South Carolina’s City Jail. While ghost-tour guides in historic cities such as these are experts on the more notorious Southern legends and lore, the following five contend they’ve had their own fair share of odd and unexplainable paranormal experiences—on and off their tours.

Bumped in Baltimore

photo: Adobe Stock
Bethel Street in Fells Point, Baltimore, Maryland.

For more than twenty years, Leanna Foglia has led people down uneven cobblestone streets as a tour leader for Baltimore Ghost Tours. Foglia tells stories of Baltimore’s haunted happenings, including her own previous—and sometimes real-time—experiences. “You can’t ignore the energy as it flows,” she says. Out of her many brushes with the paranormal, one that occurred in Baltimore’s Fells Point neighborhood stands out.

“In Fells Point, there are businesses and taverns, lights, music—there’s always hustle and bustle. But you can walk a short half-block and find yourself in a dark, poorly lit alley with teeny, tiny little old row houses that date back to the 1700s, a time full of death and disease.

“On the tour, we used to visit this extremely haunted private residence on Regester Street. I knew this house was serious, and I knew that the house had intense energy. What I mean by that is, when I would visit and stand in front of the house, you could almost hear and feel a hum of energy. And no, it’s not an air conditioner. No, it’s not music being played. It’s the house itself.

“On this night, the tour had slow walkers who lagged behind taking pictures, so I got to the house first. I stood on the old marble step in front of the row house, as I always do with my back to the door, and I heard a strange sound. I turned around, and then I felt something. I don’t know what it was, but a force pushed me in the middle of my back. It pushed me off the step and I fell on to the uneven, gross, cobbly-stoney ground, ripping my black-and-white striped tights at the knees. I was on my haunches, and the tour was coming toward me. Nobody knew what happened. But I did. I scrambled to my feet, turned around, and saw what I believe was some sort of energy shoot straight up into the sky over the house. I turned back toward the group, told the story, explained the energy, and then got the heck out of there. I vowed never to stand on the step again.”

A Sixth Sense in Charleston

photo: Adobe Stock
The Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon in Charleston, South Carolina.

Inspired by a long-time love of giving tours around Charleston, South Carolina, John LaVerne started Bulldog Tours as a hobby in 2001. Why are ghost stories and tours so popular? “It’s the unknown—that’s what’s intriguing to people,” LaVerne says. “We’re not always able to connect the pieces. But doing the research and trying to bridge the gap between the history and what’s happening that doesn’t make sense, that’s kind of fun. You’re playing detective/historian/storyteller.” His most memorable haunted happening occurred during a tour at the Old Exchange building on the corner of Broad and East Bay Streets.

“In 2002, I was leading a tour group of around a dozen people through the pre-Revolutionary dungeon. In that group was a ten-year-old boy with his parents. The group had just approached the Old Exchange building and was standing by the back door while I explained the history of the dungeon and what it was used for. That little boy was not happy. The kid loved everything about the tour—up until we got to the dungeon. Then he started to get scared. He told his parents he didn’t want to go in and asked if they could wait outside. His parents asked him what was scaring him. ‘This is where people drowned,’ the boy said.

“The dungeon security guard opened the door and the group proceeded inside. As soon as they crossed the threshold, the boy pointed to the floor and said, with conviction and fear in his eyes, ‘Right there. That’s where people used to drown.’ What this kid would have never known had he not been in the dungeon before—which he hadn’t, it was his first time ever—was that the building originally was right on the Cooper River, right on the harbor. How this kid knew what existed there three hundred years ago—unknown.”

Spirited Roommates in Savannah

photo: Bud Johnson for Genteel & Bard
T.C. and Brenna Michaels.

Drawn to Savannah, Georgia’s history and romantic flair, T.C. and Brenna Michaels moved there in 2013. They quickly discovered the city’s haunted undertones. “It didn’t matter who we met—we could be in a pub, we could be in a restaurant having coffee, just sparking conversation to meet people,” T.C. says. “Everyone was telling us their ghost stories. We were intrigued.” Over the course of nine years in “the city built on its dead,” the Michaelses founded the tour company Genteel & Bard, authored Hidden History of Savannah, and have even lived in a few spirit-filled places themselves. But T.C. will always remember their first apartment, a spot on the corner of Liberty and Abercorn Streets with a view of the Cathedral Basilica of St. John the Baptist, as the most haunted.

“Every single night in the middle of the night, Brenna and I would hear stomping coming from the floor above us. It sounded like heavy footsteps. We figured whoever lived up there was working an odd shift at their job. The noise was so consistent that I called the landlord to ask about the tenant upstairs. ‘They were college students and they moved out two months ago. There’s nobody up there right now,’ the landlord said. My jaw dropped. ‘Welcome to Savannah,’ he said with a chuckle, before hanging up.

“One night while I was brushing my teeth, I looked up in the mirror and saw a huge roll of toilet paper fly behind my head, hit the wall, and land at my feet. I was so afraid to look back at the mirror because I didn’t know what I would see. I grabbed the toilet paper with shaky hands and put it back where it was. I went to the living area to tell Brenna what happened. It wasn’t even fifteen seconds later that we went back into the bathroom and found that whole roll of toilet paper, once again, on the other side of the bathroom. It was sitting on its flat end on the floor with a piece of toilet paper folded over the top, as though someone at a high-end hotel was purposely doing it. ‘Let’s get out of here for the night,’ we said.

“Time and time again, other things would happen. One night in October, Brenna and I were watching a movie. Suddenly, our beautiful windows overlooking Spanish moss and live oak trees all opened at the exact same time. Some days, the closet door (which doesn’t have a lock) wouldn’t open. Once, Brenna heard a little girl laughing in the apartment.”

Echoes of History in New Orleans

photo: Adobe Stock
Congo Square in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Before joining Hottest Hell Tours as a guide, Doug Presley worked in just about every voodoo shop in the French Quarter, he says. His first encounter with a spirit was when he was around five years old, and he’s been interested in the supernatural ever since.

“Five years ago, before I was a tour guide, I was walking home through Congo Square with my girlfriend, now fiancée. Both of us could have sworn we saw a body swinging from a rope in one of those big old swamp oaks. She looked at me and said, ‘You saw the body, too?’ I replied, ‘Baby, I don’t know how I feel about not being crazy right now. We should just head to the house.’

“Later, during my ghost tour guide training, I learned what had happened in Congo Square in 1891—it was the site of the largest mass lynching in U.S. history. Eleven [Italian-American] civilians were killed, and some of their corpses were hung from those very oak trees that surround that square today. The moment I saw that, I took the book over to my fiancée and I said, ‘Honey, you might want to read this.’ Prior to that I had no idea that that happened in Congo Square. I mean, I knew the ties between Congo Square and voodoo, between our music, between our food. I did not know that it was the site of such a horrific event. Apparently, we’re not the only ones to have seen it, because it appears to be a fairly frequent sighting, particularly with people who don’t know that story, and don’t know what happened to these people.”

A Soldier in St. Augustine

photo: Adam Shockey
St. Augustine, Florida.

Adam Shockey, the owner of Ghost Tours of St. Augustine, lives in the historic neighborhood of Davis Shores on Anastasia Island. Just a few blocks away from his Florida home stands the Oglethorpe monument, a spot that marks the location of the Siege of St. Augustine in 1740. “Historically, it makes sense why there would be ‘hauntings’ on this island,” Shockey says. “Many soldiers and pirates would have spent time here, camped out, and fought.”

“About six years ago, I was walking Buddy, my black and tan dachshund, at about nine or ten p.m. Buddy loves walking to the marina, so we were headed in that direction. I stopped to let him sniff around the ground on the side of the road. I was facing the condo when I noticed a shadowy figure walking quickly across the grass courtyard in between the buildings. It looked like it was wearing a sort of wide-brimmed hat. There was enough light from the corner streetlight that even with the fog, I could clearly see this figure. It was walking fast with an odd gate, arms swinging back and forth and taking big steps, seemingly in a hurry.

“My first thought was that it was someone up to no good, cutting across the private lawn of the condo, or perhaps even a prowler. I felt uneasy and froze. Buddy was staring directly at it. At first, I didn’t think it was anything supernatural. I was cautiously curious about what this person was up to. I watched the figure approach a streetlight in the middle of the wide street. Expecting to get a better view of who it was, the moment it stepped into the streetlight it vanished. Completely into thin air. There was nowhere it could have gone so quickly. In retrospect, I realized it was perfectly fitting if it was the ghost of a soldier, wearing a hat like that.” 

These stories have been edited for length and clarity.