Oglethorpe Square was laid out in 1742 and was originally called Upper New Square. It was later renamed for the founder of Georgia, General James Oglethorpe. It is home to a monument for Moravian missionaries that settled in Savannah in 1735 until 1740. In its inception, Georgia was meant to be a sort of new start for debtors who’d long since forgotten what it was to be free. They found Georgia to be a harsh land, filled with disease-carrying mosquitoes, pirates, and marshlands full of crocodiles.
Savannah in the 19th century was home to disease and decay, with three separate Yellow Fever epidemics that ravaged the city and killed thousands of people. While the vast majority of people survive Yellow Fever without any serious symptoms, every tenth person will suffer from a toxic secondary phase. In a particularly cruel fashion, their fever symptoms would improve just in time for them to begin bleeding from the mouth and eyes. Their skin turned an ugly yellow from the disease’s damaging effect on their liver.
The population of Savannah suffered so many deaths that they installed a series of tunnels to transport the bodies. This was a common practice, to shield the dead from the horrified eyes of the living. When the volume of dead became too much, they simply started burying them directly in the tunnels.
It’s at Oglethorpe Square that many have reported seeing the victims of Yellow Fever forever wandering in their delirious state. One in particular, Benjamin Lowe of Elk Grove, California, was visiting family in the area. While they were out for a night on the town, the small group found themselves walking through Oglethorpe Square on their way to the riverfront. Ben had lagged behind to take a closer look at the square’s fountain.
When he peered over the edge, looking down into the dark waters of the fountain, he expected to see his own reflection staring back at him. Instead, Ben saw the withered, yellowed image of an old woman gazing back. A light trail of bloody tears marred her face below each eye. Understandably shocked, Ben fell backward from the fountain. He was stopped by an iron grip around his wrist. To his continued horror, Benjamin was now face to face with the old woman. She opened her mouth as if to speak, but no sound came forth. Instead, a black morass of gritty substance poured out. Terrified, Ben ran the instant he felt the woman’s grip loosen – only stopping when he heard his family calling out to him. They found him white as a sheet, hiding in the harsh glare of a streetlight. Once they had calmed him down, he recounted his story. His cousin recognized the symptoms of Yellow Fever – anyone with a passing interest in the history of the city would be familiar with the disease. That didn’t make Ben feel particularly better. It also made his cousin avoid Oglethorpe Square at night from then on.
Walking the squares of Savannah at night can be hazardous. Be wary of accursed fountains and darkened woods. Watch out for the silent death that follows us everywhere. Try to keep the decay at bay, but you might find you’re not alone in the darkness.
“Oglethorpe Square.” Visit Historic Savannah, www.visit-historic-savannah.com/oglethorpesquare.html.
“Squares of Savannah, Georgia.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 30 Apr. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Squares_of_Savannah,_Georgia#Oglethorpe_Square.