The Haunted Hamilton-Turner Inn

More than a few ghosts haunt this Inn

The Hamilton-Turner Inn was immortalized in the novel Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt. The book tells of Joe Odom and his time as the manager of the Hamilton-Turner Inn, and the Gatsby-style parties he would throw. Nancy Hillis, known simply as “Mandy” in Berendt’s novel, purchased the home with her husband. Although the two divorced a short time later, Nancy retained ownership of the house until she sold it in 1997. But she continued to live at the Hamilton-Turner home, albeit in the basement, where she also managed the inn for a number of years.

In the Inn's long history, there have been countless reports of paranormal activity: visitors have made claims of hearing the sounds of children laughing, and even billiard balls popping off a ghostly table before rolling across the floor. Some have even see the ghost of a man smoking a cigar on the rooftop, and occasionally he has been seen holding a rifle (more on him later). Others account of seeing a Civil War soldier walking through the halls at night, occasionally waking the guests by knocking on their room's door. The only explanation for why a Confederate soldier haunts a home built after the end of the Civil War, is that the house was built on top of his grave site.

The History of the Hamilton-Turner Inn

Samuel Pugh Hamilton

The Hamilton-Turner Inn was built by architect J.D. Hall for "The Lord of Lafayette Square," Mr. Samuel Pugh Hamilton (who would become the Mayor of Savannah and Grand Master of the Knights Templar). He and his wife, Sarah (AKA Sallie), were known to entertain lavishly, and wanted a house that would suit their every need, sparing no expense during the creative process. Their Second Empire, 17-room home was constructed in 1873, and nicknamed the "Grand Victorian Lady.'' The house is located on Lafayette Square in the Historic District of downtown Savannah.

The Inn, sometimes affectionately referred to as the "Mansion," was the very first house in the City of Savannah to install electricity (only four years after Thomas Edison invented the light bulb), but this really is not all that surprising considering Mr. Hamilton was the President of Brush Electric Light & Power Company. Nonetheless an amazing sight at the time, legend has it that the people of Savannah would gather just outside of the home in the evening to watch the lights turn on. Some kept their distance, fearful that the home might explode. Not only did the The Hamilton mansion not explode, it was one of the only homes in town to survive the Savannah Fire of 1898, because its tin roof was resistant to the hot embers that ignited and destroyed much of the city.

During the Civil War, Hamilton was a naval officer who successfully ran the Yankee blockade into Savannah Harbor. He was paid extremely well for this service, and thus became wealthy from delivering the goods and supplies that were so desperately needed. (Can you say war profiteer?) He then married Sarah Virginia Stillings in 1866. They had six children, four together and two boys from Sarah's first marriage to William Franklin Hamilton (yep, as in Samuel's brother, and like "the sand through the hourglass so are the days of our life"), anyway, that went down in about 1856. Although, it wasn't a nefarious act at all, actually quite the opposite: William died of typhoid fever around the year of 1862, so perhaps there was a geniune sense of nobility in the "The Lord of Lafayette Square."

Samuel Hamilton was also a lover of art, and he collected valuable pieces from all around the world (with that war profiteering money). Hamilton turned his mansion into a private art museum, where he took extraordinary measures to protect his immense collection of art. During the night, he would even have a guard with rifle in hand posted on top of the roof. One morning, the guard didn't come down from the roof, and when someone went to go check on him, he was found lying in a pool of blood. He had been murdered (where's Angela Lansbury? Surely she was alive back then), and it was quite apparent that someone had shot the guard in the back of the head (the pool of blood being the main indicator). The killer was never discovered and the crime went unsolved.

After the murder of the guard, no one was willing to take his place, so, Hamilton took up the rifle and kept watch himself. Oddly enough, after several months of standing guard on the rooftop, Hamilton himself got sick and died in 1899. So, is the roof cursed? Who is the cigar smoking ghost on the rooftop who can be seen to this day? Is it the guard looking for the man who shot him? Or, is it Hamilton still watching over his beloved home?

Dr. Francis Turner and Beyond

The home remained in the Hamilton family until 1915, when it was eventually sold to Dr. Francis Turner. The Turner family lived in the house, with Doc using the basement as his office. Fun Fact: while The Mansion was the first home in Savannah to have electricity, Dr. Turner was the first person in Savannah to own an electric car. The Turners continued to live there till 1926, when the family moved out and opened the mansion up as a boarding house. Two years later, the mansion became the home of the Marine Hospital Nurses. But, in 1940, the Turner family moved back into the house and Dr. Turner resumed his medical practice in the basement.

a photo of Nancy Hillis during her 1966 Homecoming in haunted Savannah, Ghost City Tours
Nancy Hillis during her 1966 Homecoming. (Source: Savannah Now)

One source claims: "It was rumored that Dr. Turner performed autopsies in the basement, where he met his patients. But the Turners were also known for hosting lavish parties. Their children were banished upstairs during the parties, where they would play with the balls on the billiard table. Not content with this arrangement, one night the children 'accidentally' rolled billiard balls down the stairs so they could retrieve them and catch a glimpse of what the adults were up to. But, one of the little girls got too close to the top step, and fell down the stairs to her death." Her ghost is rumored to still roll billiard balls throughout the Inn once the sky has darkened and night has descended over the City of Savannah.

The Mansion was again sold in '65 (when Jackson Browne was seventeen and running up the 101), in which it was sold to the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. The plan was actually to tear down the Mansion to build a playground for the nearby school, while others claim that the Cathedral wanted the land for a parking deck. Whatever their intention was for the property, in the end, it did not matter, as the Savannah Historic Foundation stepped in and saved the intrinsic Mansion.

Late one night in 1969, gun shots rang out from the kitchen of the The Mansion. But the home was completely vacant in the late 1960's, as a result no one was living there at the time. Perhaps Hamilton was still on patrol. The Hamilton-Turner home later reopened as an apartment complex in the early 1970's.

Over the next several years The Mansion had several owners, which troubled the neighbors. Also it was associated with scandal, under the management of Joe Odom and his wild parties. In 1997, Charlie and Sue Strickland bought the house from Nancy Hillis and the home was converted into the Hamilton-Turner Inn. Rob and Jane Sales took over the restoration work in 2003, but it was later sold to the current owners, Gay and Jim Dunlop, who work in cooperation with the Historic Savannah Foundation. Together, they continue on in maintaining the Hamilton-Turner Inn's legacy and historical importance.

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The Ghosts of the Hamilton-Turner Inn

Haunted Mansion Rumor: Inspiration for Walt Disney?

If the Hamilton-Turner mansion at 330 Abercorn Street looks familar, it might just be because you've seen it before. The Hamilton-Turner home was rumored to be the early inspiration behind Walt Disney’s Haunted Mansion (based off the first designs of Harper Goff in the 1950’s). The house's French Gothic architecture and natural creepiness makes the Haunted Mansion rumor unsurprising.

Suzy Ridder (the Inn’s General Manager) said, "I've heard the rumor before but I don’t know whether it’s true. I can see the similarities between the Haunted Mansion and the Hamilton-Turner House, but the one thing that was actually really similar is the fountain outside each of the homes."

Further, a CNN iReport claims that Walt Disney himself sat on the bench in front of the Hamilton-Turner mansion and sketched it. One source adds, “Walt Disney did, briefly, consider Hutchinson Island (an island off of Savannah’s coast) as a location for Disney World,” but it apparently wasn’t quite big enough for his dreams.

Ghostly Encounters at the Hamilton-Turner Inn

Ghost City Tour's Founder and CEO Tim Nealon, recalls his own ghostly encounter at the Hamilton-Turner Inn: "Almost six years ago I spent a night at the Hamilton-Turner Inn. This was pre-Ghost City Tours. I wasn't there looking for ghosts, I simply wanted to stay there. I heard the accommodations were amazing, and I wanted to treat myself for the night. At about two in the morning, I was awoken by the sounds of footsteps walking past my bed. They were very clear and unmistakable. It sounded like someone was walking right towards me, laying in bed. It can be very unnerving to experience this. The room was very dark and I couldn't tell if it was an actual person, or something else. I laid in bed for a few seconds and the footsteps stopped, I asked, 'Is there anyone here?' The paranormal investigator in me started to kick in, as I realized nobody was in the room with me. I didn't get a response, and nothing else happened for the rest of the evening."

There's no question that at night, it can get really interesting, you very well may hear weird noises, that will keep you from falling to sleep. Author Nancy Roberts writes of her own experience: "I wouldn't blame any soul for wanting to return to this wonderful home if they had once lived here. I may just decide to haunt the Hamilton Turner mansion myself someday! Every time I was there I got a strong feeling there was someone else in or around the house.... and with the sounds I heard....... well If you think the house is spooky now, try sleeping in it alone when it's dark vacant and dirty, no one knows you're there and your trying not to think about the bloody red stain you saw in the closet. Actually, it was an adventure and looking back on it now, I feel lucky to have had the honor." She goes on to wonder, "What are the chances that I slept in the same spot where the armed guard fell?” Is it possible that she did? Maybe, maybe not, but if I've learn one thing about the ghostly Hamilton-Turner Inn, more often than not, doubts turn into possibilities.

A Ghostly Account

A man named Brent Barry went on record about a time he’d experienced paranormal activity in 1969 when he was 17 and an aircraft mechanic (stationed at Hunter Army Airfield). As he related the ghostly tale, he'd ventured out to Savannah one night, but was broke, so he decided to sleep in the mansion (which was vacant and neglected at the time). What he discovered left chills racing down his spine, and goosebumps flaring on his skin. As he explained, "The first floor was really dirty, broken glass, and debris everywhere, so I went upstairs to the second floor, and it was better, but I just didn't feel right. I went up to the 3rd floor and it seemed like a good place to sleep so I found a corner in one of the rooms and laid down."

But it didn't take long before he began to hear noises in The Mansion, and for the true fear to really begin setting in: "At first I wasn't too concerned, it was an old house, sure to have some creaking and thumping noises. But, later in the night or early morning, I started hearing some different kinds of sounds, bumping and some slow squeaking sounds. Now, the noises downstairs sounded like they were getting closer to me, like in the stairway. It sounded to me like someone was trying to slowly and quietly sneak up the stairs. Now I was starting to get a little concerned!"

He was trapped with nowhere to go except for the narrow stairway that led up to a little room on the top of the house: "Up I went and by now I had a board in my hands, thinking that I may have to use it to defend myself. In this small room there was very little space and the door leading out was gone, so out on the roof I went. The moon was bright, so I watched and waited with the board over my shoulder ready to swing if I had to. So here I am, a drunk kid from Denver standing on the roof of a Victorian mansion in Savannah in the middle of the night with a club in my hand..." He began asking himself, "How in the hell did I get myself into this one?" He waited there for a long time but no one ever came out, although who he expected to see raised other questions. A "I knew I wasn't going anywhere until daylight so I just waited there till morning. I didn't get any sleep on that night."

I can't say that I would have gotten much sleep either, although, honestly, I would have never enter the mansion, back when it was in such a desolate stated. So, hats off to Brent Barry, and anyone else who dared to do so.

Staying at The Hamilton-Turner Inn

There is much more to the ghost stories of the Hamilton-Turner Inn. However, we save our best stories for the ghost tours. After all, we wouldn't want to spoil the greatest fun that awaits. If you want to hear more about the ghosts of the Hamilton-Turner Inn, take The Beyond Good and Evil Tour. It is one of the most popular Savannah Ghost Tours, and our guests love this ghost exploration.

The Beyond Good and Evil Tour is appropriate for adults only. For reservations please call us at 1-888-859-5375. If you have ever stayed at the Hamilton-Turner Inn, and have a ghost story about your stay, we would love to hear about it. Drop us an e-mail via our contact form.

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If you're looking for the perfect way to learn more about haunted Savannah Georgia, check out one of our Savannnah Ghost Tours. We look forward to showing you around our beautifully haunted city.

Do you have any questions for us? Call us toll-free at 1-888-859-5375 or contact us here.