James Habersham, Jr., was a wealthy cotton planter and also aided the colonies in the fight for their independence. He was also known as a gracious host, generous with his southern hospitality and as such he dreamed of a home where he could unite his friends and family. Construction began on the Olde Pink House in the year of 1771, and was completed in 1789. Ten years after finishing the construction of his dream home, James Habersham Jr. passed away under suspicious circumstances. His home stands to this very day, known as the Olde Pink House Restaurant, and has become the preeminent place for both southern cuisine and 18th century architecture. It is also the "go to" location, the "must stop" for any ghost tour in Savannah.
The story of James Habersham Jr., begins as a tale, a tale common to many families living in Savannah during the late 18th century. Families torn tragically apart, caught between misguided loyalty to England and the New World's revolution. James Jr., one of three sons born to James Habersham Senior, a colonial planter and merchant, and let's not forget, one of the richest men in the colony. Senior, was also the first person from Georgia to send bales of cotton to England. Apparently, despite being a slave owner, there was seemingly a shred of humanity in his soul, as he was the headmaster for the Bethesda Orphanage's school, the first orphanage in the New World.
Senior was known to be an unapologetically fierce British Loyalist, the Kanye West of all British Loyalists, as Kanye himself might put it. The old man was nearing the end of his tired life, just as the rumblings began amongst the colonists about a revolution against the bloody English crown. To old man Habersham's dismay, he found out that all three of his sons were enthralled with the Colonial cause, and had joined the Sons of Liberty, the OGs of the revolution. This act committed by his sons, broke the tea lovin' old man's heart, for that his boys weren't just rebelling against English rule, but also against himself and everything he stood for, with his true belief that he had spent his entire life serving the crown. The Habersham family now found themselves “father against son, and son against father.”
While Senior's namesake, and eldest son, James Jr. deeply supported the American cause, it was middle child, the "Jan Brady" of the Habersham brothers, better know by his given name of Joseph (Joseph, a great name indeed), that would achieve ever lasting fame. On January 18th, of 1776, in what is arguably known as one of the most daring and audacious acts to take place during the revolution, Joseph and a few like mined individuals, walked, rather, rolled up onto the Governor’s residence, (Telfair Square) and arrested the English Governor. Joseph was age 24 (just the right age); old enough to do some damage, and young enough not to let anyone presuade him to do anything less. This brazen young man put his hand upon the shoulder of Sir James Wright, aka the Governor, and said to him, “Sir James, you are my prisoner.” And, then, he dropped the mic Hamilton style.
As for, James Habersham Jr., his involvement with the cause was on a more subdued level, at least by comparison to his devil-may-care brothers. He did not join the military like Joseph and the youngest of the three, John. He preferred to use his brain, operating behind the scene, using his vast connections as a merchant to help fund the Revolutionary War's effort. After the war was won, he proudly served as Speaker of the General Assembly of Georgia in 1782 and again in 1784. Additionally, he served on the Board of Trustees created in 1785, which established the University of Georgia.
But, enough with the American history lesson, and back to The Olde Pink House. Upon completion of the house, it was unfortunately held up by those dirty mucka lucka British casseroles, for the majority of the Revolutionary War. Okay, wait... Now, enough with the history lesson, and moving on to the story of the house. It was constructed out of red bricks and covered with white stucco, it has been said that the restaurant actually got its famous name, because when the red bricks would bleed through the stucco, the outward appearance would become a pinkish color. Habersham, apparently, was not so secure with has masculinity, and did not want to be the guy known for living in a big ole pink house. The white paint was never quite up for the job of concealing the continuous bleeding from the bricks. This mayhem, chaos, this all around maddening absurdity routinely went on till the 1920’s, when a woman, secure with her own femininity, who ran the home as a tea room, finally made the only rational decision after hundreds of years of obstinate behavior, and painted the place orange. No, wait pink, she painted the house pink. And, from then on, the house has been repainted the same shade of pink yearly, rather than the time consuming hassle of replastering the entire home.
This beautiful Georgian mansion is one of the more gorgeously pink sights in the Savannah Historic District. But, behind its aesthetic beauty is a house filled with stories from the beyond. One of the darker stories told about the Pink House, which has no historical evidence to actually support its claim, is that James Habersham Jr., hung himself in the basement, where the tavern (Planter's Tavern) is now located. Whether true or not, legend has it, he learned that his wife was having an affair with the architect he had hired to design the building. He went down to the basement and, overcome with her betrayal, he committed suicide. Another story that others believe is that Habersham actually hung himself because he was distraught over his wife's death.
The supposed truth is much less operatic: Habersham died in 1799, with the listed cause of death simply being his declining health. The burial of someone who had committed suicide would not have been permitted in consecrated ground at the time. So, to some, the fact that James Habersham Jr. is buried with his father and brothers at Colonial Park Cemetery is proof that his suicide is false, but some believe this simplistic version of the story was a cover-up, an attempt stave off the shame that his suicide would have brought onto the family name.
The popular Olde Pink House Restaurant is believed to be haunted by the apparition of its creator, James Habersham Jr., who has been said to appear frequently in the restaurant, and has even been seen wearing his Colonial garb while drinking ale. Patrons of the tavern have reported seeing Mr. Habersham hanging around, people watching, enjoying those who visit his home. Other guests have reportedly had conversations with someone dressed in Colonial garb, so realistically, they believed him to be a reenactor, only for him to vanish in the blink of an eye.
Since the building became a restaurant in the 30s, employees have continued to the see the ghost of James Habersham Jr., reportedly only between October and March, as he stays away from the summer heat. He is known to be a "pin-neat gentleman." One recounts that he "often straightens table settings and puts chairs into their place.” Someone else commented that “sometimes if a server leaves her station kind of haphazard and messy, he'll come back when there's no one else down (there) and it'll be perfectly straight."
His ghost has also been blamed for the mysterious lighting of candles that are placed on the tables around the restaurant. Apparently, Habersham loves the idea of having lit candles on the tables at all times. A waiter once recalled, turning his back for a moment continuing with his other duties, that when he turned back around, suddenly, all the candles on every table had been lit.
Several other spirits are known to occupy the Olde Pink House. A friendly Revolutionary War veteran (Prehaps Joseph Habersham) is known to visit the bar, and ask visitors to raise their glass for a toast with a joyous drunken smile glazed onto his face. But, before you can take a drink from your glass, the jubilant soul will vanish. One of Habersham's descendants is also known to join in on the fun at the bar, even taking solid shape and ordering a few drinks. As, the night winds down, he has been seen exiting the bar and walking to the cemetery, vanishing just as he nears the Button family monument, where his body was buried.
A female ghost has been spotted on the second floor numerous times, and has been reportedly seen sobbing on several occasions by patrons and employees of the restaurant. One night, after most of the staff had left, only the bartender and the manager remained. The manager told the bartender, “The upstairs is all clear.” It was then that they heard the sounds of a woman crying, coming from upstairs. The bartender asked the manager, “Do you hear that?”
The manager replied, “No, I don’t hear a thing, and neither do you. We’re getting out of here!”
They quickly closed up, and left as soon as possible.
Former house servants have been seen as well, though merely wandering about the building somewhat aimlessly, clueless about their current state—or we can assume, as they are not angry or vengeful about their fate. Slave children, who are believed to have died in fires or from illnesses like Yellow Fever, can be found playing, throwing dice against the wall in the former basement, which to reiterate, now houses the tavern. Other children have appeared, tauting the staff, even hitting bartenders with wine bottles, and playing tricks on the guests as well. Some spirits have taken a liking to locking women in the bathroom, leading the management to finally take the lock off of the door, which solved the problem to some degree, as the spirits on occasion will now hold the door shut, making the agitated patron forced to thrust open the door with all their might instead.
Talking to the staff at the Pink House will yield some interesting accounts of ghostly hauntings over the years. Apparently, another spirit in the Pink House enjoys playing pranks on some of the diners of the restaurant. Menus, which are occasionally stood in the middle of the table, will fall forward towards a guest, for no reason. Inevitably, the menu will hit a glass of wine, knocking it onto the table or into the lap of the person enjoying their meal. These strange supernatural occurrences at the Olde Pink House only add to restaurant’s charm.
While on our Grave Tales of Savannah ghost tour you will hear the true stories of the Habersham family. You’ll find out who hanged themselves in the basement of the house. On certain nights we even have access to areas of the house.
The Olde Pink House Restaurant is located 23 Abercorn Street, on Reynolds Square. If you plan on dining at the haunted Pink House reservations are highly encouraged.