by Christopher Davis and photography by DeAnna Gontz
Over the Thanksgiving holiday, we spent the weekend in a hotel room considered by many to be the most haunted hotel room in the country.
The room is in the Marshall House in Savannah, Georgia — ranked as the most Haunted City in the USA, and the Marshall House as Savannah’s most haunted hotel.
It’s room 414. And we stayed there for three nights.
I did not plan on staying in room 414. Well, I sort of planned, but that was not the specific plan. Here’s how it happened.
It was our 13th anniversary. We both love Savannah. Its historic district is beautiful and full of history. I love history, and she loves this kinda stuff… I mean, stuff like “ghosts”. And it was our 13th. It just made sense to stay in a haunted hotel in the most haunted city, right?
So, after doing a little research, I booked a room in the Marshall House and asked for the 4th floor which seemed to have the most ghost activity. And that is where I stopped. I did no further research and made no further plans. I figured it was enough to be in a haunted hotel and on a haunted floor. I was gonna get big points for this!
When we checked in, the front desk was excellent. They had a note about our anniversary and congratulated us. The clerk then cracked a weirdly suspicious smile, handed us the key cards, and said, “…we have put you in room 414…”
I was confused about why this mattered and what that smile was about, but I quickly got his vibe — this was THE haunted room of the place. When I asked him to confirm the vibe, he did. DeAnna had already heard of room 414 — why was I surprised? — and that set off a whole new sense of adventure and emotions.
We would be staying in what is probably the most haunted hotel room in America!
Getting our bags up to the room, we cautiously opened the door, plopped down our stuff, and did what every curious, excited, motivated person does when confronted with the unknown… we pulled out our phones and consulted Google.
We rushed to beat each other and find out the unusual facts about this old and unique room we would occupy for the next three nights.
And there were plenty of unusual facts to be found. Try it yourself — google “Marshall House room 414” and you will get a long list.
Bad smells, doors closing and locking, faucets turning on by themselves. One guest claims the covers lifted off her in the middle of the night. Another was tickled on her feet. A Union army soldier was seen standing in the corner. Someone made recordings overnight and heard a voice asking for a nurse on playback. One couple made a YouTube of their stay in the room.
…and all this happened in the room where we will be sleeping for three nights?
DeAnna quickly put out a lifeline text to both of our families telling them what we had just gotten ourselves into. They were excited for us, but a little concerned, and they made it a requirement that we check in often. Ok. Will do.
After a bit, we agreed that we should stop reading about the room so we would not set an expectation, or influence our experience. We did end up reading more as the weekend went on, but for now, the phones went down. And for you to continue properly reading this story, you should know what we knew — and the history of the place.
The hotel was built in 1851. As a significant property, it also served as the emergency hospital during the Yellow Fever epidemic in 1854 and the Civil War in 1864. During that war, amputations were required. Those amputations were performed far away from the street so folks passing by did not hear the screams. That was on the back side of the building, and on the top floor. That was our floor – and our room.
We sat there for a moment imagining screaming soldiers getting arms and legs sawed from their bodies with no anesthesia or painkiller. How awful must that have been? How much pain and suffering were infused into these walls? Walls that are now covered with drywall, electric lighting fixtures, indoor plumbing, and a flat-screen TV. Very different from 160 years ago. It was hard to imagine.
The hotel underwent two significant renovations after the Civil War. One in 1899 when plumbed bathrooms were added. The bathrooms it seems became a point of haunting. We agreed never to close the bathroom door completely and reduce our chances of getting locked in — like a previous guest appears to have done.
Another renovation was in 1999 after the hotel rooms had been vacated in the 1950s and deteriorated for 40 years. It was during this 1999 renovation that strange odors started coming from three rooms — one of them being 414. Human bones were found under the floorboards on the ground floor, and it was confirmed that they dated to the Civil War. Amputated arms and legs.
Why were these few specific bones placed under the floorboards? Did the discovery of these bones set off the hauntings? One incident after 1999 included the apparition of a Union soldier in the lobby holding his severed hand and asking for a surgeon. Wow.
With this history fresh in our minds, we settled into the room. We even said a little greeting to our ghost host and told it that we were friendly, would be there for a few days, and looked forward to our stay. It was nice.
And then it happened…
Eventually, everyone needs to use the bathroom. DeAnna first. The door was left unlatched as agreed. Lights on.
After maybe a minute in the bathroom, and in a very calm manner, she walks out and says, “This room is legit haunted. I have an all-over body chill that is not going away.” Weirdly, I had started to develop a chill as well. I did not tell her this immediately so as not to confuse things. DeAnna said she sensed it to be female. I rubbed her back for a minute to reduce the chill. As hers subsided, mine did as well.
Now we were really excited (slash) nervous!
But, was this real? Were we hyping ourselves up and manifesting these chills because we just read scary stories about this scary place? Is it because we secretly wanted something to happen? Had we read too much Google?
Probably. Most likely.
This was when we decided to go on our picture-taking excursion. DeAnna started taking photos of every view of the room. And then into the hallways and around the hotel. Our goal, of course, was to capture images of orbs and other spirit-like things. The hotel was warped and rickety. Lots of sounds. Old and tall hallways. Think of “The Shining”. A perfect haunted house!
We returned to the room, unmolested by ghosts, and started to inspect the pictures. Nothing exciting. No orbs or spirits or black cats were apparent. Disappointing.
There was this one completely black picture. Completely. Right there in the middle of all the others. It was taken in the room before we went into the hallways. Weird, right? On a digital cell phone? How can a digital camera take an entirely black picture? We assigned ourselves the task of a more thorough photo investigation once we returned home to keyboard computers and big screens, and would let it be until then. You can scroll down to the end for a spoiler of what we found.
We had checked into the room in the evening, so it was around 10 pm by this point. With some adrenaline going, and neither of us that tired, we decided to have a drink at a bar and take a break from the room. Over drinks, we talked about what might occur that night and if either of us would get any sleep.
For me, it was hard to sleep. The anticipation of having some encounter kept the eyeballs open. Senses were high. Every little sound was amplified. When would it happen?
Pound. Pound. Pound.
I awoke to something moving the bed. I guess I had fallen asleep after all. What was that pounding? Was that me? Yes, I think it was. I was just out of a dream, so I could remember dreaming of banging a hammer. And I may even remember slapping the bed with my hand. Weirdly, the thought of a ghost never even crossed my mind, and I went back to sleep.
I read the next day that other guests experienced movement at the end of the bed, including shaking and pounding. Some have even seen a white glow at their feet. Did I dream of the pounding? Or did it really happen?
That same morning, I went down early to get some coffee and read my book. DeAnna stayed in bed for another hour. When I returned, she had a story of her own.
It had been tranquil with me out of the room, and she was alone. She started to hear faint whispers close to her. Female, again. She could not make out what they were saying and was unsure where they were coming from. But they were there. And then they stopped.
In 1854, many children died in the hotel during the Yellow Fever epidemic, and child ghost encounters are commonly reported. They are heard talking, crying, and playing with marbles and balls in the hallways.
Was this the whisper of a child? Had DeAnna experienced these sounds in a dream state while in and out of sleep? Did she hear real-live voices from the hallway or from outside that might have seemed like whispers?
That was our first night. And we had two more to go.
To be clear, DeAnna had not felt the pounding on the bed, and I had not heard the whispers. So, neither of us can verify the other’s story. But we have to ask. Why does this happen with ghosts? Why does only one person experience them at a time? In general, you don’t hear many stories where multiple people have the same ghost experience simultaneously. Only in the movies.
We developed a theory. Like people who are alive, ghosts find it more comfortable to approach people individually. Would you agree with this? Have you ever realized that when you are alone in a public place you have a different social experience than when you are with someone else? You notice your surroundings more. You make eye contact with others more. Maybe you even start a conversation with someone because you are not already in a conversation.
We heard that since room attendants often work alone, they do not like to service that room. Gospel music is played, and the door remains open to reduce the ‘alone-ness’.
One afternoon, DeAnna stepped out of the room, and the attendant in the hallway jumped and gasped. She gave DeAnna a stern look and did not say hello. Can’t blame her. We should have asked about her experiences with that room. Obviously, something had spooked her before.
That was our ‘alone’ theory. And I asked not to be alone in the room 🙂 I am more of a chicken when it comes to ghosts.
The next day was almost normal. We both mentioned that we could not “feel” anything “there” anymore. Like it had passed on. We were not nearly as nervous, and we accepted the situation. Maybe our ghost approved of us!
DeAnna texted the family to assure them we were still alive. We had forgotten their requirement to check in, and they had yet to hear from us. Naturally, they were concerned, and maybe a little mad. It’s hard to tell over text sometimes.
On the last afternoon, after a lunch and walking around the squares of Savannah, we decided to nap before dinner. (We are 50 years old BTW, and have earned naps). In the middle of the nap, the room became cold, and I got up to adjust the thermostat. I thought nothing of it. After all, it was November and in the mid-60s. So, maybe the room gets cold in the middle of the day.
When DeAnna woke up she also mentioned the cold. Cold rooms and spirits are known to go hand in hand. Maybe the spirit had not passed on. Maybe it was there again.
We both got ready for dinner, and as we went downstairs to go out for the night, I realized that I had forgotten to wear my walking shoes. We were walking everywhere that weekend, and I really wanted those shoes. I decided to go back up to the room and change. I joked that I was breaking my rule about being alone in the room.
I opened the door and began searching for my shoes when I heard the toilet running — like it was broken — continuing to run. But wait. We had just left, and the toilet was off. Why was it now running?
I dismissively thought that one of us must have used it before we left and just needed adjustment. Being the natural handyman I am — and with the bathroom door wide open — I lifted the toilet top, made the necessary and precise adjustments by jiggling everything with the exact amount of torque, and replaced the top. There, solved.
On our ride home from Savannah, DeAnna was driving, and I did more reading on 414. And, of course, I found that toilets flushing by themselves and running was one of the many documented experiences in the room. Geez.
On our last morning when we checked out, to be honest, we were a little disappointed. We had not seen an apparition, or had a door close on us, nor did the lights turn on and off. We had wanted an amazing and very certain ghost experience that we both shared together. Instead, we had these small, uncertain, and mostly individual experiences.
As we loaded the bags, the valet asked if anything had happened in the room. Our immediate response was “No”. It was not until later, when we reflected on these experiences, and read more about our shared experiences with others, that we understood our great ghost experience.
But, was it a ghost experience? The things we experienced were very ordinary. Movement in a bed while dreaming. Faint unintelligible voices from somewhere. A cold room in the Fall. A continuously running toilet. All these things would be considered usual in our everyday lives and homes. We would not question them, or even think they were associated with a ghost. But because we stayed in a room others said was haunted, we turned them into ghosts.
Yet, we propose that it really does not matter whether they were ghosts, or whether they were us. Because we chose to stay in that room, and because we were open to accepting whatever came our way, we turned a weekend of the ordinary into a weekend of the extraordinary. And isn’t that what vacations — and anniversaries — are all about ?!
Oh… and about that single black picture…
When we arrived home, we examined that black picture with the Microsoft Photos app that comes loaded on a new laptop. We used a bigger screen and zoomed in 600% to see if something was there. What we noticed was a random squiggle pattern — like the pattern a cloth would make if its picture were taken up close. There was something there. Not just black.
We then used the Photos app to increase the Brightness to its extreme and POP! right in front of our eyes was a bright spot sitting high and right from the center. From that spot emanated a glow that dissipated away from the core. Amazing!
Did her cell phone capture the energy of a ghost in that picture? Was the energy too intense for the camera? Is that why everything around it went black?
We tried to think of logical answers. DeAnna must have put the phone on the bed or some other surface for a moment and accidentally clicked a picture while the lens was covered. We replicated that theory and covered the camera lens with a dark-colored paper. Our test picture also turned out very black — much like the original. But when the Brightness was set to its extreme, there was no change. It was still 100% black. No bright spot.
So, what do you think? You now have all the information. Did we capture the energy of our weekend ghost host?
Chris and DeAnna want to assure you that we have not made up any part of this story or embellished it in any way. We intended to share our experiences with you as best as we could recall. Hopefully, you have had as much fun reading about it as we did experiencing it.