Though they were murdered, the three victims of a triple homicide in 1909 Savannah live on in lore, legend and perhaps even hauntings.
For years, employees of Old Town Trolley Tours had bizarre experiences in a portion of the building where the Gribble house — the scene of the slayings — once stood. Last November, the company relocated to Louisville Road, but the old car barn still belongs to the parent company, Historic Tours of America.
The story of the murders has been added to Old Town Trolley’s Ghosts & Gravestones tour, says general manager Charlie Brazil.
“When we decided to move, one of the things we began talking about was, ‘Is there something we can do that is related to this story and the high level of paranormal activity?’” he says.
“It’s something that we’ve been talking about loosely for as long as we’ve been in that building,” Brazil says. “There was a lot of weird stuff in that building, which happened to so many people.”
Employees Kenny Gresham and Garry Patrick began working with David Harland Rousseau, owner of Savannah Talent Services, which provides actors and guides for the Ghosts & Gravestones tour, to do some research.
“It was astounding to learn how much documentation exists about this event,” Brazil says. “There are news articles, all kinds of things. It’s really a very evocative story.”
The Ghosts & Gravestones tour used to stop at Colonial Park Cemetery, but instead now stops at the old car barn, where the guests get off the trolley and listen to the building’s history. “We felt the cemetery portion of the tour was anticlimactic,” Brazil says.
“We couldn’t find another setting that would be able to accommodate the numbers of people we put through on the tour. The Owens-Thomas House was interested until they found out how many people we were talking about.”
Residents living near the cemetery began complaining about all the activity and traffic from tour buses and trolleys. “We said, ‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could just obviate the cemetery to a drive by and discussion and give guests another exclusive opportunity to go into a place that is really evocative?” Brazil says.
Local paranormal investigators were brought in to survey the car barn.
“Some of their readings were through the roof,” Brazil says. “One woman got physically scratched.
“There were tons of EVPs, or electronic voice phenomenon, and a lot of great readings. We said, ‘This is the part of our tour that’s been missing — the discoveries of paranormal investigating.’”
Many employees had weird experiences in the building.
“We had a mechanic who saw feet literally on the other side of the trolley where he was working,” Brazil says. “He slid out and there was nothing or no one there.
“We’ve had things literally slide across people’s desks and all kinds of crazy electronic equipment things happen. We’ve had trolleys that started by themselves and turned off by themselves, stains on the walls, people who’ve had their names called, and all kinds of people who have been touched.”
There is no greater skeptic than Brazil.
“I’m not much of a believer, frankly, but I definitely felt unnerved at the very least,” he says. “At night, the place was really, really spooky.”
In addition to the Ghost & Gravestone tour of the building, a new company will offer a full-blown paranormal investigation on a nightly basis.
“This has been done in St. Augustine at the old jail and has been quite successful,” Brazil says.
“Guests are going to get two hours inside the building, where they’ll train on ghost hunting equipment, including EMF detectors, ghost boxes and the use of laser grid to try to get some good readings.”
That company is the Gribble House Paranormal Experience and is owned by Patrick, who also is the depot sales manager for Old Town Trolley and who has done investigations in his native Australia and throughout the United States.
“I said, ‘Let me get people in there,’” Patrick says. “In our initial investigation we found crazy things going on.”
Twenty people in all participated.
“We got good recordings, including threatening ones, like ‘You need to leave’ and ‘Stop asking stupid questions,’” Patrick says.
“In Savannah, we have walking tours and trolley tours. We don’t have the opportunity to go into a building and become ghost hunters. This building doesn’t disappoint.
“It’s almost impossible to go in there and not have something happen.”
Patrick named his business in honor of Eliza Gribble, a victim in the ax murders. “We supply all the equipment, so all people need to bring is a digital camera,” he says.
“It starts at 11 p.m. and goes for 2 hours. People are going to get a chill.”
In addition to the story of the Gribble house, Patrick talks about the history of the block where it sat, which also included a saloon, stores and former slave quarters that had become tenements.
“We get paranormal activity in the entire building, not just where the house was,” he says.
Participants must be over 18.
“There are no kids, no alcohol and we’re not interested in tomfoolery,” Patrick says. “Guests have to sign a waiver. That’s how serious we are.”
The current building was erected in 1944, Patrick says. “Old Town Trolley got it in 1995,” he says.
“There are many stories that were told, such as the lady in white who walked between the trolleys at night. There were a couple of spot fires that couldn’t be explained that happened in the building.
“In the last few years, people saw a dark shadowy apparition in the office area,” Patrick says. “There’s quite a substantial amount of evidence to prompt us to get serious.”
Patrick himself had an unusual experience in the building.
“I was in the very back corner when we had a power outage,” he says.
“I was at the switchboard and I thought one of the mechanics was behind me. He said, ‘What are you doing?’
“I said, ‘I’m trying to fix this switch — would you move out of the light?’” Patrick says. “I turned around and nobody was there.”
Photos taken in the building often show orbs with faces in them and strange lights. EVPs include a woman who responds “Hunter” when someone asks, “Maggie, are you here? Maggie?” and another woman speaks in an English accent as Eliza Gribble would have.
“The spirits are very curious about what’s going on,” Patrick says. “Since we moved out, they’ve sort of missed people coming in.”
Rousseau also has had some strange experiences in the building.
“I was talking with a mechanic after hours one night, and was about ready to close up for the day,” he says.
“We were talking about the day’s events near Trolley 31, one of the ghost trolleys, which was parked just inside the former property line of the Gribble house. He leaned up against the trolley and for no reason, the interior and exterior lights and engine fan turned on, even though all the lights and the key were in the off position.
“He jumped, I jumped, and as soon as he took his hand off the vehicle, everything cut off,” Rousseau says. “He put his hand on it to see if he could get it to come back on, and I did the same. We couldn’t recreate it.”
The old car barn is an example of a haunting outliving its original location, Rousseau says.
“It really was a horrible crime,” he says. “It makes me think there must be something there. Too many employees have seen too many things for there not to be.
“There is too much unexplained.”
IF YOU GO
• The Ghosts & Gravestones tour departs seven nights a week on River Street. Admission is $26 for adults and $10 for children. For more info, go towww.ghostsandgravestones.com/savannah.
• The cost for the Gribble House Experience is $65. For more info, go towww.gribblehouse.com or call 912-856-4316.