SAVANNAH, Georgia — Dan and Bridgette Riedel’s seemingly unquenchable appetite for ghost tours has led them to where it inevitably had to lead them — Savannah, reputed to be one of the most haunted cities in America, if not the most haunted.
Three years ago this summer, the High Point couple — who are now in the process of moving their family to Savannah — launched Savannah History & Haunts, the latest in a series of ghost-tour business ventures that have turned the Riedels from a pair of normal folks into, well, paranormal folks.
“Savannah provides the perfect setting for a ghost tour,” explains Dan, who leads many of the company’s creepy, candlelit walking tours through the historic streets of the city, regaling his audiences with timeless tales of Savannah’s spirits, spooks and specters.
According to Dan, much of Savannah’s ghost lore rises from the city’s long history of tragedy and chaos — particularly war, fire and disease — which lend themselves to all kinds of terror-ridden tales. It also doesn’t hurt — from a ghost enthusiast’s point of view, that is — that parts of the city are literally built on top of old graveyards.
Because of that, Dan’s 90-minute tours intermingle the history and the haunts, thus, the company’s name.
“You’ve got to understand the history before you can understand the haunts,” he says.
In addition to Savannah History & Haunts, the Riedels operate Carolina History & Haunts, which conducts year-round ghost tours in Greensboro, Winston-Salem and Charlotte. The business also put together a few High Point ghost walks for the High Point Historical Society in 2017.
The couple’s long history with ghost tours actually goes back to around 2000, when they were still dating and Bridgette asked Dan to take her to the ghost tour in Lexington, Virginia. Dan hesitantly agreed — though he wasn’t exactly sure what a ghost tour was at the time — and they loved it so much that they began making ghost tours a part of every trip they took.
When one of their tour guides suggested perhaps they should start their own ghost tour in the Triad, they loved the idea and launched their business in 2008, with the Nightmare On Elm Street Tour in downtown Greensboro. They added the Charlotte tour in 2010, the Winston-Salem tour in 2015, and the Savannah tour in 2018.
No plans for further expansion exist, Dan says, “but you never know what the future holds.”
In the meantime, he seems thrilled with the success of his tours in Savannah, which frequently sell out despite competition from a number of other ghost tours.
“Savannah gets a lot of tourists, and a lot of them know about the city’s haunted reputation,” Dan said one night earlier this month as he prepared to lead a sold-out tour. “So business for us has been really, really good.”
One of the city’s best-known ghost stories — one that’s probably featured in all of the Savannah ghost tours, or certainly should be — is the haunting of the historic Mercer-Williams House, which was completed in 1868. The scene of the 1981 shooting death of Danny Hansford by his lover, Jim Williams, the house was made famous in the 1994 bestselling book “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” which was later made into a movie.
Williams, who claimed he’d shot Hansford in self-defense, was tried four times before finally being acquitted, and the controversial case was the basis for John Berendt’s blockbuster novel. In 1990, only eight months after his acquittal, Williams died of heart failure and pneumonia — in the same room where he had killed his former lover.
Today, the tales of the house’s haunting have become legend in Savannah. The stories include the rumor that Hansford’s spirit remained in the house and was responsible for Williams’ death, as well as numerous reported sightings of the ghost of Williams himself.
Dan Riedel shares this story on the Savannah History & Haunts tours, along with numerous other supernatural tales, before concluding the tour just outside the gates of the city’s historic — and, of course, haunted — Colonial Park Cemetery.
At the cemetery, now shrouded in darkness, Dan shares one final creepy tale to send his unnerved guests home with. We won’t spoil it for you here, but it has such juicy details as animal torture, multiple murders, a hanging and, ultimately, an empty crypt.
Sound spooky enough for you? For the full story, head down to Savannah and take one of the Riedels’ tours — if you dare.
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