Ghost Dances - Introduction
A Savannah Family
Ghost Dances
Georgia Militia The Authors Purchase



    Georgia has had her share of the finest shades in all America, and is home to some of the most frightening and authenticated ghosts that ever walked—or floated, drifted, or haunted—the American scene. As a rule, they have gone uncatalogued and unappreciated too long.

    This is a collection of authentic reports of strange and awful beings, events and inexplicable phenomena in early Georgia. Most stories are peculiarly Georgian. However, as Georgians reported on and discussed stories from further a field, particularly the southeastern United States, a few are included here. Whether human or inhuman, these emanations are inexplicable in nature. Some are difficult to classify at all—a scaly beast, curses, showers of strange creatures, and worse—ghosts in trains, swamps, theaters and hotels, as well as haunted and bloodstained houses.

      Taken from the newspapers and manuscripts of the early days of Georgia’s history, these accounts do not display terror, but wonder. Early Georgians did not burn witches or collapse in terror and superstitious dread. Instead, they called in their neighbors or wrote to the newspapers for aid in understanding what was going on. They even tried to communicate with whatever it was that manifested itself, and to help it resolve its difficulties through the power of prayer.

    As Charles Colcock Jones, Jr. wrote in 1857, after searching in vain to find the phantom that had passed him by and disappeared into thin air, “I placed my candle upon the table, and experienced a sensation quite novel, in which wonderment, disappointment, credulity, mirth, and skepticism were strangely blended.”

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     Ubiquitous human derision, based upon the immediate and sweeping denial of the inconceivable, has been a common response to so-called “ghost stories.” Some of those who consider themselves thoroughly modern—“skeptical”—react with ridicule and mockery to things and events they do not comprehend. “The lip of incredulity is curled with the smile of derision,” as “Governor” Swain said in 1829. Such people dismiss stories that are strange to them by twisting them into nonsense. Some even make up their own parodies to demonstrate the “unbelievable” nature of all accounts unfamiliar within the context of their own personal realm of experience—or lack thereof. This reduction to silliness brings comfort to those who fear comprehension.

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     The authors and compilers have assembled and researched the following stories over many years from a wide variety of original sources including letters, court records, reminiscences, and old newspapers. Indices are unknown to most of the old newspapers, some of which are no longer available. Those newspaper indices that do exist consistently leave out anything as indefinable as the mysteries here presented.

     They did not set out to write a “ghost book.” These stories slowly revealed themselves in the course of researching other subjects for both past and future publishing projects. Past projects include A Savannah Family, 1830–1901 by Anna Habersham Wright Smith (Boyd Publishing, 1999) and The History of the Georgia Militia, 1783–1861, Volumes 1–4, by Gordon B. Smith (Boyd Publishing, 2000, 2001).

     Over time, the stories accumulated and demanded attention in their own right. A sky fall, for instance, happening once might be dismissed as a freak, but when it occurs repeatedly, one starts to pay attention. The stories reinforced each other and fell into patterns which they have followed in the chapter divisions. Many describe multiple phenomena.

     Long and rambling introductions or quasi-explanations added by newspaper editors to the eyewitness accounts have been eliminated or condensed. The eyewitness reports, however, remain verbatim.

  They have tried to use the phraseology of the time when presenting the background to the stories, often incorporating quotations from newspapers of the day in the narrative. It would not be possible in a book of this type to footnote all of these, although the majority of them come from the condensed parts of the noted sources.

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      What follows are, for the most part, accounts by sincere—even serious—people who have experienced marvelous events for which they have no explanation. They are the real accounts of times long passed—and of our own times as well. Old reports of shining things that float in the air, of sudden apparitions that babble and cry, and of dark, cold places that seem to hold great mysteries, rivet our attention with certain recognition. We realize such reports are the reverberations of an unseen orchestra, still playing the same symphonies even today. But what are the names of the musical compositions and who were the composers? Why do they continue to play for us?

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Gordon Burns Smith and Anna Habersham Wright Smith © 2012
P.O. Box 10041 | Savannah, GA 31412 | USA
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