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A Home Steeped in Savannah's Haunted History

A Savannah Author's Look at
Our 'Haunted' B&B, The Kehoe House

James Caskey is an author and historian who focuses on the history, folklore, and ghost stories of Savannah, Georgia. He founded the haunted Savannah Cobblestone Tours in August of 2001, and his tours have been featured on the Travel Channel program America's Most Haunted Places--Savannah, PBS's Southern Haunts, Fox Sports Net's Destination Wild as well as in an article in New York Daily News. He is currently writing both a follow-up book to Haunted Savannah as well as a guidebook and history of Savannah, Georgia. The stories below, focusing on one of Savannah's most haunted hotels, The Kehoe House, have been excerpted from Caskey's Haunted Savannah, © 2005 James Caskey, originally published as Haunted Savannah: The Official Guidebook to Savannah Haunted History Tour, reprinted here with special permission from the author.


The Source of Savannah's Haunted Reputation

"One cannot walk down Savannah's streets at twilight without feeling evidence of her supernatural side. The old beautiful homes practically emanate the aura of lost loves, lives cut short, and other misfortunes. The Spanish moss-drenched live oaks set the mood. The dead never truly depart in Savannah. One just has to walk into a shop, hotel or restaurant in Savannah and strike up a conversation with the staff, and the talk will turn inevitably to the supernatural. Any old tavern worth its salt has a good ghost story. It is in these stories we find common elements: tragedy, lost youth, and occasionally, redemption. Can a better setting for a ghost story be found than the Olde Pink House or the Kehoe House? Savannah's Historic District sets the mood like no other city."


The Kehoe House—One of Savannah's Haunted Bed and Breakfasts

"On one edge of Columbia Square sits the massive Kehoe House, built in 1892 for William Kehoe. The Queen Anne style mansion was built as the Kehoe residence, and it showcased what William was known for in Savannah: iron. What else would the owner of an ironworks foundry use to adorn his house but cast iron railings, Corinthian columns, porches, balconies, and window moldings? The house was built for the sum of $25,000.

William Kehoe is fondly remembered by his granddaughter, Anne C. Rizert, in a November, 1969 issue of the Savannah News Press Magazine. She remembered him as "a small person but he stood tall because he had that intangible presence of a man who recognizes his own worth, knowing it was God's graceful gift." She goes on to say that "he was very young when he became involved in the Civil War. He had the misfortune to be poor and on the losing side but this was irrelevant to him. Irishmen always seemed to fight well for lost causes."

Perhaps this poor Irish upbringing explains why he was so fair with his workers. One amusing story involves a worker named Woodrow, who was a "jack of all trades" for the Kehoe family for many years. Woodrow had a weakness for strong drink which often landed him at the Brown Farm, a now-defunct work farm for misdemeanor offenders. Mr. Kehoe went looking for Woodrow one day at the Brown, and no one was sentenced there by that name. There was, however, someone named 'Kehoe', which of course Woodrow had used as a pseudonym. Rather than being insulted, Kehoe was touched that Woodrow would think enough of him to adopt him.

The Kehoe family was very large—ten children in all. This number may not include stillborn or children who died as infants or very young.

Over the years it was a private residence, but it spent the majority of the 20th century as a funeral home. Today, it is a bed and breakfast, one of the only 4-star bed and breakfasts in the South, and the only one in Savannah. It is also quite possibly America's only haunted 4-star establishment."


A Tragic End for Twins?

"A persistent story, perhaps legend and perhaps not, told about the Kehoe family is that twins were born into the Kehoe family, and that they supposedly died while playing in a chimney in one of the rooms. The fireplaces have all been blocked up, and decorated with angels—perhaps symbolizing the lost children. A series of hauntings have been attributed to these children. Guests on the second floor have often heard children's laughter and small footsteps running down the hall. Some guests have even complained the next morning to the front desk, not realizing that children are strongly discouraged from staying in such a prestigious inn. Even if the rumors of the twins dying in the fireplace are not true, it would not be unusual for the sounds of children's feet running down the halls at the Kehoe House, given the size of the Kehoe clan.

Many of the stories in the house center on the rooms 201 and 203. A guest of room 201 said she awoke in the middle of the night after feeling someone softly stroking her hair and cheek. Thinking that it was her husband, she opened her eyes to find a young child caressing her face—a child who then vanished. No word on whether her screams woke her husband!

In room 203, two sisters had an odd occurrence. One awoke feeling as if someone was sitting next to her. When she opened her eyes, she saw that her sister was sound asleep on the other side of the room, but there was an impression of someone unseen sitting right next to her on the bed.

Even the staff has had some strange incidents. A member of the front desk claims that the doorbell rang one day, even though she could clearly see that no one was there through the beautiful cut-glass door. She ignored this, thinking perhaps that it was a wiring problem. The doorbell rang a second and then a third time. She was about to call for maintenance when suddenly the door unlocked and opened by itself. She found that not only had that happened with the front door, but it had happened to all the outside doors in the house. Apparently she was dealing with a ghost that did not like to be kept waiting.

William Kehoe had a weakness for cupolas. His granddaughter Anne theorized that it was perhaps his way of "being the lord of all he surveyed. His cottage at Tybee, his foundry, (and) his home all had one and it was his private preserve for meditation and escape." This may explain why the cupola's window in the Kehoe House is frequently lit long after dusk. The staff professes no desire to go up into the drafty rafters of the old house, so perhaps it is William, once again feeling like the lord of his domain.

One night a tour guide was passing by the northern side of the Kehoe House with her tour group, and she heard the voice of a little boy, who said, "Play... come play with me." She simply assumed that she was imagining things, until a member of her tour cried out, "Oh my God, did you just hear that?" The guide simply turned back towards her tour and smiled—it was not the first time strange things had happened on one of her tours. All of the tour goers had heard the disembodied voice of the small boy.

Perhaps the scariest story involving the Kehoe House has nothing to do with ghosts. The house was bought in 1980 by Joe Namath, former New York Jets quarterback (and celebrated pitchman for pantyhose). The persistent rumor is that "Broadway Joe," as he was called, planned on turning the Kehoe House into nightclub and disco. The residents around Columbia Square voiced an outcry, and the planned nighttime hotspot never materialized. The conservative families around Columbia Square apparently did not have Boogie Fever, and there is a chance they would have turned Joe Namath's nightclub into a Disco Inferno. Burn, baby burn, indeed. However, as an investment for Namath, the house did very well: bought in 1980 for $80,000, the house sold in 1989 for $530,000."