Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Pirates' House

Given that we started the week with Poltergeists and it's been a strange week on the whole in general we figured we'd stay with that theme and take you on a journey to one of the World's Most Haunted Places. This book written by Jeff Belanger - owner of ghostvillage.com - will be coming out in a new and improved edition this Fall - look for information on our new Fall releases in the coming weeks! In the meantime we're checking out an excerpt of Chapter 21: The Pirates' House.

The Pirates’ House

Savannah, Georgia

Tel: 1 (912) 233-1881

www.thepirateshouse.com

The Pirates’ House is located a block from the Savannah River in the most historic section of Savannah, Georgia. Dinner is served daily from 5:30 p.m. Photo by Gennie Bailey.

Have you heard of Captain Flint?


“Heard of him, you say! He was the bloodthirstiest buccaneer that sailed. Blackbeard was a child [compared] to Flint. The Spaniards were so prodigiously afraid of him that, I tell you, sir, I was sometimes proud he was an Englishman,” was Squire Trelawney’s reply to that very question asked in Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic tale Treasure Island.


Robert Louis Stevenson based all of the characters in Treasure Island on real people and infamous pirates. The notorious Flint was no exception.


Stevenson was a writer who did his homework. Though Treasure Island was first published in book form in 1883, Stevenson captured the names, boats, places, and mood of the pirates’ heyday, which took place about 150 years prior. Reportedly, while Stevenson was in Savannah, he stepped into a tavern and heard the story of a feared, blue-faced drunkard of a pirate captain, who died in one of the inn’s rooms, still calling for more rum. “Fetch aft the rum, Darby!” were Captain Flint’s last words to Darby M’Graw as Stevenson reported them in Treasure Island.


It’s possible that back in the late 1870s, Stevenson also heard that this scoundrel’s ghost still haunted the tavern. The pirate’s tenacious attitude of refusing to follow the rules, even in death, may have inspired Stevenson to write this passage about Flint: “Dead—aye, sure enough he’s dead and gone below… but if ever sperrit walked, it would be Flint’s.”


That infamous pub still stands today, though you won’t find buccaneers any longer, with the exception of one ghostly pirate captain that still haunts the building. The locals have taken to calling this ghost “Flint” for lack of knowing his real name, and for believing this person was the inspiration for the character. Today, the tavern is an upscale restaurant called, appropriately enough, the Pirates’ House.


The story of the Pirates’ House starts with the founding of Savannah in 1733, as colonists arrived from England. A tent city was erected and a large experimental garden was planted. Botanists brought vines, seeds, flowers, and herbs from around the world to the 10-acre plot in Savannah. The colonists needed to know what would grow in the area and what would not—high hopes were placed on grape vines for winemaking and mulberry trees for culturing silk. Neither took to the climate and soil, but they did discover peach trees fared very well. After 20 years, Georgia’s growing cycles were established, Savannah was turning into a beautiful seaport town, and the great garden wasn’t necessary anymore.


The Pirates’ House was originally built by seamen in 1754. The construction was wooden beams, interlocked and held together by wooden pegs—the way seamen built ships. The construction in this section of town stands in contrast to the well-built, Colonial-style homes in the center of town.


The Pirates’ House was a dangerous place, full of swashbuckling pirates and scallywags. Seamen would stop in for grog and rum as they arrived from ports around the world. With the exception of the pirate Jean Pierre Lafitte, who married a woman from the same neighborhood and came from a later era, it’s difficult to place the names of too many famous pirates who actually visited this early tavern.


A pirate’s life for you, you say? I spoke with Robert Edgerly, a life-long Savannah native and pirate expert who runs Savannah Walking Tours, which features an historical tour called the Pirate’s Walk. Edgerly said, “Pirates lived short lives, and they didn’t care. When you think about a seaman’s life, these guys had it made, compared to the average seaman. So they didn’t care if they had a short life and if they hung at the end of a rope at the age of 40, because they had seen much more than anybody else had ever seen.”


Edgerly explained how many infamous pirates, such as Blackbeard, Calico Jack, and Stede Bonnet, all came through the area of Savannah, but decades before the English ever settled there and long before the Pirates’ House became a rough and tough sailor’s pub.


In the Pirates’ House rum cellar, there was a tunnel connecting the building to the Savannah River—a drunken (and sometimes drugged) sailor could pass out in the corner of the pub and awake the next day on an unfamiliar ship at sea. Pirate captains were notorious for kidnapping crew if they were short-handed. Edgerly said, “Ships that sailed had to have so many men on them or they were unseaworthy. If the ship was loaded and ready to go and they didn’t have enough men, they sent out a press gang. There was one ponytailed marine for authority and about six or eight big guys. Back in that era in a seaport, you didn’t walk around alone because of the press gangs. They weren’t looking for old guys, they weren’t looking for lame guys—they were looking for able-bodied, young fellows. And the local authorities would turn a blind eye to it unless he was married, had children, or was from a family of wealth. They would turn a blind eye because it was good for commerce.”


Edgerly explained that sailors pressed into service wouldn’t be let off the ships when they arrived at different seaports around the world because of fear they would run off. But press gangs weren’t the only way to kidnap a sailor. Edgerly said, “If the press gangs couldn’t find anybody, then they’d go to the area that is now called the Pirates’ House and they’d find an able-bodied seaman who already had experience, who had a little too much grog, or they’d hasten his lethargy with a knockout shot to the head. We know that the basement of the captain’s quarters—the 1750 Cypress Building—is a rum cellar. They’d go down there, and during the day there would be men tied and shackled around the kegs of rum, and then that night they’d drag them through the tunnels and out to sea.”


With a record of abducted seamen, hardened pirates drinking themselves to death, and more than 250 years of American history, the Pirates’ House has more than its share of ghost stories. I also spoke with Greg Profitt, who runs Savannah By Foot, a walking tour company that features the “Creepy Crawl Haunted Pub Tour.” Profitt’s Boston accent immediately gives away that he wasn’t raised in Savanna—an obstacle Profitt would have to overcome to win over the locals who at first treated him as a carpetbagger. Profitt arrived in Savannah in April of 1990 as a skeptic, but he would become a believer when he started his Creepy Crawl a few years later. He and his tourist guests have had several profound ghostly experiences in the Pirates’ House.


Profitt said, “I’d start my tours at the Pirates’ House. Upstairs there was a lounge called Hannah’s East. I remember one night I had a lot of people in there, and I’m going around to the tables and I’m saying to people we’re going to be leaving in a few minutes, if you could finish your drink or grab a to-go cup. There were two sisters from Atlanta and they both had their glasses almost empty. They were going to go up to the bar and get one more and then leave, because you can carry your drink around with you in Savannah. All of a sudden, as I turned to walk away, this woman screams. I turned back and her drink glass is absolutely stuffed with Spanish moss. She was just totally freaked out.”


On another occasion, Profitt was speaking with a young couple from Atlanta at the start of his tour at the Pirates’ House bar. Profitt said, “They said to me, ‘Before we get going, is any of this real?’ And right across from us beside the cash register on the other side of the bar there was a stack of glasses in a pyramid shape. They didn’t fall down, they exploded. Literally exploded—glass went everywhere. And the customer said, ‘Never mind.’”


Profitt has done a lot of work with charity in Savannah over the years. In fact, it would be a dare between friends that would lead Profitt to an overnight stay in the Captain’s Room dining room—the most haunted part of the restaurant. Tony Cross, a fundraiser for Savannah’s Leukemia Society, bet Greg Profitt $200 that he wouldn’t last overnight inside the Pirates’ House. Profitt said he would take the dare if Cross joined him. The idea turned into a charity event where people sponsored the two men in this ghost-a-thon. Profitt and Cross raised over $6,000 for the leukemia foundation and, in the process, had more of a ghostly experience than they bargained for.


Profitt said, “It was really bizarre; we heard a lot of noises. We were the only ones in the building and we were supposed to stay up in the one room, but I roamed all through the place—I couldn’t help it, it was fascinating. We kept hearing footsteps and banging on the walls and banging on doors, and we’re investigating but we’re finding nothing. Finally, Tony, who was up there to kind of keep me honest—he didn’t believe in ghosts—he’s this British guy, and at about a quarter ‘til 1, he’s reading from the book Treasure Island and he reads, ‘Darby, bring me more rum.’ He threw on a lot of accent, almost like he was reading to a crowd. I had brought Jamaican rum, because in the book Flint’s last words were, ‘Fetch aft the rum, Darby!’


“Well I brought rum and three shot glasses. I had mine, Tony had his, and the third one was in a position where either one of us, to get near it, would have to get up to move to it. At a quarter ‘til one, when he reads, ‘Darby, bring me more rum’ out of the book, that one shot glass that neither one of us could have reached, it just vanished with the rum in it. We watched it disappear.”


Profitt isn’t the only witness to the supernatural at the Pirates’ House, by any means. Robert Edgerly said, “I know people who have actually seen the ghost of the big, burly fellow sitting at the table. Because the Pirates’ House has been there so long, there are generations of people that have worked there. And I’ve talked to credible individuals—I mean guys that wouldn’t give it a second thought—that have seen the ghost. The restaurant used to be 20 dining rooms, but now the 45 South [an adjacent restaurant] has taken over some of it. There’s, like, 14 dining rooms, and the reason being is that some of them are the old living rooms, bedrooms of the houses that were adjacent. I’ve had at least three managers tell me over a 20-year period that they would be walking through there at night closing up, they’d go by a room and they’d look, and there would be a guy there at the table. They’d go back and look again, and he’d look at them. Then they’d get scared to death, go get somebody, and bring them back, and there wouldn’t be anybody there. People have seen the old ship captain, whoever he is, sitting there.”


When Greg Profitt was sharing some of his ghostly experiences with author Frances Kermeen at the Pirates’ House bar, both experienced a threatening phenomenon when the author was typing notes into her laptop. Profitt said, “As soon as we started talking about the ghost, her laptop computer goes wacko. It starts spitting out numbers, letters, and symbols—you really couldn’t understand what it was, the keys were going on their own, and it crashed. She reboots the computer, and this time it was like words. They were kind of running in together: hate, die. And the third time, it really seemed to be threats against me—that I should shut up, discontinue, or bad things were going to happen to me.”


The spirit of Flint in all of his menacing glory still walks the Pirates’ House. Other witnesses have heard ghostly cries for rum, and some have seen the sea captain himself. If you go there, matey, buy him some rum or grog, and don’t let your guard down—you don’t want to wake up at sea, pressed into the service of Captain Flint.


Jeff Belanger is one of the most visible paranormal researchers today. He's a prolific author who writes for both adults and children, he's a talk show host, lecturer, and he's the founder of the new legend tripping movement.

Since 1997, the former journalist has interviewed thousands of eyewitnesses to paranormal occurrences. He's worked in marketing and public relations for both private and public companies, and he's the ultimate insider and knows how to connect with people from all walks of life when it comes to the unexplained.

He is the author of over a dozen books (published in six languages) including the best sellers: The World's Most Haunted Places, Weird Massachusetts, andWho's Haunting the White House (for children). He's the founder of Ghostvillage.com, the Web's most popular paranormal destination according to Google.com, and a noted speaker and media personality providing dozens of lectures per year at colleges, universities, conferences, and libraries. He's also the host of the cable/Web talk show, 30 Odd Minutes which is available in over 3 million homes in the United States. Belanger has written for newspapers like The Boston Globe and is the series writer and researcher forGhost Adventures on the Travel Channel.

Belanger has been a guest on more than 200 radio and television programs including: The History Channel, The Travel Channel, PBS, NECN, Living TV (UK), The Maury Show, The CBS News Early Show, FOX, NBC, ABC, and CBS affiliates, National Public Radio, The BBC, Australian Radio Network, andCoast to Coast AM.

He currently haunts Massachusetts with his wife, Megan, daughter, Sophie, and parakeet, Mambo.

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