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Moon River Brewing Company - Savannah, GA

(View of the street from inside Moon River)
Dear Travel Diary,

There is a bar in Savannah, Georgia called The Moon River Brewing Company.
It is pretty non-descript – white-washed brick with dark lettering, and an awning over the entry. It’s 3 stories mesh with the rest of the storefronts that overlook the harbor, and truthfully, one thinks nothing more of it than having a drink on the patio.

The term ‘haunted’ is thrown around there. Out of curiosity, I asked the employees if they believe it to be true, and they all said the same thing. “There is indeed a lot of history here, but since I work here, I cannot think about that.”

Originally built in 1821 and named The City Hotel, the establishment got its start as the city’s first hotel and post office. Patrons from the North would stay there, and violence would erupt when local people defended their Southern honor. There is at least one documented death, and a violent attack that left a man near death. The hotel closed in 1864 when General Sherman led the Union army through Georgia. 

With such turbulent history, it’s easy to associate a ‘haunting’ with a building that has withstood the passage of time. When Gen. Sherman arrived in Savannah, for reasons unknown, his soldiers spared the city its typical destruction of war. The building sat vacant until the 1990s, when it was transformed into Moon River Brewing and opened for business in 1999.

I listened to accounts of the building being used as a makeshift hospital for sick children, dying of an epidemic. They were treated as best they could with 19-century medicine on the third floor. I also heard that the roof was torn off during a hurricane. And yet, the building still stands.

One can say it’s the mind playing tricks on you. Or it’s just the imagination running wild, fueled by the stories told from within its walls. And speaking on general terms, I would agree. The mind will believe what it wants to believe. I had to see for myself.

We were granted access to first, the basement. Rumored to be connected to other historic establishments in Savannah, I wanted to see if I could find evidence of a tunnel. (I couldn’t.) However immediately, as you descend the staircase, the centuries melt away. It’s cold, and creepy, as basements typically are. The electricity seems foreign and out of place within a building built before its customary use. The lighting was dim. There was no furniture. And despite bar patrons taking advantage of the happy hour specials directly above us, it was absolutely silent.

Later that evening, we were granted access to the second floor. We were forbidden from going up to the third, however. These two upper floors are in a serious state of decay, with the third posing the worst threat to our safety. The story goes, renovations were attempted here to restore the entire building to its former glory. But then one day, the foreman’s wife was violently shoved down the stairs and the foreman quit that very day. The renovations came to a halt, and to this day, the supplies remain untouched. It is unclear if these renovations will ever resume.

Upstairs was even more of a time capsule. I admired the ornate detail work found in the trim, the transom windows, the banister of “the” staircase where the wife was pushed. Modern construction does not embrace such a thing, so I very much wrestled with a little jealousy over that. I imagined the building in its prime, when it was a hotel. People slept in those rooms. And there I was, standing in my jeans where women in hoop skirts once walked. 

That’s when I began to touch on the building's reported creepiness. The chipping paint that surrounds you seems to fuel that, as does the wallpaper that the years have not been kind to. In my imagination, I began to remember the children that died of illness, the cries and sorrow that filled these rooms and then the storm that tore the roof off. If these walls could talk, they would fill us in on details of a history we could have never imagined. 

Moon River made me realize that a haunting does not always mean a spiritual presence. Here, the ghosts are the tangible objects that have no place in 21st-century America. What haunts the living, rather than a horror story, is a legacy that doesn’t want to be forgotten.

In 2003, the city of Savannah was named America’s Most Haunted City with Moon River housed in its most haunted building. But from what I’ve experienced, it’s not the dead the haunt this beautiful city. It’s the stories.