The Only Thing Mac Could Never Explain…

The Marshallville Chronicles…

(Vingette from “119,  in remembrance of J. T. ‘Mac’ McElheny, Sr. of Marshallville, GA)
…  As a young man growing up in Monticello, Georgia in the 1930s, Tom’s father, ‘Mac’ worked after school and on the weekends. Sometimes it was near dark when he started his trek to the outskirts of town, and the shortest route to his parents’ farm was through a large erosion gully whose tall clay banks were bounded by low undergrowth.
Mac’s friendly collie, “Laddie” was usually there to greet him along the way, and would often lie in ambush waiting for Mac to walk by so he could jump down on top of him. It was part of a little game they played. The other part was to race to the farmhouse once they reached the backyard gate.

The Gully

One bright, moon-lit evening, Mac spotted a white shape on the ledge. It looked very much like the underside of his dog as it paced him, so he pretended to ignore it, but kept his eye on it all the same.  As usual, he was planning to spot it before it jumped, so he could grab it, but soon found he was having to quicken his steps just to keep up with it.

“Hey, boy!” Mac whistled. He was hungry and tired and ready to get home. “Come on now! I see ya!”

He slowed his gait, but the shape continued to wind through the undergrowth, almost as if it were ‘scooting or gliding’ like a mechanical rabbit on a dog track. It made no cries or sounds.

That’s odd, Mac thought, and he stopped.

Several yards away, the silent shape also stopped as if it were waiting on him. Mac watched as it slowly turned a seemingly rote body his way. Two gleaming eyes peering from the strangely perched head, locked dead-on with his, … and blinked.

The instant Mac thought he’d imagined this, he felt something cold and wet on his hand. Startled, he looked down, and there, behind him, was Laddie, licking vigorously and wagging his tail.

Mac yelled and took off leaping down the gully as fast as he could go, and didn’t look back. He and the collie reached the gate together, but Mac beat the dog to the house.

In coming years, Tom’s father would tell this story many times, always prefacing it with the same, “That was the only thing I ever saw that I couldn’t explain,” and he meant it.  He never encountered the strange shape again, though he passed through the gully a thousand times and always looked for it.  But he also made a point to entice Laddie down from the ledges early on, to make damn sure the faithful collie was by his side the rest of the way home.

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Copyright 2012 – 2019, Real Spooks – Cynthia Farr Kinkel

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Tybee’s Dune Man

Tybee Island Ghosts..

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… Up and down the eastern seaboard there are stories about strange ‘entities’ that inhabit the shorelines. From the rocky coasts of Maine to the sandy beaches of South Florida, tales are numerous and varied, and those from Georgia’s barrier islands are no exception.

The Golden Isles, which have stood for centuries against the Atlantic, are nothing more than a series of dunes that have been accumulating one on top of another since ancient times. Anchored by floating mats of sea rack and other debris that gather along the shore, dunes are formed as the ocean’s winds pick up sand and drop it inland from the beach. Year after year, the sand piles high into ridges that eventually collect enough mass to sustain small trees, island shrubs and other vegetation,… tall sea oats, native grasses and weeds.

These newer formations rising along the beaches are not only the first line of defense against the powerful forces of wind and water, they support a unique ecosystem that thrives beneath the shelter of the small trees and underbrush.

At certain points along Tybee’s main shoreline, dunes are so large that they appear as rows of small hillocks running horizontally along the beach with a shallow depression between them. In recent years, the City of Tybee installed wooden cross-overs so that beach goers wouldn’t have to navigate the gulfs.

Micheal Elliott’s book, Running with the Dolphins (1995) specifically references one of these depressed areas as the ‘Valley of the Sea Chicken’  in his chapter about ‘Tenth Street.’  Apparently, locals used to joke that some small creature roamed the dunes at night – most likely, one of their own playing tricks on campfire gatherings or couples petting on the beach.

These days there are restrictions against building fires on the beach, and strict protections for the dunes, but you still hear stories,… and they’re not about the sea chicken.

Tybee has also placed wooden swings on the beach near the end of each of the crossovers. They are seldom vacant, even at night as residents and visitors relax at the edge of the ‘valley’ beside the mesmerizing sounds of the surf, to enjoy the ocean breezes and other ‘extracurricular’ activities.

Facing directly East, with one’s back to the dunes, the sight is particularly captivating, especially on nights when the moon is full and its rising affords a panoramic view of sailing clouds and glistening waves stretching out as far as the eye can see in three directions.

One frequent visitor to the beach used to spend long hours on the swing at the end of Twelfth Street after midnight.  He swears that on several moonlit occasions, out of the corner of his eye, he saw figures running between the surf and the dunes, sometimes farther down the beach, sometimes closer.  He calls them shadow people and says what makes them surreal is the speed at which they streak back and forth.

He admits that eyes can play tricks, but he’s not alone in his descriptions.

Others have seen these figures, especially in the winter when the island is quiet and the beach, deserted. More than one beach stroller has testified they also get the distinct impression they are being followed by someone or something that retreats to the dunes.

One particularly interesting story comes from three young Atlanta friends who were recently spending the weekend on Tybee during off-season. They’d walked to a local restaurant on South End for dinner, and later, after discovering that the moonlight was as bright as day, decided to take a late-night walk back to their rental by way of the beach.

They passed a number of dune crossovers as they made their way down, and eventually two of the friends, a couple, decided to rest in one of the swings. As the third stood facing them engaged in conversation, he noticed what he thought was a bush moving in the dunes about twenty yards away. At first he shrugged it off, but when suddenly it moved again, he mentioned it, and quietly pointed it out.

His two companions turned to see, but there was no movement.  As the conversation continued, however, the young man kept his eye on the spot.  Sure enough, nearly ten minutes later, the bush moved again. This time, he was able to quickly nudge his friends, who also noticed, but as they were poised to investigate, not only did it move, it slowly rose – an expanding, crouching shadow, and began to slide sideways.

The movement stopped their advance, as did a chilly change of temperature. The young man described the hairs on the back of his neck standing on end.  Immediately, his curiosity drained away.  He and his friends could think of nothing but getting off the beach as quickly as possible. Thankfully, they were just yards away from the Eleventh Street crossover…

A similar story appears as a  reader’s submission on a site known as GHOSTS AND GHOULSThis one takes place on a night when there was a lot of heat lightning on the beach, but it also describes what appeared to be a dark, transparent figure in the dunes,  ‘a luminous shadow, shaped like a man.’

(More to come)

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Real Spooks © 2012 – Cynthia Farr Kinkel

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She Folded Time

Folded Time

The Marshallville Chronicles…

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She folded time like a lacy linen napkin
And then snapped the creases out before
Draping it over my lap to catch the flood
Of memories and tabled dreams that my
Heart in my mouth could no more contain
And that cascaded in red rivulets
From between pouted lips now too soft
To dam the flow that had been held
Prisoner behind my still clenched teeth.
The memories splashed onto my lap
Making ripples in the newly formed
Puddle of unfolded time.
We held our breaths and played
Unabashedly in our puddle child.
I opened my mouth to rejoice and
Drowned us in a frozen tide
Of fiery emotion.

She folded time like the traveler she was
And then jetted across the empty room
Of our togetherness
Fast enough to vacuum the dust of life
Swirling just high enough off the floor
That it could not be stepped upon
But taken back as it had been given
When it was the dust of death
And the firmament from whence she came
Screaming like the Banshee she wasn’t
And threatening to yet return
On the day when I folded time
And she was real.
She folded time in a bare room.
She flew in the heaving of the drapes.
Again, she was never here.

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Copyright 2012, Real Spooks – John Thomas McElheny

Lazaretto’s Lost Souls…

Tybee Island Ghosts…

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First, it’s important to understand that originally, the Charter of the State of Georgia contained a provision that prohibited the importation of slaves into the new colony. Georgia was to be home to a free (and sober!) working class, much like the old Yeomen’s class in England, where merchants and craftsmen, combined with small farmers to make up the economies of small communities.

Real Spooks © 2012 cynthiakinkel

The founding philosophy was that slave ownership promoted laziness, and a privileged landed gentry. Many of the new Georgia transplants were indentured servants, whose debts had been forgiven back in England. These ‘reformed’ individuals were being given a second chance on the frontier of the youngest colony. They were encouraged to value ‘thriftiness and hard work,’ instead of excesses and indulgences.  So the Crown did not issue large land grants, as they had years before to the plantation owners of South Carolina. Instead, they appointed Trustees in Savannah as overseers of the common good.

Georgia’s first colonial settlers got ‘forty acres to farm,’ and the merchants and the craftsmen were to set up shops in which to trade their goods and services, and a portion of the proceeds and profits would go back to England through the Trustees. It sounded like a good plan, at first.

But the low country with its coastal marshes and subtropical climate was difficult to farm, not to mention the fact that it was infested with fever-bearing mosquitoes, native Americans, and other hazards. (South Carolina had already discovered these obstacles and opted to employ slave labor.)

Eventually neither the small farmers nor the merchants could make ends meet. Settlers began leaving the new ‘buffer colony’ in droves. The noble experiment envisioned by Oglethorpe and the Trustees was fast becoming a miserable failure.  In order to save the colony, the Crown began issuing large land grants to those who could farm them, but these larger farms could not operate without a substantial, affordable labor force.

In 1749, increasing social, economic and political pressure forced the founding fathers to repeal the anti-slavery provisions in their Colonial Charter. When the act that permitted the importation of slaves was issued, it also contained a provision to establish quarantines to combat the risks associated with the influx of imported slaves, as well as the usual threats caused by illnesses from incoming merchant ships.

This reversal of social and commercial policy saved the colony’s economy, but eventually it opened up a world of woe. The quarantine at Lazaretto Creek, however, wasn’t built until 1768, almost twenty years later, on a hundred and four acres of land that had been purchased from Josiah Tattnall the year before. The buildings that housed the sick were constructed on the western tip of the island, at the mouth of South Channel Sound.

Although it served as a ‘hospital’ for less than two decades, it saw scores of unfortunate ‘detainees’ each year due to the span of time in which it operated. Throughout the years of the expanding slave trade, and during the days of the American Revolution, Tybee’s ‘lazaretto’ operated continuously as a holding station for the sick and the dying, until it was found to be completely uninhabitable in 1785. A new quarantine was then built on nearby Cockspur Island to replace it.

In the days before public sanitation, immunizations and antibiotics, it was necessary to employ such drastic means of control to keep imported infections from spreading to the mainland.  Anyone who became ill during the voyage to Georgia was subject to quarantine. Whether they traveled of their own accord, seeking freedom or fortune in the new world, or had been transported in chains, lying side by side with hundreds of captive slaves bound for market in Savannah, any individuals infected with a contagious disease like cholera, yellow fever or smallpox were either sent to the quarantine, or the ship on which they sailed would itself be detained in the channel. Sometimes the sick were put in small boats and rowed to the hammocks on Tybee. Sometimes they were tossed overboard to swim.

Once quarantined, these individuals stayed for a certain duration of time, where they either recovered, or died.  Accounts vary as to whether it was for a month or four months. A worst-case scenario might be that they didn’t die immediately, or didn’t recover before the ship’s quarantine was lifted, and had to be transported to shore, where they might become infected with something worse, and end up staying, indefinitely.

The present-day Italian term ‘lazaretto, or lazaret’ simply translated means hospital, but in the Middle Ages it literally meant ‘pest house,’ and could actually describe any structure or vessel used as a holding station for people with contagious diseases, or a place for those dying from the plague or from leprosy. Derived from the Hebrew word ‘lazar or leper,’ it also refers to the biblical figure, “Lazarus,” the one whom Christ raised from the dead.

It was not uncommon for creeping ‘killer’ diseases to lurk in such places, and research indicates that remote portions of Tybee’s first quarantine also served as a leper’s colony. No doubt, Lazaretto was, overall, a pretty desolate place. 

Today, the western hammocks of Tybee Island are the picture of tranquility at the edge of the largest expanse of salt marsh on the entire southeastern coast.  Whatever past scourges or secrets they possess, they bear them in total serenity, and the sunsets are magnificent.

Do such places hold memories that can ‘speak’ to us beyond the obvious, who knows? However, some believe the earth itself has a conscious collective memory, filled with everything that’s ever happened here.  Perhaps it’s also a storyteller.

Captain Mike Scarbrough and his wife, Iris first moved to Tybee in 1992. They bought a property out at the Lazaretto Creek Marina from W.G. Smith, a local resident and fisherman who owns and operates the vessel known as the Agnes Marie, with his partner J. B. Griffle. The premises needed so much work that Iris says her initial response was just to jump in the car and head back to Atlanta. She recalls turning to Mike, and cringing as she asked, “Are you sure we really want to do this?”  But the couple bought the property, and began to build a future on Tybee with their young daughter, Lisa.

They worked a year or so restoring the docks and the old buildings at the marina while living on their boat, and soon had converted the small house near the water into a bar with an office.  According to Iris it wasn’t much to look at, in fact she says it was ‘a dump,’ and if they had five customers drop in on the weekends, they thought they’d really been ‘discovered.’ They just called it ‘Mike’s Place.’ All they served was sandwiches, snacks and beer, but the fishing crowd out at the docks always appreciated the little bar, and the regulars were friendly. The Scarbroughs continued to reclaim the remaining areas of the grounds and started a dolphin tour business, and over the course of the next decade, things began to shape up.  A seafood market also eventually opened in another one of the buildings.

The fact that Lazaretto Creek had ‘a few skeletons in its closet’ was never an issue. However, both Mike and Iris are quick to mention the fact that several strange things happened during the first years that they lived on the property.

Photo from Captain Mike & Iris Scarbrough - old Lazaretto Marina docks,1992

There are two incidences in particular. The first took place one night around three in the morning, when Mike happened to get up and look out the back window of the house, toward the creek. He noticed someone walking around out on the dock – maybe a couple of people. No one was supposed to be out there that time of night, so Mike went over to investigate.

He headed down the plank walkway, ready for a confrontation, only to discover no one was there. In fact, no one was anywhere around at all. Mike said that he stood listening for a few moments to see if he could hear anything. Everything was quiet, and there was no sign that any boat had left the dock. “For the life of me,” he smiled. “I couldn’t figure out where whoever it was, could have gone.”

The second incident happened some time later, when the Scarbrough’s daughter Lisa was in high school, and had a friend over from Savannah. They were sleeping in Lisa’s bedroom about three o’clock in the morning, when the friend was awakened by a sound.

She looked over to see a tall, wide-eyed black man in a very tattered shirt, standing in the doorway of the room. She woke Lisa, and the two of them saw him for an instant looking in at them before he turned and left the doorway. The girls woke Mike and Iris with their screams. The lights came on and everyone searched the house, but they found nothing.

Perhaps the girls had just dreamed the incident, and the stranger was never again seen in the house, but Mike had to stand vigil for a while so his daughter could get to sleep at night, and the Savannah friend never slept over again.

In 1995, the marina hosted the US and international team trials, and also the yachting events of the 1996 Summer Olympics, but when Mike took a crew from Good Morning America out on the S.S. Dolphin for a tour, his Dolphin Adventure Tours really took off. Captain Mike and First Mate Iris decided it was time to let someone else set up business at the marina.

When Joel Solomon moved in at Mike’s Place, he renamed it Cafe Loco and added live music on the weekends.  Often there, long after the musicians packed up and the help left, Joel would soon have his own encounter with the Scarbrough’s late night visitor.

Alone in the bar one night, Joel was cleaning up after closing, when he heard a noise and looked up to see a man standing just inside the doorway. He was a black man in very tattered clothes that Joel did not recognize.

The man didn’t come into the bar. He stood in the front dining area for a moment looking like he was lost. Joel told him he was closed, and was about to ask him if he needed some other kind of help, when the man turned as if he were walking over to take a seat in one of the booths. Joel left the counter and walked out to talk to him, but when he got into the front room, no one was there. Joel said that he looked inside and out but couldn’t find the man.

According to Captain Mike, the incident was pretty unnerving to Joel, enough to make him extra careful to search the premises before locking the front door, and leaving for the night.

There has been some speculation throughout the years about where the mass gravesites might have been. The old quarantine buildings probably stood in a fairly protected area, near the river channel. If there were unmarked graves farther back towards the marsh itself, most likely they have been washed away by the tides throughout the years.

It’s also very possible that if the graves were located where the new bridge now stands, they were unearthed when it was built. Seems like I read a newspaper account about bones being discovered in that location at the time that came bobbing up from the ooze, but I don’t remember the details.

The Scarbroughs told me that a group from England showed up a few years back, looking for the unmarked grave of a British soldier whom they believed died and was buried somewhere on the grounds.  Members of the group searched and searched, but never found a single grave. In fact, no remains have ever been found in or around the present-day grounds of Lazaretto Marina or the adjacent hammock.

When you think that there was over a hundred acres in the original tract bought from Josiah Tattnall in 1767, that’s a lot of ground to cover. Most of the locals are doubtful that future searches will ever turn up anything, other than more speculation.

The ‘ghost’ who paid the 3 A.M. visits to the Scarbroughs and Joel Solomon hasn’t come around lately.   Iris says that it’s possibly because of all of the activity on the premises at night.  Captain Mike’s Dolphin Adventure Tours just celebrated 20 years on Tybee in 2012, and these days the little village on Lazaretto Creek near the Tybee Island Marina is often flooded with fishing and water sports enthusiasts, tourists and sight seers.  Solomon sold Cafe Loco several years ago, and I haven’t checked with the new owners of the place, now called Coco’s Sunset Grille to find out what they’ve encountered.  Maybe there are just too many people around these days for a ‘lost soul’ to feel comfortable.


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*Copyright 2012, Real Spooks – Cynthia Farr Kinkel

(*Portions of the above story appeared in the 12/2005 and 01/2006 issues of The Tybee Breeze, published in 2 parts as “Ghosts on Tybee – Song for Lazaretto.”)


Song for Lazaretto

Real Spooks © 2012 cynthiakinkel

Tybee Island Ghosts…

“SONG FOR LAZARETTO” – f# minor (copyright Jan. 2001)

1. It runs to the mouth of South Channel, with the tide, it meanders ’round winding its way through the marsh’s waving grasses and soggy ground. It curves like a rippled gray ribbon, the sash on a satin gown, and touches the back of the island on the side where the sun goes down. Many red sunsets have lingered high above this floating plain, to promise relief from the storms at sea – from the waves, the wind, and the rain.

2. The Uchee walked on Tybee long before the Spanish came; … from the Hitchiti-Maya word for ‘salt,’ the island got its name. Though fearsome pirates ventured here whose deeds became renowned, where Blackbeard buried his treasure dear, has never yet been found. While pirate days were numbered, also, French and Spanish gain, the English anchored at Tybee, determined to remain.

3. The founders envisioned Savannah: ‘No tenured property – a viceless, yeoman’s utopia; no rum, no slavery.’ Then trade in Chatham began to fail, and small farms but survived, while over in South Carolina, the rice plantations thrived. As loss and disenchantment overshadowed past convictions, they offered the land grant titles, and lifted the slave restrictions.

4. For years, when ships reached Tybee Light, they’d stop at South Channel Sound. They’d unload the sick and the dying, both the free, … and the bound. They’d leave them here, where this little creek, still far from Savannah town, touches the back of the island on the side where the sun goes down … at a place called ‘lazaretto,’ where a quarantine would hold all the ones with dreaded diseases, and the ones too sick to be sold.

5. While great blue herons nested out beyond the island’s view, mosquito swarms would buzz and bite ’til evening breezes blew. Windswept cedars, and pines, and palms, and crooked oak trees spread … alms of mercy at ‘lazaretto,’ like a summons to ‘raise the dead.’ Though comforters braved the perils, and full moons waxed and waned, there was no such ‘resurrection,’ for the dying who remained.

Refrain 1: Lazaretto! Here, beyond the stormy sea, was no promise for tomorrow, in your sunset reverie? Why must these things be so? What hope can ever be, as we lie here, Lazaretto, to rise again and be free?

6. Now, the South had known misfortune, but the price was high to pay, when the Union armies marched right in, and took it all away. Though Sherman spared Savannah the flames that others knew, the way of life was ended … and the means of living, too. While great plantations emptied, and the fields were laid so low, the slaves were freed, but many stayed. They’d nowhere else to go.

7. But the worst they’d fear on Tybee now were fevers and hurricanes. The days of the quarantines would close, leaving the last remains of the site where many perished, tide-washed and over-grown, … while rails were laid, then, a road was made, and seeds of progress, sown. Nothing survives to mark the graves of the souls lost in that place, … nothing perhaps, but a secret mark, that time cannot erase.

8. Today, the bridge that spans the creek affords a scenic view of the waters off Cockspur Light, as they rush to the ocean blue. Here, the island ‘shrimpers’ dock, and nearby, dolphins play, while hungry seabirds circle low to scavenge what they may … and out on the west horizon, where the miles of marshes grow, the sunsets still do linger as they did so long ago.

9. Many tales are told of those who’ve walked these timeless beaches, and the ways of former slaves live on where the GeeChee culture reaches. The creek still curves like a ribbon, as it winds along with the tide, though it cannot tell a single word how any have lived or died, but at times out here, there’s a sound on the wind, the voice of a memory, that fills the heart of these marshes, like the tide that’s up from the sea,

Refrain 2: “Lazaretto, … many things should never be as the deeds and reasons sleeping fill the pages of history. Yet, there is no doubt as the years rush out to meet eternity, they who lie here in the depths below, … asleep in mystery ….

10. … May also hear that trumpet blow beyond the stormy sea – down … where your waters flow the day you set them free … down, …where your waters flow on the sundown side of Tybee, … like a witness, Lazaretto, you wait so patiently – a witness, Lazaretto, wait and see…”

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Copyright 2012, Real Spooks – Cynthia Farr Kinkel

A Chill in the Basement… and a history lesson.


“SONG FOR LAZARETTO” (copyright 2001)

Tybee Island Ghosts…

After researching the history of Tybee’s Lazaretto Creek some years ago, I wrote an article for The Tybee Times called,  “A Lazaretto Primer,”  … also wrote a poem that later became a song which incorporates an interpretation of that history. 

I don’t presume to know any particulars besides what’s written here, and of course there may be others on Tybee and elsewhere who can add more accurate details.

Some have labeled the following tale a “ghost story.” I agree, for as the bitter cold of Ohio’s winter in 2001 piled snow high outside our basement windows, I had what some might describe as a ‘visitation.’ The encounter caught me off guard, and whatever happened, it cured my writer’s block once and for all. Never again will I put off writing when such inspiration calls.

This story has been revised twice and appears on other sites with updates. The events are true, but since feelings are subjective, I’ll let the reader decide between fact and fiction.

It was January 2001, on the eve of the death of my family friend and mentor, Emma Kelly, Johnny Mercer’s “Lady of 6000 Songs.” John Berendt’s novel, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil devotes an entire chapter to this beloved local character.

I was in the basement of our Silver Lake home, carrying out a New Year’s resolution to clean out my desk. While sorting through stacks of papers and junk mail that had accumulated in the middle drawer, I noticed a small blue pamphlet brought back from Tybee Island the summer before.

I’d picked it up at the Tybee Lighthouse gift shop while on vacation, and the folksy promotional piece provided a pleasant diversion from the howling blizzard outside. To my surprise, it mentioned a ‘quarantine’ that had once operated on the far west side of the island. Though I’d grown up in the region, and paid many visits to Tybee, I’d never heard of it. Information about the legacy of Lazaretto Creek and the quarantine itself was sparse. Obviously it wasn’t the most documented of local attractions.

It hardly takes a snowstorm – I’d choose research over cleaning any day, so I got out my southern history books, and began a search online, and spent the rest of that afternoon and a portion of the next delving into the founding history of Georgia, Savannah, and Tybee Island, the presence of the Spanish, the native Americans, the pirates, and the Civil War.

The pamphlet specifically mentioned the Euchee Indians. I’ve since learned that while it is true that the word “Tybee” is derived from the word Taube, which means ‘salt,’ the word was used by the Itza Maya, Apalache Creek/Itzate (Hitchiti). The native Americans who initially lived and hunted at the mouth of the Savannah River were in fact “Chicora,” and the ‘Uchee,’ who lived along the banks of the Oconee, and at the headwaters of the Ogeechee, Chatanooga, and Savannah Rivers, while being associated with the islands of Wahale (or Guale) including Tybee, may have merely adopted the word as their own, … but that’s another story all together.

Twenty miles east of Savannah, Tybee is the most northerly of Georgia’s “Golden Isles.” A small strip of land juts westward from the island into a vast area of coastal marshlands. This strip which also has immediate access to the Savannah River shipping channel, became the location for two consecutive quarantines that operated during the late 1700s into the early 1800s.

The first, located on the tidal creek that now bears its name, was simply called a ‘lazaretto.’ At the end of the eighteenth century, it housed unfortunate European immigrants who contracted contagious diseases on board ship during the transatlantic voyage to America. It was also the ‘welcoming station’ for a host of African slaves who emerged from the cargo holds after the treacherous middle passage.

Like all seaports, Savannah could ill afford contamination of the mainland, so incoming vessels experiencing outbreaks of deadly scourges like yellow fever and cholera were required to unload the sick and cleanse the decks before continuing up river to port. Sometimes they were forced to remain at the mouth of the Savannah River for months before given clearance to proceed.

The present-day Italian term lazaretto, or lazaret simply translated means ‘hospital,’ but in the Middle Ages it literally meant ‘pest house’ – a place for those dying from the plague or leprosy. Derived from the Hebrew word lazar, or leper, it also refers to the biblical figure, Lazarus, the one that Christ raised from the dead. Research also indicates that remote portions of the first quarantine, a 104-acre tract purchased in 1767 from patriot, Josiah Tattnall probably served as a leper’s colony.

After continuous use throughout the Revolution, the Savannah Grand Jury reported the first site in ‘ruinous condition’ in 1785, so it was abandoned, and a new site opened across the way on nearby Cockspur Island. I also learned that in 1954 the Georgia Historical Society had placed the small historic marker (pictured below), at the original site’s general vicinity along Highway 80 East.

That second evening around 9:30 p.m. after everyone else had gone to bed, I went to the basement to finish putting my desk in order. Afterward, I sat down to write. I’d organized my thoughts into what I decided would be a poem about the history of Savannah, the quarantines and the surrounding marshes. Since I’d never done enough boating around the island or in the marsh to be familiar with specific spots, I set out to describe the place as best I could. I’d barely gotten first two lines down, when a strange thing happened. It began as a slight tingle – then, as if someone had slipped up beside me, and touched me on the shoulder, there was whispering in my ear.

The words were gibberish, but the next moment I could feel myself standing shoulder-deep, in cold, rushing water. Tall green grasses were all around, and the banks smelled of salt. Suddenly, it dawned on me – I was in the marsh, and much to my horror, I was being quickly sucked down by the undertow. For several anxious seconds, I was drowning. The feeling made me sick to my stomach. Then, as quickly as the sensation came, it was gone.

I sat there wondering if I were coming down with something, or having a stroke – whatever it was, it was very real. I went upstairs to get a drink of water, and came back to resume my seat at the computer, to read over the words I’d typed:

“It runs from the mouth of South Channel, with the tide it meanders round…”

It wasn’t late, and I was anything but sleepy, so I decided to keep writing, and see what else would maybe happen. Except for the fact that I couldn’t stop before a ten-versed poem emerged, the rest of the evening was uneventful.

The following afternoon, however, my mom called from Georgia to tell me that Emma Kelly had died. Now, I don’t believe for a minute this rather clairvoyant experience had anything to do with Emma, other than the occurrence served to mark her passing for me.

Emma Thompson Kelly (Dec. 17th, 1918 – Jan. 17th, 2001)

The strangest thing was that exactly one year later to that day, January 17th, I was crossing the Lazaretto, coming to live on Tybee Island. In the months that followed, I thought about “Miss Emma” every time I passed the Pirate’s House where she’d played at Hannah’s East in downtown Savannah. I also flashed upon that night in the basement each time I drove over the bridge onto the island. I still think about it sometimes.

It wasn’t until 2005 however while I was working on an entertainment article for a local publication that I learned the spot on the western side of the island where the fishing fleet now docks was actually considered to be haunted by some of the locals. I’d hoped to start off with a house on Officer’s Row for my series on Tybee ghosts, but it was the holidays and the owners weren’t in town, so I ended up over at Lazaretto Creek.

When folks at the marina claimed to have seen figures with tattered clothes walking out on the docks in the darkness, I wasn’t surprised. I was told that on two occasions, that one such figure walked right into a room, stood and stared in silence, then disappeared. It’s still a mystery, but they say it was one of “Lazaretto’s Lost Souls.”

If ever a place had reason to be haunted, this is one. Granted, it isn’t Gettysburg, Hiroshima or Dauchau, or a place where millions have suffered, and I don’t wish to labor the point, but eighteenth century necessity paid a brief, but costly visit to Lazaretto Creek, another lonely little corner of the world, where outcasts perished. For those dying in quarantine on the outskirts of the New World after traveling across the vast ocean in hopes of finding a better life, it was a terrible fate. Or imagine being torn away from loved ones and homeland, and thrown into the pain and horror of slavery. After languishing in chains in the stench and filth below deck with the rest of your unfortunate comrades, you’d probably have welcomed death rather than recovery, especially if there was no hope of freedom.

The poem I wrote that snowy night in Ohio is an historical tale influenced by what I “felt and saw,” and of course, by what I believe. You’ll find it linked to the photo of the sunset above. Try reading it on the dock at the marina at dusk, and let me know what you think.

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Copyright 2011, The Tybee Times; 2012, Real Spooks – Cynthia Farr Kinkel