Is the Marshall House haunted?

Is Savannah’s Marshall House haunted? Dozens of guests and employees of the historic hotel say yes. The beautiful Greek Revival hotel sits on Broughton Street in the heart of Savannah’s Historic District, but the exterior is evocative of something more commonly expected in the French Quarter of New Orleans, complete with a cast iron balcony. Unlike so many structures in Savannah that have been converted into rooms for rent later in their lives, this building was constructed originally to be a hotel, and has been used for that purpose for most of its history. The upscale hotel boasts a fully-appointed bar, an adjoining fine-dining restaurant, and a front lobby which gleams of marble.

The Marshall House Hotel was built in 1851 by Mary Marshall. Her father, Gabriel Lever, a 19th century cabinet maker, bought some property on Broughton Street and passed it on to his daughter when he died. Mary built the hotel on the site, and it is considered by architectural historians to be the finest structure she had built in Savannah. The cast iron balconies and veranda were added in 1857. Years later, the hotel changed ownership and was renamed the Geiger Hotel, after its new proprietor, Minnie Geiger. In 1933, Herbert W. Gilbert leased the hotel and changed its name to the Gilbert Hotel, which closed in September 1945.

The hotel was reopened again as the Marshall Hotel in 1946 after extensive renovations. When their 10-year lease ran out in 1956, the owners decided it cost too much to bring the building up to the standards required by Georgia fire codes. The hotel closed, and many thought it would be the last time. But the Marshall House underwent extensive renovations in 1999 and re-opened its doors to the public as a luxury hotel.

marshall house haunted

Is the Marshall House Haunted?

Is the Marshall House haunted? Otherworldly stories persist about the property. Before the hotel reopened in August of 1999, the staff reported strange odors and something that they could only describe as “bad vibes” from rooms 214, 314, and 414.  Many different types of deodorizers were used, to no avail, and even an ozone machine was tried to remove the odor, without success. Finally, the staff tried something drastic: group prayer. This worked nearly immediately in rooms 214 and 314, but 414 was different. That particular room had an aura and odor so oppressive that the staff members could not stay in the room long enough to pray. Finally, the housekeeping manager fixed on a unique solution: a radio tuned to a gospel station was placed in the room, with the volume turned up. This apparently worked, since both the odor and strange menacing vibes have not been experienced since.

Some staff members and guests alike have reported hearing the sounds of a small child bouncing a ball up and down the upper hallways of the hotel. Many hotel guests have asked about the disembodied sounds of the pitter-patter of a child’s feet in the halls, or of a child laughing.

A physician and his wife mentioned an encounter with something paranormal at checkout one morning. It seems the doctor had been awakened several times by a gentle tickling sensation on his feet in the middle of the night. In his sleepy state he was convinced that the comforter or the sheets were somehow responsible for the sensation of something lightly brushing his feet. The last time it occurred, he looked down to see a little girl tickling his feet. She smiled and vanished.

Some have had the chilling sensation of awakening to feel a hand being pressed against the guest’s forehead, exactly like someone was taking their temperature. Some research turned up the fact that for a time during the War Between the States, the Marshall House was used by the Union Army as a hospital. Sherman’s troops occupied the hotel and the Union army turned it into a hospital until the war ended, some six months later. Perhaps the former medical staff at the Marshall House is still fulfilling their duty to care for the occupants of the rooms, not realizing the conflict is long-since over, and the people tucked into their beds at night are not in need of medical treatment.

A Terrible Discovery

This link to being a medical facility would also explain the rumors that when the Marshall House underwent renovations in the late 1990’s, the workers made a grisly discovery in a downstairs room. It is said that some floorboards had rotted, and were in need of replacement. When they pried up the floorboards, they found human remains. When the authorities were called in, they treated is as if it were a crime scene, carefully cataloguing the remains they were finding. The odd thing about it was that they were finding hands, feet, arms and legs—nearly three dozen in all. Later tests revealed that the body parts dated from the Civil War era, thus confirming their Union Army connection.

The downstairs was reputedly used as a surgery, and a number of amputations were said to have been performed in that room. A surgical procedure such as removal of a gangrenous limb was performed very differently than it is today. Anesthesia was in short supply. The unfortunate soldier was often given a small amount of liquor, held down by strong male nurses, and the offending limb was savagely sawed off. Doctors are nicknamed ‘Sawbones’ even today because of this gruesome practice. The average amputation took several minutes. The wound was then packed with sawdust or lint with no regard for sanitary or antiseptic surgery. Doctors placed a lead bullet between the teeth of the soldier receiving the amputation, giving the poor soul something to bite on during the crude procedure. This gives rise to the phrase ‘bite the bullet.’ With that origin is it any wonder that the saying means doing something very much against one’s will?

With the severed limbs piling up, the Union soldiers allegedly found a quick and easy way to be rid of the leftover body parts: they pulled up a floorboard or two and tossed the severed body parts under the floor. There were several groupings of limbs, presumably because the surgeons would bury each day’s amputations in a bundle together. There those body parts remained—until 1999! The Union soldiers left Savannah a souvenir that wasn’t found until 135 years later.

Here is where Savannah’s morbid sense of humor kicks in: what better room to use as a night manager’s office! Is that area of the Marshall House haunted? You bet. Managers have complained of strange noises emanating in or around that office. Low moans and strange unexplained footsteps have been heard. One manager saw a shadowy figure pass by the open door to the office, and this happened at a time that he was supposedly alone. The man was wearing a heavy dark blue overcoat. He also claimed that there was one other odd thing about the man that he saw—the fact that he only had one arm. This Union soldier has been seen on numerous occasions.

When the human remains were removed from the office, it is said that the strange noises immediately started. The ghosts apparently miss their severed limbs, and have begun to search for them. One can only suppose that the Marshall House charged those Union soldiers an arm and a leg for their stay.

The Marshall House haunted story is usually featured on our Savannah ghost tour and our Savannah haunted pub crawl, both offered by Cobblestone Tours.


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