Just in time for Halloween, Fort McAllister hosted its first-ever public ghost tours last week.
Led by Savannah-based paranormal investigator Patrick McDonald, the two tours, held Oct. 26 and 30, patrolled the grounds in hopes of encountering one of the lingering spirits reputed to haunt the fort.
“I’ve been coming down to Fort McAllister for about 25 years now as a Civil War re-enactor, and I’ve always felt an affinity for this place,” said McDonald. “I thought, based on its history and reported sightings, that it would be a good candidate for a paranormal investigation. What better time than Halloween?”
McDonald is a tour guide with Savannah-based Cobblestone Tours. He provided each tour guest with a brief history of the fort and their own EMF meter — an instrument said to detect paranormal activity by measuring electromagnetic fields.
After the first tour, he said he experienced the strongest readings in the fort’s old surgery and in the powder magazine room.
“I think there are some spirits here that haven’t moved on. Either they died here or were injured here, and they haven’t found their way out yet,” he said.
Sarah Miller, an employee at the park, was on the first tour. She said she didn’t experience anything especially supernatural, but she’s not closed to the idea, either.
“I know people who swear they’ve heard period music being played when no one’s here and seen the ghosts of soldiers sitting around the fire,” she said. “The park is a memorial, and some people might have a deeper connection to the people who lived here before.”
Park Manager Danny Brown confirmed that many campers, park employees and visiting paranormal investigators have reported strange and unusual phenomena, but he’s not so sure.
“I’ve been here over 30 years and stayed in and around the fort, and I’ve never experienced anything paranormal,” he said, though he doesn’t discount what others have felt or seen. “To them, it’s real. If I haven’t experienced it, I can’t really know, can I?”
But ghosts or no ghosts, he said the tours offer a fun experience to guests, and it’s a good opportunity for locals to view history through a different lens. He stressed, however, that it’s important to remain respectful of the people who died and not to make light of the fort, which is a memorial to serious and significant historical events.
The park staff hopes to make the Halloween ghost hunts an annual event. It’s one of the only times the public will be able to view the fort after dark. Entrance to the park after normal closing hours is strictly prohibited.
The ghosts of Fort McAllister:
Maj. John Gallie
The ghost of Confederate Maj. John Gallie is by far the most sensationalized spirit haunting Fort McAllister.
According to official records, Gallie was fatally wounded in 1863 when an artillery shell fired from a Union ironclad exploded near his head. Since the fort’s restoration in the 1930s, several people have claimed to a headless ghost, thought to be Gallie, roaming around the fort.
“The last sighting of Maj. Gallie was in the 1960s,” explained Brown. “A caretaker here who was watching the park at night claimed he saw a headless man in a blue coat walking the parapets.”
But Brown said descriptions of the sightings aren’t entirely consistent with official records.
“Gallie would have been wearing Confederate gray, which I guess might look bluish to some. Still, his head wasn’t taken off when he was killed, just his scalp,” he said.
Tom Cat’s tale:
The second, and far more lovable ghost said to call Fort McAllister home, is that of the Civil War-era garrison’s favorite feline: Tom Cat.
According to historical records, Tom Cat was fort’s unofficial mascot and pet. He was well loved by the men in garrison, and his presence provided much-needed morale to war-weary soldiers.
When Union ironclads fired on the fort in 1863, Tom Cat was the battle’s sole casualty. The soldiers so mourned his death that they sent word of it to one of the Confederacy’s commanding generals, Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard, and buried the cat’s remains at the fort.
Over the years, park visitors and employees have claimed to see Tom Cat wandering the fort. Others said they’ve felt him rub up against their legs.
But there’s also a more tangible side to Tom Cat’s story. For as long as anyone at the fort can remember, there’s always been a cat in the park, said Brown.
“It’s weird, but every time a cat dies or disappears, a new one just mysteriously shows up,” he said. “I don’t even know how many we’ve had now.”
And to make things even stranger, there are actually two Tom Cats buried in the fort.
“The park manager before me had a cat he named Tom Cat, and, it’s the weirdest thing, but that cat died on the anniversary of the first Tom Cat’s death,” said Brown. “The old park manager buried his body under the historical marker about Tom Cat, so he’s around here somewhere, too.”
The fort’s current feline in residence is Geechee, a little gray female cat who wandered onto the fort about a year ago, shortly after her predecessor died.