That’s So Savannah: Are there tunnels hidden beneath Savannah? You'd be surprised.

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History, rumor, and tall tales become a labyrinthine tangle of misinformation when it comes to the network of tunnels that run beneath the surface of Savannah. Most people have never actually seen the tunnels for themselves, and tour guides, historians, and city workers all have conflicting ideas about what tunnels run where and what was transported through them.

The Pirate’s House Restaurant, for example, purports that the tunnel underneath its establishment was once used to “shanghai” drunken sailors. The stories suggest that either pirates, or merely unscrupulous ship captains looking to forcefully volunteer sailors into their crew, dragged victims down to the rum cellar and then to the river through a secret tunnel.

Considering that most of the fantastic pirate stories tied to the restaurant were likely made up by its owners, the tunnel probably wasn’t used for such nefarious purposes.

There are rumors that tunnels under the city beginning in the Cluskey Embankment Stores on Factor’s Walk were used for transporting slaves to auctions in Wright Square to avoid having to parade them through the city streets. Another rumor related to the slave trade is that the cellar under the First African Baptist Church was used as an underground railroad, which is likely true because air holes shaped like African prayer symbols, or cosmograms, can be found in the floors below the church. Like most of the history of Savannah’s tunnels, these stories remain obfuscated and unconfirmed.

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One of the most popular legends about Savannah’s tunnels involves the yellow fever epidemic of 1876. Many believe that so many people were dying at Candler Hospital from yellow fever that tunnels were built under Forsyth Park to hide the bodies and prevent mass hysteria. Although there is a tunnel that runs from the site of the old Candler Hospital (now SCAD’s Ruskin Hall) under Drayton Street, it was actually constructed in 1884, eight years after the epidemic. The true purpose of the tunnel was to move the morgue, or “dead house,” from out of the building to underground.

Although there are mysterious tunnels and cellars all over the city, the history of most of them has been lost to time and investigations only lead to literal and metaphorical dead ends. Almost all of the existing tunnels in Savannah are sealed, but many tours will show you where they are supposedly located.

Savannah knows its history, but in the case of the city’s tunnels, there are more rumors than answers. However, the stories are still captivating and continue to be a large part of Savannah’s mystique for tourists and residents alike.

Christopher Berinato is the author of Secret Savannah: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure

This article originally appeared on Savannah Morning News: That’s So Savannah: Are there tunnels hidden beneath Savannah? You'd be surprised.