Savannah Storyist Shannon Scott is
The Bard of Bonaventure
As a fan of all things Gothic and of the phenomenal bestselling book, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt (1994) and the movie of the same name (1997), I have long been fascinated with the singularly unique city of Savannah, Georgia. The city’s splendid Federal, Georgian, Regency, Italianate, Romanesque Revival and Second French Empire architectural styles, stunning ornate ironwork, 22 historic squares, and live oak trees dripping with Spanish Moss just scream Gothic romance. It is known as America’s Most Haunted City because it was literally built upon its dead and you don’t have to walk far along its streets to bump into someone who has had a ghostly encounter.
I finally got to visit Savannah for the first time in March of this year and returned for a very quick second visit in mid-October. I’m going back in January because the place has cast a spell on me and I truly feel that absorbing what it has to offer is part of my spiritual path.
The most important tourist destination for me was always going to be Bonaventure Cemetery because of its beauty and because I’ve been interested in history and the paranormal since I was a teenager. Meeting Savannah Storyist, Shannon Scott, also known as The Bard of Bonaventure, was a delightful experience as he is one of the most interesting people I have ever met and if you read this interview in its entirety you will understand why. He’s a busy man so I didn’t have time to ask him many questions in person, but he has graciously agreed to be interviewed for my blog.
Christine Bode meets Shannon Scott in Bonaventure Cemetery, March 3, 2018.
Shannon is a Renaissance man … a charming, multi-talented, intelligent gentleman, who has had a fascinating career as an artist, filmmaker, producer, paranormal expert, historian, author, storyteller, tour guide and CEO of Bonaventure Cemetery Journeys and Shannon Scott Tours.
Thank you for agreeing to take the time to answer my questions, Shannon, and for being a guest of my blog.
Note to readers: This is a very long, but fascinating read. It is not a typical blog post and is not to be rushed through. Take your time. Prepare your favorite beverage. Turn your phone off. Enjoy it in pieces. But do finish it as it will be worth it to anyone who has similar interests.
SHANNON’S PARANORMAL OR “PSYCHICAL” WORLD EXPERIENCE
When and why did you become interested in the paranormal?
I honestly prefer the word “psychical” if just one, because it’s a better word and one that I can take more seriously. It’s more of a true historical literary word and has a broader connotation respective of the spiritual journey, layers of connection between the emotional nature of human beings and the world around us. Which is what I’m interested in as a personal course of learning. The word paranormal is like its modern day, bucolic cousin. Although, I’ll be the first to admit that like everyone else I have taken advantage of its marketability as it draws attention to these spiritual and metaphysical subjects. I mean I did own at one time, Savannah’s most famous ghost tour company, Sixth Sense Savannah. It’s a useful word. But it comes with a price for someone like me and I have worked harder to distance myself from that word and in some sense, the paranormal culture, because it’s become fashionable and gimmicky and often very silly. But as an old soul and deep thinker, I’ve always taken in connections around me so being in touch with my psychical aspects from a very early age led me to being open-minded, but with Reason well intact, and from there, following my sense of curiosity. In high school, I worked in a Victorian cemetery called Maplewood and when you dig graves, weed eat around old headstones, make a study of inscribed sentiments and last gasps of family expression, it gets you thinking perhaps more than the average person about life and death.
How did you become a paranormal expert?
Again, there’s that word. Hah! In fairness you could say I became a very reasonable recorder or historian of at least Savannah’s haunted history. When I was still a newbie here some 30 years ago, I noted that in the same way in other towns, people talked about the weather, in Savannah, the subject of ghosts was giving the one of weather a run for its money! And it wasn’t as if I went looking for it. It’s like it was just there…at sidewalk cafe tables, coffeehouses, people’s dinner tables. And it also had a gossip like quality. Like in the way someone wants to tell you about a cousin who met a celebrity once? Exactly. Everyone wanted to talk about the ghost over at their friend’s home or their own ghost-lebrity encounter. I think the first ghost story told to me was by a man in line at a Kroger grocery. At the time, I’d just gotten off the Objectivist boat with philosopher Ayn Rand, which means like a lot of college kids sorting out the universe, I’d pretty much become a card-carrying atheist and was in no way going to hear about the ghosts. Needless to say, Savannah had other plans for what I thought I knew about the metaphysical world. Ultimately, my sojourn into all of this is a mixture of just growing as an individual, having some other worldly experiences and then also some course onto an existential path called “a job.” And then different jobs that all stacked up to me gaining knowledge and notoriety.
At one point in my storyteller life, I was asked by a tour company owner to develop ghost tours for the area as there was only one operating that was more family operated and he wanted something that would really stand out. I refused flatly as I didn’t want to be associated with anything of the kind. Ghost tours in my mind were hokey and just didn’t appeal to my beliefs. But then he named my price. Hah! I agreed on the condition that I could craft a tour in a journalistic form and base it on current hauntings or for anything that was historical in nature, that I would be able to source it versus just reciting it out of the book, Savannah Spectres. Which I will acknowledge as a book, was the first and original source for every ghost tour company in town and was the first book to break ground on sharing this knowledge with the greater public. I used it as a reference for tracking down the witch, Sybil Leek, the ghost hunter couple and demonologists, Ed and Lorraine Warren from The Amityville, and a host of other important people like Uri Geller. Eventually I tracked them all down less Sybil Leek who was deceased, but her son Julian and I went through her collection of papers that she’d recorded regarding her work in Savannah.
At the same time, I was running all those characters down, I typed up a letter to the general public, printed 1000 copies and went around downtown and put them in people’s mailboxes in the hopes of landing interviews. I ended up sitting down with people or took their calls and emails, compiling what eventually became my first ghost tour. To my knowledge I was the first person to ever go at such a thing at that level and in some respect, I became the second ghost tour guide ever in Savannah operating a nightly tour and the first to offer this more mature, envelope-pushing researched tour. I spent the next 15 years doing it too.
As I built my notoriety as a storyteller and researcher, Hollywood started periodically reaching out to me and would ask me for stories for different shows they were doing and at first it was, “Do you have a story about a Civil War romance” or whatever it was, but eventually in the late 1990’s they start calling more and more about haunted subjects. In 1999 I was hired by Triage Entertainment to help research and shoot the pilot episode of Scariest Places on Earth with Linda Blair. We shot some of the pilot episode in Savannah and over the course of the next six years, I was active in working for shows like MTV’s FEAR, ABC Family’s Real Scary Stories and then my last gig was researcher and associate producer on the 2005 Halloween episode of Ghost Hunters. In that time period, I got to travel and talk to about every parapsychologist, psychic, medium, and clairvoyant that was working presently or had achieved some acclaim in the past. Eventually, I got out of the TV side of things and concentrated on making my documentary, “America’s Most Haunted City – Part One” about Savannah, Georgia. So, you see, it’s a long arc of events and a combination of many experiences that made me as you say, a “paranormal expert.” Again, cringing here.
Please forgive me for making you cringe as it wasn’t my intention. Will you tell me about the creepiest supernatural experience you’ve ever had?
Gosh. I’d have to say in my house on E. Jones Street… One night I was awakened by the cold nose of my Alaskan sled dog, Mina the Malamute, which was the universal high sign for “Daddy, I have to go pee now.” Admittedly, I was on the fourth floor of an 1850’s row house and so if in fact I was feeling exhausted, I would just open the door to my deck and she’d click clack out there and pee on the deck and the gutter would catch it. I know, right? But as she got older? Bathroom time was me carrying her down four flights of stairs and generally back up and so as there was the risk that she’d not make it in time, the deck option was also practical.
So that night she goes out there and squats but instead of going straight out, she B-lined to the side of the deck, squatted and then came back past me rather quickly. Now, I’m half asleep, my contacts are out, but I’m standing there thinking, “that’s odd.” And that’s when I noticed “It.” It was about 10 feet in front of me. It had what I would call large hollow eyes, a gaping mouth and was wearing some sort of tattered cloak and it wasn’t just standing there, it was hovering. Now I get into trouble when I invoke the whole Harry Potter wraith thing, but if you need a visual? That’s pretty much it. Now what I can tell you is exactly this. I was shooting it an energy of, “I’ve never seen anything like you before,” and it was sending me a vibe of, “I’m not used to anyone seeing me.” It was like it was busted or something? Anyway, as I stood there, I just remember looking right at it and saying as directly as possible, “YOU CAN’T COME IN HERE!” I then shut the door and for the next 10 minutes walked around like a madman in my room shaking of the heebies. I then put my contact lenses in and opened the door back up and it was gone. I even remember looking down the rooftops of the directly adjoining row houses to see if I could see anything and I did not. Over time, this being would present itself to others both while I lived there and even to the Cherokee Indian girl who moved in right after me. This was in part why Ghost Hunters investigated my house in 2005 but it was done as an aside thing to the show and wasn’t meant for the show itself.
Do you have any psychic ability?
I have psychical abilities like every human being. It is limited to empathic and some seer type things where I can see or visualize a person in their future even if I’ve only known them briefly. But I do not associate this with anything out of the ordinary or being extra special. It’s just what already makes me special as an individual in a completely natural way, and all of us for that matter. You’ll never see me on a TV show or promoting anything around that by the way. I would argue that most who say they have abilities are over stating things or are deceptive. It’s difficult to contradict that stuff to say the least but my intuition tells me they’re dishonest.
Have you had a near-death experience? If so, will you share a bit of it.
Not in the NDE way, no. I was nearly killed by a man trying to stab me in a mugging once and then one time was abducted by a mugger who periodically stroked my neck with a gun barrel but in each case, I got out of it alive. Makes you think though! I did have an out-of-body experience once in a time where I was in great spiritual and mortal conflict and thought I might die if something didn’t improve or that I might resort to taking my own life. My 2nd Spirit as some tribes call it, traveled to the glass ceiling of space and a magnificent large cosmic presence told me, “It’s not your time and you have more work to do” and they hurtled me back into my body. That was NYE 1999 during that whole Y2K nonsense. There’s a greater story there but think I will save it for my book.
SEDUCTIVE SAVANNAH AND THE SIGNIFICANCE OF MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL
How did you end up in Savannah and how long have you lived there?
Savannah seduced me of course. But in reality, like so many kids, The Savannah College of Art & Design secured me through a scholarship for their Fine Arts program. However, as I would come to tell people later, “SCAD was the excuse, Savannah was the mission.” I have lived in Savannah for 27 years total and three off and on or as of 2018 is the case. I was floored by the beauty of the place, even in its decay. Just like Lady Astor once said, “Savannah is an angel with a dirty face.” Now she’s almost too pretty again and a little snooty to be honest. I had it good in the old days when just the old guard were uppity in a well-earned way. Now it’s the boutiquers and the trust funders snobbing around. Thank God Bonaventure Cemetery is just full of dead people who don’t care what they look like or much how you do either. Anyway, I digress. I fell in love with this living Southern Belle cousin of Williamsburg or something and haven’t much wanted to leave. It’s like waking up in a bed & breakfast every day and the birds sing 24 hours a day. Really, they do.
Was the publishing of John Berendt’s bestselling book, “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” a catalyst for any part of your career?
Positively and I could talk about it for hours. And of course, Bonaventure Cemetery is “the Garden” in the title idea and most of the characters are buried out there. One of my first friends was the fine art painter and furniture restorer, Barry Thomas, who is a character in the book described as running the antique shop for Jim Williams and who gave Jackie O the tour of The Mercer House in one chapter. He was a brilliant painter but sadly died of AIDS in 1994. I was a fan of his paintings and he introduced me to Jim in the bar of The Olde Pink House which ironically was a gay bar in the beloved mansion and Jim had once owned or was partner in the restaurant bar. In fact, the mirror above the bar there is still the same. Eventually Jim became my neighbor and I spent some time around The Mercer House, went to the last Christmas party he held there and before he died, a friend of his hired me to cook a Christmas dinner for he and 11 other gay men and Williams was in attendance, albeit somber. I cooked them a nine course Christmas dinner.
Most of that circle didn’t discuss darker subjects around me out of respect for my age and of course for Jim. I think he died just 2.5 months after the dinner. In some ways I remember him and then in other ways don’t. But I did get interviewed by Kevin Spacey because of the connection and I feel that Spacey did an excellent job capturing Williams, but the film didn’t flatter it. I thought at times he was Jim Williams’ ghost (that’s how accurate) and a stage play would’ve been better suited for Spacey.
It was around 1988 that I also met Joe Odom who was heavily in decline, addicted to drugs and alcohol. He lived across the street from me and then later I saw him all the time dressed in his tuxedo in the middle of the day. He would invite my tours and I off the streets and play the baby grand piano in The Hamilton-Turner House, which was owned by Nancy Hillis, aka, “Mandy” (Alison Eastwood), in the book, and just as the novel describes, Joe would have his black maid serve us lemonade. My tourists’ minds were blown away by that but to me this was every day Savannah. Even when Joe was dying of AIDS, he looked good and he was very vain they say and that was the only upside to his decline, for himself, I understand.
I have distinct recollections of going to Lady Chablis’ house after Club One closed on the weekends. I’d had gay friends in my youth but never at that level, I guess? Savannah was the big city to me compared to my hometown in Illinois so people like Lady Chablis were part of this great personality menagerie in Strangevannah and I couldn’t get enough. It seemed like everything before 9/11 in this country had an innocence to it that isn’t here anymore. You could get a wristband at a bar at 18 and getting served underage wasn’t a problem. We’d pile over to Lady Chablis’ house and hang out ‘til she kicked us out and I only had to stumble a few blocks home to Jones Street.
The “career” acceleration moment was when I started dating an older woman who was a native Savannahian but at one time a real power player in the NYC fashion scene and who’d retired back to her hometown. The author of the novel, John Berendt, was part of her rat pack in NYC in the 1970’s and 1980’s. I think it was in 1992 that he mailed her the manuscript and I’d catch her looking up and gushing, “OH MY GOD, OH MY GOD!” And I’d laughingly say, “WHAT!?” She’d reply, “I can’t tell you!” Well, she went to Italy at one point and I was house sitting her house and she put the manuscript in the drawer and said, “Don’t read that!” Obviously, I did. Hah!
It was eye-opening because I didn’t know all these things about the murder trial really. I was so young then and kind of oblivious. But I read some stuff that didn’t end up in the book either and of course have my own stories that should’ve been but everyone around here says that and that’s a part of what keeps the book alive too. Probably my favorite relationship at some level was with the character, Luther Driggers. For fans of the book they’ll know him as the guy who has the vial of poison and the thing about the flies tethered to his collar like they were his fly circus pets. Luther wasn’t his real name, but he didn’t want it in the novel, so they changed it. Anyway, he and I were lunchmates and even after he went into the old folks’ home, Sister’s Court, he would write me letters and mail me things. In hindsight I realize he was passing the torch to me on some of the secrets and I really loved him. He died in 2002 and is now buried in Bonaventure.
What’s scary is that my own tours out there are just an excuse to go visit all my friends. By the way, Canadians are still the number one buyer of that novel! Thanks, Canada for keeping me out of hock! Oh, and if I may be so bold? By the time this goes live, I will be offering my brand-new tour, “The GOOD & EVIL X” Tour. You’re the first to hear of it. It will be offered as a private daytime or evening tour hitting all the key stops relative to the novel from a Bonaventure perspective and it will be completely adults only. The price itself will reflect the content and a reveal at the end which is worth the ticket price alone if you’re a die-hard fan!
What is your perception of the integrity of the book?
The book is 92% true, 8% fiction. Or maybe 10%? But even the fiction isn’t wildly speculative. The title couldn’t have been more perfect. Once you really, truly live here, you realize that the light is the most beautiful, but the shadows are the darkest too. It’s a decent novel but some say, not a great novel. However, where it’s great, it’s fantastic, and where it’s average, it’s average, in the way a Monet is average in places. It’s like the average stuff doesn’t matter as it’s just glue for the overall picture and it’s a very visual book in the way it’s written and then of course right down to the cover and the alienesque Bird Girl statue and her scales of good and evil. The magic of the book is that any reader reading it in the early 1990’s might have difficulty fathoming that a place such as Savannah might exist at all and if it did, then they would more than want to visit, and wallah, the understanding of our Tourist Boom.
I think author John Berendt did a fine job and like any artist, wrote it from his own shade of interest levels. Some have criticized them, but my reply would be, well what do you want from a gay writer about a super closeted society where one gay man kills another? It’s accurate from that level, and John Berendt, admittedly an outsider. Although Jim Williams dying was perhaps the boon for Berendt because I’m not sure he’d have approved everything for publication had he lived. Some say Jim’s sister signed off on it and gets royalties to this very day. Just the story of how the book came together would make for an interesting book. But for me? It’s the cover photo by my friend and neighbor, the now deceased, Jack Leigh. I mean that statue and that image made Midnight in The Garden of Good and Evil a Rosetta Stone of Savannah understanding. And like the power of art or a great image, it gave the book other worldly mojo. The image speaks to the title, and the title back to the image and then it all speaks to The Book. And note that the book hasn’t changed its cover in 25 years whereas tons of novels do. The publisher KNOWS. I mean incredible magic. It would’ve been hard for John Berendt to mess it up but then none of that stuff could’ve clicked without his wordsmithing. After that? Savannahians needed a good kick in the ass with a book that kind of put the town on trial.
Who is your favorite character in it?
It’s a funny question because some I loved more in the book than in real life and then some, I loved in real life more than in The Book. On a purely sentimental level, I will go Luther Driggers. On an intellectual level, Jim Williams hands down. Quite possibly one of the greatest mad geniuses that ever walked the face of the earth and the ultimate dichotomy of all emotions and human experiences and complexity. If anything, the “Good and Evil” part of the title speaks to him as being both and possibly through a real time bi-polar condition, the struggle of rectifying it all inside of himself or reconciling? Not sure which word is more vital there. I also think he’s a fascinating case study of an outsider that comes to Savannah, and a great individualist with a progressive attitude, but plugging all that ambition into a town where standing out from the crowd historically was the greatest blaspheme. Especially if you did it freestanding from the controllers. If I also sound like I’m speaking from personal experience you’re more than onto me. So yes, of all the characters, I can most relate to him and even my walk here in Savannah and my movements here, have been influenced by his own trials. It makes me think of Groucho and the whole, “I don’t want to be a member of a club that would have me as a member.” Jim pretended to be a member but really despised them the whole time. I mean he was his own club, but he got too close and then didn’t treat the members of the main club the best. Maybe they had it coming, maybe they didn’t. But once you turn your ambition into getting over on others just to have a feeling of power, you’re in a darker space spiritually. I think that’s where his apple orchard started to rot in a way. Even so, my memories of him are fond on a personal level but I wonder what Jim might have been had he not had such a chaotic desire to get revenge. He was literally a genius in the fullest sense of the term.
What can you tell us about root doctors and, in particular, the character of Lady Minerva, in Midnight?
Well for a decent amount of money I’ll take you to her grave and perform a ritual with you! Hah! I was just out there last weekend, with some mystic friends. Never a dull minute. But in general? Root doctors, root men, root women, are the lawyers and doctors for people who put faith in their powers of “heal’n and hurt’n.”
At a glance, they more or less come from the Gullah and Geechee culture of The South’s slave past and their traditions originated in Angola. So, what they do in part, or represent, is post-African survivalism inside of The United States and quite possibly the most important facet of that or most closely tied to it as far as being on the back of black history in America.
The practice of root in my mind is about the roots they use to help heal people and on occasion, hurt people. Although I like to think of root doctors in general as goodly people doing a lot of white magic and love spells and money spells and fertility ones more than black magic. It’s my interpretation that the word “root” is both a nod to the actual roots and then The Bible. Like it’s the root of their faith and they see Jesus in a way as the ultimate root doctor. So, this makes it different from the Haitian aspects of vodou or Vodun which is all Underworld based gods and them possessing you. And yes, there is white magic and healing in that world, but blood work is largely absent from root where it’s fairly standard in Vodun-vodou.
As I try to express to my clients, some 300 years ago or so when those traditions first came to these shores, they probably looked much more distinct…like chefs borrowing recipes. Hundreds of years later, there’s crossover. So sometimes you see rituals around here that look like a mix of root, Vodun-vodou, Santeria and Macumba of the Brazilians. I mean let’s face it, it’s a competitive world out there and every chef wants to be different, right?
In any case, when a family in The South determines a child has the gift of discernment, they raise that child in the woods to raise mystery and enhance the powers. Which is why the old school root workers are very sheepish people, Lady Minerva included, who didn’t ever really feel comfortable with her fame. Fame is a mixed bag especially if your clients see it as a literal detriment to your powers. Anyway, they use a lot of cemeteries. They see them as in between places, and kinds of justice courtrooms where yes, the fate of spirits are decided one might say?
So, if you’re doing white magic, you look for the grave of a child 10 years or younger. If you’re doing hurt’n, the grave of a known criminal, hence, why those rituals are the most expensive. Anyway, Lady Minerva or Minerva as she was commonly known to her people, was a complex character. It would also take a book to do her justice so this is just scratching the surface. I feel like it’s both hard for outsiders to have a true sense of her importance and then at the same time, a portion of her reputation relies on the myth. It’s like, was she all that or was it the character that made her more so? She came from a known family of root doctors and in the family cemetery where she’s buried, many of the headstones say DOCTOR this or that.
Minerva also laid claim to the mantle of power of the great Doctor Buzzard who was the most famous root doctor of all time. Meaning, she inherited his power at death which might make her a root doctor feminist, as traditionally the mantle goes from male to male. Some say this is where she went too far even if she and Buzzard did have a romantic relationship when she was younger. I guess that’s what keeps it all interesting, right? Certainly, Jim Williams had confidence in her and their relationship is layered with intrigue. He paid her hundreds of thousands through the years. I’m also of the understanding that he paid her to help him perform black mass type rituals to bring darkness to his enemies which points to the blood work or Vodun-vodou elements again. I have no proof of that, less on good authority, that I trust. I also have eye witness testimony to Minerva doing a ritual in the plot of a very powerful family in Bonaventure while Jim was still alive, and I’ll only say that the family name is in the novel itself. Near the end of Jim’s life, it’s said that Minerva and he had a falling out and he cheated Minerva of some back monies owed for devilish services rendered. He was pretty, plum broke near the end of his life, but he cheated on Minerva by taking up with a Santeria priestess. Personally, I think that cost him big time. You don’t want to cross the wrong or right root doctor. But that is another story for another time, kiddies. I will just say this…Don’t ever agree to drink blue root tea.
For a fan of the book, this information is pure gold, so thank you very much for sharing it! Fascinating stuff!
AMERICA’S MOST HAUNTED CITY
How did you get involved with the show “Scariest Places on Earth” and the filming of “America’s Most Haunted City” and what was your role in those productions?
I had a friend, Jill Sherrer, who was already a contact in LA, and she called on me from time to time about productions and we had a relationship. She introduced me to former Power Ranger’s director, Bob Hughes, and we got involved with a motley crew to shoot the pilot episode in Savannah, Alton, Illinois and Athens, Ohio. I was a story researcher and at first, an assistant producer and all around everything else. I was 30 and they sent me a million dollars in equipment and were like, “make sure we get this back.” That was it. I rocked it for them honestly and then after Fox Family bought a season or three, I asked for a job once Bob Hughes became Co-executive Producer on the series.
So, for two years I did more of the same, albeit I need to re-up my IMDB presence as they’ve shafted me on some credits! But really, I was in it for the fun and putting Savannah in the spotlight again and so I did even if the corporate suits at Fox made the first episode a little hokey to say the least. I aided greatly in two episodes here, one, “Savannah Frankenstein,” and then “Haunted Fort Pulaski.” The cameraman on the latter, Don Burgess, had been the chief cinematographer for Forrest Gump, as he lived in the area. Just a fun fact but it was a wide pool of talent.
After 5-6 years in Hollyweird, doing primarily ghost TV stuff and voiceover work – although the opportunities for me were beyond the pale – I, frankly, was still haunted by Savannah. I’m a stubborn person and most stubborn for this town for some reason. The fakery of ghost television was so absurd with a public who just didn’t seem to care or were just having too much fun pretending they didn’t seem to. As for me, I come from that whole, “Leonard Nimoy’s In Search of…” era and was too much of a purist. I wanted to do something serious on my own that Hollywood didn’t seem to wanna do at the time or anymore.
After I worked on the first Ghost Hunters episode ever shot out of their home state, I started laying down the track work for my own documentary. Years earlier I’d started working on it with Savannah friend and feature member of the episode, “Savannah Frankenstein,” Mr. “Hollywood” Ron Higgins, just doing interviews of locals. That became the spirit of the eventual film, “America’s Most Haunted City,” along with the obvious title being borrowed from the recent history of Savannah receiving that award from The American Institute of Parapsychology in 2002.
Essentially, I wanted to do something that was unfettered by interference of others that seemed more truly local and of my own voice. It seemed like the film took six years to finish as it was being filmed and edited between other projects going on in four different countries, but I owe a lot to cameraman, Jeremiah Chapman and sound guy, Michael Gordon. I hated the film for years because it was financially draining and friendship challenging, and it took me another four or five years to accept that I had anything to do with it at all! I’m my own worst critic and the film is not without flaws, but I think I did everyone and every subject a good and that it’s good for my first film. One of the cooler things that came out of it was the soundtrack of 12 tracks by Edwin “Blue Ice” Brown of Icebuilt Productions. He’s a brilliant composer and made the music without me even asking. He just handed me a soundtrack one day and told me it was just based on all our conversations we had in the Sentient Bean coffeehouse. I was floored and so when people get the media pack, it has both the 90-minute film and the soundtrack included. I think I’ve moved 20,000 copies in its life so far, so you know, it’s out there.
The tale of the spirit of Rene Rondolia is a popular one in Savannah but in his book, Haunted Savannah: America’s Most Spectral City, author James Caskey says that there was no such person. Do you dispute that claim?
Well good thing you’re asking the in-resident authority on Rene Asch Rondolier.
When I first moved here in 1987, I learned quickly from older locals, that Colonial Park Cemetery in their childhood was called, “Rene’s Playground,” which eventually became the formulation for the S.P.O.E. episode, “Savannah Frankenstein” and Rene’s story is my favorite ghost story of all time. When I actively gave ghost tours, it was my grand finale or sometimes fear-striking introduction. As to your question? It’s funny about some ghost book writers and ghost tour company owners, right? They do all of that but also admit they have no belief in the subject less that others believe it? Well OK then. All the same, I 100% dispute the claim against Rene’s existence and not just specifically Caskey’s, but everyone’s, including those long before Caskey was born. But permit me to explain why.
There are lots of the hardball facts, guys. I respect that. But if anything, Savannah has taught me, the former atheist I might add, who believed “there are absolutes,” is that oral tradition itself is also a genre of fact. Things are inside of it that live both in fact and in lore. I poke fun a lot at fact guys or academics with PhDs when it comes to Savannah’s past and what’s fact or not. I mean look at how many records have been destroyed in fires, hurricanes and then what the Freemasons themselves are concealing and have also lost? In my research experience, and bearing in mind those facts, I have seen that Savannah, while restoring its buildings, is also only now really learning about what it has been. Facts are like a jeweler’s lens to peer more deeply but are limited by the magnification and then the seer. And every seer is different. There are some objective things available to all and then there are shades of shadow and light, color hues, that are also observable but are fuzzier and more subjective components to the beauty of the object.
It’s like the great historian at UGA, Phinizy Spalding said, “Georgia is the last unpioneered colony of the 13 colonies.” He was famous for telling his students, “historians can go into Charleston or Georgetown and at best, just follow the research trails of others and expand on what they’ve already done. In Georgia, a researcher every day of the week can pioneer their own paths and discover treasures at every turn and odds are you’ll be the first to have seen them. What every tour guide loves about Savannah, or the good ones, is finding a treasure fact one day and sharing it with others the next. So, without making this a full debate, what I am willing to say here, is this. I have seen church records noting his birth and the discussion of his deformity and his mother as a grist mill worker. I have read colonial newspapers from other colonies that discuss his presence in Savannah, using his nickname and a few records of rather famous people who observed him while they were in the city. And although this is bit off topic, I will lastly tease that I have a humdinger of a sighting of his ghost that was detailed to me directly from the experiencer which clinches it for me. Rene was real. He was unjustly killed. His ghost walks and he is King.
BONAVENTURE CEMETERY’S HOLD ON SHANNON SCOTT
Shannon Scott by Andrew Montgomery for Lonely Planet
How did you end up working at Bonaventure Cemetery?
Obviously, cemeteries were an interest already and I knew ghost tours would have a shelf life for me, but I had a crazy notion that I wanted to tell ALL of Savannah’s stories in as many venues that I was able. The sign from above was when in 2001 I noticed no one owned www.bonaventurecemetery.com so I grabbed it, naturally! Even so, tours as Bonaventure’s first storyteller were sporadic early on. I knew it would take time to grow. Even in 2010 when I split with a business partner, tour traffic out there was still turning a corner. However, about five or six years ago it really started to pop. Now 800,000 tourists a year visit and I’d gander to say it’ll soon be a million. So yes, smart business move meets selfish love of cemeteries.
What’s the strangest or most unusual thing that has happened on one of your tours that you can share?
I think it varies from the psychic to just the obscene.
On the night I opened Sixth Sense Savannah Ghost Tours in 2002, I received some validation from Savannah’s spirit world. I was the first to give ghost tours South of Liberty Street and I lived on E. Jones and Abercorn. I’d been living in that house of 1852 for about two years and my roommate and I had seen the ghost of a female in the home from time to time who was very life like and seemed very busy doing her chores. At that point I had not spoken the name that I’d received, “Eliza,” to a solitary soul. Nor had I intended to make my actual residence a stop on my own tour. But you might say the home invited itself.
We were a half block from my house by Clary’s Cafe and there were two couples behind me talking about their day in Savannah and I’m thinking on my next story stop so their conversation is sort of white noise. But I pay more attention to this woman from Texas on my tour because she had a twang in her speech and she was saying something like this, “Yeah, we were down on River Street at this gallery and I found the perfect print and had it framed and it’s going to go over the couch; and you remember the one honey it was the – ELIZA WANTS US TO TALK ABOUT HER!” Now I stop, mid-thought, with my back still turned to them. I start turning and saying, “Wait, you didn’t just say…?” And the woman has her hand over her mouth, her eyes bulging out and she says, “I don’t know what just made me want to say that, but Eliza wants us to talk about her?” And I said, “Well what if I told you?” At that point I felt Eliza wanted us to come into the parlor and as I was seeking to take ghost tours to the next level…wallah, the first ever ghost tour in a haunted house in Savannah was born!
The old saying is that ghosts want to be acknowledged and I felt this was the invite moment for sure, so I took them into the parlor and told them what my roommate Gerome and I had seen, etc. Nothing happened, but after the tour, the couple hung out in the kitchen for a while. They’d been married 25 years and she was a nurse with empathic abilities, but she’d never told her husband even as much as they seemed like a very together couple. That night she confessed, and he had such a face! Kind of like, “Hey 25 to life, I love her, what’ya gonna do?” However, I remember she said to him, “Honey, you know how I collect those old wooden kitchen stirring spoons? Well, when I squeeze the handles? Sometimes I can feel their energies and even see who they were!” She was a legit empath and noted that the same happened to her in her profession of touching patients. She was sometimes treated to a whole cavalcade of sensory information. She noted that in antique shops, objects of glass, metal, wood gave her the same although like some batteries, they were dead or faint or yes, full of charge! So that night, my first ghost tour under my own moniker gave the tour something unique, brought a great couple closer together, gave a spirit satisfaction and then for me it was like Eliza saying, “You go with your ghost tour company, boy!”
Painting of Shannon Scott surrounded by spirits of Bonaventure by Cheryl Solis
Whose grave at Bonaventure holds the most special place in your heart and why?
That changes by the decade depending on who has died. I’ve loved so many people and keep them alive on my tour as we stop by some of their graves. But two of the most important – and I wish they were on my tour more often – Ron, “Hollywood Ron” Higgins buried in the Greenwich section, and then famed historian and former Smithsonian archivist, Paul Blatner. Both died far too young. Ron at 45 of a massive heart attack and Paul at 58 I think from a heart attack that had elements of brown recluse spider bite complications mixed in with his diabetic condition. I loved both men dearly, like brothers, although Paul was more of a mentor as he was older when we met when I was 18.
I met Paul first in his famous antique collectible shop, Blatner’s Antiques. It was the ultimate rummage store meets hoarder hovel meets tax shelter. This guy was a character who had everything from the rifle surrendered to Sherman with Savannah’s capture to a baton of power given by Hitler to his successor, Dönitz, and many things beyond that. He was the king of bottle diggers and bottle collectors. He was a bard in his own right and for most of his shop’s life by Clary’s Cafe, well I lived over it at one point and then on the same corner for 14 years. He also started The Savannah History Museum. He taught me much, gave me much in terms of my own collection and we’d hang in the shop for hours talking history, Savannah, the world and of course, women. He lived vicariously through my stories as a man about town. I miss him and his closing words at his shop at 5 PM, “IT’S CLOSIN’ TIME!” Even now at The Smithsonian, some of the African American art objects on display from the Gullah Geechee culture, particularly the ritual and burial ones, are some of the most valuable in their collection. The burial ones might be considered priceless.
As to “Hollywood Ron” Higgins? He was Savannah’s tourism mayor, and everyone loved Ron. The guy had two funerals really. One Catholic and one Jewish. He’d gone to UCLA film school, toured with Michael Jackson and seemed to just kick around with major celebs; personally worked on “Training Day.” We were coffee house pals and part of our daily routine in the early 90’s, was just sitting there talking like old men about what was going on in the town and what we felt Savannah could be or we could do with it. We were each other’s mentors. Eventually, I helped him get started with his own cutting-edge company, Savannah Movie Tours which was a stunning accomplishment for all the movie scene visuals incorporated into the tour. I was part of the tour with the Scariest Places on Earth show we were both in and on the tour, he’d stop the bus and make me get on to say hello to everyone like I was a celebrity sighting! Oh, man. I literally pictured us as old men in rocking chairs one day like some sort of man couple looking back on our lives, still talking about the future. And then he was gone at 45. His headstone features a bench and an illustration done by Mark Streeter showing him sitting on the Forrest Gump bench and looking up at the stars. That’s the one death I’ll never come to accept. All his friends talk about his infectious giggle and I hear it all the time. My heart aches now just talking about it.
I know your ring is very special to you as you’ve included it in your last two posters for Bonaventure. What does that ring symbolize?
It’s the ring of The Rosicrucian Order. It features a chevron, an ankh, a cross with the rose. It was made in Egypt. It’s my spiritual discipline in some sense and the oldest one in the world if you really track it correctly. They’ve had names like The Rosea Crucis, The White Brotherhood and others; their traditions steeped in the Essene and further back. They recognize Jesus Christ as Master Jesus or the ultimate disciple and avatar for good. In fact, they had much to do with his education on Mount Carmel and many other things that are not considered proper Bible teachings yet, but should be in my opinion. At core, love is the religion and not much more complicated than that. I found it through my sleuthish nose you could say.
As a kid, I was immensely taken with Ben Franklin, Nostradamus, and later, Sir Francis Bacon. But I noted that lots and lots of famous creative, inventor types were part of this order but even their best biographers only footnoted it. Now I understand that even those writers had missed out on how it connected to the achievements of those people and how it’s also easy to miss at the same time. It almost has a secret history of being non-secret. It’s just that the students or disciples don’t overly discuss it or make it a part of their general spoke identity in the way someone might say, “I’m a Christian” or “I go to that church or this one.” Rosicrucianism promotes deeds as the mark of character and with as little ego involved as possible or maybe in the way people use institutions to somehow give them automatic or quasi credibility? So, it’s fairly humble in most aspects.
Where I tend to depart with them is on their view of politics or the passive involvement due to their prophecy beliefs. Just like most of us wouldn’t stand for someone beating up an old lady, I’m not prone to sit on my hands and see my country beat up. I’m not sure if that makes me an outsider or not. Probably, but that’s okay. I mean Jesus was. Are you familiar with the controversial Georgia Guidestones? They were built by a Rosicrucian and let me just say, they’re not advocating a New World Order but the complete opposite. However, you can’t understand Georgia Guidestones without being well into the understanding of the order and it takes a while. I’ll put it this way, I’ve seen and learned some of the wildest things and the most beautiful things because of it.
No, I am not familiar with either The Rosicrucian Order or the Georgia Guidestones. I have some extensive studying to do!
Have you been to Père Lachaise and if so, what is your most interesting memory of it?
Yes, and Montmartre and many others. The most interesting thing is that I’m the guy who stole the penis off Oscar Wilde’s monument. Feel free to print that. I kid of course. But I think it’s fascinating that a number of people buried there, like Oscar Wilde and Isadora Duncan had Savannah and Bonaventure Cemetery moments. From Isadora dancing on the stage at The Savannah Theater to Oscar Wilde sleeping in Bonaventure for two nights of his three-night stay in Savannah. Which is why I chose to sleep in Père Lachaise for two nights. It wasn’t easy but at this point, I’m a pro at the “after hours” cemetery thing.
THE GULLAH GEECHEE
I know that you are drawn to the Gullah Geechee culture. Can you talk a bit about that and why it is special to you?
Yes, or as I call them, the most fascinating people you’ve never heard of. Which is part of their appeal to me.
Being the keeper of something not everyone knows and as storyteller that kind of thing is tantamount. We LOVE LOVE LOVE being the people to turn you onto a subject worth knowing about. You know popping your story cherry kind of thing. Also, despite what some people think about me these days, my heart always lays with the underdog story. The journey from birth to death, rags to riches and all the rest. The journey of self and through it all. And yes, that story often made even more monumental through the lens or reflection of America. Plus, what could be better than a mysterious culture hidden behind the veils of Spanish Moss in The Deep South? Thank you. Not to mention my history books were devoid of greater slave narratives. I had the whole “people in bonds” thing in my mind and nothing else. It was made rather generic and possibly safe.
Savannah and The Low Country in general is a history eye-popper and turns a lot of what we know or cling to or think we know about events, upside down. I mean you get here and learn about these willful people who arrived as slaves but very early on stole back their freedom, earned it, bought it and then as early as the 1780’s had real business and political power in Savannah. Until I learned that stuff I was like, “they came from Africa, worked, died and then everyone got freed in 1865.” I had no other information. So yes, here’s where you come to get it. They have their own indigenous language recognized finally by The Federal Government in 1940, I believe, a kind of secret language that helped them as people from many tribes, speak and communicate around their controllers. Some of those words are found in our language like the number one word of all rappers, “chillun.” Also, culturally, I clearly grew up white albeit in the very mixed world of The Midwest where unless you live in a large city, black kids are just your friends, neighbors, playmates, fellow churchgoers and all your parents are friends. You don’t see race or only in an appreciation for differences that make everyone unique. Even so, as a kid I loved the electric energy, passion and soul of black people and admired their athletics obviously. But it’s only until you come to a place like The Low Country that you can start to see more of their cultural origins and so you might even say that Savannah is halfway between my home state of Illinois and Africa in some sense. This is as close as I’m gonna get unless I cross the ocean. I also think my Midwestern values made me less judgmental in a city of 61% black. Like I’ll talk to anybody. And some didn’t know how to take that while others found me refreshing. It’s all about basic respect and showing a desire to share and that you also have something to share. That’s what life’s about. Civility and exchange. Or should be.
My point is that my attitude opened a lot of doors and early on made acquaintances with everyone from Civil Rights activist, W.W. Law to root doctors like Angel Hakim and Mama Tilda. I knew in some cases that in order to understand ritual sites I found in cemeteries, I had to go to people who knew those things. And they showed me stuff because my heart was in the right place and they knew I wanted to know some new truths. I also loved moving to a city where “black” people, but are really Gullah or Geechee, would be walking down the street singing out loud like nobody was looking or yelling across the street to each other like they were in the same room. White people don’t do that generally, although in The South maybe a bit more so. It’s like we’re just one big family and hey, like the old saying goes, “if you’ve got a song in your heart, let it out!” That might be the best statement about Gullah and Geechee peoples. They’ve got lots of passion and lots of music and vibration to share! And the Geechee in particular, love to share knowledge and anything that is life. They can also cook food like a mofo. I’m fairly certain I’m part Gullah Geechee now. Hah!
SECRET OR NOT SO SECRET SOCIETIES
Bonaventure Cemetery Love Truth & Stories poster by Shannon Scott
Are you a Freemason?
Epic fail! You can never ask one if they are, don’t you know that? Hah! I’ll put it to you this way. I’m a truth seeker who enjoys sharing knowledge with anyone open enough and I stay far far away from any Lord of The Mist.
Will you expound upon your beliefs about The Illuminati?
How much time do you have? This might be better as Part Deux.
The Illuminati was both a literal historical organization in Europe and then a modern name-for-all that points to controllers in shadow operations influencing civilization through government, banking, education, religious and other cultural organizations. Today they represent 300 families more or less that rule the world and see themselves as high priests whose bloodline must survive at all turns. There are 13 families at the top of the pyramid, one for every step you see on the back of the U.S. dollar as well. They see everyone else as fodder for their efforts and that they are destined inheritors of the earth. Crazy, right? But it’s very scarily true.
In Europe today, they’re generally just called The Group and, in the USA, known as The Order. They have some private names for their gangs and then very public ones. Which is partly what they’re required to do. They observe that true ritual power is doing everything in plain sight. They cannot do evil to you generally if you don’t accept it or allow them to do it. One of the three offices that The Illuminati ordered to be established, was by Satanist, Albert Pike, in Charleston, SC. Another being Bohemian Grove in California. A third location is still unknown to me, but I think I’ve set eyes on where it was or is located and it’s my intent to vet that more in the coming years. The mansion I’ve seen in Charleston has its own iron Gates of Hell entrance and doesn’t hide the fact. Their history is complex and convoluted too…but to understand secret societies at one level…
Ideas outside of certain churches and governments and the cultural institutions of history did indeed imprison minds and hearts of men, because to express them, they, along with their families might be mocked, blackmailed, reputations ruined and even put to death. This really is in some sense, what drove certain men to go “underground” and cooperate there, swearing secrecy to each other but that they would use their roles in society or offices to advance their ideas and to promote each other within the ranks and so on. Which you could say is where we see the advent or reinvention of certain secret words, gestures and handshakes to identify each other, which is also not unlike The Freemasons.
All these kinds of groups from what I can tell, including The Rosicrucian, have ties to the mystery schools of Egypt. It’s where all these groups are rooted in what they do. But as “The Devil is in the details”, it’s how those organizations have traveled, translated and evolved throughout the centuries. Some remain benevolent while others become, or some might argue, stay, extremely evil, like The Illuminati. Maybe it was corrupt from the start or just became corrupt later but at some point, in its history, Satanists were well in charge. History shows some of these organizations as having been co-opted by darker influences and then they rewired the groups to function on the outside as something good but these “priest classes” then use the lower level members to advance what are sinister agendas without their knowledge. Which is part of the ritual power play, especially among The Illuminati. We see that now in Hollywood and pop culture.
Also, it is very important to note that for The Illuminati, blood and bloodlines are everything and I want the readers to absorb this next sentence. They will literally do ANYTHING, say anything, deceive anyone, murder anyone and put on any kind of face in any circle in order to preserve their bloodline. There is no moral marker higher than that for them. Anyone not of the families is seen as expendable. Most normal people have no concept of what this means spiritually because it’s too deep and too dark and not something anyone wants to conceive of or think of. But they are here in the world all around us carrying out these evil acts and many of them are known to the American public and around the world in certain realms of power. All one has to do is track their family heritage.
I get lots of weird looks, trust me, when I speak of household names because it seems too out there. But the reason most people don’t recognize them as villains necessarily is because of most people’s unfamiliarity with “programming.” Very key word. It’s essentially about stripping someone down morally, so viciously, by abusing them psychologically, sexually, and physically and then programming them back up with the morality and response recognition that you want them to have or that the Illuminus require. Then they will have a public face that is seemingly flawless, and they’re made to be a person everyone wants to know and is drawn to. It’s all very Manchurian Candidate but mind control isn’t new, it’s centuries old. There are some public figures in high places of power that are known, programmed individuals and as they are, I despise them, loathe and revile them. Yet I also have empathy for them because I know very evil adults did very evil things to them to make them that way. And sacrificing children, even their own, is part of the ritualism.
This is largely why 800,000 children in The United States vanish annually. Some of them for their sex rituals and some for their bloodlust ones. It’s a national and international crisis but sadly some of the 300 names of the Illuminati, belong to media moguls and of course, their protective political leaders. I mean, let’s face it, try walking up to someone and saying, “Hey did you know that people on Capitol Hill take planes over to Europe and pay thousands to beat kids to death with ball pin hammers?” Try using that one as an icebreaker some time. Exactly, this stuff makes people’s brains hurt and their insides scream. This is why you don’t want to be in my head.
As I told a woman on my tour recently, “If someone were to write The Bible today, this is the stuff that would be in that Bible and would be taught for the next 2000 years.” I’m sad that it’s not. People routinely ask me what I want on my own headstone. It would be something to the effect that I did everything in my power to wake people to the evils of The Illuminati and that the reader should do everything in their living power to recognize them and stop them. It’s really a courage most people lack and sadly, with fluoridated brains, no longer possess deeper critical levels to even understand.
So, to that I say, “Forgive them Father for they know not what they are doing.” I often use the expression, “Bridge the gap.” Or like Morrison sang, “Break on through to the other side!” If I could re-teach America’s children, or open The Shannon Scott School For Kids Who Can’t Read Good, I would strip down the historical narratives taught to children by the Illuminati institutions and I would teach every American or yes, every human, the real history of the world by illustrating where The Illuminati corrupted it or how events tie into their operations. If we and all the children of the world were educated this way, I assure you the world would not be in the trouble it is currently in because we’d be a much more awake, loving, enlightened, civil and just society. We would not allow these people to walk the earth.
Everything you see in the media now is a spiritual war from The Illuminati raging against those waking up and taking power away from them. If more people were educated in these secret society respects, they’d realize that. But instead it’s division by design and The Illuminati using our humanity against us by pitting us against each other. And as much as some want to think it, Trump isn’t connected. As Newt Gingrich brilliantly said when Trump was running, “He hasn’t done their rituals.” That flew over the heads of most, but it didn’t mine because I knew he meant it literally. Trump also recently made fun of George Bush’s “1000 Points of Light” rhetoric from his time as President. This was historically UGE! Why? Because it’s a Devil concept of their New World Order agenda and Trump made fun of it. He acted like he wasn’t being that serious, but he was. It was him using their media to say, “I’m going to take you down.” We’d all better buckle up too. They’ll stop at nothing to keep control of the world. My money is that they lose but at what cost to the rest of us?
Holy crap! This stuff will keep you up at night if you think about it too much! I’m almost sorry I asked but I appreciate you being so frank in your response. I am still processing all of this information.
AND NOW FOR SOMETHING LIGHTER…
I think it is time for some lighter questions and as this is a blog to promote recording artists and authors…
Who is your favorite author? Book?
I have a soft spot for the author buried in Bonaventure Cemetery, Harry Hervey, who wrote the original Midnight in The Garden of Good and Evil styled book, “The Damned Don’t Cry.” He was brilliant, fun, odd, and had a powerful command of the English language. But in general, my favorite favorite author is Victor Hugo and his book, “Ninety-Three.” It’s Hugo at his finest and briefest, showing that the most seemingly unimportant person can be the hero.
Who is your favorite band? Singer?
Again, asking to pick my favorite kids. So, I’m not going to. I have a real love for “the sentimental genius,” Lloyd Cole and of course, Lloyd Cole and the Commotions. His album Love Stories was like my life soundtrack in Savannah and his music takes me to that good, pure, decent, human place. After that? It’s Steve Kilby from The Church and throw in some Danzig for good measure and it’s a great car ride in the countryside.
What does a guy like you do for Halloween?
I live in Savannah, Georgia and just like Al Jourgensen says, “Every day is Halloween.” I just act normal that day to be different.
And finally … What’s next for Shannon Scott Tours?
Photo of Shannon Scott by Jason Burgess
Well, some of it I want to be a surprise, but my goal in life is that one day you’ll go to my website at www.shannonscott.com and you’ll see that I’m touring in a new city in their cemetery. I want to be the first person and maybe only person in history who can say he’s permanently on tour rocking it out in cemeteries for the public. And I hope to have a following so that when you hear I’m in your town, the masses will show up for it. After all, I am the ultimate grown up Goth kid and this is what we do. But expect lots of books and art and gatherings to keep my version of Savannah one of the most interesting corners or versions of the island for people to experience!
Shannon, you have been more than generous with your time and I cannot thank you enough for sharing so much of yourself with me and my readers. You have given us so much food for thought in a world where the quest for spiritual enlightenment is at war with the all-powerful fear mongers who wish to keep us in the dark. You have my heartfelt best wishes for continued success with your career and personal goals. Love and light to you, always.