Ghosts of the Savannah Airport
On a recent trip, as the captain and I were preparing for a flight to Savannah, GA, our flight attendant wandered up to the cockpit prior to boarding and said “Wanna hear a ghost story?”
I whip around eagerly because I’m always down for a good ghost story and even hand the flight attendant a flashlight to hold under his chin. He begins telling us about how he grew up in Savannah and how the city is steeped in history and has many ghosts. The story of the Savannah ghosts begins with two gravestones that are built into the runway. It’s said, that if you are coming in to land just after sundown, two figures will appear just along the north side of the runway.
Naturally, for the entire flight, the captain and I were excitedly talking about where these graves might be and hoping we can see them on landing. Because it was my leg to fly, it was his job to be the grave and ghost spotter. On the roll out after landing, the captain caught a glimpse of the gravestones as we rolled by at 100 knots. “I think I saw them, but I’m not really sure.” Also because it was late afternoon, we didn’t see the ghosts either. We left for the hotel somewhat disappointed.
While on our overnight at the hotel, my captain, a history major, spent the evening researching these ghosts on the internet. The next morning we returned to the plane where he gave us a history lesson about the graves.
There was a family who owned the land the airport was eventually built on which included a family cemetery. During World War II, the government wanted to build an airport there, so the family gave permission to move all of the graves to another cemetery, except the two graves of the original family members. During a runway expansion project, the gravestones were paved into the cement of the runway. The graves are not in the center of the runway, but located on the north edge of runway 10 and 28. So they are not being constantly run over by landing and departing aircraft. The surviving family will occasionally visit the graves, but the trip requires an escort out to an active runway. You can imagine the visits don't occur very often.
The captain also said that all of the local air traffic controllers know the history and traffic permitting, will let you taxi on the runway past the graves for a view. Sometimes they will even switch you to a second frequency for an audio tour.
After starting the engines, I called up ground control for a clearance to taxi and also asked for the “graveyard tour.” We were in luck! It was a quiet Saturday morning so the controller allowed us to taxi west down the runway, which gave me a good view of the gravestones out the right side of the plane. In between runway lights were two flat, rectangular gravestones embedded in the runway. They were too far away to read, but just seeing the final resting place of Catherine and Richard Dotson still side by side after nearly 200 years was almost overwhelming. We continued to taxi to the end of the runway, did a 180 degree turn and took off to the east, saying goodbye to our friends that have headed west.