With Courtney Mroch
The first thing I spotted as we took a jaunt to scope out the Jekyll Island Club & Resort’s surroundings was the A-frame sign listing all of the horse-drawn carriage tour options. Of course, the ghost tour caught my eye.
“A horse-drawn carriage ghost tour?” I exclaimed to my husband. “I’ve never taken one of those before. In fact, have we ever even taken a carriage ride together?”
“I’m sure we have.”
“Where?” I challenged, pretty sure we hadn’t.
He thought about it for a second.
“I don’t know, but it seems like we did once upon a time.”
“Well, to make sure we do, can we take one tonight if they’re offering the ghost tour? Wouldn’t that be so romantic?”
His expression answered better than any words could. His idea of romance and mine were very different.
Begrudgingly he agreed to the tour, though. Probably for a few reasons.
- We were only there the one night.
- We didn’t have anything else planned that evening, so he couldn’t very well make excuses for why we couldn’t.
- I think he was hoping that since it was past spooky season, as well as being the island’s offseason, there wouldn’t be a ghost tour.
Sadly for him, but lucky for me, there was. We made our reservation and then continued our exploration.
Along the way, we passed a shiny ebony horse pulling a white carriage whose occupants were getting a history tour of the island. I heard the driver call out, “Whoa, Voodoo, whoa!” as she maneuvered the carriage off the trail in front of one of the millionaire’s cottages.
At the same time that my husband said, “Did you hear the horse’s name?” I said, “Voodoo? I hope that’s the horse we get for our tour!”
I’ll save you the suspense. We did.
I’ve taken a few ghost tours in my day. Ones on foot, some by car or bus, but never in a horse-drawn carriage led by a horse named Voodoo.
Jekyll Island is nestled along south Georgia’s coast. It was a crisp late November night that we met the driver (who also served as our ghost tour guide) at the designated pick up point. We climbed aboard where a seat with thick, heavy blankets waited for us to bundle ourselves under them.
Our guide was wonderful. I wish I could remember her name. I thought I had written it down. I guess I was so excited about Voodoo and my first horse-drawn carriage ghost tour that I didn’t.
To my surprise, she had a plethora of stories to tell. I knew the Jekyll Island Club where we were staying for the night was rumored to be haunted. That’s why I’d booked us there.
I also knew from a previous visit to the island that the former cottage that had once housed the bookstore allegedly had a ghost. The last time I’d visited had been with my sister. Like me, she couldn’t pass a bookstore and not stop in.
It had been my sister’s birthday. She loved riding bikes, so my present to her was taking her up to Jekyll, renting bikes for the day and cruising all over the island.
Stopping in the bookstore also allowed us a little rest stop. That’s how my sister got to talking to the owner and somehow it came out the place was haunted.
This was years before I started my site, Haunt Jaunts, but it was another reason why I did. Back then I was always going on unofficial haunt jaunts. Except for that day. Ghosts hadn’t been on my mind. Yet, a story of one still fell in my lap.
I’d forgotten about that until our guide related a story about Phoebe, a little girl of one of the staff members back in the day who allegedly disappeared from the island. Her body was never found, but that’s who some think they see when they spot a child spirit in a couple of places on the Jekyll Island Club’s property. Among them being a small cottage that used to be the bookstore, which had since relocated and its former building now stood vacant.
But before we got to the part about the bookstore, our guide shared a little history about the island and its former inhabitants.
It had started as a private hunting club for America’s elite, such as Rockefeller, Pullitzer, and even the Macy family. However, they soon decided it would make a fine place to get away with their families in the winter, so several of them built “cottages.”
Their idea of a cottage, however, resulted in stunning seaside mini-mansions in a variety of architectural styles.
I have been enamored (and obsessed) with the cottages ever since I first saw them back in the late 1990s. I had only seen them in the daytime previously, though, as I’d never been fortunate enough to stay overnight on the island — until the night of the tour.
Voodoo led us down the live oak-lined trails where Spanish moss created a canopy above us that fluttered in the breeze. One of the first ghost story stops was the Hollybourne Cottage.
It would turn out to be my favorite stop.
Almost all of the cottages have lighting illuminating them at night. Hollybourne was no different. However, when Voodoo circled the carriage around the drive, the light cast a marvelous silhouette of his head against the cottage’s grey tabby facade.
For a moment I felt I had leaped back in time. Except I remembered what age I was in and that we had cameras on our phones. I scrambled to pull mine out so I could capture the sight of Voodoo in the light because it was Gothic and haunting and I wanted to capture that memory.
If ever there was a time for a ghost to appear, that would’ve been it. One did manifest — by way of the ghost tour guide’s tales.
Allegedly a little girl died in the house. Some claim to have seen her face appear when they stand before the home’s glass front door.
I didn’t have time to test it then, but I made a note to go back and try the next morning. (She didn’t appear for me, but that’s okay. Perhaps she sensed I might not have been as impressed by that as I was by the site of Voodoo in the light the night before.)
As we pulled away from Hollybourne, our guide asked, “What room are you in?”
I told her and she said, “I always ask because the little girl’s mother haunts room 3101 in the Annex.”
I think I surprised her when I said, “Darn. That’s just down the hall from us.”
I don’t think she meets many people hoping to stay in a haunted hotel room.
She shared other tales of the island’s ghostly inhabitants, like the helpful phantom bellman who assists wedding parties staying at the hotel.
The island had been abandoned during the Civil War and the animals had all been left behind. After the war, when people returned, they were trying to round up the animals, including a white stallion, but he kept eluding them. While chasing him, he ran into the water and drowned. Some say disembodied horse noises coming from the water belong to him.
She even showed us the photo of a ghost face in the Sans Souci, which was essentially an apartment building Rockefeller built. His quarters were on the top floor. Some report smelling cigar smoke. He had a penchant for smoking them.
Does his restless spirit still roam there? Our guide believed he does. She showed us a photo of the building. It was taken during the daytime, but she zoomed in to show us a white specter’s face looking out of one of the top floor windows. (I spent a great deal of time the next morning trying to recreate the shot, to no avail.)
But the scariest part of the night was when Voodoo led us around a curve and not even five feet away stood a deer. Not that I’m afraid of deer, and maybe “startle” is a better word, because that’s what happened. It startled me to see the deer appear seemingly out of nowhere.
It was real, though. Not a ghost. It stood contemplating us inquisitively, its ears twitching a bit, its tail flicking a time or two. Voodoo clopped away, leaving the deer to watch us as we drove off.
As ghost tours go, it was short. Only about 30 minutes. But it couldn’t have been more perfect. A chill in the hushed air. Snuggled up next to the love of my life. The gentle glow from the few street lights interspersed with the carriage’s lantern. A perfect romantic atmosphere for listening to ghost stories.
And then there was Voodoo, who added an extra bit of pizzazz to make the evening pure magic.