The furious ghost of drunken loudmouth James Jones Stark continued to prowl the halls of the Moon River Brewing Company,.
Today the Moon River Brewing Company is a cool spot for a cold beer on a hot Savannah Georgia day. Back in 1832 the City Hotel was a hot spot for gamblers, wheelers and dealers. It slaked several kinds of thirst with booze downstairs and paid female company on the upper floors. As the first hotel built in Savannah its second floor ballroom was the only major social venue in town if your activities were the kind frowned upon by the local churches.
Current Moon River Manager Christopher Lewis recounted many ghostly encounters at work. He had frequently heard his name called when alone, seen shadow figures out of the corner of his eye and once saw a bottle fly off a shelf in his office when he was the only person in the building.
Waitress Bridget Osborne had similar experiences, but nobody breathing was ever around her to account for them. Osborn and other employees had frequently seen a phantom head poke around a corner for a quick look and then pull back. Nobody was ever found when employees walked around the corner to try to find the source of the lurker.
The Moon River Brewery was crawling with ghosts but James Jones Stark happened to be one of the more enduring haunts. Another noted ghost was of an unnamed soiled dove. The story was that she stole from a john who retaliated by pushing her down the stairs to the first floor bar. Her figure has been reported reliving that fatal fall over and over. Her neck twisted 360 degrees before her phantom body dissipated in front of horrified witnesses.
The ghost of James Jones Stark was willing to talk to me. I asked him why people such as former Moon River Manager Sam Scruggs were so afraid of Stark that they won’t speak his name inside the building.
Stark showed me a shiny pig-sticker of a knife and replied, “Because I will rip and tear their heads off!” He meant it.
I asked Stark’s ghost why he remained so angry nearly two centuries later. He told me, “This was (supposed to be) a stop-over. I shouldn’t have died. I will get them yet!” The “them” in this comment were the two or three men Stark blamed for his death.
I asked Stark with all the rough and tumble activities at the City Hotel, was it possible a prostitute had killed him? He answered, “Nah, I would have cut her,” if one tried.
When I mentioned that Stark seemed pretty good with a knife he said, “Yes, want to see?” and I got another close up of his pig-sticker. I passed on his offer.
The narrator for “Ghost Stories” shared the facts of Starks death. Stark was a regular at the City Hotel. He was often there to drink and gamble. Stark would drift around town and one spring day in 1832 he lost a game of quoits to a local Jewish doctor named Phillip Minus.
Stark was a sore looser with a big mouth. He ranted and raved how Dr. Minus wasn’t worth the powder and shot it would take to kill him. A few nasty racial slurs were thrown into the mix. Dr. Minus shrugged Stark’s rants off as sour grapes from a poor looser.
According to “Savannah Ghosts” author David Hartland-Rousseau the incident would have blown over except that Stark kept ranting for months after he lost the game. Eventually Stark’s friends talked him into challenging Dr. Minus to a shooting duel to settle the matter and restore Stark’s insulted honor. (Not that Stark was a man of honor to begin with. He wore a customized bowler hat that his ghost told me had been altered by a discreet seamstress to hold cards and cash in reserve. Even so, Stark was reported to be a poor gambler.)
Hartland-Rousseau said Stark found Dr. Minus at his favorite watering hole and issued the challenge. By the rules of a pistol duel as the challenged party Dr. Minus was allowed to pick the location, time and type of weapon. Stark had established a certain day at 5 pm. That time didn’t work for Dr. Minus who sent Stark a note with a different time. Stark never received the note and found himself and his second alone at the time and location he had first picked for the duel. With a dramatic flourish Stark and his buddies fired a few ceremonial shots, declared Dr. Minus a coward amongst themselves and headed back into town.
In a tricky twist of fate Stark met Dr. Minus on a Savannah street corner on his way back into town. Words were exchanged, but the parties were pulled apart and bloodshed was temporarily averted. That chance encounter ramped up the tension between both men and their supporters. Stark continued verbally to tarnish Dr. Minus at every opportunity.
Eventually friends of Dr. Minus convinced him that Stark was a real threat to him and had to be dealt with. Consequently on August 9, 1832 Dr. Minus arrived at the City Hotel in search of Stark who was upstairs writing a letter. The manager of the hotel was sent up to tell Stark that Dr. Minus was waiting in the bar below to buy him a drink. It was a set up. As Stark swaggered down the stairs to collect his drink, Dr. Minus pointed a gun at his chest and declared to the bar full of patrons that Stark was a coward, then pulled the trigger. Stark sustained a fatal bullet wound to the chest and crumpled to the bottom of the stairs.
Dr. Minus was put on trial for the murder of Stark but was acquitted. Stark’s ghost finally had a real reason to want revenge on Dr. Minus although it could be argued he brought his death upon himself.
The “Ghost Stories” narrator walked viewers through a number of additional unexplained events and experiences at the Moon River Brewery that were all attributed to Stark. That simply wasn’t the case. As mentioned earlier, the old brick building was crawling with all sorts of ghosts. I did my best to sort out which ghosts were responsible for the following events.
One evening an eyewitness noticed the eyes of current day pool players moving in unison, right to left. He took a closer look and saw that on one of the pool tables a single cue ball was rolling back and forth the length of the empty table. No living person was anywhere ear that pool table at the time. Stark was credited with “blowing off some steam” by the narrator, but he wasn’t the ghost behind the self-propelled cue ball. I saw the ghost of a heavy-set, thick-lipped, greasy local fat cat behind the unseen pool cue. He was dressed in a brown cloth suit and stank of chewing tobacco and sweat.
Osborne related an occasion when she approached a drinks station equipped with commercial coffee and tea urns. As she came closer the filter flew out of the tea urn. The customers standing behind her got upset and wanted to know why she was throwing the filter at them. She explained she had not done it. Stark’s ghost told me he wasn’t a tea type person. If he was going to mess with liquid refreshment it would be booze.
Former bar Manager Lewis was understandably rattled when a bottle of booze flew off a shelf in his office and clattered onto his desk. He was alone in the building late at night as he closed up. After the bottle acrobatics he heard footsteps coming down the stairs from the floor above him. He knew darn well he was the only living person on site. Instead of charging up the stairs, he decided to set the alarm, lock the office door and leave the premises. Stark may well have been behind the bottle throwing and the footsteps as he commented to me he considered Lewis a “pansy” for getting out of there. (Personally I would have followed Lewis’s example and left myself.)
A Moon River waitress found herself talking to a skeptical female patron about the unexplained and strange things that routinely took place at the bar. The patron told her she was the type of person who wasn’t going to believe such rot unless she saw it for herself. Someone was listening because shortly after her statement a drinks menu opened itself right in front of her. That event was attributed to Stark’s ghost, but I disagreed. I saw the ghost of a former City Hotel prostitute open the drinks menu in front of the skeptical lady and told her to “…calm down and have a drink, honey.”
Lewis and some friends were hanging out in the Moon River bar one night when the flatware on a table behind them slid itself to the floor. One of Lewis’s friends turned to him for an explanation that Lewis didn’t have. He shrugged and told his friend it was part and parcel of all the weird things that routinely went on around there. I could a see a ghost moving the flatware around but it manifested as a gray mass, not a human form.
Former Manager Scruggs talked about an odd antique desk that appeared in a second floor back room. Only staff had access and none of them would have had cause to put a wooden antique desk in the storage room. Nobody thought much about the dusty old thing at first. However a few weeks later Scruggs and some other employees noticed odd writing in the dust. Nobody on staff claimed it and it looked strange. There were some cryptic symbols and words. A few letters were backwards. Getting into the spirit of things Scruggs and company decided to write a message back in the dust. There was one problem. The dust was so thick and sticky it had become hardened onto the surface of the desk. The Moon River staffers couldn’t write a response back because the dust had become cement like. The desk stuck around, but a few weeks later the cemented dust and the cryptic message had both vanished.
Since Stark had been writing a letter when he was lured to his death it was assumed he was the ghost behind the strange vanished message. My guides said the message was written by a male ghost, but that it was not Stark’s ghost. Whoever it was probably didn’t have much schooling in life as the backwards letters made me wonder if the writer was dyslexic.
Local Gregory Proffitt shared his experience with a young soldier who was on his way to Iraq. Proffitt enjoyed telling the skeptical soldier a number of Moon River’s ghost stories. The soldier didn’t believe in that sort of thing. Abruptly the young man’s head flew to the side and a loud disembodied slapping noise was heard. The soldier’s cheek instantly turned red where the imprint of a hand could be seen. This happened three or four more times in a row. The soldier was getting angry with Proffitt, but suddenly realized Proffitt couldn’t be slapping him as the local ghost guru was standing four feet away. I saw the ghost of a royally ticked off former prostitute slapping the soldier repeatedly. She told me he reminded her of someone she once knew that she was furious with.
The ghost of James Jones Stark was not behind every unexplained event in this episode, but as author David Hartland-Rousseau concluded, “Stark is still here…”
Lynne Olson can be contacted from private readings via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
© 2011 Lynne Olson. All rights reserved.