Haunts & Hollows: Georgia Backroads by Liam Ashe

Over the past fifteen years, we have been traveling the backroads of the South. We have searched out the odd, the unusual, and the obscure. We’ve compiled our notes about our favorite places — forgotten family graves, abandoned burial sites, true crime scenes, paranormal encounters, historic mysteries, and more — into the first of a series of new road trip travel guides. Each Haunts & Hollows volume takes you on a step-by-step tour of these sites. Each site includes GPS coordinates, historical references, photos, and visitors’ notes.

The first volume, Haunts & Hollows: Georgia Backroads, guides you from St. Marys through Savannah, Athens, Gainesville, and more—all the way to the North Carolina state line. The book launches later this month, and it is available now for pre-order. If you love traveling on the darker side of history, grab a copy, top off your tank, and let’s get lost together.

The Altamaha Swamp from Haunts & Hollows: Georgia Backroads

A Sample: The Altamaha-ha

Tales of sea monsters have existed since humankind first took to traveling on open waters. From Scylla and Charybdis of Greek myth to the Loch Ness Monster of the Scottish Highlands, these creatures represent our instinctive fear of terrors that lie hidden beneath the waves. Georgia folklore has its own stories of the Altamaha-ha—Altie for short—a beast that swims along the depths of the Altamaha River. For the past 200 years, dozens of locals and tourists have claimed to have seen a remarkable creature, perhaps 20 feet or more in length, with a long neck, seal-like flippers, a spiky tail, and razor-sharp teeth. The earliest recorded sighting dates back to spring of 1830 when Captain Delano of the schooner Eagle reported a sea monster off St. Simons Island just south of Darien. He described a creature over 70 feet long and several feet around with a head shaped like an alligator’s cresting several feet above the water’s surface. He noted it resembled a similar beast he had seen four years earlier off Sapelo Island near the mouth of the Altamaha. A reporter from the Savannah Georgian investigated the captain’s new claims, speaking to five men from the schooner and several planters from St. Simons Island who confirmed the fantastic report. Further sightings occurred through the end of the year, all centered on St. Simons Sound. Over 150 years later, Altie made the news again in 1981 when newspaper publisher Larry Gwin reported seeing the creature while fishing on the Altamaha. The massive monster, he claimed, had an elongated body with two humps. It swam fast enough to leave a wake like that of a motorboat. Larry’s encounter led to a number of other tales of Altie sightings, most dating back ten to twenty years. In each case, the witnesses describe a long, serpent-like creature with fins, flippers, and speeds that left a wake rocking all nearby boats. There are several theories as to Altie’s origins. The most basic suggest that the sightings are either a particularly large alligator gar or simply fantastical tales spun by bored seafarers. Many note that the area around Darien was settled by Scottish Highlanders in the mid-1730s. A majority of these early immigrants were recruited from the town of Inverness, home of the famous Loch Ness Monster. Tales of Nessie date back more than 1,500 years when an Irish priest later christened St. Columba reported seeing the great beast in 564. Scholars suggest that these Highlands settlers brought along their language, customs, traditions, and tales of lurking sea monsters. Other researchers point out that the tales of a sea monster along the Altamaha predate English colonization of the area and may have originated with the Lower Muskogee Creek Tribe.

Looking for a trip down the darker side of history? Check out Georgia Backroads, the first volume in the Haunts & Hollows series of road trip travel guides.

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