The Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport at 400 Airways Ave, Savannah, Georgia, reached a record of handling 2,462,881 commercial airline passengers in 2017, becoming one of the most important airports in the USA, the busiest one too, next to the Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport. However, despite its very busy facade and the never-ending flow of people was a story that might not be known to the passengers but was well-heard by the staff members.

Catherine and Richard Dotson

Catherine and Richard Dotson were both born in 1779. The two farmed the land, which was known at that time as Cherokee Hills, and did so for the 50 years of their marriage. Catherine passed away in 1877, and Richard followed after seven years. As they requested, the two were laid to rest next to each other in the very farmland that they cultivated, in the family cemetery. There, they found their eternal peace. Or so they thought.

The Ghosts of the Airport

According to legend, if you are coming into land just after the sun goes down, you might see two figures that would appear just along the north side of the runway. It is said that these figures are the ghosts of Catherine and Richard Dotson. What in the world would two ghosts be doing on the side of a runway?

Were they victims of a plane crash long ago?

To answer the question, we’ll have to go back to World War II, when a military airport was constructed in the area. During that time, the land was still owned and farmed by the Dotson family. A parcel of the land also served as the family cemetery, with more than 100 graves not only of their family members but also their slaves. Catherine and Richard were buried there along with all their descendants. When their farmland was chosen as a base for B-24 Liberators and B-17 Flying Fortresses at the peak of World War II, the army tried to strike an agreement with the Dotson family to have the graves moved to another location before they started with the airstrip. The Dotsons agreed but insisted on one very specific condition.

Savannah / Hilton Head International Airport. (Mavin 101, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Tombstones In the Runway

Here’s the deal: they could construct their military airport, but the graves of Catherine and Richard Dotson could not be touched as they requested specifically to be buried on their family’s land. The army, with no choice, honored the deal and let the graves of the original owners remain undisturbed within the military airport vicinity.  When the airfield expanded, be it for military or commercial purposes, more and more land was used and the tarmac got closer and closer to the graves of ol’ Richard and Catherine. As needed, the airport authority would remove and relocate the bodies in the cemetery if they had to pave over them.

The grave of Daniel Hueston is off to the side of the runway at Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport in Georgia. (Image from

But no one dared touch the bodies of Richard and Catherine.  If you gaze out of the plane window during landing even today, you would definitely see the two rectangles lying at a skewed angle on the runway, these were the markers for the Dotsons.

In the 1980s, the Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport had to build an extension to Runway 10, and so they contacted the Dotsons once more. Again, the family did not allow for the remains of Catherine and Richard to be moved. Without the family’s consent, the people had no choice but to pave over the graves of the two as they extended their runway. To pay respect to the two, they embedded two tombstones into the runway.  And they remain there still today as planes land and take off from the 9,250 runway laid over their graves.

Were the ghosts of John and Catherine Dotson really haunting the airport that was once their final resting place? Well, if there was ever a reason for ghosts to arise from the eternal slumber of the grave, it would be to see what the deal was with Boeing 777s rolling over the top of them.