Friday, October 19, 2012

Savannah, Georgia

By Chuck

We arrived in Savannah after an easy 2 hour drive.  Stopping at the visitor center, we decided to try one of the open air trolleys with a two hour historical narrative as we toured the town.  The weather was perfect for it--warm with a slight breeze.  It was well worth it.  Once we arrived at the Market Center, our goal was lunch.  I saw a photo of a Lowcountry boil and decided I had to have it.  We checked out 3 restaurants before determining that Tubby's was the place to be.  Claire couldn't find anything that wasn't fried on the menu, so she went with the program and ordered one too.  To say it was delicious is an understatement.  It took us over an hour just to work our way through it all.  Included in the dish was snow crab, shrimp, sausage, corn on the cob, hush puppies and coleslaw.  We were given tools, extra napkins and wet ones for after.



 The Aftermath

Back out on the street, River Street to be exact, we wandered along deciding to check out a few of the places we had seen on our tour.  We started with the Pirate House.  It was built in 1754 and is associated with Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island.  It is now a restaurant.  Back in the day, actual pirates frequented the place, buying drinks for visitors and shanghaiing them by knocking them out and carrying them through tunnels to waiting pirate ships.  With one exception, they were never heard from again.  Once, an off-duty policeman investigated the mysterious disappearances, fell victim to the pirates and managed to escape 2 years later.  This is how we came to know of this practice. 

 Pirate House

Our guide told us about a house that was ordered out of the Sears catalog and delivered in sections and constructed in stages.  Later, it was determined that the window frames were hung upside down; yet, they were assembled according to the instructions.  On the positive side, this anomaly increased the value of the house. 

Sears Roebuck House

 Window frame hung upside down

Savannah has a beautifully restored theatre dating from 1921.  They offer free self-guided tours.  There is a musical event tonight; so, we were restricted in our movements and could not go up to the balcony.  The theatre was not only gorgeous, it was practical--having early air conditioning that was (and is) extremely popular in the summer heat and humidity.  The owner, Mr. Lucas, was such an astute businessman that he sent letters to newborns congratulating them on their arrival in this world and expressing the hope that they would patronize his theatre when they were of age. 

Tonight, unfortunately, we will miss the event--we're too tired to move.  The Savannah Philharmonic, performs "An American in Paris" and "Porgy and Bess" by George Gershwin, "On The Town" and "West Side Story" by Leonard Bernstein, and the theme from "The Magnificent Seven" by Elmer Bernstein--some of my favorites. 

 Ceiling of Lucas Theatre


 Oval cutout looking through to second floor



This house has a classic stairway style of the time.  Women walked up one side and the men on the other so that the men would not view the women's ankles.  


Boot Scraper built into the stair railing

 Beautiful home

Savannah has many beautiful homes and many of them can be toured--for a price.  One of these is the setting for the murder and much of the action in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.  When Claire was here 18 years ago, she was asked, "Have you read the book?"  She was dumbfounded:  What book?   Well, our literate heroine was guilty of not only not liking this book; she did not begin to realize its importance, here.  It was on the best seller list longer than any other book--according to our guide--and was responsible for an almost immediate boost in tourism of 46%! 

The Owens-Thomas House is considered by architectural historians to be one of the finest examples of English Regency architecture in America. Inspired by classical antiquity, this style of architecture takes its name from England’s King George IV, who ruled as Prince Regent from 1811 to 1820.

The house was designed by the young English architect William Jay (1792-1837), one of the first professionally-trained architects practicing in the United States.  Revolutionary War hero Marquis de Lafayette was a guest of the city in 1825 and stayed at the home.  On March 19, he is believed to have addressed a throng of enthusiastic Savannahians from the unusual cast-iron veranda on the south facade.   However, he spoke in French, which almost no one understood; but, as he was the only notable in town, the people gathered to listen. 

In addition to using Greek decoration, another feature of Regency architecture was symmetry; in other words, a house or room had to balance or look the same on both sides.  Sometimes this meant adding a fake door or window to a room so that it would look “right.”  Like the false door in the family dining room, some other parts of the Owens-Thomas House are not what they seem to be. The columns in the front hallway are actually wood that has been painted look like marble.  Our guide told us that one of the architectural tricks he used was to design the ceiling in a front room to appear round so that the room itself appears round.   Jay also used the latest plumbing technology – the house was one of the earliest in the United States to have flushing toilets and a shower! 

Owens-Thomas House

Chippewa Square, orignal home of Forrest Gump's park bench.  The original was from Home Depot and is now in the city museum. This might be where it was in the movie.

 Chipawa Park

One of my favorite stories was about the local Indian (Native American, I know), Tomochichi, chief of the Yamacraw Indians, who befriended James Oglethorpe, Georgia's founder, and eventually traveled with him to England at the age of 84.  He was apparently comfortable in his role of Chief of his tribe--and his 7 foot stature surely helped--and he was received by, and impressed, the King of England and the Archbishop of Canterbury.  He  lived to the very respectable age of 96.  He asked to be buried near his English friends.  It is heartening to hear that there were some felicitous interactions between Whites and Native Americans.

A major Confederate supply port during the American Civil War, Savannah was the objective of Union Gen. William T. Sherman's march to the sea in 1864. Noted for its beautiful historic buildings built around a system of small parks, it is a leading tourist centre.  The city surrendered to him after getting his agreement not to burn it; however, it seems he never intended to destroy it.  He offered the city to President Abraham Lincoln as a gift on Christmas Day that year. 

One surprising story from our guide concerns religious tolerance.  Georgia, our 13th and final Colony, was supposed to be strictly Anglican, per Charter agreement.  But, colonists were dying in droves of malaria, yellow fever and cholera.  A ship arrived in harbor with Dr. Nunis, a Jewish doctor who was able to stem the tide of disease.  He and his cohorts were rewarded with grants of land and acceptance.  Savannah now hosts the second oldest Jewish congregation in the U.S.  They have an annual celebration, Shalom Y'all Jewish Food Festival, which was announced on a poster in town.  Loved it. 

'If there's a single trait common to all Savannahians,' he was saying, 'it's their love of money and their unwillingness to spend it.'  ~  Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt