Seduced by Savannah
Springtime in Savannah. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but those three words are worth 10,000 pictures. I wish I had space here to show you 10,000 pictures of the city that so enchanted Gen. W.T. Sherman in 1864 that he could not bring himself to burn it in his earth-scorching March to the Sea. Instead, he gave it to President Abraham Lincoln as a Christmas present.
His Christmas card read, “I beg to present to you as a Christmas gift the City of Savannah with a hundred and forty heavy guns and plenty of ammunition and also about 25,000 bales of cotton.”
He forgot about the 25,000 bales of Spanish moss. And being winter, he didn’t know about the azaleas, wisteria and gentrified horse-drawn carriages. He knew about Savannah’s legendary bed-and-breakfast inns (although they wouldn’t become inns for another century or so) because, despite his Yankee leanings, he was received into Savannah’s most expensive Gothic Revival mansion with the same Southern hospitality as Savannah guests are still received today.
It would take 10,000 pictures for you to see everything—gracious antebellum mansions shaded by canopies of massive oak trees, 18th century cotton warehouses, and the imposing spires of churches and synagogues dating back to the 1700s. I’d show you centuries-old walls built of tabby—oyster shells, lime and sand—and cobblestone streets made with rocks brought from England as ballast in the holds of ships nearly 400 years ago. I’d capture banks of azaleas taller than Shaquille O’Neal, and the heavenly faces of ancient stone angels watching over the most beautiful cemetery in America.
With my 10,000 pictures, I’d reveal fragrant magnolias larger than dinner plates and azalea blossoms as big as brandy snifters; the wide verandahs, curlicues and gingerbread of Victorian homes, and the fine marble steps, stately columns and intricate detailing of Georgian, Regency and Greek Revival architecture. I’d show you gargoyles and cupolas, dolphin downspouts and secret gardens tucked behind ornate wrought iron gates. We’d walk along the wide brick promenades of Forsyth Park to admire the swans and tritons spraying mist from the fountain modeled after the twin fountains at Place de la Concorde in Paris.
We’d take a virtual horse-and-carriage ride around Savannah’s famous squares, with benches like the one on which Forrest Gump rested with his box of chocolates. We’d drive through the salt marshes to visit forts and shrimpboats and the beautiful Tybee Lighthouse.
We would see scores of statues and monuments paying homage to war heroes, religious leaders, presidents and signers of the Declaration of Independence. And to the Southern hospitality of aged warrior/chief Tomochichi, waiting on the shores to welcome the first settlers.
We’d pay our respects to the bronze replica of Waving Girl Florence Martus, who waited for 40 years—and waits yet—for her sailor to return from the sea, waving a handkerchief by day and a lantern by night, at ships entering Savannah’s harbor. We’d visit Temple Mickve Israel, which houses the oldest Torah in the U.S, and hear Gregorian chants in the candlelit Anglican church where John Wesley was the rector in 1736. We’d feel the power in the humble Second African Baptist Church, where Sherman issued his “40 acres and a mule” decree as compensation to freed slaves, and where Martin Luther King Jr. practiced his “I have a Dream” speech.
We might go for some slow-cooked barbecue at Johnny Harris, get a bag of hot boiled peanuts at Polk’s Market, or drop in at Paula Deen’s place, The Lady and Sons, for fried chicken, homemade biscuits and gravy.
And we’d definitely ogle the beautiful Mercer-Williams House on Monterey Square, made famous by Savannah’s most famous novel, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.
If you’re among the winter Neapolitans taking that drive up I-95 this month on the way home to Northern climes, do stop in Savannah for some real Southern hospitality. The magnolias and wisteria are still in bloom, and the night air is scented with the fragrance of night-blooming four o’clocks and jasmine.
Listen for the murmuring of Savannah’s famous ghosts and to the big ships sailing into the harbor, sounding their foghorns in salute to Waving Girl on the banks of the Savannah River. If you miss it this trip, perhaps these pictures will inspire a visit on your way back home to Naples.
Gulfshore Life travel editor Karen T. Bartlett is a native of Savannah, and the author of the coffee table book, Savannah, A Photographic Portrait.
Luxury hotelier richard kessler, a Savannah native, has made his mark with two artful hotels in his luxurious Kessler Collection. The glamorous Mansion on Forsyth Park, with its signature chocolate piano at turndown, and the historic Kehoe House Inn will be joined this summer by their sister hotel, the Bohemian Savannah Riverfront, set among 18th century cotton warehouses.
Across the Savannah River, the Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort & Spaaffords a lovely view of the historic riverfront. www.starwood.com.
For longer stays, book a suite at one of Savannah’s privately owned historic homes: www.savannahgetaways.net.
More information: 1-877-SAVANNAH or www.savannahvisit.com.