The Magic & Mystery of Savannah

I’ve always wanted to visit Savannah. Without knowing anything about the city, what drew me there was the image of Spanish moss hanging lazily from the twisted limbs of live oak trees. I can’t remember the first time I saw a picture of the famous drive at Wormsloe Plantation, but it was love at first sight and I knew I had to see it in person.

With Thanksgiving flights being astronomically expensive, Rob and I opted to visit family early and do friendsgiving with one of my best friends in the whole world. Ashley and I have spent so many Thanksgivings together we’ve actually lost count…it hovers around 7 or 8, at least half the years we’ve been friends, so it was a happy reunion that brought us to Savannah, the halfway point for each of us to drive.

There are so many things that contribute to Savannah’s charm and mystery. Perhaps it’s the fact that the city is utterly secluded in the middle of nowhere. We passed miles of nondescript cotton fields on a straight road with no gas stations that seemed to drag on into infinity, and suddenly we were there. A bridge loomed in the distance as we took the exit toward the square where we’d rented an apartment. We rounded one bend and there they were, the live oaks, hovering protectively over streets bedecked with historic brownstones and homes, trendy restaurants tucked away on small corners, sounds of horses clip clopping past, evoking memories of days gone by. As soon as we saw the place, I loved it.

The city is by no means overwhelming, and with 3 full days, plus travel days, we all felt that we had thoroughly explored and “done” Savannah. I left feeling like I had checked off a bucket list item, not sure when I would return. There are many places I travel where I feel an immediate sense of place, a fervent desire to intimately know the ins and outs and to return until I feel like I understand it. I did not feel this way with Savannah. Perhaps it’s the history, the knowledge that the current beauty of the squares with their blooming camelias, sparkling fountains, and towering statues belies a dark past where humans were bought and sold in the slave trade. For all of the city’s elegance and southern grace, a darkness hovers.

I won’t keep you in suspense. My favorite part of this trip without contest was Wormsloe Plantation.  There are no buildings to tour, no grand plantation home with columns for miles…there is a drive flanked by the most incredible trees I’ve ever seen.  I have stood beneath the redwoods and the giant sequoias, but the live oaks at Wormsloe spoke to my soul.  I can’t imagine the history these trees have witnessed, the stories they could tell.  The $10 entrance fee is literally so you can drive down a mile long road and just gape in wonder at these marvelous creations. I pretty much lost my mind. I mean, I hike in forests and adore the woods, but these trees were something else.  I still get a little giddy feeling inside while writing this and thinking about how stunning they are.

  Once you get to the end of the drive, there is a small visitor center with a video about the history of the property.  You can follow a short trail that takes you through some woods to the original site of the plantation home, which is a modest, tiny plot where the walls are crumbling.  The only reason to go there is for the live oaks.  Go.  It’s worth it.

We also explored two cemeteries, and one of them was much better than the other.  The famous Bonaventure Cemetery is quite lovely, but the scale is massive and specific graves are very hard to find.  We did purchase a map for a small donation, which was helpful.  The interesting thing for us was that we went here after we’d learned a lot about the history of Savannah, so visiting specific graves and knowing who those people were and how they contributed to the area made it more significant. If we had just gone there to walk around not knowing who any of those people were, it wouldn’t have been worth it.

The cemetery that we all loved best though was the one right in the center of town, the Colonial Park Cemetery.  The property is only 6 acres, and the best part is that certain graves of historical significance are marked with large plaques describing who is buried there and what their history consists of.  Very helpful for us out-of-towners who didn’t know who these folks were.  There was a signer of the Declaration of Independence in there and all sorts of folks who fought in various revolutions…lots of history and more lovely trees tinseled with moss.

Since we were so close to the coast we took trips to both Hilton Head and Tybee Island.  Hilton Head is a golf lover’s paradise, full of resorts that are private.  Good luck getting a glimpse of the ocean.  We visited the lighthouse which was hidden behind some shops and called it a day.

I was really interested in seeing the Tybee Island lighthouse though and it turned out to be the only thing on Tybee worth seeing.  Admission to the lighthouse also gets you into the old fort across the street and there are lots of interesting things to see and read.  You can climb to the top of the lighthouse for a lovely view of the sea, which is pretty much the only way you’ll get a decent view because everything is built up along the coast.  Our impression of the island is that it’s a summer tourist destination.

Back in Savannah, we went to the Mercer Williams House because we wanted to see where the famed story of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil was based.  While the tour was interesting and we learned a lot, if specific questions hadn’t been asked by folks on the tour, our guide never would have mentioned anything from the book.  It was rather disappointing.  The guide also spoke so quickly and pointed out the many rare and fabulous antiquities with such violent speed that we barely had time to register what he was saying before we were being beckoned into the next room.  I wanted to look at everything in the house, really take it in, but the tour did not lend itself to that.  It’s a money-making scheme built on a book they don’t even mention, meant to shove you in, shove you out, and good day to you.  There were original works of art, furniture, china, and all sorts of rare trinkets that were curated by a man with style, taste, and an eye for the unique.  The house is a museum, except one is not allowed to dawdle.  You may glimpse, but you may not gaze.

We also managed to see all 22 of the city’s lovely squares.  Each one has its own character, some are grand, some are humble, all are worth walking through.  Forsyth Park is a beautiful green space with a striking fountain at its center. We walked the length of the park, turning around at the big fat confederate statue and calling it a day. Aside from being a pretty space, there wasn’t anything particular about the park that is a must-see.

Cathedral of St. John The Baptist is a formidable place of worship that combines all the things I love about Catholic churches, lovely stained glass windows, soaring ceilings, lots of Mary, and the quiet reverence of the sacred.

The only disappointment and the one thing we did not get to see was the First African Baptist Church due to it being closed. In a city whose past was shaped by slaves, it would have been nice to pay homage to a church whose place in history was a stop on the Underground Railroad.

This city with its old glamor cast a spell over us while we were there. The loveliness remains in spite of its turbulent past, like an antique chandelier where the crystal still sparkles through the dust if the light is just so…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *