Originally written in April 2014 – Part of the Deep South series
I had left you in the proud town of Charleston, where our last meal had included the very posh boiled peanuts, fried green tomatoes and a po’boy. We got into the car, drove for one and a half hours and we were suddenly out of South Carolina and back in Georgia.
I must admit that I questioned whether I had spent enough time in Charleston. We only had 2 weeks for the whole tour and we had only given it one night. All guides suggested 2 or 3 nights in Charleston and the same for Savannah. In the end, I should not have worried, we were quite lucky with our timings and got to see all of both.
Savannah is a picturesque place. Every street has a small square with a garden and of course, every street has its own history. Savannah played a very important role during the civil war and is considered one of the most charmed places in America today. Not as in “how charming!”, which it is, but haunted. In fact, rumour has it that each and every single building in Savannah is occupied by spirits and most of them are from the times of the war.
We stayed in a hotel called Planters Inn, also haunted, of course. It’s in the city centre, very close to everything and has its own cheese and wine happy hour every evening (how continental!). It was beautiful by day and awfully scary at night. I swear every little noise was enough to set me off. To be fair, I think I would’ve struggled anywhere in Savannah (and if you don’t believe me, just google Kehoe house or Marshall hotel… You’ll see what I mean!).
Aside from its phantasmagorical status, Savannah is also known for a couple of things:
1) It was one of the fastest cities to surrender during the war. And since all men were still out battling, it was down to the local women to make sure that the city was preserved.
2) It’s also the city where the events narrated on the book “Midnight in the garden of good and evil” actually happened. Of course the film was also shot there.
3) And keeping the movie theme, Forrest Gump was filmed there also.
Let’s start by the war. Hundred and hundreds of soldiers lost their lives in Savannah and a graveyard was used to lay them to rest. What’s quite amazing is that the graveyard is right in the centre of the town and walking through it is quite breathtaking. There’s Spanish moss all over the trees and most of the graves still have confederate flags and flowers today. I found this capacity to observe historical memory quite fascinating and when I find myself in situations like that, I feel my faith in human race grow. Of course not all soldiers are buried there. There’s another cemetery in the outskirts, where there are many more soldier graves. I am not sure if perhaps those that are there may be survivors.
Bonaventure cemetery is absolutely massive. It goes on for miles and you can even drive through it. We went to see it on our last day and it was chilling. I think every demographic was represented and it was clear that, whilst old, it’s still in operation. You could go from a Jewish area (with its holocaust memorial), to an Irish one, a civil war one… Absolutely incredible. I love walking through cemeteries and looking at old graves, and there’s definitely no shortage in Bonaventure. The graves that get the most visits, however, are those of little Gracie and the Mercers’.
Gracie Watson was the daughter of the director of the Pulaski hotel, which was situated on Johnson square. They were originally from Boston, the “cold” north, something not really appreciated by the southern society of Savannah. Gracie’s mother was however quite smart and saw that her child had a pretty charismatic nature, so she decided to taker her along to events. Needless to say, the little girl was soon the talk of the town.
Sadly, Gracie died of pneumonia quite unexpectedly. The whole of Savannah cried her death, as her family buried her in Bonaventure. She was so loved by the locals that the family commissioned a little statue of the girl, to be placed by her grave. It’s absolutely terrifying and I must confess I walked by as quickly as I could. I am glad I didn’t, but there are people that have claimed to hear girl voices and laughter… Thank God I didn’t!
As I mentioned early, some of the other “famous” characters buried in Bonaventure are the Mercers. They are an important family in Savannah, which has had multiple members involved in the entertainment world, for example, Jonny Mercer, songwriter and founds of Capitol Records. Something else they are known for is for having built a house during the civil war that still stands today. And not only is it still standing, but it’s also been witness to 3 murders, one of which was written and filmed about in “Midnight in the garden of good and evil”. If you have not yet seen Clint Eastwood’s film starring Kevin Spacey, well, then you are missing out, frankly. We did not go to the Mercer’s house, but William’s one, which was stunningly beautiful. Yes, a lot of the old houses in Savannah are open to the public and you can hear more about the story of the house for a fee.
And that was more or less Savannah for us. A stunning town where we spent 2 nights, we relaxed, we are well and we bathed ourselves in history. The only thing we were unable to do was take a picture with Forrest Gump’s bench, as it had to be taken away years ago. See, it was only a prop and people took advantage… Oh well… If you go to Savannah and really want to see it, you can in the town’s museum.
As we were leaving town, we realised that we were finally leaving the east coast and we were heading towards the old Spanish and French colonial area , the most creole area in the States…
Louisiana was waiting for us