Friday, May 17, 2013
"Give fools their gold and knaves their power,
Let fortune's bubbles rise and fall -
Who sows a field or trains a flower
or plants a tree, is more than all."
--John Greenleaf Whittier
Magnolia Plantation and Gardens is just outside Charleston, along the Ashley River - in fact, it's directly across the river from the city. By road, it's perhaps twenty or thirty minutes.
The grounds open at 8 AM, and we scurried to get there at opening time. It had rained the night before, and it must've been a good soaking rain - everything was dripping, and in a few places there were puddles of some depth.
I know a photographer who says he prefers overcast days for outdoor shooting. He says the indirect light and the absence of harsh, contrasting shadows gives the pictures more quality. Mebbe so. I will admit I think the photos we took at Magnolia came out well, and perhaps in no small part due to the lack of bright sunlight.
Of course, to be fair, I'm not sure even the rankest amateur (um, here? in the back of the hall? that'd be me) could fail to get some good shots.
April at Magnolia is drenched in color. Trite, maybe, but not a cliché: the phrase was created for their gardens. I'm not much of a plant-person, but just a casual glance took in late daffodils, "wild" iris, wisteria, lingering camellias, fuchsia, snapdragons, blossoming fruit trees, plants I couldn't begin to name - and of course, an abundance of azaleas, with blazes of color in every hue.
I'll give you the briefest of backgrounds, most of which is taken from Magnolia's literature: Magnolia is the oldest plantation in this section, having been established in 1676 by the Drayton family. Still owned by the family, today it's the residence of the 15th generation.
The first house was burned in 1865, by Union troops. A few years after, the then-owner, Reverend John Grimke-Drayton, sold some of the land to raise enough funds to build a new house on the old foundation. When the house burned - accidentally, this time! - again in the late 1800s it was rebuilt to the style of the post-war house with additions to make it larger. Today, ten rooms of the house are open for public tours.
By 1870 Rev. Drayton began to open the gardens to the public. With some 500 acres, around 15 miles of walking paths, a nature center / zoo, a wildlife refuge and nature preserve, even a "swamp garden." Magnolia is a place you can spend days exploring.
In a word, it's magnificent.
Perhaps because the forecast still called for showers and because of the early hour we had the place to ourselves. There were three men - professional photographers - working together who went off in a direction different from ours, and in fact I didn't see them on the grounds again. Himself and I split up then spent the better part of three hours wandering around - you can imagine how many pictures we took!
There are water features - lakes, ponds, fountains, plus of course the river itself - and some six or seven bridges, the oldest built in 1840. The views are picturesque in every direction, and because there were no other tourists, our shots are un-peopled.
There is a large section devoted solely to camellias. Many had gone by, but a fair number were still in bloom. A few of the hybrids were developed at Magnolia. I only found labels on a half-dozen or so, so I'm not sure of the names, but the flowers were beautiful:
Many of the animals at Magnolia arrive via "animal rescue." Gracie, a white tail deer, was a fawn when she was hit by a car. She's incredibly tame. Whenever a visitor approaches, she wanders over to greet them:
Her favorite area is beside the enclosure gate.
One of the keepers said it was nearly feeding time, which no doubt explains why Gracie thought the strings on my jacket would make for good eating - she tried to catch hold and gnaw on them.
Both wild and domestic animals are housed here. This tom turkey is certainly a wild one:
He had his tail fanned out most of the time, at least when I saw him. The pinks and blues on his head and neck are pretty colors, but personally, between the wen and wattle and the vulture-like featherless head, I think turkeys are not very attractive.
The rooster and the peacock had a parley:
While I checked out the zoo, Himself had gone to the conservatory. He got wonderful pictures of some of the orchids:
From Magnolia it was about two hours to our next stop, Kensington Mansion:
The address is Eastover, South Carolina, but it's actually in the middle of fields and farm country. It's about forty miles south-east of Columbia.
It's not a heavily-trafficked site, and it has very limited visitation hours. The site manager doubles as the tour guide; not only did he know the house and its history down to the last detail, but he was personable and obviously had great affection for the mansion.
Best of all, we were lucky enough to be the only people on his last tour of the day, and he generously spent much more time with us than the schedule normally allows.
As is the general rule, no photography was allowed inside, and while I have a few copied pictures, I think I've taken more than my fair share of space here today. Ummm... all right. Just two, to give you an idea of what the house deteriorated to, and how it looks today:
If you'd like to know more about the house and how it was saved from destruction, you can read a little about it on their website:
After leaving Kensington, we had about a three-hour drive ahead of us to Asheville, North Carolina, where we had reservations for the night. Tomorrow: we're going to a spectacular estate:
Have a good'un, Sparklers - carpe diem!
Thursday, May 16, 2013
We followed the same plan in Charleston that we had in Savannah - get into town early, grab a good parking space, then spend the day. Unlike Savannah, there was a minimal parking fee, but given the central, secure location - at the visitors' center - we were more than satisfied.
The visitors' center didn't open for another half-hour, and none of the other attractions were open yet either, so we took a walk. There weren't many people on the street; now and then we passed a few tourists who like ourselves were waiting for places to open.
I broke one of the cardinal rules of photography: don't point into the sun. But I wanted to capture the just-after-sunrise sky, so I took it anyway:
As we had the day before, we walked along Battery Park:
We wanted to be back at the Visitors Center when they opened, so we took one of the city's free trolleys - you can tell how early we were, as it was virtually empty:
Later in the afternoon we took the trolleys again, and they were so packed (mostly with tourists like ourselves) that it was standing room only, and even then, we were squashed in like Tokyo commuters. This'll show you the neat old-fashioned style they've been given:
After a quick stop at the center's information desk we went to the ferry terminal to go to Fort Sumter.
My father was an amateur Civil War historian so I grew up with the stories about Charleston and Gettysburg and Shiloh and Appomattox Courthouse - in fact, I don't remember a time when I didn't know the names and places, at least the main ones. Himself has also caught the CW bug and bills himself as a buff these days, so you can understand how Fort Sumter ranked high on our don't-miss list.
Although the fort is in the National Park Service, it's on an island in the harbor, and there's a concession business that operates the ferry - a long-winded way of saying entrance to the fort is free; transportation on the only means of getting there ain't. They soaked us - pun intended - for a pretty stiff fee, too, but needs must.
The ferry has a strict schedule for departures* and we had some 40-45 minutes before ours, so we spent the time in the NPS harborside museum. I try not to rave about them too much, but I really was so impressed with all of the NPS exhibits, films, and so forth. Every one we visited was outstanding, and this one was no exception.
*If you're late and you miss it, tough - no refunds, no exchange of tickets.
Himself takes a lot of photos in the museums - it's allowed - but I don't have much success taking pictures through glass and in semi-darkness. His don't necessarily come out all that well either (don't tell him I said so) but I've picked out one that wasn't behind glass and that shows up sufficiently:
Near Manchester is an old cotton mill built during the Industrial Revolution. Water-powered, it's been in operation since just about 1800, and was working up until the 1970s or so. Although they don't have the hoisting scale set up, they have bound cotton bales exactly like this one. On this end, of course, they were coming into the mills to be processed, but it was interesting to have seen both ends of the cotton's journey.
Our luck didn't quite hold with the weather on this day. We didn't run into rain except for a light sprinkle or two, but there was a thick haze in the air, as the humidity had risen substantially overnight. If the clear weather had held, I think we would've gotten some good shots of the harbor and of the approach to the fort. I didn't really take many, but Himself went to town... so to speak:
As we neared the fort:
You see how low it looks to the water. Although there is a museum building that is roughly two stories high, the entire fort is relatively low, and the island itself seems barely above the waterline.
My first impression of the interior was mindful of Fort McHenry in Baltimore - both McHenry and Sumter are from the early 19th century, although McHenry is some thirty years older - and both are brick five-sided structures. Both were harbor defenses, with McHenry being not on an island but on a spit of land projecting into the water, and there's a certain sameness to the appearance of the interior grounds, but after that the similarity ends.
Fort McHenry is comprised of mainly two-story buildings whilst Sumter is essentially one-story, excepting the exhibition section. McHenry's outer wall is brick-faced with earthen backfill; the grassy "points" served as platforms for cannon emplacements:
By the way, I think even in that small picture you can make out the huge stars-and-stripes over toward the left. This is not a doctored shot - a reproduction of the Francis Scott Key flag flies over Fort McHenry at all times. It's a beautiful sight at night.
Fort McHenry is to my mind spiffy, well-cleaned up and well-maintained, largely rebuilt to an 1812 appearance; Fort Sumter suffered major damage during the 1861 bombardment, and although the walls were repaired, today it's preserved much as it was left:
In the museum is a model of Fort Sumter, with the shape outlined. Notice there are no extended points for gun emplacements: there wouldn't have been room to make it much larger on its small island.
A number of flags, both CSA and historic US flags, are at Fort Sumter. I thought Himself caught a great snapshot of the South Carolina state flag with Old Glory:
The ferry set-up allows about one hour at Fort Sumter. With the exception of scholars and professional photographers, I'd say that's sufficient. You can't cover every square foot, but it's ample to walk around much of the fort plus see the exhibits in the museum.
After we got back to the mainland, we walked into the shopping district, looking for lunch. On the main street there were plenty of boutique cafes and Starbucks-type commercial venues, but we were hoping to find a coffee-shop / bakery. We hadn't yet come across a local to ask.
Some cosmic serendipity sent us down a sidestreet, and a block away we found the French Chocolate Cafe. It looks relatively unprepossessing from the front:
Don't let the simple facade fool you. The owner / baker / candymaker is a third generation professional, and Christophe has brought his skills to the US from France.
Inside the shop is the most tantalizing array of okay-it's-not-healthy-but-so-what goodies you'll ever see:
I didn't try any of the bonbons because I had an ulterior motive: I was saving the blood sugar and calories for baked goods. In addition to being a master chocolatier, Christophe is a "Brevet de Maitrise" - a Master of Pastry.
The cafe has a small courtyard in back with some tables. Himself has taken photos of just about all the lunches we've had. I haven't posted the pictures because each one includes me with my mouth open, or my eyes half-closed, or something that irks me. So no, you can't see 'em. This one is the best of a bad lot:
It looks like there's something growing from the top of my head. That yellow-white blob is the hat of the woman seated behind me. Himself is good with technology, but his artistic compositions leave something to be desired, thinks me. At any rate, notice the cookies - one was a spice cookie that was deliciously gingery, and the other was oatmeal-raisin. I've never had a better oatmeal cookie, and the ginger one was out of this world, and both were huge.
I might not've posted the picture at all, but LIBBYL1 has asked, so even though we didn't have brownies in Charleston, Lib, there ya go. I'm sure there were brownies, and lots of other wonderful pastries, but we never made it past the cookie case. And for what it's worth, the French Chocolate Cafe does great coffee, too. (I don't mean this to sound like a promotion for them - I'd only do that if they rewarded me with freebies, and I don't live near enough to collect bribes, lol.)
Several antebellum houses in Charleston are open to the public, and as we had in Savannah we had mulled over the offerings. We chose only one this time, the Edmondston-Alston House, on the Battery. We took the trolley to the park - this is the one I said was so crowded* - then walked the couple of blocks to the house. Good thing, probably, as it would take some walking to work off Christophe's cookies.
Like all the houses along the battery, this one presents a narrow front to the street, but extends back a considerable distance.
And like the ones in Savannah, no photography is allowed inside - like the Mercer-Williams House, neither did I find any postcards, so I have no pictures for you of the interior. Both the first and second floors are open to the public (descendants of the family still live on the third floor, apparently) and while there are not a lot of rooms, each is spacious and well-furnished in an early-to-mid-1800s style, largely with pieces belonging to the family.
The reason we chose the E-A House is because it's where General Pierre Beauregard was visiting when the bombardment of Fort Sumter commenced after he gave orders for the Confederates to open fire. Family history says he was on the upstairs porch looking out at the fort:
Even with the haze you could see Fort Sumter with the naked eye, but Himself used a telephoto setting to get a picture:
When we left the Edmonston-Aston House, there wasn't time enough to go to either one of the museums or a second house, as it was just about closing time for most of them. So we sauntered through the neighborhoods, looking at houses and gardens and generally moseying along.
I took a number of pictures through wrought-iron gates:
Himself is tall, and once when we heard a fountain behind a tall thick hedge, I got him to reach up with the camera and get a snapshot:
...and another over a garden wall:
As we returned toward the Battery, we came across an artist painting a view of one of the grand old houses:
Eventually, we worked our way almost back to our starting point - the fountain:
A long day with much walking... I was glad to pick up the car and head off for some supper.
Tomorrow, we're on an auto trip, in a more northerly direction:
It's nearly suppertime here, and methinks I'm lucky I got this posted today - it's been that busy, but I think I carped the diem.
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
When we take trips, we each keep travel journals. In both we have the stretch from Savannah to Charleston labelled as "The Day We Got Lost."
In some ways there isn't a lot to see on that section, especially if you follow the coast as much as possible; there's a main route, a dual highway, and anything else is a matter of small sideroads through the countryside. I had chosen a few targets to aim for, so Himself programmed the GPS and off we went.
We had another beautifully sunny day, with not a cloud in the sky, and with mild temps and low humidity. It was almost a shame to spend so much of it in the car.
Our first stop was Old Sheldon Church Ruins. I'd seen photographs and read about the site. Leaving the main highway we headed in the direction the GPS said to go - and promptly got lost. I think we must've wandered every road except the right one for the better part of 45 minutes before we found a small general store / gas station where we could ask someone. And sure enough, it was six miles from there, on about the only road the GPS hadn't taken us down.
Thinking back, I get annoyed all over again. Don't get me started. And be assured, next time I will have a REAL map--! Now, back to our regularly scheduled journey.
Sheldon Church was fairly isolated, being several miles from the nearest town (Yemassee, population 1000), which is quite small. This section of South Carolina had - and still has - a number of plantations, and is only beginning to see development. I wouldn't have thought the population sufficient for a large congregation, let alone a substantial church building, especially in the early 1800s, but such it must've been at one time:
Himself chides me for not including things in my photographs to give perspective, and indeed, I hadn't really thought of it, but in this case, if there had been people walking around it would've given you an idea of the scale. Nonetheless, I think you can see the church was impressive, at least at one time. He says a conservative estimate would probably put the column height at thirty feet, at a minimum.
There is a plaque on the church that was put up in the 1930s saying that the church was burned by Union troops in 1865 and then abandoned; the historic marker at the site says essentially the same thing. A few historians - who ought to know - claim that the church's congregation dwindled and when the building deteriorated, it was stripped for materials and then abandoned, Sherman's men having nothing to do with it.
Regardless, the ruins are poignant and beautiful. Today the site is sometimes used as a setting for weddings, and is preserved to halt further decay.
Our next target took us from the interior to the other side of the dual highway, back over to the coast. I wanted to see Tidalholme:
Now, I cast no aspersions on Himself's ability to use high-tech gadgetry. He's pretty good at it, whereas I am totally at sea. Since our GPS had already messed up once I figured we'd be back on track. But every now and then, as many of you know, the satellite systems glitch, and when they do, you can suddenly find yourself in Siberia, or in the middle of a bridge ignoring the device's directions to "Turn Left." Not on this trip, but we had one memorable moment when our GPS insisted we were in Argentina. Personally, I've never been to South America, let alone Argentina. But I digress.
That's a windup for - we couldn't find Beaufort, SC, where Tidalholme is. The house was built in 1853, right on the waterfront, and it's currently for sale -
- if you have a spare $4.5 million. While technically it's not open to the public, I suppose if I presented myself as a potential buyer--? Hah. Still, if I DID have the dough, wouldn't it make a first-rate B&B?
Some of you may recognize the house. This is the one that was used in The Big Chill (a film that hasn't aged well, unfortunately) and The Great Santini, and since we were kind-of passing by, I thought it would be fun to seek it out as it's reportedly quite visible from the road. Alas, by missing Beaufort, we never did find it.
Having spent too much time wandering aimlessly, we decided to cut our losses and make a beeline for Wadmalaw Island and Bigelow's Charleston Tea Plantation.
Odd as it may sound, Himself doesn't drink tea - in our house, it's the Yank who drinks tea. I've been a fan of Bigelow's Teas for years, especially Constant Comment, and the Charleston Tea Plantation bills itself as "America's Only Tea Garden." The homegrown tea is sold as American Classic - apparently other Bigelow blends are made from imported teas.
I knew that we would be there at the "wrong" time of year, in one sense: we were at the nadir of the growing season, and while the tea plants are always growing there was no harvesting. But I thought it would still be interesting to see what a real tea farm looked like, and I knew there was a brief factory tour, plus I planned to buy some tea on-site.
The grounds were pretty. Their azaleas, which they have in some abundance, were in full bloom:
I assumed - you know where assume gets you - that there would be some kind of tea shop or cafe on the premises as well. They have a large, well-designed visitors' center - it's to the left in this photo:
I'd also thought that the factory would be a year-round concern, that there would be stores of tea on hand that they would process even in the off-season. That's apparently not how it works. Everything runs full-tilt during the harvest season, then the machinery and the factory are idle until the next season.
We walked through the tour route, past big drying and cutting machines, but had it not been for the monitors with short films at each stage, I wouldn't have known what we were looking at.
The tour finishes (as these things are wont to do) in their gift shop. They have a number of their teas available for free, plus a full set-up where you can add sugar, lemon, milk, whatever you'd fancy. There's even an ice machine, so you can prepare your own iced tea.
I sampled a plain black tea, then a mint tea, and then a Constant Comment-style spiced tea that was cinnamon-based, but without orange. Mmm, I liked that one!
I walked around the shop looking at this and that. My daughter-in-law is quite the tea-drinker too, and I thought I might find a small variety box of some kind that I could give her, but they had nothing like that available.
Then I thought - although taking tea to England is somewhat like carrying coals to Newcastle - that I'd find the cinnamon-spice tea and take some home for myself. Not seeing it anywhere, I finally found someone to ask. "Oh, that's one of our new blends," says she, "So it's not available yet in bags. We only have it loose." And only in great big packages. I gave it a miss.
To top it all off - no cafe, no tea shop, no food except pre-packaged cookies. What can I say? The tea plantation was a disappointment. If nothing else, though, I came away learning to be more careful in doing my homework before these trips!
In that same area, also on Wadmalaw Island, is another house that's made cinematic history:
If you've seen The Notebook, you'll recognize it as Noah's House, the "fixer-upper" he restores himself. The house wasn't falling apart when Hollywood decided to use it. On the contrary, they used CGI to render it in a state of decay:
It was simple then to use its current appearance for exterior shots in the film:
Could we find it? Nope. In this case, though, I knew it was a long shot. The houses along the water are set back from the road, and most of them are gated. It's my understanding that in this particular case, the owners have been bothered enough by (you should pardon the expression) tourists that they have taken measures to try to keep people off the property. I can't say as I blame them, but if I could've seen it at all - from the road; I would never dare intrude on their privacy - then I would've taken some photos. Alas redux, we failed to find even the house's driveway.
Keeping an eye on our time, we abandoned our fruitless search for Noah's house and went to Charleston so as to see some of the sights before calling it a day.
Just south of the city is Morris Island. That was the location of Battery Wagner, the Confederate fort where the Massachusetts 54th Regiment made its heroic charge.
I found a couple of old photographs, taken during the Civil War. In the second especially, you can see the fort was right on the water:
If you've seen the film Glory, you know of the 54th. It was the regiment comprised of black soldiers and led by Robert Gould Shaw. There's a memorial sculpture done by Saint-Gaudens that I especially like:
I knew before we went that we wouldn't be able to see the actual site of the fort - it's now completely underwater. Some sources say there is a buoy marking the spot, and it guides divers to the right place. Others say the buoy is long gone and there is no marker. Nonetheless, I had hoped to get on the shore near the place, just to see if there's something commemorating it. Driving to Morris Island was the closest we got, though, and that was late in the afternoon. So perhaps it's a project for another time - not that I would go diving!
We drove into Charleston, to get to the visitors' center before they closed:
The picture didn't come out very well, but the large screen has "Charleston Greets You" on it. The visitors' center is in a huge converted warehouse complex, and they've done a wonderful job of using the space.
We picked up some brochures - and maps! - and decided to drive around to see what we could see before heading over to our hotel.
We stopped first at Battery Park, looking up along the Battery.
We took a short walk along the waterfront. Charleston has a lot of good walking places, with brick-paved walkways, benches, and greenspaces.
I was on the lookout for "Rainbow Row," Charleston's famous brightly-painted houses. I'd thought there were only a few, but we saw lots of them. They are so pretty:
That was our brief auto tour. We deliberately booked two nights in Charleston so we could devote a full day to exploring the city. First stopping point tomorrow: the Visitors' Center again. As long as we got there early, we'd be assured of a parking space:
Have a good'un, Sparklers - carpe diem!
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
I was predisposed to dislike Savannah.
As a rule, I'm not comfortable in urban places. Oh, I have a few favorites - Washington, notably; Toronto's near the top of the list; I like London, or at least sightseeing around London - but mostly I do better in small towns / rural settings.
Savannah in particular had a resonance that left me with the feeling it was a dose of medicine - best just get on with it and get it over with. And on what was this feeling based?
Some banal gothic mysteries... a few hair-raising B-movies... and a brief mention in Gone With The Wind:
"So Scarlett went off to visit her relatives in Savannah. Aunt Pauline and her husband... lived on a plantation on the [Savannah] river... surrounded by still jungles of cypress swamp and oak. The live oaks with their waving curtains of gray moss gave Scarlett the creeps..."
Funny the impressions you can get based on so little.
We were staying at a motel just outside Savannah, and set off for the historic district with the morning commuters, at 8 AM. For what it's worth, if you go to Savannah and anyone tells you parking will cost you a bundle, forget it - go early in the day and pick a spot anywhere along Forsyth Park. The spaces aren't metered, there's no time limit, and it puts you right on the fringe of the "old" section - plus the park itself is a don't-miss.
There are probably ten or twelve historic mansions open to the public, and of them, I had chosen three - the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace, the Andrew Low House, and the Mercer-Williams House - that I wanted to tour. I'd also chosen a couple museums and some specific areas (the waterfront was one) that I hoped to fit in.
What I didn't count on was the absolutely glorious spring day we fell into.
Blue sky, balmy temps, low humidity, with the azaleas and other flowers in bloom - well, it would've been criminal to spend all of it indoors.
Since most of the houses and museums didn't open until 10 AM we had a good hour plus some to walk around, get our bearings, and explore.
Originally, there were two dozen squares in Savannah; today, there are twenty-two, as two of them have been "lost" over the years.
I walked with Himself, wandering through six or eight of them, but by the time the houses were opening, we went different directions. He wasn't as interested in the houses as I was, plus unlike the National Park Service sites, these weren't free - far from it, as some of them were downright expensive, to my mind. Eighteen bucks for basically a one-hour tour seems steep, don't you think?
So while I'm off to see how the other half lived, I'll present you with The Squares of Savannah, as photographed by Himself:
He went on to - yes, he did! - walk and photograph all twenty-two. I've chosen what I think is a good representative sample; while there is much-of-a-muchness in some ways, each has a different focal point in its center - statues, the bandstand, monuments, a fountain, even a large sundial. Some of the squares are fairly open, especially a few that had to be "reclaimed" when they were nearly broken up for building lots. Others are densely shaded by the huge old trees covering them.
I'm not sure the photographs show up very well - the flowers were colorful, even in the deep shade, and the jade fountain was a brilliant rich green, which I don't think shows well here, but it will give you an idea.
Back on the rich side of town (hah) I was diving into the houses, and oh, what houses! I walked past several that I'd had on my list-of-potentials, but that I'd removed for one reason or another. Still, it was tempting to go overboard and try to see more than I'd pared my choices down to.
Some streets put me in mind of Montreal, in the styles of the facades and the way the houses were constructed on a built-up basement, as you go up a set of steps to get to the front door:
I was entitled to a small discount at two of the houses - the Andrew Low House and the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace - because I am (ahem) a Lifetime Member of the GSUSA, the Girl Scouts of America. I had deliberately brought my membership card with me. You may recall that part of the GS Law is to "use resources wisely." That includes being thrifty, sez me.
First stop was the Andrew Low House. Andrew Low was born in 1812, and ended up a wealthy cotton factor - a cotton broker or merchant - in the city. He's probably best known today because of his famous daughter-in-law, Juliette Gordon Low, who married Andrew's only son, William.
I walked around the courtyard for a few minutes before the tour started:
We weren't allowed to photograph anything inside the house, but I've copied two postcard snapshots, so I hope this doesn't violate any copyrights, given the reduced size and the nature of "in the public domain":
I also visited the former carriage house / garage at the back of the property. That's actually the building where JGL - "Daisy" - set up the first Girl Scout troop, and they have a good staff who explain the background of Girl Scouting and the significance of Savannah and Juliet Gordon Low to its history:
When I left the Low House I walked a few blocks to the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace. The house's exterior is being remodeled or restored, and the front was almost entirely shrouded with scaffolding, so much so that the entrance has been blocked and a temporary walkway set up to get into the house. I suppose I'm cheating once again, as this shot is taken from a postcard (and to be fair, I DID purchase the postcard, lol):
Per the standard instruction, interior photography is not allowed, but here are a couple low-resolution copies-of-copies that will give you an idea:
Notice that glaring green on the walls - apparently, bright, almost neon colors were all the rage in the early-to-mid 19th century, and while the more "public" rooms such as parlors would be updated, many times the family's personal rooms would retain outdated colors for two or three generations. That brilliant green is the original color to the room - I don't know how restful a shade it is for a bedroom.
After I finished Juliette's house it was approaching lunchtime. Himself and I met up and walked toward the business / shopping area. It wasn't long before we found a nifty coffee-shop and did our usual "You get this, I'll get that, and we'll share" high-calorie lunch. Somewhere there's a picture of one of the brownies before we scarfed it up, but I can't find it - maybe it's still on Himself's computer. Nonetheless, I have this pic of yours truly he emailed me. You see I picked a plush comfy chair!
The afternoon was moving on faster than I'd have liked, and we were running out of time. There were two more stops on our don't-miss list. One was the Mercer-Williams house:
If you've read the book or seen the movie "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" you may recognize the name.
The Mercer-Williams house is the place where a young man was shot and killed by Jim Williams in 1981. Subsequently there were four (a record) trials after Williams was charged with murder. Eventually, he was acquitted, and lived in the house until his death in 1990.
The usual no-photography rule applied, and there didn't seem to be any postcards or guidebooks. The only book about the house was a thick, heavy hardcover volume of photographs. Between the exorbitant cost (around fifty bucks) and the size of it (I always have to take luggage weight into account) I gave it a miss. Hence, no pictures to copy.
After we toured the house we walked back to the car, dawdling our way through Forsyth Park. Over thirty acres in size, it's one of the most famous greenspaces in the US - and one of the most photographed. You might well have seen some pictures of the fountain:
The fountain was built in the 1850s, and if there's an enduring iconic landmark of Savannah, that's probably it.
The above was believed to have been taken in late 1864 or early 1865, just at the end of the Civil War.
The tinted postcard was from a photo taken in 1904. The fountain really has served as a symbol of Savannah for well over 150 years now. And speaking of the ancients:
The park was well-used on that warm, sunny afternoon - people of all ages were strolling, sitting on park benches, soaking in the sunshine, reading, even playing instruments. It was truly beautiful, and was a wonderful end to our tour of the historic district.
I should maybe put the emphasis on "historic." Before this trip, I hadn't thought about the long history of Savannah, stretching back to Oglethorpe's original colony. The city gives real meaning to "rich" and "varied" when it comes to historical events and notable people.
And maybe some not so notable...
Our last stop of the day was on Savannah's doorstep: Bonaventure Cemetery. I'd known of it long before John Berendt's book, and it was the perfect capper.
There are any number of commercial tours in Savannah itself, from historic tours to the specific-theme tours (there's one that focuses exclusively on garden gates) to the almost-ubiquitous ghost / haunted houses tour. One of the biggies is a tour of Bonaventure.
We had already decided to forego an official tour, preferring to wander on our own. We'd done some research and had pinpointed a few of the graves (Conrad Aiken, Johnny Mercer) we definitely wanted to see, and otherwise thought we'd let our imaginations lead the way. I thought we were late enough in the day that we wouldn't run into any of the tour groups, and that it would be early enough to be ahead of the "ghost tour" type operations.
I guess I was wrong, as there were two tours - one fairly large - that came through as we were there. That's not to mention the two or three dozen people we saw who were like us, walking around on their own. Almost makes me think this cemetery is busier than some downtowns!
Nonetheless, we spent nearly two hours, wandering where we wanted. Way led on to way, and the scenery was great, at least as long as sightseeing in a cemetery doesn't bother you:
The so-called "Bird Girl" statue depicted on the front of "Midnight" used to be in Bonaventure; that's where the photograph was taken some fifteen or twenty years ago. Once the book made it famous, however, it became a target for vandals,* and the family agreed to take it to the Telfair Museum (a place on our list but that we didn't have time for, unfortunately) to protect it.
*The photograph I took of the seated girl, the next-to-last above, is high-resolution but at this scale may still not show much detail. The fingers of her slightly extended right had are all broken off. While being heavily trafficked offers some protection to Bonaventure - vandals and thieves don't want to get caught, of course - there will always be some dedicated to wanton destruction.
The following is obviously not the Bird Girl, but I suppose this angel falls into much the same category. The bowl was empty, so whether it was intended for flowers or was to have been a fountain - or a birdfeeder - I couldn't say:
The statues and the gravestones are worth viewing, and there are some lovely views of the water, as Bonaventure is sited right on the Wilmington River. It was originally a plantation, but long before the advent of the Civil War the mansion had burned down and the private - perhaps family - cemetery ended up being purchased by the city of Savannah, as the city was outgrowing the original cemetery (known as Colonial Park, it has many pre-Revolutionary burials). That was shortly after the Civil War, and it's an extensive cemetery, where burials still take place.
As with the rest of this part of the state, we had the good fortune of hitting just the right time for so many of the flowering plants. I thought these dogwood blossoms amongst the Spanish moss were luminescent:
Some time ago, I wrote a blog about Conrad Aiken. I was drawn to his epitaph years ago, and seeing it was quite meaningful for me:
I sometimes think I am that cosmos mariner.
There are so many more photographs, and I've tried to be selective. I hope you don't feel as though you've been a captive audience for these, ah, home un-movies. Just as with television programs, you can always change the channel--!
And for what it's worth - we enjoyed the city so much we're thinking of renting a place there for a few months if (WHEN!) the house sells. Even at my (haha) advanced age, circumstances can change my mind - don't know why I ever thought I wouldn't like Savannah.
Early the next morning we left Savannah and headed up the coast for Charleston. Onward to our next destination:
Have a good'un, Sparklers - carpe diem!
Monday, May 13, 2013
It's 45 degrees here this morning, with a blustery, gusting wind that makes it feel even colder. You can see how April in Dixie appealed to me!
I left off with Waynesboro and Wisteria Hall:
I found it on the internet, and never thought we'd be able to afford it. But we were just under the wire for off-season rates, and while it was nearly twice as much as we pay at the chains, it was still less than $130. I don't normally discuss prices, but in this case, oh, was it ever value for money!
So many of the nicer B&Bs start in the $200+ / night range that my next concern was - is Wisteria Hall as good as it looks? There were a few reviews on TripAdvisor - all of which were five-star - but the newest one was nearly a year old, and I was a little concerned. I needn't have been.
Our hostess greeted us at the door, and right from the entry hall the place bowled me over.
The owner was kind enough to give us a grand tour and allow us to photograph at will. I'm wary lest this turn into some kind of advertisement, so I'll post the photos with minimal comment. I hope they do it justice, though.
The sun porch:
There are two parlors:
Next morning our breakfast was in the dining room - the chairs were comfortable as well as pretty, not always an easy thing to pull off:
We had pictures of virtually every "guest" area of the house other than two of the bedrooms which were in use, but many of the photos don't show up very well. That's a shame, as the decor is outstanding. Even the landing is beautifully decorated:
There are at least four bedrooms, and our hostess gave us our choice of two. We took pictures of both:
Which did we choose? The one with the large canopied bed!
I think of myself as someone not easily impressed, but by golly, I was impressed with this place. And as much as anything by its cleanliness: not a speck, and I mean, even a speck, of dust anywhere. Everything was sparkling and polished. No heavy perfume / potpourri type scents to the air, just - fresh. It was lovely. Nancy cleans and maintains it all herself, with no outside help - and she cooks a delicious breakfast, to boot!
I asked her about the house in some detail. It was a fixer-upper when she and her husband Ralph bought it, one of those grand mansions where the last member of the family had no heirs and ran out of money. By the time Nancy owned it, the roof had deteriorated badly and water was leaking in so much that some of the rooms had been closed off.
This house might've been written off, demolished and something newer built on the site. Instead, it's a shining example of a success story, with much of the work having been done by the Lynns themselves. I've scraped ceilings and torn up old linoleum and sanded floors, having owned an old farmhouse at one point in my checkered home-owning career, so I know what it must've taken - in time, effort, and commitment, not to mention funds - to restore this house.
We hadn't stayed in a place this posh since our honeymoon. What a find!
Our destination this day was Savannah, so we reluctantly headed up the road. Much as we had the day before, we stopped when we found something that caught our interest, and drove past with a quick look when we didn't.
We passed several houses that were pretty, and almost no matter where you looked there were masses of blooms, from azaleas to wisteria to dogwood to bulbs and annuals:
We were lucky to hit this area at just about the peak of the spring season. Some year I'd love to follow one of the "Azalea Trail" celebrations: several of the southern states have annual routes with open houses and gardens you can tour. Entire towns join in these festivals. I'm sure they must be packed with people, but catching one when the azaleas and other shrubs are in full bloom must be gorgeous.
Not far from Waynesboro is Magnolia State Park. During the Civil War it was the location of Camp Lawton, a CSA prison for captured Yankees. Lesser-known than Andersonville, it was apparently as gruesome, though on a smaller scale. Today, it's been turned into a landscaped park, complete with picturesque lake:
Like so many of the places we saw, it was one we would've gladly lingered, if we'd had more time.
The highway rolled through farm country, for the most part. I was surprised that there isn't a lot of suburban sprawl, because much of the piedmont area in central Maryland where I grew up has sprouted more developments than corn. While there were the occasional crossroads hamlets, more often than not it was mile after mile of green fields. Now and then, we'd pass a family cemetery.
The next photograph is representative of them, in many respects. This one was well-tended, with the last burial being (so far as we could determine) before World War II. There were no houses nearby, no big farm I could've pointed to as the one this family "belonged" to. And yet, someone must be looking after the graves:
Notice the Confederate flag. There were four or five of them dotted about this little cemetery.
I don't know how much cotton - or tobacco, for that matter - is still grown in Georgia, or even in the US as a whole. When I was elementary-school age, my parents would take us to Nags Head, NC, each summer for a week or two. The drive from Maryland would seem to take forever, especially once we hit southern Virginia / North Carolina, as we would pass through endless tobacco fields, with an occasional cotton field thrown in.
Since we always went for our summer holiday during Labor Day, we were at the harvest end of the growing season. Thus, while I've seen mature cotton and tobacco, I don't know what the young plants look like, nor how the fields are prepared, so we might well have passed them unknowing. But we drove past quite a few of these, and I'm pretty sure I figured out what they are:
If I'm wrong, you Southern Belles set me straight, but I'd just about bet money that's a pecan grove! The trees were big, much bigger than peach trees, and set out in neat, tidy rows, acres and acres of them. None of them were in bloom or showing any leaves yet, so I don't know what they'd be like, but I have a hunch we're talking pecans.
Yesterday I said that the second half of Sherman's march would take us through Millen, Sylvania, Ebenezer Creek, Port Wentworth, and Pooler. Of those, there was only one we picked as a don't-miss stop - Ebenezer Creek.
I don't remember Ken Burns's documentary covering the tragedy that happened here, though it might well have. Not until I saw a program that focused entirely on "The Savannah Campaign," as it was called, did I hear of Ebenezer Creek. Both Himself and I were taken with the story.
As the Union troops made their way through the South, many of the newly-freed slaves began to follow them, knowing that if they stayed near their former masters they might well end up being put back into slavery.
In December 1864 one branch of the troops making their way south was within thirty miles or so of Savannah - the target - when they came to this broad creek:
The army engineers set up a pontoon bridge and while the troops crossed between 600 and 700 now-freed slaves who'd been following were held back, deliberately led to believe they would cross after the soldiers were done. As soon as the last troops were on the other side, however, Brigadier General Jefferson C Davis* ordered that the pontoons be cut loose, destroying the temporary bridge.
*The coincidence of name! The CSA president was Jefferson Finis Davis; this man was Jefferson Columbus Davis.
Not far behind the Yankees was a regiment of Confederate cavalry who had been in pursuit of the US troops. As these men approached the creek bank, the former slaves panicked, knowing they would either be killed outright or captured and re-enslaved.
Many, unable to swim, chose to dive into the creek to try to get across; the creek is not fast-flowing, but it is deep, and most of the non-swimmers drowned. For those who could swim, bear in mind the date was December 9, 1864, and while it may be warmer in the South than it is in the North, the almost-freezing water caused many of them to drown as well. I have yet to find information that any made it across and survived.
The Confederates attacked the freedmen still on the bank, with the number of dead and wounded unknown - the cavalrymen then went upstream to try to find another crossing point. Before long, as I understand it, they came back and rounded up any of the former slaves they could find, re-enslaving them.
Many in the North were horrified when they learned what had happened, and there were calls for Davis to be court-martialed. Publicly, General Sherman defended Davis's actions, stating that such things are inevitable results of war - today, the term "collateral damage" would probably be used.
Privately, however, Sherman and most of the other Union officials were appalled by what Davis had done. I wish there had been some sanctions taken against him, but not only was Davis never court-martialed, he went on to a relatively distinguished military career. However, he was never really promoted after the war, so perhaps that was the punishment (if you can call it that) he received.
There is a German cemetery not far from the site, and recently historians discovered there are "numerous African-American graves... located in the area south of the fenced cemetery." These graves have a perimeter marked by granite posts, but there are no individual markers; current supposition is that any original markers were probably wooden, and have long since disappeared. They are located to the lower right of this picture:
Are these graves - or at least some of them - the graves of some of the people who drowned? It would be nice to think that the German immigrants either allowed survivors to use part of their cemetery, or even perhaps gathered the bodies and gave them decent burials.
Regardless, both the cemetery and the Ebenezer Creek location are quiet, rural places with no houses or villages nearby, and very little traffic. I don't think more than one or two cars passed the afternoon we were there - I heard no sounds beyond birds and the occasional rustle of leaves in the gentle breeze. The words "at peace" are fitting.
Not to leave you on a sombre note - tomorrow, we go to Savannah.
Have a good'un, Sparklers - carpe diem!
Magnolia State Park, Early in the AM
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