Savannah Scenes #4: The Conspirator (2010)

The Conspirator was the second major project to film in Savannah after the Georgia legislature did the first useful thing it's done in years and set up a highly competitive set of incentives for filmmakers to shoot in this state. Right before The Conspirator came the Miley Cyrus movie The Last Song. (Yeah, I'll have to watch that one day. Don't rush me.) Those two movies were preceded by a decade-long stretch of nothing after The Legend of Bagger Vance wrapped up in 2000. (Guess I'll have to watch that one someday too. Ugh, golf movies.) The surrounding states, especially the Carolinas and Alabama out competed Georgia for project after project. But as soon as the legislature passed those incentives, holy moly! It was like magic! I am not even kidding. Touchstone Pictures immediately bailed out of North Carolina to film The Last Song in Georgia and The American Film Company was right on their heels late in the summer with The Conspirator, both of them high-profile feature films.

Now, the presence of Miley Cyrus on Tybee Island was exciting, I'm sure, for certain demographics. But the non-teeny-bopper inhabitants of Savannah didn't have much to fangirl about until friggin' ROBERT REDFORD showed up to direct The Conspirator! So, there was a little something for everyone that summer.

Redford's movie is about a woman named Mary Surratt. She owned the boarding house where John Wilkes Boothe and his friends plotted the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. She was hanged as a conspirator in the murder and was the first woman ever executed by the US government. Not the kind of pioneer she ever wanted to be, I'm sure. The movie is focused on the events of her trial and the emotional tribulations of her appointed attorney. He is at first reluctant to defend her, then increasingly doubtful about his government's commitment to true justice when it becomes apparent every bureaucrat around him wants to railroad Surratt into a guilty verdict for the sake of national closure, whether she actually knew what was going on in her boarding house or not.

The Conspirator was the inaugural project of a new studio called The American Film Company, whose mission is to depict true events in American history with complete accuracy. Have you ever wished you could just watch a movie instead of reading the book? Well, someone finally heard your cries. Despite being quite a small scale project with a tight budget, the movie attracted an impressive assembly of talent. Go look at the IMDB page- the cast is nothing but A-listers. Robin Wright played Surratt. James McAvoy played her lawyer Frederick Aiken. True, this is before those X-Men movies shot him into the stratosphere of superstardom, but he had already done some high-profile stuff. Kevin Kline is there too as the ever-so-slightly villainous Edwin Stanton, Secretary of War. There are even some cult favorites in the cast. Stephen Root is in this movie, for God's sake! Stephen Root! I can't remember why, but who cares? It's Stephen Root!

Now, the story takes place in Washington D.C. in 1865. As we all know, modern day D.C. bears almost no resemblance to 1865 D.C. So, when you need an authentic looking mid-to-late 19th century city that offers a variety of public and private architecture and access to interiors as well, who you gonna call? Savannah, Georgia, of course. Let's take a look at some of the local attractions standing in for D.C., shall we?

First up, and repeatedly throughout the movie, we have the Harper-Fowlkes House:

The Harper-Fowlkes House, aka The Century Club

You'll see this building a lot in the movie. It serves as The Century Club, the place where the Union soldiers and the lawyers hang out all the time for drinking and joking and impressing the ladies. It's a house museum in actuality, built as a private home in the 1840s. It was rescued from decay and restored by a woman named Alida Harper-Fowlkes. She was doing the historic preservation thing in this town way before it was cool, back in the 1920s. As an aside, this house also appears momentarily at the end of the way-more-action-packed Lincoln movie called Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies. Don't worry. I'll get to that one eventually. Also, is America over its Abraham Lincoln phase now? I mean, it was just nonstop Lincoln for a few years there. Can we move on to, say, Benjamin Franklin? His biopic would basically be a porno with some lightning, a stove, and a pair of bifocals thrown in. Not nearly the kind of downer Lincoln's biography is.

This next exterior is the Owens-Thomas House:

Exterior of the Owens-Thomas House

This is where a couple of Boothe's co-conspirators attempt to kill Secretary of State William Seward. They shot those bits inside the house too, but I neglected to take a screencap of that for some reason. Maybe because it was kind of dark and there wasn't a lot to see. The Owens-Thomas House is my favorite house museum and I highly recommend touring it if you ever visit Savannah. It was the first real mansion ever built here, it's beautiful, and the tours are very high quality.

Next up, we see Lincoln's funeral train pulling into a station full of mourners. The station in question is the Roundhouse Rail Road Museum, which also served as the backdrop for much of the movie Glory. I'm not sure, but the filmmakers might have used the steam engine that already resides there. The museum does periodic train rides with it.

The Roundhouse Railroad Museum

Below is the U.S. Customs House, which sits on Bay Street at the corner of Bull. This building turns up in the movie as often as the Harper-Fowlkes House because it's where the lawyers do their serious lawyering. There is CGI D.C. just over the roof. Seeing an incomplete George Washington monument makes me giggle, for some reason.

The very top of our Customs House with pretend White House in the background

Here is a better view of the building as a whole:

A full view of the US Customs House on Bay Street

This is a shot of James McAvoy and Tom Wilkinson walking down the Customs House steps. The two of them have many important, philosophical, and very grown-up conversations about ethics and stuff inside and around the Customs House.

James MacAvoy and Tom Wilkinson

The most significant amount of filming did not take place in the Historic District, however. A lot of plot and character interaction happens when Aiken, the lawyer, goes to visit Surratt. She is, naturally, being kept in prison at a fort in D.C. Our own Fort Pulaski served the purpose very nicely.

Fort Pulaski (masquerading as a fort in 1865 Washington DC)

For the life of me, I cannot remember now if the crew built this military courtroom inside the fort or if they shot it elsewhere or on a sound stage. I've had this post on the back burner for a very long time and it's been ages since I watched the movie and listened to the commentary.

Interior courtroom scene

Another "who" to appear in the "who's who" cast is Norman Reedus right here. He has a small role as another one of the conspirators. Much like James McAvoy, he made this movie just before he achieved serious fame as fan-favorite character Daryl on AMC's The Walking Dead (which is also filmed in Georgia, in case you didn't know). And then it was the year after this or maybe in 2012, he was a special guest at the Savannah Film Festival.  

Ohai, Norman Reedus!

Another view of Fort Pulaski just because, uh, it looks nice.

Walking through the portcullis into Fort Pulaski

This scene and the exterior of Mary Surratt's boarding house gave me fits because I could not work out which row of houses that was. It was familiar, oh, so familiar, but recognition only teased at the edge of my brain. I actually stalked around a few squares on Google Street View before I thought to myself, "Wait a minute. What's a part of the Historic District I hardly ever go to and so am unlikely to recognize? Must be... Chatham Square! Quick, Robin, to the Batcave!" And so it was. The houses you see below and the next picture beneath them (of the exterior of Surratt's house) are located on the northwest corner of Chatham Square, southernmost square on Barnard Street. I almost never go anywhere near Chatham Square unless I'm meeting people at The Savannah B&B for a tour. There's nothing wrong with Chatham. It's as pretty as any other square. I'm just never over there, for some reason.

Just cover streets in dirt to get 1865

Please note that even Robert Redford cannot improve on the ancient tradition of throwing truckloads of dirt over the asphalt to make the streets look old-timey.

Mary Surratt's boarding house

Here is a beautiful sunrise shot of James McAvoy riding up the path to Fort Pulaski. I have loved Pulaski since I was a little kid and my dad would take me there and teach me about rifled cannon and the Civil War and stuff. I cannot recall anymore what I thought of all these things when I was, what, six? I think more than anything I just liked that my dad was taking me places and showing me things. That and, if we went all the way out to Fort Pulaski, odds were good we would go the next couple miles down the road to the beach! I strongly recommend a visit to Fort Pulaski, especially if you have an interest in Civil War history.

This view shows you a little of Cockspur Island around the fort. Draining the island was the first job handed to young Robert E. Lee right after he graduated from West Point. Again, we have CGI D.C. in the background. If this movie were being made in 1938 it would have been a matte painting.

A path on Cockspur Island leading up to Fort Pulaski... with fake Washington DC in the background

One of the coolest things about Pulaski when you're a little kid is that it has a moat. An honest to God moat like an actual medieval castle! With alligators in it! And there's a drawbridge with a spiky portcullis and everything! That was seriously thrilling for me when I was little. (Who am I kidding? It still fills my nerdy self with glee.)

Walk across the drawbridge and through the portcullis to enter Fort Pulaski.

The grounds inside the fort

Ok, so this guy you see in the center with the epic muttonchops? He lives around here and one day I'll learn his name, I'm sure. But he gets to be involved in every historic everything because he looks exactly right. Every reenactment, every living history presentation, every historical drama. He never shaves off those muttonchops. They are his livelihood. Until I learn his name, I shall simply call him Muttonchops.

That guy. Damn, I wish I had his mutton chops.

Ah, here we see the dining room of the Harper-Fowlkes House. It was built at a time when all the rich folk paid heaps of money for artisans to make their pine baseboards look like marble and their plaster walls look like wood paneling. Not because they couldn't afford actual marble or paneling, but because it was so much more expensive and luxurious to have someone fake those things. Artists hand painted faux wood grain over every inch of this dining room back in the 19th century. It doesn't show up well at all in this picture, and that's too bad. But it's one of the most impressive things about the house, if you ever get a chance to tour it. The chandelier you see at the top of the picture is original to the house, one of many details Alida Harper-Fowlkes rescued and restored. The house's old fixtures were designed for gas, but were long ago updated for electricity.

The reason the room might seem curiously dark is, either because of his own sense of aesthetics or The American Film Company's commitment to verisimilitude, Robert Redford shot the movie pretty much entirely using natural light. So, those candles all over the place? Not just for show. Sunlight, candles, and lanterns are what they had to work with most of the time. Probably drove the director of photography (Newton Thomas Sigel) insane.

Interior of the Harper-Fowlkes House

Below is an interior shot of the U.S. Customs house. Pictures of the Customs House usually only ever depict two parts of it: either the imposing granite facade or this elegant main staircase inside.

Interior of the Customs House

I'm pretty sure Redford shot the party scene inside the Andrew Low House. It's been a long time since I toured it, so it's not that familiar to me. However, I remember a friend of mine, an old lady named Pat, talking about the crew being there and shooting something and leaving a scratch on a wall or something. Pat is a member of the Colonial Dames of America and they own the house. It's their Georgia state headquarters.

Party inside the Andrew Low House (I think)

I snuck this little screen grab in here because the distinctive oriel window of the Green-Meldrim House is visible behind James McAvoy during this very brief scene, the house's only appearance in the movie as far as I know. I don't know of the Green-Meldrim showing up in any other movies at all- a wasted opportunity if you ask me. It's an extremely ornate Gothic Revival mansion, just crying out to be the setting for somebody's old-fashioned haunted house movie.  

James MacAvoy inside the Green-Meldrim House

Here's a nighttime photograph of the exterior I took myself a couple years ago. Look at it! Doesn't it look like Vincent Price lives there? Doesn't it look beautiful and mysterious and a little bit menacing all at the same time, like you can't resist coming close even though you're not certain you'll ever make it out again? I've toured the house; it looks like that on the inside too. A silent man with scissors for hands would seem as if he belonged there.

For no mere mortal can resist....

For no mere mortal can resist....

The following shot is one of the ramps leading down to River Street, though I'll be damned if I can work out precisely which one. But I really put it here so I could talk about the look of the movie. This scene reminds me very much of those few silent minutes in Mary Poppins when Mr. Banks knows his career at the bank is ruined and he walks through dark, still London streets to confront his fate. This looks exactly like that. Many good movies have been made in Savannah, perhaps even a handful of great movies, but I haven't seen one yet that I enjoyed looking at as much as The Conspirator. Despite its staunch commitment to historical accuracy, or maybe as a counterbalance to the weighty and sometimes dry material, the movie looks like a fairytale. It's beautiful and I love it. I don't know what process Newton Thomas Sigel used, but bless his little heart for it. Everything is just a little bit hazy and a little bit soft. Like a memory.

A ramp leading down to River Street

This here is just a tiny bit of space between the Green-Meldrim House and St. John's Episcopal Church. McAvoy's character strolls along here with Mary Surratt's priest. The church owns the Green-Meldrim and connected the two buildings with this Gothic-arch walkway years ago.

Arches and courtyard between the Green-Meldrim House and St. John's Episcopal Church

My last location image is of that very same block of houses that appeared in the movie Savannah, which I have previously written about. James McAvoy comes flying up the stairs and banging on the door to beg the judge for a stay on Mary Surratt's execution. The judge, by the way, is played John Cullum. I have a soft spot for him and it pleases me to see him here. I don't know what it is about this little stretch of Perry Street between Bull and Whitaker that every movie maker is so in love with, but there's something about it that really works.

Everything happens on Perry Street for some reason

One of the Georgia legislature's stipulations for movies that accept the tax credits here is they must include our colorful peach logo in the end credits. So, be on the lookout for this little guy any time you head to the theater because Georgia is on fire lately. Everybody wants a piece of this sweet, fuzzy, Peach State action. They are making movies here faster than I can write about them.

I stuck this in just so you'd have a complete list of all the locations used in the film.

So there you have The Conspirator. History enthusiasts will probably love it and cheer The American Film Company's refusal to clutter up the narrative with unnecessary fictionalized drama. For that same reason, the movie may not appeal to a broader audience. Movies typically follow certain formulas because the truth is those formulas have proven again and again that they can keep even the least attentive audience members engaged. What I'm saying is The Conspirator is for people who can handle a serious and mature movie going experience, but not so much for the casual viewer who just wants to be entertained. Despite its shortcomings, I count it among the better quality movies to have been filmed here.

Addendum to "10 Careless Lies...."

There are a couple of points I need to review (because I have no problem correcting myself or clarifying a muddy issue).

The city of Savannah's name

Further discussion on Facebook with my fellow tour guides reveals the origins of the name "Savannah" to be very murky indeed. The word savanna is one the Spanish may have picked up from the Taíno Indians in the Caribbean, then fed back to other Indians on the North American mainland. That is, perhaps, how it was acquired by the migrating Shawnee who drove out the Westo tribe and made their home along the Savannah River. They might have referred to themselves or the landscape as "Savannah" or it may be the South Carolinians just couldn't pronounce their tribe name correctly and it came out sounding like "Savannah" whenever English people said it. There is another possibility: that savannah was an Algonquian word already in use among area tribes and completely unrelated to savanna, but they just happened to sound the same. Basically, although we know where our current usage of the word savanna came from, it's up for debate where the name of the Savannah River originated.

I still feel better attributing the name of the city to the river than to any characteristics of the surrounding landscape. No matter how you tell it, it was still a group of Indians who applied the name to the river and it just seems most reasonable that's what made James Oglethorpe pick it for the city. The river was already well-known, as evidenced by its specific designation as our northern boundary in the text of Georgia's original charter, which you can read here. Beware, old-timey folk had not yet been introduced to the virtue of paragraph breaks, periods, or our modern spelling conventions. It's sort of a word quagmire, is what I'm saying.

My colleague James Caskey, owner of Cobblestone Tours, did hand me a laugh when he reminded me of another silly myth about the origin of Savannah's name:

"During the boat's journey up the river, someone bumped the captain's daughter, Anna, right over the side. As she flailed around in the water, her father desperately shouted, 'Somebody save Anna!' So, that became the first city's name."

I hadn't heard that one in a long time and had completely forgotten about it! Surely no one has ever related this tall tale without a wink and a nod? I mean, it's cute as a joke, but not even the dumbest tour guide could mistake it for fact... right?

Sherman in Savannah and Juliette Gordon Low's family

I got a little blowback on this in the comments on my last post. In fact, I originally wrote an entire paragraph about the supposed connection between William Sherman and the Gordon family because I heard someone say once that Nellie Kinzie Gordon (Juliette Gordon Low's mother) was Sherman's rumored mistress. I cut that part because my last entry was already sprawling over 5,000 words and I felt it didn't count as a common myth since I only ever heard it one time. Guess I should have followed my instinct.

Anyhow, Nellie Kinzie Gordon was not Sherman's mistress. It is true her house was one of the first he visited after he marched into Savannah. What for? Well, Sherman dropped in on all the local bigwigs; doesn't mean he was sleeping with them. He had to touch base with the folk who were going to be putting the city back in order after he left. Nellie probably seemed like a good ice breaker. She had married one of the most prominent men in Georgia (who was at that moment serving in the Confederate army and whom she adored), but was herself a Yankee. I've never read anything to indicate she and Sherman knew each other personally before the war, but I'm sure he knew of her family. They were both Midwesterners- she from Chicago, he from Ohio. Her family were among the pioneers who founded Chicago, so I think it's fair to say they were prominent people. Nellie had very elite connections all through the Federal government and several relatives serving in the Union army, so she and Sherman undoubtedly had some acquaintances in common. She was the most likely person to help him start a dialogue with a freshly defeated, resentful Southern aristocracy.

And what was Nellie going to do? Slam her door on the red-headed juggernaut who had just "made Georgia howl" from here to Atlanta? Nope. She smiled politely and invited him inside to play with her little daughters, Eleanor, Juliette, and Alice, while she began wheeling the deals that would keep her family in one piece and ensure her husband still had a career when he came home. Nellie was so much more interesting than a mere mistress. To imply sex was all she had to work with is worse than sleazy, it's boring. Y'all know women, even 19th century women, are capable of actual negotiations, don't you? I recommend this book for a thorough and entertaining overview of the Gordon family. I know Juliette is on the cover, but half the book goes to Nellie!

So, I hope that clears up those two points. Keep reading and don't forget to call me up for a tour if you're ever visiting Savannah!


Thanks to Tim at Dash Tours for providing more details on Nellie's connection to Sherman.

"Sherman was a friend of Eleanor's father and had known her during her childhood. He was dropping off letters from Eleanor's brother, who was in the Union Army. Sherman had lost his infant son while marching through Georgia and didn't find out until he reached Savannah. He and General Howard visited the Gordons often during their stay, mostly to play with the children."

I knew Sherman and Howard enjoyed playing with the children and that Sherman had just lost his son. I probably read about him meeting little Nellie and carrying letters from her brother and then forgot all about it. Basically, Nellie and Sherman ran in the same circles and elite people occupy very small exclusive circles. That's why they all know each other. The important thing is, Sherman kinda having a previous acquaintance with Nellie Kinzie Gordon ≠ Nellie being his mistress.

10 Careless Lies Told by Careless Guides

Oooh, shots fired! Pow! Pow! Everything I do, I do out of love. I want the tourism industry in this city to meet world-class standards. At the moment, it's still a scantily regulated hodgepodge of large, distantly owned corporations (i.e. Old Town Trolley) and variously qualified small operators. This leads to very uneven experiences for tourists who visit Savannah and may make them leery of ever coming back, especially if they sense they're being lied to for the sake of someone's bottom line. I don't mean to hate on my fellow tour guides and make them look bad. Most of them are perfectly nice people who do not spread incorrect information out of malice. It's just that the majority of tour guides in this town are regular 'ole employees working for a larger company. They get paid by the hour or by the tour. They are paid to show people a good time; they are not paid to do extra research during their off hours. Company owners or managers should be the ones putting forth that effort and conveying the information to their staff, but, well... management, you know?

As a result of this lackadaisical concern for accuracy, patent untruths sometimes seep into the tourism cannon and can circulate for years like a dead goldfish in the toilet bowl. So, here is a list of ten such casual lies I hate the most, arranged in order from mildly annoying to egregiously stupid.

1. Chiggers (red bugs) live in Spanish moss

Yeah, it's a small inaccuracy and a minor peeve, but it bothers me because there's no reason to tell people the wrong thing when it's just as easy to tell people the right thing. Chiggers are rotten little monsters that will make you itch like hell (speaking from experience here), but blaming their presence on Spanish moss is an unfair libel against a picturesque and harmless plant. These tiny red devils lurk near the ground in grass and under low vegetation. I got eaten up by them when I was very young just from screwing around in some woods and tromping through pine straw. No doubt they turn up in Spanish moss that's been lying on the dirt long enough, but chiggers would never find their way to moss that is still hanging high up in the trees. Please don't interpret this to mean I'm giving you the all-clear to yank moss from the nearest branch and go prancing around with it. There is a species of jumping spider that lives only in Spanish moss....

2. The city was named for the surrounding landscape, i.e. Savannah = savanna

This one is an understandable confusion. After all, it's been making the rounds since at least the 19th century. I don't fault any tour guide who repeats it, but I would like to see this detail corrected. The idea is that our first settlers from England looked out over the Georgia coast, saw the tall smooth cord-grass waving over the vast salt marsh, and named the city for the grassy African plains they thought the landscape resembled.

It sounds good for a minute, but makes less and less sense the more you think about it. A bunch of white English dudes named the first city in their new colony after a geographical feature of the African continent? You know, that continent they had already been plundering for two centuries and which they had no reason to love? And had any Europeans actually made it as far as the savanna at this point (the 18th century)? Weren't they still mostly scooting around the coast and hiring other Africans to traipse around the interior for them? On top of that, I'm pretty sure the first people here, especially our founder James Oglethorpe, were not completely stupid. Surely Oglethorpe was capable of telling the difference between a treeless grassy plain and a muddy salt marsh. I mean, the boat sailed right through it. He got a close look. What slams the final nail in place on this one, though, is the fact Savannah was never a treeless grassy plain. There's even a picture to prove it!

Savannah, GA, 1734, Peter Gordon, Bonnie Blue  Tours

This drawing of Savannah was done in 1734 and given to the Trustees of Georgia as a gift. Also a gift to historians, as it turns out. This is how we know what the city looked like early on. Oglethorpe found a high bluff overlooking the river and decided it would be the perfect place for his new city. How convenient the bluff was covered in pine trees the colonists could use to build their first little homes. In fact, the whole area was thickly forested in old growth pine. It was a forest.

Hm, so why did Oglethorpe name this place Savannah? According to Savannah in the Old South, which is a favorite resource of mine and one I re-read every few years, the name was already there. It was the river. And the river got its name from the Indians. Various Indians had been living along the Georgia coast for thousands of years and had given the river various names. In the 17th century, a tribe called the Westos dominated this territory and named the river after themselves, so it was the Westos River. English settlers over in South Carolina did not like the Westos very much because the Westos wouldn't trade with them. So, South Carolina sidled up to a competing tribe, the Savannahs, and traded them guns 'n ammo (the actual stuff... not the magazine...). The Savannahs cheerfully drove out the Westos, set up trade with South Carolina, established Savannah Town on what is now Beech Island, SC, and renamed the river for their own tribe. Although those Indians and their settlement were gone by the time Oglethorpe and the Georgia colonists arrived here in 1733, the river still had that name. I guess Oglethorpe thought "Savannah" sounded pretty and maybe figured it would reduce confusion about the city's location if he just named it after a river that was already well known. Lucky break, I say, or we might be living in the historic city of Oglethorpia right now.

3. Savannah's Waving Girl spent her life waiting for a lover who sailed away and never returned

savannah, ga, bonnie blue tours, waving girl statue, morel park, savannah river, river street

Ok, this one gets especially creepy when you consider she began this tradition as a child. Sucks the romance right out of the whole scenario, doesn't it?

Florence Martus was the Waving Girl's real name and she was born to a local lighthouse keeper in 1869. Her father originally tended the Cockspur Island Lighthouse, but then the family moved to Elba Island and that's where Florence spent most of her life. You can see Elba Island if you look east down River Street. It's easy to spot for the large, light blue liquid natural gas (LNG) tanks squatting on it.

Savannah, GA, Bonnie Blue Tours, Elba Island, LNG

Florence developed the habit of running down to the shore and waving her handkerchief to sailors on ships coming and going from the port. Being a sailor in the 19th century was such a demanding, underpaid, suck-tacular job, ships' captains regularly had to kidnap men to make them do it. So, you can imagine how much it must have warmed the hearts of these bedraggled men to see this fresh-faced girl offering such a sweet welcome. Naturally, the sailors waved back. Florence upped her game after a while and began greeting ships at night too by waving a lantern back and forth. Now, no one likes to tell stories more than sailors, 'cept maybe fishermen, so tales about this waving girl at the port of Savannah spread far and wide (acquiring many invented details along the way) and sailors from all over the world would look for her and wave back. Florence never married and remained on the island until she was too old to live on her own anymore. She died in 1943, having greeted more ships and sailors in her lifetime than anyone can even count. The city erected her statue in Morel Park many years ago to continue her welcoming tradition.

Why did Florence Martus remain unmarried and wave at ships decade after decade if a failed romance wasn't the reason? The truth can be very frustrating sometimes, especially when the truth is that we simply don't know. The romantic legends do make for really good storytelling and it's no surprise any tour guide would prefer to tell it that way. Honestly, I know many a tourist would prefer to hear it that way. It's so much more satisfying than "Just because." And the truth becomes even more unattractive when evidence points to the likelihood Florence had some sort of compulsive disorder and waving at every passing ship was how she expressed it. Sorry guys, but that's the way it is. And that's the way I tell it on my tours whenever the subject comes up.

I do not feel it diminishes The Waving Girl as a cherished local legend, however. The fact she has a statue makes it clear enough her actions transcended disappointing reality and made her into a symbol. Florence Martus is not important because of Florence Martus, but because of the imprint she left on the international seafaring community. She was the first greeting for countless men who sailed here and the last memory many of them took from here. I'll take that over a clichéd old romance any day.

4. Mary Telfair never married because of a thwarted romance

Savannah, GA, Bonnie Blue Tours, Mary Telfair

Ugh, why is it both literary and historical tradition simply do not know what to make of a single woman? Some versions of this story say Mary soured on romance forever after being dumped by such-and-such suitor, some say she and her sister Margaret fell in love with the same man and he chose Margaret over her. Why does it always have to be a lost love or a jilted romance or some tired old canard like that? This one gets on my nerves in particular because it dismisses the deliberate and perfectly self-aware decision-making process of a very, very intelligent woman whose impact on Savannah was vast and valuable and should not be ignored in favor of trite gossip.

She never took a husband because she simply never found one she wanted. It's true Mary Telfair didn't have much to offer in the looks department, but she was very intelligent, well traveled, well connected, highly educated, and fabulously rich- qualities that surely piqued the interest of many an upwardly mobile gentleman looking to make an advantageous match. But the self-possessed and headstrong Mary Telfair did not fancy being anybody's meal ticket or societal stepping stone and likely never encountered a man she believed had nobler intentions. Also, her standards for people in general were set maybe a little too high.

As for the man she and her sister allegedly both fell for, that would be William Hodgson. Mary and Margaret encountered him while vacationing in Europe and there was never any question which sister he was going to end up with. Hodgson completely flipped out for Margaret. He wrote her steamy letters nonstop between the time they got engaged and the time they got married and gave up a juicy appointment to a consular post in Turkey because Margaret didn't want to live there. This internationally lauded diplomat and preternaturally gifted linguist gave up his career to live in stupid old Savannah because he loved Margaret so much. It puzzles me a little. I mean, Margaret had all the same advantages as Mary (also the same lack of visual appeal), but was four years older than William and already 45 years old when they got married. Maybe he had a fondness for mature ladies and didn't want any kids? Was he blown away by her mental acuity? Did he just fall head over heels for no real reason in truly classic style? I think if there is a deep romantic story to be told here, it's probably William Hodgson's and not any of the Telfairs'. At any rate, there is no reason to believe Mary ever carried a torch for the guy. She stayed single because she liked it that way. Plenty of modern women should be able to relate.

5. General Sherman did not burn Savannah during the Civil War because he thought the city was so beautiful/ because he had a mistress here

Oh, please. This one's easy to poke holes in. We can dismiss the first point because Sherman burnt or ransacked plenty of attractive places during his March to the Sea. Beauty was not going to slow this beast down. Also, Savannah did not look as good then as it does now. Go check out some old-timey photographs, you'll see I'm right. The second assertion, about the mistress, also wobbles under closer scrutiny. Sherman spent a little bit of time in Florida and Georgia when he was stationed down south during the Seminole Wars, but that's about it. After that, he got married and had a career that sent him zooming between Washington DC, California, Indiana, and New York. None of those places are even close to Savannah, so when was he supposed to digress down here to keep his mystery lady satisfied?

Well then, why didn't Sherman burn Savannah down when he got here? It's pretty straightforward, really. He had no reason to do so and lots of reasons not to. The 9,000 or so Confederate soldiers who had been in the area skedaddled the night before Sherman's arrival. The general in charge of that maneuver, William Hardee, knew he'd never stand a chance against 60,000 Union soldiers and decided the wiser strategy would be to take off and leave Savannah the opportunity to surrender and perhaps escape destruction. It worked. Savannah offered no military resistance, surrendered politely, and Sherman was glad to hunker down here for a while. It was in his best interest to keep the city intact, especially the port. He needed to get Union boats up the river to resupply his men and deliver the mail. His army needed a break too. They had just marched nonstop for six weeks to get here from Atlanta and the last of that was through pine barrens where there were precious few farms to raid for supplies. They were low on everything and desperately tired, despite being triumphant conquerors of Georgia. On top of all that, it was cold. The soldiers got here just before Christmas and left at the beginning of February, so that means they waited out the worst part of winter before moving on. That's it. We were more useful as a pit stop than as.. a pit, I guess.

6. Gangsters shot up people in front of the Lucas Theatre in 1928

The Lucas is a movie palace built in 1921 and operates today as a movie theater and venue for live performances. It's right next to Reynolds Square, a square which serves as the starting point for many different ghost tours. So, it's no surprise ghost guides keep passing this story from one to another like a cold sore. So many tour groups walk down this block and they need something to fill the space. To make it more compelling, there are some suspicious looking, smudgy little holes in the tile on the front of the building. Oooh, bullet holes? And Savannah played a major role in the rum running trade during Prohibition and there were loads of illegal stills hidden away back in the sticks. Gangster shoot outs are totally believable! It's just too good to be true! Yep. That's the problem. I'll let my colleague James Caskey handle this one, from his book Haunted Savannah:

The first problem with this story is that the shooting never happened. [...] An exhaustive search of the archives at the Georgia Historical Society reveals not one bit of supporting evidence.... [...] the black marks pointed to by tour guides are decidedly not caused by .45 caliber bullets. A round from a Thompson machine gun would have almost certainly shattered the Spanish style tile [...].

Thanks, James!

I do ghost tours and I understand the need for, um, stretching the truth sometimes. We must keep our skills sharp in the ancient Southern art of exaggeration-fu. I'm also pretty sure people expect to be BSd just a little bit on a ghost tour. I mean, come on, you're already on a tour where people tell ghost stories. But I personally draw the line at details or stories that don't jive with what I know of actual history. It just... it feels less like good storytelling and more like telling a lie to make a buck. And I don't like it when I see other tour guides doing that. To be fair, though, I'm sure many who tell this story picked it up from the coworkers who trained them and have no idea it isn't true (see my earlier point about quality control being management's job).

I've been pretty understanding so far, but that's enough of that. The last four entries on this list are the idiotic falsehoods I hate most. Their details splatter against the windshield of common sense like verbal bird poop. They strain the available supply of synonyms for the word "stupid". They make me want to set things (mostly other tour guides) on fire with the power of my white-hot rage. They make Savannah's entire tourism industry look bad. I give no quarter to any tour guide who continues disseminating the following infuriating and clearly untrue yarns. Those who do are basically the Typhoid Marys of storytelling and should be quarantined on Hutchinson Island where they can forever stare forlornly back at the city they maligned with their unforgivable disregard for truth and basic logic.

7. Something about slaughtering pigs (or possibly people) in  Wright Square

I won't name names or point fingers at any particular company, but I've heard this one up close and in detail. It's been a long time, so the story's gotten fuzzy on me. I know it was still making the rounds on the ghost tours a couple years ago, but I'm not sure it still is. Anyway, if a guide tries to tell you anything about feral hogs being chased out of the woods surrounding colonial Savannah and into a pit in Wright Square where they were then barbequed alive and devoured by voracious English settlers, just kick that guide right in the knee, snatch your money back out of their pocket, and go spend it on booze or something. Even when Budweiser pretends to be beer it isn't lying that boldly.

There's a variant on this involving strangers in the city being barbequed and cannibalized. Both versions of this story hit me right out of nowhere when I first heard them years ago. I have no idea where they came from, since there is absolutely no physical feature in any of the squares that would suggest such nonsense and nothing I can think of in the city's history that may have been distorted into this macabre and stupid legend. This. Never. Happened.

8. Our lovely (and expensive) Jones Street is the origin of the phrase "Keeping up with the Joneses"

I kind of just want to type a frowny face here and walk away. I know for a fact tour guides out there are still selling this little pork pie to people and I don't understand how they can say it with a straight face. Doesn't it just strain credulity? And sound dumb? Really, really dumb? Also, twenty seconds on Google is all it takes to deflate this myth: Keeping Up with the Joneses was the title of a popular early 20th century comic strip. And no, the guy who wrote that comic strip had never been anywhere near Savannah. I would never spout off this brain dead drivel to a group of tourists for fear someone's smartypants kid would whip out their iPhone, look it up, and prove me wrong on the spot. I can't believe the guides who keep saying it aren't struck by how unlikely it sounds. I can't believe none of them have been shown up by teenagers with phones.

9. People used to stuff their mattresses with Spanish moss, would get eaten up by the chiggers that lived in it, and that's the origin of the saying "Don't let the bedbugs bite"

This is another one that makes me sigh and knot my brow in exasperation. It bothers me not merely because it is factually untrue, but because you don't even have to know the facts to know this doesn't make the tiniest iota of sense. Any tour guide who tells this to a group of tourists is openly insulting their intelligence.

We've already gone over the matter of chiggers in Spanish moss. I could stop there, but I'm not going to because chiggers ≠ bedbugs. Just because "redbug" rhymes with "bedbug" does not mean you can use the words interchangeably. These are two completely different insects. Actually, chiggers aren't even insects, they're classed as arachnids. The last thing these two creatures have in common is their Phylum! The ease with which one can ascertain these two bugs are, indeed, two different bugs is not the only thing about this story that drives me nuts. Even if someone on a tour did not know that chiggers do not live in Spanish moss and even if they did not know for sure that bedbugs have no relation to chiggers, they might dimly perceive the specious nature of this tale due to a vague recollection that bedbugs are, well, everywhere, including places where Spanish moss is not to be found. That includes the Old World before the discovery of the New World (where the offending plant is native).

Why, why do people keep repeating such obviously half-baked and easy to disprove tripe? I expect a lazy person not to bother correcting a mistaken story, but someone had to exert themselves to get this one wrong in the first place. It makes so little sense, I feel sure the guides who tell it must be consciously suppressing their own critical thinking skills in order to force the words out of their mouths. You don't have to, my compatriots. I'm setting you free from this lunacy right now.

Aside from all the inconsistencies regarding the bugs themselves, this legend also rests on the assumption- which seems to be the basis for many historical myths- that our ancestors were dumber than my cat when he gets his head stuck in a jar. Yes, they did use the soft, springy Spanish moss to stuff their mattresses and cushions. In fact, people used to do all kinds of neato peato stuff with Spanish moss which you can read more about here and here. But do you think they were so stupid they didn't know there were critters living in it? They had ways of curing and ginning the stuff to make it usable, people. There may have been regular 'ole bedbugs crawling around in their mossy mattresses (because those things were impossible to get rid of until people started bathing in DDT), but no one at the time ever mistook them for redbugs. And there is no reason we should be making that mistake now.

By the way, you may have noticed a theme appearing here. Any time a tour guide tells you thingamajig in Savannah is the origin of blah-blah world wide colloquialism... just assume it's bullcrap. We've never been such a major player on the international stage that our quaint habits are rewriting the English language.

10. During the yellow fever epidemic of 1876, doctors tried to hide the scale of the disaster by sneaking corpses out of Candler Hospital via secret tunnels and burying them at night in Laurel Grove Cemetery (or possibly Forsyth Park)

All I can do here is raise one eyebrow disdainfully and ask, "Really, ghost tours?"

How is that supposed to have worked, pray tell? In the middle of an epidemic, someone had time to dig tunnels from the old Candler Hospital to Laurel Grove Cemetery a mile away? Without anyone in town noticing? The current hospital building was only completed in 1876. They must have added those long tunnels really fast to be ready for that epidemic! Wouldn't it have been faster, easier, and just as discreet to catapult the bodies across town from the roof of the hospital? Would have been a hell of a lot more fun than lugging putrid corpses around under the city, I tell you what. Why haul them all the way to the cemetery at all? You got this mile-long tunnel handy; just stuff 'em in there, it's the same thing! Now, burying people in Forsyth Park is a pretty nifty alternative except mass graves suddenly appearing in the middle of a large, popular public park would probably blow your cover.

Eeeeuuuuuurrrgh. This trash makes me want to punch all of the faces. Aside from the practical impossibilities, the story of the Candler Hospital tunnels relies on two other fallacious assumptions. 1: Again, all of our ancestors were morons. 19th century Savannahians couldn't count, I guess? Or they were really distractible and kept forgetting how many of their friends and relatives had died? Or they just forgot from year to year that every summer was Yellow Fever Season and someone was for sure going to die? Did people used to interact on the Schrödinger's Cat principle and assume anyone they couldn't see was both alive and dead at the the same time? 'Cuz that's the only logic I can come up with for trying to sneak away the bodies of folks everyone already knew were dead. 2: Overestimating the severity of the epidemic and the degree of panic. As noted before, every summer was Yellow Fever Season and Savannah had 3 major outbreaks under its belt (1796, 1820, 1854) by the time our last big one rolled around in 1876. That's at least one brush with deadly disease per generation. Not to say people were used to it or it wasn't scary for them, but it doesn't qualify as a surprise. And although the yellow fever of 1876 killed the most people in terms of sheer numbers (more than 1,000), it was far less severe than previous epidemics when you consider the mortality rate as a percentage of the total population. So, I know people were freaked out, but they dealt with it.

This logistically insulting, aggravatingly persistent ghost story is a sleazy way to exploit fascination with the very real hospital tunnels that once served a morbid, yet perfectly ordinary purpose. They were morgue tunnels. Just passageways built to connect the main building to the new morgue, all of which were upgrades made to the old 1819 structure in 1876. People die in a hospital and the bodies have to go somewhere and how are you going to keep them cool and prevent rot before the advent of refrigeration? You build your morgue underground, of course. It was a world class facility, in fact, and was even written about and touted in medical journals of the time. Nothing secret or shady about it!

Blatant lies like this, as well as the other fibs and falsehoods I've listed, dismay me badly. It's rude to the people who pay you money in exchange for the truth, first of all. It's also unfair to get paid for work (research) you haven't actually done or that you don't have the skills to interpret usefully. People can often sense when they're being lied to even if they can't tell precisely what's wrong, and having that experience while in Savannah is likely to leave tourists with a bitter taste in their mouths. It will discourage people from coming back to the city if they think every tour company is run by a con man or every guide they meet is some joker who doesn't take their job seriously.

It's a problem I think the City needs to tackle by becoming more active in the licensing process. Right now it's pretty much "take a test, pay some money" and poof! you're a tour guide. Comparably historic cities like New Orleans and Charleston have much more stringent licensing requirements and way more comprehensive tour guide manuals. I think it would be great and would improve the overall caliber of the tourism industry here if the process required prospective guides to enroll in a semester-long course that goes over the material in depth. The time commitment would weed out fly-by-nights and a structured class would promote better retention of the facts and ensure a high baseline of knowledge among employees across all types of tour companies. My hope is that it would also foster respect for History as a discipline. A high-quality work force is most likely to attract high-quality tourists to this area and those are the kind I prefer.

But until the City of Savannah calls me up and asks for my opinion on the matter, the next best thing I can do is empower you, dear tourist, with my knowledge. Now you know the commonest untruths to beware of while you're in town. Use this power wisely. Together we can smack down the jokers!

A good tour is a great high


Boy, I was buzzing for days after the tour I gave on May 10th. It's dorky to admit you love what you do unless what you do is something super cool like working for the Mythbusters, or something beyond comprehension like being Neil DeGrasse Tyson. But I'm here to tell you my name is Bonnie and I love being a tour  guide. If only there were a support group for me! But I do love it! It's not just a matter of showing off my city, either. A good tour is also a good performance, and that satisfies the actor in me. There is a reason almost every actor in this city works as a tour guide at least once in their lives, if only for a season. Not many of them make a career out of it like me, but they all get licensed and put a few tourist dollars in their pockets.

I'm running these public tours now Thursday-Sunday, which can be booked in advance on I've got a morning history tour, an evening ghost tour, and I recently created a drinking tour that I am very proud of. I call it "Lightly Sauced- Raise a Glass to History". The title is pretty spiffy too, if I do say so myself. Now, I hate drunk people and I hate pub crawls. Some tour guides have a gift for conducting pub crawls and really enjoy doing them, but I am not that tour guide. "Lightly Sauced" is not a pub crawl. It is a real history tour, just with a little something extra. My idea was to do a really classy drinking tour that doesn't have the goal of getting everybody drunk. Instead of running around with a crowd of noisy inebriates, the group size is limited (all of three of the tours have limited sizes) and the ticket price covers the cost of all the drinks, food, and tips for the wait staff. As I was putting the whole thing together, I came up with the notion of featuring drinks that have some kind of historical connection to Savannah or at least the Old South.

That wasn't as easy as I thought it would be. I knew I wanted samples of Madeira wine because Madeira was a big deal here back in the 19th century. The Davenport House Museum does a special presentation every February called Potable Gold: Savannah's Madeira Tradition. Now I kinda wish I'd gone to it. Guess I'll have to wait until next year. Surprisingly, the only restaurant I could find that served Madeira was Jazz'd Tapas Bar. Good thing it's a nice place. And since small plates are what they do, it gave me the genius idea of including a snack everyone on the tour could share. The start time is 4:30 and it runs 3 hours; that's well after lunch and a little before dinner. I didn't want everyone staggering around on an empty stomach! Brian, manager of Jazz'd, was spooky like a horse about working with me. I had to reassure him I wasn't a fly-by-night tour poacher (yes, those exist), bound to screw him over either through malice or incompetence. It takes finesse to work all the numbers so the ticket price covers all the costs while also making some money for me. Then there's the logistics of making sure all the restaurateurs get paid and the servers get tipped. I simplified that by opening up a new credit card expressly for this tour so everyone gets paid as I go.

My next thought was to check out the mead bar at Savannah Bee Company. Mead doesn't necessarily have anything to do with this city's history, so that one's kind of a wild card. I just really like Savannah Bee and their manager (also a local singer), Danielle Hicks, was just so enthusiastic about participating. Plus, how often does anybody get to do a mead tasting?

Mint juleps seemed like the next logical inclusion. Ask anyone to name a Southern cocktail and 99% will say "mint julep" first. So, no connection to Savannah, exactly, but decidedly Southern. And I think Margaret Mitchell says something in Gone With the Wind about Scarlet O'Hara drinking a mint julep, and that book is set in Georgia, so that's close enough for me. I was surprised again to find that almost no one in the Historic District serves mint juleps! Some people have told me it's because they're complex and time-consuming to make, so bar tenders don't like them. Understandable, I guess, but a little disappointing. The bar at the 17Hundred90 Inn and Restaurant was my only option, so I'm lucky it's a nice place and the location fell perfectly in line with where I wanted to go.

Lastly, I knew from the beginning I had to include Chatham Artillery Punch. It's the only drink on the list that was actually invented in Savannah and it's a classic. It's also got, like, 6 different liquors in it, so a good one to end on. Wouldn't want to start off that way, right? There are at least 3 restaurants downtown serving this drink, but 2 of them are on River Street and I didn't want to veer that far off-course. It would also be mean to make people navigate the stairs after loading them up with wine, mead, and a cocktail. By process of elimination, then, the bar at The Pirates' House would have to be my final stop. (As an aside- am I a weirdo for being unduly pleased by the restaurant's bold use the plural-possessive in its name and correct placement of the attendant apostrophe? Is that just me?)

So everything worked out quite nicely! I was able to feature the drinks I wanted and all the stops lined up conveniently from west to east, starting near City Market and ending at The Pirates' House. All I had left to do was run a test to check for bugs.

That's where my May 10th tour came in. Some (delightful, wonderful, very helpful) friends joined me at 4:30 in Telfair Square. I was afraid no one would come because my invitation got basically no response, probably because all my friends are poor and I needed a little money from people to pay for the libations. But John, Brenda, Christa, and Tina came to my rescue! Hooray! We had such a great time and I got some very helpful feedback. Here are some pictures I took along the way. Sorry for the crummy iPhone camera quality:

Savannah, GA, Georgia, Lightly Sauced, Jazz'd Tapas Bar, bar, madeira, wine, friends

Raise your glasses, guys! And here's a close-up of the Madeira with Jazz'd's (oh God, too many apostrophes now) delicious Baked Cheese Terra Cotta plate:

Savannah, GA, Georgia, Lightly Sauced, Jazz'd Tapas Bar, bar, madeira, wine, baked cheese terra cotta plate

The mead at Savannah Bee was much appreciated and I found out it was the first time John and Brenda had ever been in the store. They'd been walking past it for years and just hadn't gotten around to shopping there. It is a shame not to shop at Savannah Bee!

Savannah, GA, Georgia, Lightly Sauced, Savannah Bee Company, mead bar, mead

Here is our bartender hard at work crushing the mint for the juleps at the 17Hundred90. He's told me his name on two different occasions and I am ashamed to have forgotten it both times.

Savannah, GA, Georgia, Lightly Sauced, 17Hundred90 Inn and Restaurant, bar, mint julep

I was a little nervous because John is something of a mint julep connoisseur. He makes his own each year for the Kentucky Derby. What would I do if he told me the drink was lousy? I couldn't get it anywhere else, but I wouldn't want tourists to drink crappy liquor. Happily, John informed me the mint julep met his standard. These drinks all have Bonnie's Friends Seal of Approval. That was my other motivation for the test-run: I needed people who regularly drink alcohol to vet the booze for me. I hate the taste of alcohol and I don't drink, so I have no basis for comparison. I overcame my lack of qualification for this tour by delegating the tasting responsibility to my willing guinea pigs.

Savannah, GA, Georgia, Lightly Sauced, Columbia Square, mint julep

So, last stop was The Pirates' House and that was a trip! Our bartender was the a woman named Avery, the self-appointed all-mighty Keeper of the Punch. Seriously, she will cut you if you screw with her Chatham Artillery Punch.

Piates' House, Savannah, GA, Georgia, Chatham Artillery Punch, bar, Lightly Sauced

Avery likes her job. She likes her job a lot. And by the time John, Brenda, Christa, and Tina got to the bar, they liked her job a lot too. I checked in with the group and they all assured me they were not drunk (isn't that what drunk people always say?), but very pleasantly buzzed. I hung around for a while until I had to get set for a ghost tour and polled everyone for feedback about their experience. The one significant change I made, at my friends' insistence, was increasing the duration from 2 1/2 to 3 hours. I agreed with them it would set a better pace. If you do the tour and you think it's too long, you can blame my buddies. It's their fault. They really lobbied hard for the longer run time.

So if you want to have as much fun as John, Brenda, Christa, and Tina while staying mostly (or moderately) sober and learning some stuff about Savannah, or if you want to impress your friends and family by scheduling a really special experience for them, come with me and get "lightly sauced"!

Bonnie Terrell, Savannah, GA, Georgia, Chatham Artillery Punch, Pirates' House, Lightly Sauced

Savannah Scenes # 3: Savannah

Ok, I've really got to pick up the pace on this project now because I'm developing a backlog of movies. The library had The Conspirator ready for me sooner than I expected, Netflix got CBGB here faster than I expected, and I still haven't watched my friend Nathanael's copy of Forces of Nature after holding it hostage for 3 months. (Sorry, Nathanael!) Now I've got plans to watch CBGB on Tuesday with my movie-and-punk-music aficionado friend, Jim. If I don't tear through this review of Savannah now, I'll start getting details mixed up, like thinking Joey Ramone was a duck hunter or something. ...God, that's a fabulous image. Savannah was filmed here in 2011 by Unclaimed Freight Productions, a very busy local studio which is also responsible for the afore-mentioned CBGB and a soon-to-be-made Gregg Allman biopic. It's based on a book called Ward Allen: Savannah Market Hunter, by Jack Cay. It's the true story of Ward Allen, a local aristocrat born and raised for the genteel lifestyle who told everyone to suck his decoys and became a duck hunter instead. He continually battled local bureaucracy for his right and the rights of other hunters to shoot and hunt along the Savannah River and sell their haul to local hotels and other businesses. Oh, and his best buddy was a black guy. In the Jim Crow south. If you're interested, here are a couple of Savannah Morning News articles about the movie, one from February 2011 and the other after a screening in March of 2012.

I remember when they were filming this three years ago. I think every actor and extra in town was involved one way or another. I have to hand it to Unclaimed Freight- they pulled in some A-list talent for this low-budget flick about a guy hardly anyone in Savannah, and no one outside of Savannah, has ever heard of. Jim Caviezel (Jesus himself!) played Ward Allen. Jaimie Alexander, now famous for playing Sif in the Thor movies, portrayed his wife Lucy. I think the frosting on this celebrity cake, though, is Chiwetel Ejiofor. He plays Ward Allen's hunting buddy Christmas Moultrie. Probably not a lot of people knew (or could pronounce) his name in 2011. But now that Ejiofor is bound to be carried out of the Academy Awards under a pile of glittering Oscars for his work in 12 Years a Slave, we can all be retroactively proud that he made a movie here first. There was also Hal Holbrook, looking like he had a great time playing a sympathetic judge. Holbrook, of course, is better than A-list- he's legendary.

So, how do I think this low-budget period piece fared? And did it make good use of our fair city? Um... well... it certainly had its good points and its... not so good points. Let's rip off the band-aid and go straight to one thing that did NOT work:

Savannah, Christmas Moultrie, Chiwetel Ejiofor

Oh, hey, an unexpected bonus: I learned that if I use the PrintScreen function while watching a movie on this computer, it will automatically save a screen capture to the Dropbox folder! Anyway, back to the point I intended to make here. OH DEAR GOD WHAT IS THAT? Movie making and theatre are both very dependent on illusion. You, Unclaimed Freight, were trying to create the illusion of a luxurious and well-funded period piece. While I admire your ambition and your general ingenuity on display throughout the film, this is a moment that makes your limits painfully, terrifyingly obvious. When the only old man makeup you can afford comes out of a jar labelled "Uncanny Valley Nightmare Cream," you should have the good sense to avoid close ups. Shoot him from behind or in silhouette or hire an actual old guy to stand in for Chiwetel Ejiofor, anything but this!

Ok, now that's out of the way, let's move on to recognizable locations. First up, it's

First Baptist Church, Savannah

First Baptist Church pretending to be a courthouse! The church was built in the 1830s in the Greek Revival style, which was very typical at that time. I have had people on my tours comment that Christ Church, also from the same time period and of the same style, looks like a courthouse, so I'm not surprised the production team felt this one did too. I read in one of the newspaper articles about Savannah that they shot the interiors in an actual historic courthouse in Effingham County.

Lucy, Savannah, Chippewa Square

A lot of the in-town scenes were done around Chippewa Square for some reason. Here is Ward Allen's eventual wife, Lucy, crouched in the square with his dog. You can see the pedestal of the Oglethorpe monument there just left of center.

Perry St., Savannah

Here is Ward Allen coming to deliver freshly shot fowl to Lucy's house (romantic?) on Perry Street, which, again, is right alongside Chippewa Square.

Savannah, Jim Caviezel, Perry St.

I must pause to point out one little detail that drove me nuts. See that sort of small beige box on the door frame to the right of Ward Allen's elbow? Yeah, I'm pretty sure this house actually has an intercom or something right there. I meant to go have a look myself, but never got around to it. It drives me crazy that the production team just, I don't know, stuck a box over it? It doesn't look like something that belongs there in 1918, it looks like something that's being covered up. They couldn't use a plant or swing the camera around and shoot from the other direction or something? Argh!

Savannah, Harper-Fowlkes House

Also very close to Chippewa Square is the Harper-Fowlkes House (I'd recognize that back porch anywhere!), which served as the duck market (duck monger's?). I must say, that is a very, very clean and sparsely populated open-air market. That was another small problem I had with this movie: it feels a little bit sterile and a little bit empty. I'm sure it's because they could only afford to hire and costume so many extras and there's a limit to how much dirt you can truck in to cover the street when you've only got a $1 million budget. Oh, speaking of dirt!

Savannah, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Bull St.

I often tell my tourists it's so easy to shoot a period film here. You just get rid of the parking meters and cover the street in dirt and you're in business! Unclaimed Freight clearly operates under the same philosophy. This is a shot of Christmas Moultrie with the camera pointing out from behind the columns of First Baptist Courthou- I mean Church. As is the norm, they hid the asphalt with a tractor load of soil and mulch. And how fortunate most of the sidewalks downtown are herringbone brick and not concrete. I am a little insulted, however. Savannah is not so backward that we were still putting up with dirt roads after WWI. The major streets at the very least, like Bull Street there, had already been paved in brick for a few decades. Hmph.

Aside from places, I was able to spot a few people I recognized as well. Here we have Savannah's favorite ice cream man, Stratton Leopold!

Stratton Leopold, Savannah

Stratton Leopold is the owner of Leopold's Ice Cream, which has been in business since 1919, never mind a three decade hiatus. He is also a successful movie producer, so seeing him in front of the camera took me by surprise. He only has a brief scene near the end in one of Christmas Moultrie's flashbacks.

Then I got to see a much closer acquaintance of mine, or at least he is since I was in Our Town at Asbury Methodist in November:

Billy Hester, Savannah

It's the Reverend Billy Hester! He runs Asbury Memorial United Methodist Church, which also has a killer theatre program. Performing in Our Town there was one of the things that distracted me through the fall and kept me from blogging for such a long time. Billy and his wife Cheri do, in fact, have professional acting resumes. Cheri was also in Our Town. I played Mrs. Gibbs and she played my neighbor Mrs. Webb. She told me a little bit about living in New York many years ago and how she used to be a hand model there for a little while. She said that was a really weird job. I think we got on that topic because I complimented her manicure. Anyway, later on she was telling some of us about Billy's involvement in Savannah and that she was kind of annoyed he ended up in this costume here-

Billy Hester, Savannah

-without any on-screen explanation. So why is Billy wearing Wickham's coat from Pride & Prejudice?

Wickham, Pride and Prejudice, 2005

According to Cheri, poor Billy is the foolish-looking victim of the editing process. There was a scene that ended up on the cutting room floor in which a bunch of these guys are involved in some kind of historical reenactment. Probably Civil War something, but I can't remember now. So, Billy's just stuck there in his last scene looking like he raided his great grandpa's steamer trunk long before Macklemore made that sort of thing trendy.

At this point, I have to give credit where it's due and show you where, I think, most of the budget went.

Savannah, marsh, aerial


Savannah, marsh, aerial

Savannah, marsh, aerial

Savannah, marsh, aerial

Savannah, marsh, aerial

I don't know how much these wheeling aerial shots cost, but I'm guessing "nearly all of the money". At first, seeing the camera swoop over the marsh every few minutes annoyed me because I thought it was gratuitous, if attractive, padding. Then I realized, "Oh, duh, Ward Allen is a duck hunter. This is the perspective of a bird in flight." Once I got it, I really appreciated these moments for their cinematic beauty and atmospheric serenity. Also, the music was really good. Then the movie had to go and vaporize my good will with one of the very last shots:


Jim Caviezel, Savannah, greenscreen

Seriously?! You've been spoiling me for nearly two hours with graceful visuals and now you offend my eyeballs with this obvious and heinous green screen? Not even Jim Caviezel is pretty enough to make up for it!

Ok, so, I would not call Savannah a failure, but it had some pretty serious shortcomings. Most of the problems are with the writing, honestly. I applaud Unclaimed Freight for choosing to make a movie about a local hero in a small(ish) city embroiled in conflicts that hardly anyone alive now can appreciate. The thing about trying to turn an extremely localized story into a successful movie is you have to find some way to universalize it, even for Savannahians like me. I didn't know a thing about Ward Allen or why he might be interesting. I still feel like I'm waiting for some kind of punchline. There were a lot of ways to tell Ward Allen's story, but this movie felt like it was trying to tell it in all directions at once. There were many themes to choose from and I really wish the writer and director had chosen one, maybe two, and developed that more fully. Is this a love story between Ward Allen and Lucy? Is it a story of stalwart devotion between a black man and white man in the racist turn-of-the-century South? Is it about a man who eschews society's expectations and chooses wildness over civility? Is it about a vanishing way of life? Sadly, Savannah tried to cover all these things, which left the finished product feeling rather shallow.

I had some problems with the structure too. Framing it as a flashback from Jack Cay's perspective is kind of ok, since the movie is based on his book. The problem there is that Ward Allen was dead long before Jack Cay came along, so Cay's recollections are actually stories that were told to him by Allen's pal, Christmas Moultrie. That mean's Cay's flashbacks are actually someone else's flashbacks. And then the characters experience flashbacks of their own within those flashbacks! It's disorienting and, frankly, sloppy. If you are not Christopher Nolan, you probably should not be creating a world with that many levels. I understand the desire to make sure Jack Cay had some kind of presence in the film, but perhaps it would have been better from a storytelling perspective to streamline things and let Christmas Moultrie alone tell it from his perspective. At any rate, no more flashbacks within flashbacks within flashbacks, ok? And certainly not from multiple points of view.

I'm a little undecided about the acting, particularly Jim Caviezel. I read a critic's assertion somewhere that Caviezel was the only actor in Hollywood who could underplay while still overacting. It made me giggle and it may be correct. I enjoy watching him play Mr. Reese on Person of Interest, but I really watch that show for Michael Emerson. Seeing Caviezel in Savannah didn't really sway me one way or another, though. Jaimie Alexander had little enough to do in this movie, really. Lucy is a character that comes in strong already and never really grows from there. I guess it's forgivable since this movie wasn't about her. I found Chiwetel Ejiofor's Christmas Moultrie to be the most relatable and real person in the film, though there wasn't nearly enough of him. Why would you put a talent like Ejiofor in your movie and then hardly give him anything to do? Part of the problem was that Ejiofor came across so easy and natural and it made everybody else look like they were acting. Also, there were the accents. I've gone over this already and yes, the dreaded Hollywood Southern was in full, ear-bleeding force here. Poor Jaimie Alexander came off especially bad. How can that be when she was born and raised in the South?! Then again, it's happened before: see Julia Roberts in Steel Magnolias. Chiwetel Ejiofor sounded most natural to me and he's English! Same deal in 12 Years a Slave, which featured two other English actors as Southern plantation owners. Why are English actors so much better at this than American actors?

There you have my thoughts on Savannah. Worth watching? I guess if you're a completest (like me). It's fun picking out people and places I recognize. But if you don't live here it may not stand up too well on its own merits. If you like watching Jim Caviezel pretend to be uproariously drunk a whole lot, though- go for it!

Savannah Scenes #2: Glory

Glory 6

Ok, let's just gloss over the fact I have neglected this blog way, way too long (Look, I was in a show, then it was the holidays, and we also had to move my unwell grandma up here from Florida- my neglect is completely legitimate!) and pick up right where I left off. Luckily for me, being on a budget as I am, the library system here has many locally shot movies available for free. I watched Glory months ago and I've got another DVD sitting on the shelf that's due soon, so I need to get this post taken care of and move on to the next one.

Glory came out in 1989 and it's about the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, the Federal army's first all-black regiment. We're talking about the Civil War, of course. This regiment was perhaps obscure to most (white) Americans before 1989, but we live in a post-Glory world now, so you better be ashamed of your ignorance if you don't already know what I'm talking about. Much of the story's first half, training the soldiers and whatnot, is set in Massachusetts, whereas the second half, the attack, is set in South Carolina. Exactly none of the movie was shot in either one of those places. It was all shot here, near here, and down the Georgia coast.

A lot of the scenery is in some random field or woods or marsh that could be anyplace nearby, but several locations were easily recognizable to me. After the opening battle sequence, things slow down for a minute and you see all these Federal bigwigs hobnobbing inside some fancy, fancy house. Then, Matthew Broderick (as Robert Gould Shaw, the 54th's newly appointed commander) steps outside the front door and has a chat with Carey Elwes while leaning against the front gate of the house.

Mercer-Williams House, Savannah, Georgia, Mercer House

Oh, hi, Mercer-Williams House! Yeah, they used it for the interior as well as exterior shots. I knew that, yet I had kinda forgotten and it caught me by surprise for a moment. Now, some of you undoubtedly know this was the infamous residence of Jim Williams, the Savannah socialite forever immortalized in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Speaking of which, I guess I'll have to cover that one too eventually. Anyway, Williams was still alive and living at the house during the shoot. I can't remember if he had finally been acquitted of murdering Danny Hanson yet or if he was still tied up with his fourth trial. I could check THE BOOK I suppose, but I just don't feel like it. Hey, this is a blog, not an essay. Go find yourself a Grad student if you want real work.

I had a family of five for a tour recently and mentioned the movie to them when we walked by the house. One of the guys was a fan of Glory and was so pleased when I told him it had been shot here in Savannah. He had no idea. (I guess he never bothered to watch any of the extras on the DVD?) I snatched that pic up there from Flickr just so you'd know which house I was talking about. I found screen captures online for several of the other locations I'll mention, but simply could not find that one scene with Broderick in front of the Mercer House! I don't know what the deal is with that.

So then the action moves to Jones Street for a minute or two where the new recruits are signing up:

Glory, recruits, Jones Street, Savannah, Georgia

I think that's the block between Whitaker and Barnard. Remember now, this is all supposed to be in Massachusetts. It's great how Savannah can dress up as pretty much any 19th century American city. It's definitely way cheaper than filming in Boston and way warmer when you're shooting in February and March (like these guys). I often tell people on my tours all you have to do to film a period piece here is remove the parking meters, cover the street in dirt and poof! Unclaimed Freight Productions turned that formula on its head, though, when they filmed CBGB here in 2012. Don't worry Punk fans- I'll get to that one later!

So, the next location to catch my eye was the training ground for the new recruits of the 54th Mass. Their barracks was our roundhouse:

54th Mass., Glory, Savannah, Georgia, Roundhouse Railroad Museum

I am ashamed to admit this, but I have never visited the Georgia State Railroad Museum. I know, I know! Shut up. It's on my to-do list. I did attend a friend's wedding there a few years ago. According to the Coastal Heritage Society  the "Georgia State Railroad Museum is believed to be the largest and most complete antebellum railroad repair facility still in existence, in the world!" You can tell they're very excited about that. So, if trains are your thing, you'll be glad to know this place is just a couple blocks west of the Historic District, right down Louisville Rd. Even though I haven't toured the place (yes, I know- shame!), I still knew exactly what I was looking at because of the distinctive, massively recognizable round smoke stack you see in the middle there. I watched the DVD's commentary track and the director said the point of setting the barracks there was to emphasize the built-up and industrial nature of the North so it would contrast with the later scenes that take place the pastoral South.

Most of the good stuff develops in this camp. You know, it occurs to me how gutsy it is to make a Civil War movie that sets most of its action far away from the battlefield. But Glory isn't so much about fighting, it's more about becoming. Robert Gould Shaw starts off as a privileged, though diffident, gentleman and transforms into a real commander. The black men he commands go on different journeys. Thomas (Andre Braugher) learns to be a fighter, Trip (Denzel Washington) learns to stop picking fights all the time, and Morgan Freeman, um... ok, not sure on that one. He's a mentor... which he is in every movie. Well, if I owned a copy of that DVD and could watch it again, I'm sure I'd pick up on something. And the white folks all around them, um, a few of them learn to be ever so slightly less racist. A tiny bit. Keep in mind I'm talking about the movie here. I know that in reality probably nobody involved with the 54th Mass. was anywhere near so lovable. It all made for good cinema, though.

Moving on to the last location shot I want to point out:

Glory, Savannah, Georgia, River Street

Look, it's River Street! But where's the river? Since when does River Street have two sides? What black magic is this?!

I remember another tour guide (Who was it? Was it Don?) telling me about this. To shoot the scene where the army parades down a street in Boston, the production team did up the buildings on one side of River Street, then built a facade of completely fake buildings down the other side. They did a bang-up job. I had to stare at this scene pretty hard before I could spot anything I recognized. In this screencap, you can easily make out the dome of our City Hall right in the back. I don't think that's architecturally appropriate to the mid-19th century, but I bet the filmmakers shrugged and figured nobody would be looking at that anyway. Movie makers do that a lot, actually. It's funny how often they're right. In one shot of this scene, I think I also juuuuuuust made out the edge of the Hyatt behind Matthew Broderick's head during a close-up. Ah, sometimes an inch of framing is all that separates the 1860s from the 1960s.

There was shooting in other nearby locations, but nothing especially recognizable. One salt marsh or woodland looks much like another. The last part, where they attack the fort, was done on Jekyll Island, about 1 1/2 hours down the coast. I really need to get my act together and visit Jekyll Island too. That's another thing on my to-do list.

So, my opinion of Glory? I liked it more than I thought I would. I don't usually care much for war movies and I'm always bored to tears by the Civil War (bad Southerner!). I was afraid at the beginning this was going to be one of those movies that's ostensibly about black people, then the whole story is told from the perspective of some white main character. Hollywood reduces black people (or other minorities) to second-class status within their own narrative all the time because it makes the head honchos feel safer about their investment.  It looks like I was mistaken, though. It did feel like a movie about the 54th Massachusetts Infantry and not about Robert Gould Shaw. I know Matthew Broderick got top billing (and that was probably a marketing strategy), but it was much more of an A-list ensemble piece. Glory shows up pretty well if you do a race-centric version of the Bechdel test on it: 1) it has at least two named black characters in it, 2) who talk to each other, 3) about something besides the white characters.

All in all, Glory is a classic Savannahians can be proud of the city's involvement in. But I'm not getting too comfortable. I know I've got a whole lot of bad-to-mediocre movies coming at me. Stay tuned....

Savannah Scenes #1: Cape Fear (1962)

Forsyth Park

This seems like a good opportunity to initiate a little project I've been thinking about for a while. I'm gonna round up every movie I can get my hands on that was shot in Savannah and write about them! I bet you've watched all kinds of movies that were shot here and you didn't even know. I mean, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is kind of a giveaway, but how about Glory (which I haven't seen) or Something to Talk About (which I... also haven't seen) or The Last Song (which I'm not looking forward to seeing)? Not to mention the just-released independent film Savannah, starring Jim Caviezel, and the to-be released on October 11th CBGB with Alan Rickman! Ok, I guess it's a no-brainer a movie called Savannah would be shot here, but CBGB is about that club in New York. Savannah substituted for 1970s New York City in a movie about the birthplace of punk rock! That is hilarious and how would you ever have guessed if I didn't tell you? This project may morph into a movie-centric walking tour. There's only one movie tour in town and that's Savannah Movie Tours. I suppose I could ride along with them to snag some material, but I don't want to poach their stuff. Besides, Georgia's decade-long film making dry spell ended in about 2010 when the legislature finally put together a real sweet incentives package to lure filming back here. Worked like magic and now there are all sorts of new movie stories to assemble. I know several actors in town who have had small speaking parts in various movies or who got to be extras. I'm sure I can round up some good stuff. Hell, I was an extra myself in an episode of Ruby several years back. If you ever watched that show, by the way, my dad is a mailman and delivers the mail to her house.

So, I begin my new adventure with a silver screen classic: Cape Fear, the 1962 original starring Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum. I became aware of this movie last summer when SCAD's Cinema Circle screened it at the Trustees Theater. I really wanted to go because Connect Savannah did a very nice write up about it and mentioned much of the movie was shot in Savannah. Robert Mitchum was even arrested for real in this town and put on a Georgia chain gang when he was about 14. Reportedly, he was not very happy to come back to Savannah for filming. I missed the show because of work or something and have been meaning to rent a copy ever since. How lucky I am it popped up under the Free Movies heading in Comcast On Demand!

I had a great time watching it last week. It was such a surprise to see the Universal International logo, then BAM! there was the Gordon monument in the middle of Wright Square:

Cape Fear, Gordon Monument, Wright Square, 1962

Yeah, I used my iPhone to snap pictures of the screen. There was probably a slicker way to get these images, but oh well. Technology fail, yeah!

Then POOF! there was the Customs House and Bay Street (and Robert Mitchum prancing through traffic like a total fool, a very dangerous thing to do on Bay Street today).

City Hall, Cape Fear, 1962, Robert Mitchum

Then Mitchum went sailing right inside the front door of City Hall. They used the actual interior of City Hall too. God, the set designer had the easiest job in the world for the first half of this movie. That old elevator shaft on Mitchum's right is still there and still looks just like that and they still use the damn thing:

Cape Fear, 1962, Savannah City Hall interior

For Mitchum's first ominous encounter with Gregory Peck, when he reaches in the window and snatches the keys out of his car, all that was done in a Bay Street parking lot just east of City Hall in front of the Cotton Exchange. Don't worry, I don't have any cheesy pictures of that. I was puzzled for a little while, though, by this shot right here:

Boar's Head, Cape Fear, 1962, Savannah

It's implied that's a restaurant in town, close to the docks. There is, in fact, a restaurant on River Street called The Boar's Head Grill and Tavern, but there's no way this shot could have been done anywhere near there. You would never see exposed shore and waves washing up anywhere along the waterfront. If you do, that means you've gotten your stupid self caught here in the middle of a hurricane. I had to review these few seconds a couple of times to convince myself this was a fake. It looks so much like the actual Boar's Head and yet not quite. The real Boar's Head says on their website they originally opened up in 1959. I wonder if someone saw that restaurant and decided to recreate the exterior in a more preferable location. The interiors were certainly done on a sound stage.

Later on in the movie, we have a clear view of the old Armstrong House, which is supposed to be the girls' school Gregory Peck's daughter attends:

Armstrong House, Cape Fear, 1962, Savannah

That's it there on the left. I only just now remembered Armstrong Junior College (Armstrong Atlantic State University these days) didn't leave that location and move to the south side until 1965. I'm so accustomed to walking by that house and knowing it's been a law firm for decades, it feels weird to look at it and know it was still a college at the time.

Just as Gregory Peck's movie daughter is getting out of school, we get these shots of Robert Mitchum-

Forsyth Park, fountain, Savannah, Cape Fear, 1962

Robert Mitchum, Forsyth Park, Savannah, Cape Fear, 1962

-striding through Forsyth Park as sinisterly as a man can stride anywhere. Of course our signature fountain had to be in this movie somewhere. I'm beginning to wonder if that's a legal requirement for every movie that shoots in this town.

Those are most of the recognizable bits that caught my eye. I'm pretty sure the Bowden family home (Gregory Peck's character) was also somewhere around here, but I didn't recognize it. Looked like it might be on Skidaway Island or something. If I owned a DVD of this movie with a commentary track, maybe it would say. Oh yeah, and some of the shots on the beach looked like they were actually done around the Tybee Pier. I don't know about the marina scenes when Peck first takes a swing at Mitchum, but one marina looks much like another to me. I guess they probably shot the cypress swamp/river scenes around here too. They would only have to drive a few miles outside of town to put in boats at the Ogeechee. All the finale with the houseboat and everything was clearly done on a sound stage back in L.A. A very well-built one, but still a sound stage.

So, my thoughts on the experience of watching Cape Fear? It blew my mind how much downtown Savannah still looks just the same. I did spot a few background items, the facades of which have since been restored, or buildings I know were torn down later in the 60s or 70s. But really, it looked to me like someone parked a bunch of vintage cars on the street, stocked up on some black and white film, and rolled camera. That movie could have been shot yesterday. As for the movie itself, the script is tight and tense, it tackles uncomfortable subject matter without being salacious about it, all the actors hit the right pitch, and all of the characters are well-developed and smart. Thrillers these days have an awful tendency to feature characters who compound their difficulties by making obviously stupid decisions. What I love about Cape Fear is that the good guys get deeper and deeper in trouble in spite of making all the right decisions. I think this movie is a noir masterpiece and it makes me proud to know it was shot here.

If you are a Cape Fear fan, as I now am, why sit at home and admire the setting from afar? Schedule a trip down here and take a walk with me in the very footsteps of Robert Mitchum and Gregory Peck! I promise not to drown you, shoot you, or hit you in the head with a rock.

And then they came for my house museums....

The neighbors are at it again. Tour guides and tour company owners like myself have already spent more than a year dodging the choler lobbed at us by Historic District residents. Looks like the house museums are up next. Guess it's their turn. I don't mind the reprieve, frankly. I'm being a little unfair, I know. The downtown residents are often my ideological allies, such as when they furiously defended their turf against the encroachment of double-decker tour buses. That prevented a massively stupid development, utterly inappropriate to this setting, while also eliminating another potential competitor for me. Denizens of downtown also vocally opposed the possibility of a cruise ship terminal along our waterfront, which probably would have been no less disastrous for us than it has been for Charleston. I do think City Council would have reached that conclusion on their own, but it's still nice to know someone's got an eye on them. I love Savannah too and find comfort knowing it is inhabited by these legionnaires of legality who will leap to the city's defense at the tiniest provocation and save me the trouble of rattling my own saber. (I don't have one.)

Sometimes my allies become my enemies, though, as a result of our differing requirements: I use the Historic District to earn a living and they use it to live in. While tour operators sometimes make the mistake of dismissing residents' needs or simply having no manners while on the job, downtown residents sometimes make the mistake of being peevishly possessive and misdirected in their ire, which has led to the present kerfuffle with the house museums.

The Savannah Morning News ran this article, "Issues arise with historic home," on July 17. The follow-up ran in Sunday's paper: "Museum operators wary of potential ordinance change". Basically, it's been all party-party at the Harper-Fowlkes House over on Orleans Square for two years and the people who live nearby are "fed up" (as the two articles repeatedly state). They got the City onto it and the Harper-Fowlkes House Trustees were cited for breaking the Savannah Zoning Ordinance. As it turns out, it is illegal for the museums to lease themselves out for private events because they do not count as "assembly halls" under the definition spelled out in the ordinance, which dates from 1960. The first article cites Metropolitan Planning Commission staffers calling it an "error... of omission". It also says that nobody ever enforced the prohibition except when there were complaints.

Ok, let's deal with the legal issues on this one first, then I'll get into the financial problems. The people living near the Harper-Fowlkes House or any other museum have every right to be annoyed when that venue hosts disruptive events. However, I think the neighbors on Orleans Square are mistaken in coming down so hard on the Harper-Fowlkes House Trustees, which were guilty only of rudeness and amended their booking practices in February. The real problems here are 1) the City's failure to update a 53 year old ordinance that was written at a time when no sane person would want to have a wedding or party of any sort in downtown Savannah and 2) the City's failure to enforce it's own crap rules until somebody compels them to do so. Lackadaisical enforcement of existing ordinances is also a problem in the tourism industry. Along that line, Adam Van Brimmer (the columnist) pointed out in Sunday's article that use of the Charles Morris Center in Trustees Garden for special events is also illegal under the current rules. Charles Morris developed that area expressly for the purpose of hosting special events! Did no one review the paperwork when he was building it? I mean, there is a ton of permitting and bureaucratic hoop-jumping involved in restoration and new construction and nobody at the City realized, "Hey wait a minute- this compound's very reason for existing is illegal"? Seriously? And house museums all over the Historic District have been hosting weddings and receptions with no complaints for years. I don't think any of the curators even knew it was illegal (or at least none are copping to it), and who can blame them if the City has never enforced this law before? So, neighbors of the Harper-Fowlkes House, while it was wrong of the museum to ignore your initial complaints, the real problem here is that we are all saddled with a dumb and outdated ordinance and the City has no desire to enforce it anyway.

Your grievances having been acknowledged, what is it you want, downtown neighbors? The Harper-Fowlkes House made the initial mistake of setting few restrictions on event hours and noise, probably because they lacked experience handling that kind of thing. The proposed amendment to the ordinance which is under consideration now would set hours for music, delivery and breakdown of equipment, and require each historic property to petition the Zoning Board of Appeals for every event. That sounds alright to me, but the attorney representing the spurned inhabitants of Perry Street is quoted as saying it "doesn't protect the neighbors" without any elaboration. That was in the first article, but the second one provides no further clarification. What is that supposed to mean? And is the lawyer actually being vague or is this just a case of bad reporting? Because I really have no idea what the problem is and it makes the people involved seem vindictive and childish.

I have no doubt some of the aggrieved individuals are making their gripe without having a proper idea of how the museums function and what they require in order to keep functioning. Tour guides have encountered the same problem- people making counter productive proposals because they don't know how the industry works. One of the neighbor ladies is quoted as saying, about the Harper-Fowlkes House, "The house that once had been a hallowed hall became a setting for loud, even raucous parties in the courtyard." First of all, I hate when I hear tired old phrases like "hallowed hall." Almost nothing we now think of as a "hallowed hall" ever actually was, much less a building that used to be somebody's house. People lived in there. And let me tell you, no one knows how to party like 19th-century high-society! The underwear was crotchless and all the drugs were legal, so you just work that equation out on your own. But that misperception is a minor personal peeve and has nothing to do with this legal conflict, really.

Time to talk about money. The perilous thing about this quarrel is it endangers a vital revenue stream for local museums. Where do people think the money comes from to maintain these houses? The people who own historic property downtown must have an idea how much their homes cost them. I would expect them to have more sympathy for curators who have to magic up the money to maintain large houses and gardens while also minimizing the compounding damage from thousands of visitors tramping through every year. I'll bet you a dollar at least some of the angry neighbors who started this legal action assume museums are able to cover their costs with only admission fees and the money they get from hosting weddings and stuff is just "extra". Luckily, the article from August 4th cited some real numbers to combat that impression: the Harper-Fowlkes House made $90,000 off rentals last year, but still faces a $70,000 shortfall this year; rentals make up 5% of the Davenport House's revenue; and the Telfair Museum stages 50 external events a year that subsidize 150 educational programs it presents all year long. Several other museums in town are considering renting themselves out for special occasions because they need the money, so a lot of people have their eye on how City Council updates the ordinance.

So, I hope City Council comes through on this one (they get things right sometimes) and works up a satisfactory amendment. They've already gotten off to a blazing start by... postponing action for another six weeks. Well... the slower they move, the easier it is to catch them before they do something stupid.

In sickness and in health

Why is it when I really want some more business, there are no tourists to be found and when I really, really wish everyone would go away and leave me alone, tourists from near and far suddenly start burning up my cell phone minutes? Convenient timing is never an option when you're self-employed, is it? Let me back up. It all began, I'm pretty sure, on May 29th. I had a couple of people for a ghost tour and began to notice partway through I was having a little trouble speaking. As in, I had slight difficulty getting air to make noise as it exited my mouth. Whatever. I shrugged it off. The next day, I had one tour in the morning, then two tours in a row later on. The later tours were both with the same ladies- a history tour first, then a ghost tour. They had Living Social vouchers to redeem. Now, by the time I got around to meeting those two ladies late in the afternoon, I knew I was not entirely well. I felt perfectly fine, but my throat had become increasingly sore and my voice distressingly insubstantial. By the time I got home that night, I was swallowing razor blades and could barely even drink anything. I forswore speech in the hope all would be well the next morning. No small talk with the cats, no blathering to myself like a lunatic. Complete nun-like silence.

The pain had dissipated by morning, but I still kept my mouth shut because I had a large tour scheduled for that evening and was doing my best to save my voice. This was no ordinary tour: my friend Christa and I had been planning it for a while. Christa is the webmistress for the local branch of this group I hang with called No Kidding. It's a social group for people who don't have kids. Anyway, she had asked me months beforehand if I would like to conduct a ghost tour for No Kidding and I thought it would be fun. I did a history tour with much of the local gang last year. Since I have a policy of not making repeat customers pay when they bring new people, I knew that would complicate things this time around. How could I remember who had done it before and who hadn't? And most of the group was bound to be repeats anyway. So, I had the brilliant idea to do the tour for free, but in exchange for tips and, most importantly, online reviews. Christa sent the word out via Evite, but that got only a tepid response, so I expanded the circle and created an invitation on Facebook as well. I think I sent it to around 80 people. I knew, of course, only perhaps 30 would respond at all, maybe 18 would plan to come, and at least a few of those would flake out. So, I was not worried at all about having too large a crowd. There you have my plan for Friday, May 31st: meet group of friends and acquaintances at 8pm in Johnson Square, deliver 90-minute ghost tour, rake in tips, beg for internet reviews. I knew a bunch of people were coming, I knew some of them were bringing friends and had kind of planned their night around it; it was important to me not to pull the plug on the whole thing since rescheduling and getting everyone to commit again would be impossible.


My mom called late Friday morning and I answered my phone. Imagine my horror, my utter dismay, when I found I could not speak! I could barely make any noise at all! Poor Mom on the other end of the line said, "Are you there? I can't hear you" a couple of times before I was able to make her understand me. It doesn't help that my cell phone typically gets poor reception inside my apartment, so she probably thought it was a technical malfunction at first. It wasn't until she actually said, "Oh, you have laryngitis" that I thought, "Oh God, I do have laryngitis!" Noooooooooooo! I earn my living talking to people! How could this have happened? I've had my voice get a little tired and my throat a get little sore after putting in a long day, but never anything this catastrophic! And just when I had tours on my book through the weekend!

I put a notice on Facebook about my predicament, but let everyone know we would go ahead as planned. 8pm rolled around and I was all set in Johnson Square. I ended up with a nicely sized group of 17 people. By the time we began, I was able to make an unattractive squawking noise and form it into word sounds. I told everyone they had to stand real close and listen real hard. If it had to be that way, I'm glad it was with people I knew and who would be sympathetic.We had a good time, but I was glad when it was over. At least my ploy worked. I did well on tips and racked up a few new reviews on TripAdvisor and on my Google listing. Kyle at the Small Business Development Center tells me Google likes to show you off in the search results more if you've got reviews with them. Sure thing, Google. Whatever it takes. Some generous souls even added reviews to my listing on Yelp.

I was supposed to do another ghost tour at 10, but had broken down and asked those people if we could move it to the same time the following night. They kindly agreed, which was such a relief to me. (As it turned out, I still wasn't in very good shape the next night, but oh well.) I almost never ask people to reschedule or cancel a tour. I think the only time I ever cancelled on people was a few years ago when I became very sick for no apparent reason and rolled around in pain all night. So, rest assured, if I ever call you up and cancel or ask to move your appointment, it's only because I have been rendered physically incapable of providing the tour you want.

After that Friday, I began to feel the cold (I guess it was a cold) the laryngitis had heralded. And of course it knocked me flat right when I had some steady business. There was so much phlegm in so many wrong places! It made me cough hard enough to hurt myself and the cough kept me up at night and made me so tired. I was able to work, but wasn't good for much else once I got home. The cold wasn't debilitating enough to justify staying in bed, but just severe enough to afflict me with low-grade misery whenever I was conscious. It went on for weeks. I'm not sure I've ever had an illness that lingered so badly. I'm still coping with the last remnants of that hellacious post-nasal drip even as I write this. I'm not sure that was an ordinary cold at all. I don't know what that was. I'm glad I'm (mostly) over it. Naturally, now that I'm not hacking like a 19th century consumptive, there are almost no appointments on my book.


Savannah: impulse-buy of the South


Savannah's actual nickname is "The Hostess City of the South," but I'm thinking we need to change that. For one thing, I always get this picture in my head of one of those little Hostess snack cakes (the chocolate ones with the white squigglies on top) and the Talmadge Bridge in the background. For an another, it's completely inaccurate. Savannah rarely gets the chance to play hostess to anyone because no one ever takes the time to make plans before coming here. Despite the best efforts of the Tourism Leadership Council and Visit Savannah, this place is still not a primary vacation destination. It's an afterthought for most people or an impulsive last-minute decision at best. I'm not the only person to make this observation. I've been hitting up the downtown concierges a lot lately (trying to drum up some business) and many of them have been telling me the same thing. It really seems to be the case that people just sort of wake up in the morning and say, "I think I'll go to Savannah today." So, they drive down from Atlanta or up from Jacksonville or whatever, stagger into the hotel, set their luggage down, then stand around with no idea what to do. They confusedly gravitate toward the biggest, shiniest attraction they see, like bewildered, sunburned little moths. That's how everybody ends up on a 90-minute ride with Old Town Trolley and a brief sojourn on River Street, then drives back home Sunday morning thinking they've covered all the important stuff and have no need to return and continue exploring. It makes me sad. Most of the reservations I get are from people who are in town only for the day or only for the weekend, lots of last-minute gigs. The time I meet up with them is about the time they are just beginning to realize there is a lot more to do here than they thought and they should have planned ahead or should have planned to stay longer. Hardly anyone ever tells me they are staying for a week or two weeks or a month. I can probably count the number of such tourists I've met on one hand. I have met many people who tell me they have come to Savannah several times, but "Never made it up from River Street." Oh, that also makes me so, so sad.

What people also tell me is that they have been to Charleston several times or they've been coming to Hilton Head for years and finally decided to spend a day in Savannah. A lot of visitors only think to come here once they have exhausted all the good stuff in neighboring cities (or think they have, anyway). Savannah doesn't appear to be a first choice for much of the traveling public. It's the place you go to when Charleston, Atlanta, Raleigh, Charlotte, and Jacksonville have all lost their appeal. I do find it encouraging that some of those same people also say, "There's so much to do here!" or "It's so beautiful- we should have come sooner!" But will it be in their budget to come back again any time soon or even in the next few years? I don' t know. I also meet a lot of tourists who are on their way to or from somewhere else. "Oh, we're going down to Miami and decided to spend a day in Savannah." "We're coming back up from Florida to Virginia and are stopping in historic cities along the way." Savannah tends to be part of a larger itinerary, not an attraction in and of itself. People don't come to coastal Georgia for the purpose of visiting Savannah. They visit Savannah because they happened to be in coastal Georgia.

So, there you have my little theory. Savannah is the vacation equivalent of an impulse-buy, an item you tack onto your list after you've already checked off the "important" stuff. Hm. In that way, I guess it is like one of those little snack cakes that grabs your attention as you're pushing your cart toward the cash register. Well, that does add a new layer of meaning to our title as Hostess City.


"Where's your accent?"

Oh mah Gawd! I really wish I had a dollar for every time someone has asked me that on a tour, or its variation "You don't sound southern." I would have enough dollars to pull a Scrooge McDuck and swan dive into a vault full of them (much softer than gold coins).  Do people in other parts of the country get asked that as often as Southerners? Do Canadians go to Chicago and ask the folks there "Where's your midwestern accent, eh?" (Not a stereotype. Canadians totally say "eh"- I've heard them.) Do Hawaiians visit New Jersey (though why you would trade Hawaii for Jersey is anyone's guess) and ask "Hey, how come you don't sound like that guy from Cake Boss?" I wasn't even doing one of my own tours last week, but training with the Savannah Slow Ride, when a lady from Philadelphia asked me that. I especially love the way people say "You don't sound southern," accusatory emphasis on the "sound," as if I'm an imposter infiltrating the Old South for some nefarious purpose or maybe just screwing with them in particular. I used to get that a lot when I worked as a cashier at Cracker Barrel years and years ago. I think diners at the restaurant felt cheated because here they were in the most countrified eatery they could possibly find and the cashier didn't even have the courtesy to sound like a good little redneck.

Look, people, Southerners don't live in a vacuum any more than you do. We're really just like you except we survive in a hotter, sweatier part of the country. Also, our food is better. There are many factors affecting my accent. For one thing, Savannah is a city. Not an especially big one, but it's not a podunk hick town either. Just as with any city, especially one with a port, Savannahians and their accents have long been been influenced by the myriad people with their myriad languages and dialects going to and fro. We have never been isolated. Within the city itself, accents vary depending on class, level of education, and outside influence. If you were born here, but your family had moved from Virginia, you might not sound the same as your neighbor whose family has been here for 5 generations. So, the local accent can vary from household to household and even within the same family. My sister sounds noticeably more southern than me and we grew up together! Similarly, my dad and his sister (my aunt June) were both born and raised here and grew up in the same house; their speech is very different, however. She sounds just how you'd expect a southern woman to sound, but he sounds like he could be from anywhere. In his case, it may have something to do with a lifetime of high academic achievement, including two college degrees. I don't know why, but higher education tends to refine regional accents. As for me, I think it's because I have been involved in theatre since I was a kid and part of the process is learning to speak clearly and without an accent. Also, lots of reading and high academic achievement.

I know some of you have been led far astray in your expectations by the media, especially Hollywood. Let's start with the grandmother of all bad, bad Southern accents- Gone with the Wind. If you love that movie, that's just fine. It is a Technicolor American masterpiece. It is a classic. But Vivian Leigh's Georgia accent was rubbish. Pure, putrilaginous, infuriatingly persistent rubbish. It's been a while since I've watched that movie, but I don't remember being convinced by anybody's fakety-fake accent. Scarlet herself sounded the worst, though. Nobody down here talks like that. Nobody ever talked like that. The only people who talk like that are gay men named David and Blanche Deveraux. And it's an affectation for both of them. What drives me nuts about Gone with the Wind more than anything is it set the tone in Hollywood from that point forward. Actors portraying Southern characters would just lazily adopt Scarlet O'Hara's idiotic style of speaking without any consideration for regional differences in accent. They couldn't be bothered to put the work into getting it right. For everyone in the country who didn't live south of the Mason-Dixon line, that was usually good enough. For everyone who did live south of the Mason-Dixon line, it was an insult. So, for decades movies have only acknowledged two kinds of Southerners: affected society belles who talk like Scarlet O'Hara and inbred bigots who are barely comprehensible. I'm here to tell you there is a lot of variation in between those two extremes.

So, let's discuss where media portrayal of the Southern accent is going in the 21st century. To address the Savannah connection first and foremost on your mind, Paula Deen, let me go ahead and tell you what any native Savannahian will tell you: She ain't from here. Paula Deen lives on Wilmington Island now, but she's originally from Albany, GA (or "Al-benny," as they pronounce it there). Albany is straight west and a little bit south of here, in the middle of the state. I've never been there, but I have driven west all the way to Americus and I can tell you that part of Georgia ain't nothin' but two-lane state roads and pecan groves. It's exactly where you would expect to find a more isolated population with a more pronounced accent. But also, Paula Deen has an image to maintain now and that image is Southern and sassy, so I'm sure she dials it up a little bit for the cameras.

Outside The Food Network, Southern characters have been developing a stronger and less cartoonish presence on TV. Gone are the days of Gomer Pyle and Andy Griffith; arrived are the days of Sherrif Rick (The Walking Dead) and Detective Amanda Rollins (Law & Order: SVU). These are characters who happen to be southern and who play an active part in their respective series, not southern "characters" whose only job is to lighten up the situation by acting like ignorant rubes. Basically, the southern straight man has finally become a reality, at least on TV. Feature films still kind of seem to lag behind. The most recent cinematic release I can think of that portrayed a bunch of southerners living in the Deep South was Beautiful Creatures and that thing was a mess. Plus, Jeremy Irons and Emma Thompson are English, as was Vivien Leigh, and we all know how that turned out. Oh, wait, there was also Beasts of the Southern Wild. That one's set in Louisiana, and Louisiana is a very special case when it comes to accents (or anything, really). Still, everyone sounded convincing to me, though I remain ambivalent about the movie as a whole. Anyway, Hollywood is still a bit of a wasteland when it comes to taking people with southern accents seriously, but television has really opened up. There are characters with noticeable accents on Law & Order: SVU, CSI, CSI: Miami; there are multiple shows set in southern states like Justified (so I've never watched it, but it is set in Tennessee), The Walking Dead, and True Blood (which I have also never watched because I'm too poor for HBO, but it's set in Louisiana). And it may surprise you to learn that silly fluff like May Name is Earl also scores pretty well on the accent-meter.

So, fear not, dear Yankees! You are not being cheated. The truth is,  I do speak with a southern accent. You just don't know what that accent actually sounds like. You have been mislead for years. It looks like popular culture is coming around, though, so maybe the next generation will have the right idea when they visit here.

Then again, while southerners are portrayed more realistically in fictional TV shows, they are becoming more ridiculous in reality TV shows (Swamp People? Myrtle Manor?!). Looks like we're still screwed after all.


The good thing about not having much work on my book is it frees me up for other things. The housework is always done, for example. I've been cooking and baking a lot the past year. I've turned into a regular Betty Crocker! Or maybe Betty Draper is more apt- she was closer to going completely crazy. On the not-making-me-crazy side of things, though, I got to do a show recently. I haven't been on stage in such a long time! Well, it's probably only been a year, really, but it feels like forever. I did a monologue for the Bay Street Theatre's production of A Memory, a Monologue, a Rant, and a Prayer (MMRP). They decided to shake things up this February and do that instead of The Vagina Monologues, which they've done the last few years.The show was put together by the same playwright, Eve Ensler, in 2008 or 2009, I think. Like The Vagina Monologues, performances of A Memory, a Monologue, a Rant, and a Prayer are done to raise money for The V-Day Foundation and to support a local charity, in our case, the Rape Crisis Center. Ensler only wrote one of the monologues this time around, called "Fur is Back". For the rest, she solicited literary donations from various authors and playwrights that troupes can select from when putting the show together. Here's a picture of the theatre bedecked with the lovely poster Morgan Daniels drew for our production:

MMRP is not like a regular play, so the production was very loosely organized. We had 4 women directing a few actresses apiece and a total of  14 performers. JinHi Rand directed me in the monologue "In Memory of Imette," by Periel Aschenbrand. JinHi said she chose that piece and wanted to work with me specifically because she thinks I'm good. Maybe that's true, but I also suspect she just felt sorry for me because I've had no luck getting cast in anything lately. Well, this beggar will not be choosy!

"In Memory of Imette" is about the murder of Imette St. Guillen. I originally wasn't sure if the monologue was referencing a real event or not, so I had to look it up. I found plenty of information and, luckily, news broadcasts so I could hear how to pronounce her name correctly. She was killed in 2008, I think, in New York City. She was only 25 and attending John Jay University for her Master's Degree. She went bar-hopping with a friend one night, they parted ways, and Imette was never seen alive again. Her brutalized body was found by the side of the Belt Parkway later on.

So... yeah, I got the heavy-hearted downer monologue. The tone of the show overall is pretty heavy. Not that there were no laughs to be had, there were even a few snicker-worthy lines in my segment, but it's just very different from The Vagina Monologues. That one has some weighty material, but it's a celebratory piece at its heart. MMRP is specifically about rape and violence toward women and it's kind of hard to put an optimistic spin on that. Not putting a happy face on that problem is, in fact, the point. One night, I think it was before we went onstage for our second performance, Sheila (an actress and one of the directors) asked the group one by one to give the reason they had chosen to do this show. Out of us 14 women, I was surprised when more than half expressed a connection to the material because "something bad" had happened to themselves or a woman they knew. It was chilling to hear. It also illustrated another point of the show: abuse is not something that only happens to those women or other women. Those women are all around you and often very close to you. I must confess I was well into my 20s before it dawned on me that not having been raped, harassed, molested, or beaten put me into some kind of minority among my female peers. I felt kind of sheepish and stupid admitting to the rest of my MMRP co-stars that I was there simply because I hadn't been on stage in a while.

As is typical with non-musical dramatic material in community theatre, we had a hard time attracting an audience. My usual standard of success is when the audience outnumbers the cast, which it looked like we just managed on opening night. They were a quiet crowd too. I hate that. I hate an audience that gives you no feedback whatsoever. It's like performing to a sentient wall that you're pretty sure thinks you're an idiot. Our Saturday night audience, though, was AWESOME! It was the biggest crowd we had during our three-night run, though by no means standing room only. They actually clapped between each woman's performance and they weren't afraid to laugh at the funny bits. During Kenya's "Black Vaginas" monologue, which she delivered every night with evangelistic energy, I thought for sure she was about to get a chorus of "Amen!" and "Preach it!" from the crowd. A few people I could see from my chair looked real close to it. Sunday's audience seemed a little timid, much like the first night, but oh well. We wrapped up the show, raised some money for the Rape Crisis Center, and I was proud of my work. Also happy to have finally done something at the Bay Street Theatre.

I see so many good shows there. I hope I get to be in more. It looks like they've only got two more non-musicals planned for this season: Speech and Debate and The Santaland Diaries. Guess we'll see how my schedule looks then. If I'm working too hard to do a play, I wouldn't complain.

A Slow Ride for Slow Times

Well, 2012 was a dismal year and 2013 isn't shaping up to be any better so far. I simply cannot figure out what changed between December 2011 and January 2012 that would cause my business to collapse like the sunny side of an iceberg. The decline is especially galling in light of the fact that Visit Savannah keeps insisting tourism was up this year. It makes me wonder what their definition of "up" is. Or maybe they don't actually know what "tourism" means. My understanding is the only numbers they really have to work with are the hotel occupancy rates. More people coming to Savannah should mean more people doing tours and shopping and stuff, but that does not appear to be the case. I've heard from numerous other walking tour owners (with a few irritating exceptions) and other business owners that 2012 was a bad year. I don't know what conclusion to draw from this disparate data. How can tourism be up and down at the same time? It did occur to me that Savannah's participation in the Rock 'n Roll Marathon the last couple of years might be skewing the numbers. It brings 20,000 people to the city all at once, but they're here to run, not play. Most of them only stay overnight or for a day, then they're gone. So, there's that. Maybe the type of tourists that came to Savannah was different this year. Visit Savannah has the specifically stated goal of attracting high-caliber travelers, but perhaps their aim is off. They may have flung their nets wide and only drug in the beer-guzzling boors who stay overnight to party a bit, do a ghost tour, and leave the next afternoon. I don't know. I just don't know what happened. Desperate times call for desperate measures, though. Another tour guide acquaintance of mine let slip at the Crystal Beer Parlor one night that the Savannah Slow Ride was in desperate need of certified tour guides. I contacted one of the owners through Facebook to offer my services and Samantha was glad to accept my resume. I've ridden along on one of their daytime tours (conducted by my friend Lawrence) and one of their ghost tours (led by one of my other friends, Louis) to get the hang of things. Samantha still hasn't given me any paid work to do yet, which I hate because I need money and I needed it yesterday. Thing is, February is still the slow season even for a business that is doing better than mine. The timing is just awful. I have so many bills that come due in January and February and those are the months when I have the least money, even in a good year. I have to renew my business license, pay my car insurance, pay for my vehicle registration, pay for my website, and so on and so forth. Samantha told me they have a lot of tours on the books next weekend, but I won't be available for any nighttime work because I have a show to do at the Bay Street Theatre on the 15, 16, and 17, which I had already committed to before I ever contacted the Slow Ride. Why is all of the timing always bad?! Damn you, February! You will always be a 28-day, twisted dwarf of a month who drags his clubfoot across the calendar and makes everyone else uncomfortable! I hate you.

If  I can claw my way through the month, though, the money should be pretty good once the season hits high gear in the Spring. The Slow Ride is only entering its second year in business, but it has become very popular. The story I heard was that Samantha got the idea when she was in Milwaukee (beer, anyone?) and saw this giant bicycle thing being pedaled by all these people who were having a great time and drinking beer as they went. She got all fired up and her husband built what's called a quadricycle and they started this company. The quadricycle is like a giant table on wheels with a cover over it. There are seats along each side and the riders pedal to make the thing go. A driver at the front is in charge of steering and braking. This rattly contraption is designed to only go about 4mph at most, which I think is all wrong. The carriage horses pee on the street corners at a higher velocity. I would take off the controls so the speed of the Slow Ride was directly proportional to the number and speed of the pedalers. Then I would rename it the Savannah Thrill Ride, skip the Historic District entirely, and send the group flying down Highway 80 to the beach. Yeah.

Speed or no speed, beach or no beach, both groups I rode along with earlier this month had a really great time. I am entirely mystified, frankly. I mean, I can't figure out what makes the Slow Ride so much fun for people. As a tour, it's very, very history-lite and ghost story-lite. There's a lot of chit-chat and joking amongst the group, as well as plenty of drinks for the excursion. The tours take two hours, the guests make a few stops and get off the quadricycle at a couple of places to snack and refill their drinks. It strikes me as primarily self-generated fun. The people I rode with were already in a good mood before it began. Only the glummest of tour guides could have ruined their good time and I don't know that the chipperest of tour guides could perk up a group that was in a funk from the get-go. More than being informative, it is the guide's primary to responsibility to keep the laughs coming. It all looks deceptively easy, but there's a hidden aspect to the job: making sure the guests have a good time without getting too drunk or becoming too disruptive. That's especially hard on the ghost tours. People tend to get extra rowdy and be a little too liberal with their drinking when they're out after dark.

Whatever. I just need something to keep me afloat until I can figure out how to get my own business back on track. I have an appointment at the Small Business Resource Center tomorrow afternoon. Samantha told me they were very helpful to her. I wonder if they can tell me where all the classy people who want to do private tours have gone. Where did you go, romantic couples and well-heeled retirees? How do I find you?

A night at The Jinx with Superhorse, an Evening with Legs McNeil

Yeah, it's been too long since my last post. I know that. Whatchu gonna do about it, huh? Huh?! I do have one or two good excuses on top of my usual laziness: family emergency and then the computer died. Don and I had to replace the hard drive. Work is slow, but I've been trying to fill my days with interesting things. I spent the night of Saturday, January 5th doing something I've never done before: working for a band! The band in question is a local group called Superhorse, often referred to as a "superband," though I'm not sure if that's a comment on the quality of their music or the unwieldy seven man lineup. I'm friends with the drummer, Jim- the same Jim who runs the Psychotronic Film Society. So, there's one drummer, one keyboardist, one bassist, and... four guitars? One of them belongs to the lead singer, though, and he doesn't play on every song, so I guess sometimes it's just three guitars. You can read a good write-up about the band in this Connect Savannah article. You can listen to a selection of their music here.

So, I knew Superhorse was gonna be playing The Jinx that Saturday, but I didn't plan on going because I'm too poor to pay a cover charge and I'm more devoted to local theatre than live music and the music's always too loud for me anyway and blah blah blah, but then Jim put out an APB on Facebook for someone to work the band's merchandise table. Don and I had just seen The Hobbit a few days before, so I kind of had a Bilbo Baggins moment and decided I would volunteer myself for a night of adventure. I guess that would make Jim... Gandalf? And the other band members would be a company of six doughty dwarfs on a quest to, um.... eh, that analogy got away from me. Anyway, Jim was glad to have someone he knew in charge of the money, plus my handy dandy iPhone with the handy dandy Paypal Here app would make it possible for them to accept payments other than cash. No one in the band has a smartphone, so it has to be all cash all the time whenever Superhorse plays. You'd think out of seven guys, statistics would favor one of them having acquired a smartphone by now. And anything that makes it easier for people to give you money is a good thing. Jim said they didn't usually sell a whole lot, though, so no one worried about it much.

The music wasn't even set to start until about 10, so I arrived at The Jinx around 9:30. Knew it was gonna be a late, late night, but hey, sleeping in is what Sundays are for! The Jinx is a fixture among live music venues in town, but I had never been to the place. I took some pictures before it filled up and during the performance, which you can see on my Pinterest right here: Bonnie Blue Tours Pinterest- Downtown Events and Venues. I also just added a couple of new shots from last night's outing to the Bay Street Theatre to hear Legs McNeil read from his book Please Kill Me as well as his newest book, soon to be published yet still untitled. More on that later.

Jim set me up with Superhorse merchandise: t-shirts, a special edition poster, their first album (rock) and their (sort of country) EP, and chocolate chip cookies. The cookies were there basically because Jim had joked with someone about selling cookies at the show, so he actually brought some to sell at $1 for a bag of two. Or at least sell the ones he didn't go ahead and scarf down. Cookies and beer, the dinner of champions! Jim also brought a jar of earplugs to sell for $1 a pair, which strikes me as somehow genius, considerate, and cynical all at the same time. I had the good sense to bring my own earplugs from home. I'm not very experienced at this "going to clubs and listening to live bands" thing, but I'm no fool either.

I set up like a good little merchandise girl, folding and stacking the t-shirts just like I used to do when I worked cash and retail at Cracker Barrel, oh, so many years ago. There were two different shirt designs and Jim had me clip one of each, along with a few bags of cookies, to the suspended section of chain-link fence that served for display. The Jinx is that kind place. The decorating scheme abounded with bats and skulls, the bartender looked like the only thing longer than his beard was his rap sheet, and every hand had a PBR Tallboy in it before the end of the night. My base of operations was in the back corner to the left of the door as you walk in. The floor rises up a couple steps and there are some booths and tables along that wall. The rise on the left side coupled with the bar on the right side creates a kind of canyon in the middle of the club that pushes all the people toward the stage like a human waterfall crashing down onto a drum kit. Funny thing about those booths- the tables are actually old arcade games. Working ones! My merchandise table was Frogger and I think the people one booth over from me were sitting down with Mrs. Pac Man.

The opening act was supposed to be a San Francisco group called Whiskey Pills Fiasco, but they missed their flight so Superhorse had to scramble. That's why the show started late. Luckily, local band Bottles & Cans was just finishing up a set somewhere else and didn't mind racing down the street, picking up Superhorse's instruments, and playing a bit to warm up the audience. As I once explained to a friend, I can hear the difference between good music and bad music, but I can rarely tell the difference between good music and great music. Jim sat down with a beer and assured me that Bottles & Cans is really good. He said their guy plays the drums better than he does, but it's not like I would ever know the difference. The music sounded good enough to me, especially once I put in my earplugs. It's nice to have that "listening from across the street outside" sensation while being able to remain in the room. Bottles & Cans are kind of blues-rock-ish or something. Their singer sounded a lot like Louis Armstrong with some extra handfuls of gravel in his throat. The audience swelled and swelled and swelled and loads of people I knew showed up. Hm, when and how did I ever become so connected? Sales were actually quite brisk, especially the earplugs. Those sold like hotcakes, though there was still no shortage of people out on the floor who seemed to think a live music experience wasn't complete unless you left with a hearing impairment.

I had the presence of mind to shoot a little video with my phone. I still forget about all the things an iPhone can do. I caught most of Superhorse's first number (minus the opening verses), which you can view here: Superhorse- Shadows and Shapes. That's the video of it I posted to Superhorse's Facebook. I tried to upload the thing from my phone to the computer, but stupid Windows Media Player kept playing the video upside down! What is wrong with you, Windows? And now with the new hard drive and re-installation of Windows, the Media Player says it doesn't recognize the format (.mov) at all. Ugh, seriously Microsoft, how did you become the only game in town? Here's a second video I took later in the night: Superhorse- Joyride. I got cut off because of this guy who was trying to get my attention. I thought he wanted to buy something; turned out he was just asking if he could fold up his jacket and leave it with me.

That was another quirky development of the evening: my little space became Coat-Check Corner. I think it was JinHi who started it when she asked if she could leave her jacket there with me. Then she bought a t-shirt and I stashed that for her too. Then Jamie bought a poster, but didn't want it to get creased up, so I hid that for her in the box behind me until she came back for it at the end of the night. Then Mandy came in and asked if I would hold on to her coat too and, Jesus, I think I had a whole department store's worth of outerwear tucked into the booth with me by the time the show ended! I guess once everyone I knew had put me in charge of their clothing, I should not have been surprised when strangers began to follow suit. The guy who interrupted my filming process was a nice young man in a button-up shirt who thoughtfully offered to share his shrooms with me when he discreetly pulled the baggie out of his jacket pocket. I politely declined.

So, a good time was had by all and a very good time was had by some. The band made out better than usual in terms of merchandise. Plenty of the sales were cash, but having the use of my phone did nab about $90 the guys would have missed otherwise. They sold around $300 worth of stuff all in all, which Jim told me that was three times what they usually sell. He thought it was because a lot of new people came to see the band that night, but I noticed more than a few familiar faces at my table. Plenty of friends and acquaintances bought stuff just because they like Jim and wanted to be supportive. He has the novel effect on people of making them want to give him money, while also having the misfortune of knowing only a bunch of penniless losers such as myself. He'd be all set if he'd start hanging around with a more well-heeled crowd. I finished up the night by going all middle-school and having Jim write his PayPal ID on my arm so I could transfer the band's money to him from my account. I was traveling light and hadn't bothered to carry my purse, so I was bereft of things to write on and things to write with.

I snagged a cheap hot dog from Sweet Melissa's on my way back to the car. They make a killing being the only place open after the bars close down. I got bumped into by some drunk guy, kidded around with by some other drunk guy, and finally got home and made it into bed sometime after 3am, I think.

My little excursion to the Bay Street Theatre last night was also rock 'n roll, but less drunk and noisy. Jim runs an organization called Knocked Out Loaded through which he promotes live music and other music-centric stuff. He snagged Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain for a stop in Savannah to answer questions and read excerpts from Please Kill Me! The Uncensored History of Punk as well as from McNeil's newest book, which he hasn't even given a title to yet. I know exactly squat about the history of American music, rock music, or punk rock, but even I still know that sitting in a room talking with Legs McNeil about The Ramones and Iggy Pop is totally cool. In case you don't know, Legs McNeil is the guy who started Punk Magazine back in the 70s and is credited with giving the genre its name. He hung out at CBGB's night after night with people and bands who are the stuff of legend now. I still wasn't going to go because I'm not that much of a fan girl and, as usual, I'm poor and didn't have $10 to spare for a ticket. But Jim came through again with the need for someone to sell merchandise, just some special posters he'd had made, and offered me the job. So, I got to enjoy the reading after all.

This January was bookended by serious rock 'n roll submersion, which surprises me. I'm not sure how that happened. I think I was minding my own business and got sucked into this punk rock vortex. I mean, Jim showed the movie Rock 'n Roll High School last summer, then CBGB filmed here, then I heard Superhorse play for the first time (and got to take home each of their cds for working the merch table!), then Legs McNeil came to town. What's next? Whatever it is, I hope it involves Alan Rickman filming another movie here.

Doing business today with the technology of 2010!

Ah, I am long past due for a blog update. My latest breaking news is that now I have Bonnie Blue merchandise and I've upgraded my technology, which, like this blog post, was also long past due. The merchandise: just iron-on patches for right now. If I can get the money together, I would also like to do pins and maybe, eventually, t-shirts. When I was telling some friends about the patches and how I just get a handful of them at a time from my supplier, Jim (Reed) asked me "Where do you buy 'a handful' of patches?" with a far more incredulous tone than I thought necessary. I had never really given it any thought, but I guess any business that makes promotional items must require people to order them in bulk. I don't even know what kind of bulk. 100? 1,000? I've only got a dozen on hand at any one time.

The person who makes the patches for me is a woman in Ohio named Kathy. She and her friend took a tour with me over a year ago and had such a good time! Kathy does embroidery professionally and got the idea for the two of us to work together on merchandise. She doesn't even care much about her profit margin- she just thinks it's fun. She's so gung-ho, I had to hold her back from charging ahead with embroidered bags and hats and stuff. I prefer to start small. Plus, I have no money coming in right now and don't want to commit to more expensive endeavors if I don't know for sure I can pay for her materials and labor in a timely fashion. I've got three different patches available right now, pictured below:

Bonnie Blue Tours logo patch

Ghost patch

Downtown square

I just worked up a new design last night and emailed the file to Kathy. We'll see how she finesses it, but here's what I gave her to work with:

The Talmadge Bridge at sunset

It's fun to have a project to work on, even though it doesn't net me a significant profit. I did talk to Jen last week, though, about selling the patches in her new café, The Coffee Fox. She owns Foxy Loxy and just opened The Coffee Fox at Whitaker and Broughton. I was there Friday, November 30th for the grand opening gala. Jen sells all kinds of locally made stuff in both of her locations. She liked the patches, especially the square one (no surprise). She even told me she was interested in having her own patches made and I told her I'd set her up with Kathy if she wanted. I emailed Jen the details, but still haven't heard back yet. I'm sure she's very busy with her new place, but I guess I'll send her a reminder since it's been over a week. I haven't sold any patches through my website yet, though they're listed on there. I have them all ironed onto my work bag where people can see. Whenever anyone makes a comment about them, that's my opportunity to make a sale. It happened just that way when I was at the Wright Square Merchants Open House on the 30th.

Scoping out the brand-new Coffee Fox was not my primary goal that night, just an opportune diversion. I was really downtown for the festivities at Wright Square. The shop owners around there put together this nice shindig every year to kick off the holiday sales. Unlike some retailers, they have the good grace to wait until after Thanksgiving. I got there right at the beginning when all was still pretty quiet, but it wasn't long before the area swelled with people. A band of carolers floated from storefront to storefront, there was a giant Punch and a giant Judy (Representatives from Angela Beasley's Puppet People? I'm not sure.), and the Lutheran Church on the corner provided a venue for different musical acts throughout the evening. I popped in for the last performance- the Skylark a capella group from my old high school, Savannah Arts Academy. The Park and Tree department had festooned every lamp post in the square with green wreaths and red ribbons. It's so nice how they decorate the entire Historic District each year. If only we got an inch or two of snow, the city would be irresistibly quaint. Perhaps this winter will be that once-every-ten-years winter when we get a tiny bit of snow that actually sticks to the ground.

I whirled from one store to the next, bumping into friends and acquaintances, connecting with merchants I hadn't seen lately, and, most importantly, hoovering up all the free food that came within my reach. The petit-fours at Yves Delorme were especially good. My friend Jeroy is the manager. He knows how to set a classy buffet. I found out while I was there that renovations were complete on the vacation rentals above the store. They were also running an open house that night. Turns out, the brand new York Street Vacation Rentals are owned by none other than... my landlord! Jesus, the Krinsky family are turning into SCAD- just buying up everything. I had to snoop, of course, and Fred (my landlord's dad) was happy to let me take a look. The building is of a fairly modern vintage, so they chose to use a correspondingly modern aesthetic on the inside as well. It's all bright colors and sleek furniture. And TVs on the walls. Big, big TVs. I seriously think Harley (my landlord) is commanded by the god of the boob tube to distribute television sets across the land like Johnny Appleseed of the flatscreens. Harley owns a popular bar on Congress Street called the Congress Street Social Club and it is also full of flatscreen TVs. I think there's even one in his office downstairs from my apartment. It goes well with the pool table and Budweiser sign he has in there.

I took a break from Wright Square to check out The Coffee Fox, recharged myself with a brownie and free coffee, then plunged back into the Christmas breach. My friend and fellow actor Bill had been ambling around the square all night as Father Christmas. He made a very tall and very New England-y Father Christmas. We had chatted at Yves Delorme, but I ran into him again on the sidewalk along State Street. He introduced me to his wife and the two of us vaguely remembered meeting once before. They, in turn, introduced me to a neighbor of theirs whose name I have, sadly, forgotten. A young guy, he's a self-employed locksmith. Don't meet those too often, do you? Anyway, he noticed the patches on my bag and really liked (duh) the square one, so ta-da! Another sale for me!

Locksmith guy gave me the first opportunity to use my brand new credit card scanny thing on my brand new iPhone 4 because he didn't have any cash. I have been wanting a new phone with a data plan all year so I could start taking credit cards and stuff. 2012 has been so dismal, though, I simply couldn't spend the money if it wasn't absolutely necessary. Well, necessity finally forced my hand. My previous phone, which was showing its age anyway, became impossible to use. The speaker stopped working so that I could not hear people on the other end of the line unless I put them on speakerphone. That's a cumbersome way to do business. Mom's phone was on its last legs too, so we finally renewed our contract with AT&T for the next two years so we could get new phones real cheap. Time to start learning the ways of the smartphone! At first, Mom ordered a pair of Samsung Galaxy Exhilarate smartphones, which was just fine... except that model appears to be the one phone in the world that is not compatible with any of the major mobile credit card apps. Not Square, not Intuit, not PaypalHere. So, we had to send those back and exchange them for a pair of iPhone 4's. Activating those was a little confusing because someone somewhere along the line at AT&T hadn't gotten the memo about the change, but I was able to solve that problem pretty easily with a phone call... from my land line, of course.

So, then, I downloaded the PaypalHere app and sent off for their little credit card scanny thing. Paypal's thing was only released earlier this year, so it doesn't have as much cred as Square or Intuit, but I went with that because I already have a Paypal account. And if I don't like it, it's not like it cost anything. I can just stop using it. I also like that PaypalHere allows you to scan checks, which is something Square and Intuit don't do.

Anyway, Paypal's blue scanny thing was in the mailbox just as I walked out the door on my way to Wright Square that night, so I was all prepared for locksmith guy! Except the stupid thing rejected three of his debit cards in quick succession. Aside from the possibility of losing a sale, I hate to disappoint people and I hate looking like a complete idiot. However, the app was fine when I keyed in one of his debit cards and the money went right into my account and I was able to send him a receipt with no problem. A few days later, I was able to scan one of Mom's credit cards and sell her one of each patch with no problem, so... not sure what that was all about. Does technology suffer from first-night jitters? Maybe there's something about debit cards the device doesn't like? Whatever. So, I have expanded my payment options on my website to include, aside from cash, credit and debit cards and checks. I'm hoping that will open up a little more business for me. We'll see how things pan out in 2013.

For the love of potato latkes

Ah, October: the month when Savannahians can finally wipe the sweat from our brows, shake off the indolence of a sweltering summer, and PARTY! Fall is a big festival season here. Savannah has 7 large scale celebrations that take place in October, to say nothing of smaller events put on by individual organizations and business owners. The first of those big parties, Oktoberfest, is of course dedicated to booze. Two others, the Greek Festival and the Shalom Y'all Jewish Food Festival, are all about the food. Three more are all about movies and music. The one outlier is the Tybee Island Pirate Fest, although maybe that should fall under the "booze" category. I think the focus on food, booze, and sitting on our butts watching movies is a survival tactic. We stuff ourselves and fatten up in the fall so we can hibernate straight through the winter until February, when the Spring festival cycle begins. The Shalom Y'all Jewish Food Festival was on Sunday in Forsyth Park. I went last year, since I had never gone before and it was easy to walk over there after finishing my afternoon tour. Don didn't go because he was working. This year, however, he has a job with a sane schedule, so both of us got to enjoy some kosher deliciousity! I skipped breakfast because I knew what I was in for... and because I got up late. The two of us walked down to Forsyth- man, I love living where I can walk to stuff- and got there about 20 minutes into the festivities. There was already a ton of people. It made me glad we didn't have to drive and fight for parking.

Though bustling, the place had still not gotten as crowded as I expected and I realized the cleverness of holding this particular festival at mid-morning on a Sunday: the Jewish Sabbath is on Saturday, which frees them up to be first in every line on Sunday while the silly gentiles are sitting in church. Brilliant! I actually bumped into a couple of church-going friends, Kim and Deborah, about 1 o'clock as Don and I were leaving. They had just left Asbury Methodist and confessed it was hard to sit through the service knowing there was so much tasty food only a few blocks down the road. Kim told me most of the congregation could be found re-congregating at the Jewish Food Festival as soon as they got out of church. We joked how the minister, Billy Hester, should just declare that particular Sunday every year a field trip day.

Anyway, Don and I bought our tickets and split up. I hustled over to the matzoh ball soup booth for some lunch, which I ate while sitting on a bench next to the Forsyth fountain. Just like last year, the event organizers had set up a small bandstand there with a couple of violinists from the Savannah Philharmonic. Throughout the day, I heard klezmer, tunes by Jewish composers, and, naturally, the most famous tracks from Fiddler on the Roof. After my soup, I zoomed down the sidewalk for some potato latkes. The line was atrociously long when I got there at last year's festival and I was hoping I wouldn't have to stand around all day this time around. The potato latkes are the most coveted delicacy at the festival. Surprisingly, there were only about half a dozen people in line ahead of me, I guess because it was still early in the day. I grabbed my precious, precious latkes and made my way back toward the fountain, where I found an empty chair at a table.

The funniest thing happened while I was sitting there munching away. This guy with his wife came out of nowhere and asked me where I had gotten my shirt. It's a t-shirt Jim Reed had made especially to celebrate Leonard Nimoy's 80th birthday, which he also celebrated with a special movie screening by the Psychotronic Film Society. He did something similar to celebrate William Shatner's 80th birthday a couple years ago. I don't have one of the Shatner shirts, but I am kind of a Spock fan, so I ponied up for a Nimoy shirt. It's light green with the design done in purple: a picture of Nimoy (from the 70s, with a mustache) with a tiny Star of David on the left and the phrase "Living long and prospering" down below. I put the thing on that morning because it's soft and comfortable, not because I was going to a Jewish festival and Leonard Nimoy is Jewish. I wore a t-shirt with a picture of a well known Jewish actor on it to a Jewish festival without even thinking about it because I had completely forgotten he's Jewish! It did not occur to me until later how intentional my oblivious wardrobe choice must have seemed. Anyway, I explained the unique genesis of the shirt to the man and his wife and wrote down Jim's contact info for them because I'm pretty sure he still has one or two of them floating around. The couple told me they were visiting and had just gotten into Savannah, so I handed them my business card and let them know they might find my website useful. The woman, it turns out, had come here to research her 6th cookbook. I was too stupid and distracted to ask their names or I would be able to tell you who she was. Anyway, those two picked a good week to be in town!

So, after my latkes, I ambled over to the drinks stand and got a Brown's Cream Soda, then used my last two tickets on some cheese blintzes for dessert. My dessert last year was a muffin or cookies or something. I can't remember. But I'd never had blintzes and thought I'd give them a try with some strawberry topping. I stood at a table where some acquaintances of mine also happened to be, Trish and Chris, whom I see at the occasional Drinking Liberally function. We all had a hard time recognizing each other out of context, but we figured it out. We b.s.ed a bit about the presidential debates and I shared with them my idea of giving every moderator a paint ball gun and permission to shoot any candidate that is rude or talks beyond their time limit. Somehow that seems less petty and more satisfying than simply cutting off their microphones.

Trish and Chris drifted away, Don reappeared at my side, and I told him we couldn't leave until he'd eaten some potato latkes. It just wouldn't be right. Since he had used up all his tickets, I gave him $5 to buy some more and told him I would stay put while he stood in line. So, off he went. Some other group of people ended up at my table and I heard one of the ladies comment on how great the weather was for the festival and what would the planners have done if it were raining? I couldn't resist chiming in with, "Well, it's a Jewish festival, so if it had rained, they all would have sat around and kvetched about it." That got a laugh out of them. The weather really was great, clear and sunny and the perfect temperature, same as last year. Maybe the Jews really are God's chosen people? Hm, by that logic God must also really love gay people since the Pride festival almost always has beautiful weather as well. I guess we'll just stick with the more reasonable assumption that late October is a good time in Savannah.

I waited and waited and waited and waited for Don to return, but it became obvious he had been sucked to his death inside the latke vortex or something. Some acquaintances of mine strolled by and we chit chatted for a while, then I finally walked past the fountain and down the sidewalk to see what was up. I found the latke line had expanded like a slinky unleashed in the short interval between when I was there and when I sent Don there. Oops. The necessity of changing the oil on the fryers had also caused a severe backup of people. They were just about ready to get things sizzling again, though, so Don asked me to get him a cup of coffee while he waited, which I did, and we met up again a short while later.

We sat down in the grass and pondered... um... stuff about food. Do you ever notice that completely unrelated cultures seem to develop similar tastes in the preparation of certain foods? Fried dough, for one. All over the world, peoples who have no connection to each other came up with variations on the same thing: take dough, fry it, cover it in something sweet. In America we have doughnuts. The Creoles invented beignets. The Greeks have honey puffs. It was the honey puffs at the Greek festival that got me thinking about it. Fried potatoes are like that too. The Belgians invented French fries (maybe), Southerners love hash browns, and the Jews have potato latkes. I think it's strange that antisemitism should ever have been a thing in the South, since the two cultures really have so much in common. Both love deep-friend, cheesy, carbohydrate-laden goodness. Both love to maintain their own distinctive society and history within the country they occupy. Jews are known for manipulating guilt; Southerners love to hold a grudge. Those are just two manifestations of the same impulse, right? Both originate from a hot and hostile climate. Jews and Southerners were practically made for each other!

It worked out well in Savannah at least. The synagogue that sponsors the festival, Mickve Israel, is the third oldest Jewish congregation in America. Georgia's English (and therefore Anglican) colonists got here in February of 1733. The very next people to arrive were a boat full of Sephardic Jews in July. The English had very good reasons at the time for not immediately going "Ack!" and telling them to clear out, but you have to take my tour to hear that story. All you need to know is the Jews stayed, nestled themselves into Savannah society, and have been here ever since. Thank God. Otherwise, we'd have one less tradition for the frying of potatoes.

The tour guide's nightmare

There is a phenomenon called "the actor's nightmare". Every actor has had this same dream: they suddenly find themselves onstage or about to go onstage. What makes it a nightmare is that the actor in question has absolutely no idea what they are doing. In this dream, they have no memory of any rehearsals and may not have even the slightest clue what their role is or what the play is about or even its title. Christopher Durang even wrote a play about the occurrence, it's that well known. We all fear blanking out onstage and this recurring dream is that scenario taken to its most terrifying possible extreme. Perhaps confronting this ultimate humiliation in our heads is a coping mechanism to give us perspective at those inevitable moments when one of us blows a line or misses an entrance. For years, I've had this nightmare every time I'm in a show. Until last week, I don't remember ever having what shall henceforth be known as "the tour guide's nightmare". I think it all began on Monday, October 8th. I had not slept well at all for two nights before that, so my brain was a little off-kilter. Then, the Ballastone Inn called me up and asked if I could do a 1-hour ghost tour for a couple of their guests at 9:30 that night. I'm kind of the Ballastone's on call ghost guide. It's part of a "package" they offer their guests. Here's what puzzles me: I assume the guests purchase such a package at the time they reserve their room. Why then does the Ballastone never give me more than a few hours notice when they need me to do a tour for them? That strikes me as kind of foolhardy. What if I already had something scheduled? What if I was out of town? I guess maybe they have a few other guides on their speed dial, but wouldn't it make sense for them to call me and reserve a spot when their guests make the original reservation? Anyway, I had no other commitments and told the front desk it would be no problem.

I met my ghost tour people at the Olde Pink House where they had just finished dinner. They were a very nice couple who had gotten married in South Carolina only 3 days before. Honeymooning in Savannah and taking a ghost tour after a romantic dinner is a great idea... except that night was the first truly cold night of the season. The thought actually occurred to me earlier in the day, "They're having a fancy evening at the Pink House. How much you wanna bet the female half of this couple is going to be woefully under dressed for tonight's weather?" Well, as I feared, the newlywed missus had either been caught off guard by the unexpected cold or chose to sacrifice comfort for beauty. Her husband gave her his jacket, but that doesn't do much good when you're in a short dress and the Autumn breeze is lashing at you from the knees down. Nice try, but no cigar, husband. To the doughty lady's credit, she was game and toughed it out for the full hour. I even got a nice tip out of the excursion.

What does all this have to do with the very strange dream I had that night or actually Tuesday morning? I went to bed Monday night relieved I did not have to be up early on Tuesday and would be free to sleep in and catch up on all the z's I had been missing for two days. At some point in the wee hours of the morning, the nightmare began.

I dreamed I was downtown and the Ballastone Inn called and asked me to do a very special ghost tour for a pair of their guests- a newlywed couple. I copied down all the details in my book, like I usually do. The Ballastone staff also pressed some other details upon me, even handing me a few photographs of the people I was supposed to meet, which, of course, never, ever happens in real life. (And no, the people in my dream looked nothing like the people I had toured with earlier.) Also, I was not meeting them at the B&B, but at a resort called The Miramax Hotel. Yes, Miramax, as in the film distribution company. Do I even have to tell you there is no such hotel in Savannah? I don't know if there's any such hotel anywhere. And why would the Ballastone be making reservations for people who weren't even staying with them? Know what else was strange? I wasn't asked to give these people a real tour, but to meet them in their room at the Miramax and read them a selection of short stories by H. P. Lovecraft. Not any particular stories, I could just pick whichever ones I thought would be best. Now, H. P. Lovecraft is some very good Halloween reading, but story time for grownups is just not in my line of work.

However, this being a nonsensical dream scenario, I agreed without any objections. I passed the evening in a restaurant on Broughton Street. The night got colder and later and darker. Finally, I walked outside to go meet these people and read them some stories. I can't remember where I was when I realized I had forgotten my bag. This is where it gets scary for me. Missing a rendezvous with clients for any reason is a tour guide's nightmare scenario. Missing a rendezvous because of your own incompetence is even worse. My appointment book was in my bag, along with all the details I needed: who these people were, their phone number, where the hotel was, which room was theirs- everything! It was vital that I retrieve my bag. But I couldn't remember where I had left it! I began racing along Broughton and dashing into every restaurant. It was quite late and they were all beginning to turn out their lights and lock their doors, which only added to my panic. What if my bag was right there and I couldn't get to it because the place was closed and I had no way in? I ran and ran back and forth from one end of the street to the other. I have no stamina for running in real life and wasn't faring especially well in my dream either, but desperation kept me going far beyond my actual ability.

I checked the same restaurants once, twice, again and again because I knew my bag had to be there somewhere and time was slipping away from me. I was going to be late and I didn't even have these people's number on hand so I could call them and explain why. It was their honeymoon and I was on the verge of ruining it! Somehow, I ended up running through Yamacraw, which is just off the west edge of the Historic District. All you need to know about Yamacraw is it is no place for a lone white girl to be walking through at night. Or in the daytime, come to think of it. I must have been truly incoherent to have wandered that way without noticing. And why would my bag be there anyway? Whatever the reason, I was in Yamacraw about to start my run down Broughton Street again from its western extreme. And then I was on the concrete, reduced by pure exhaustion to crawling along the sidewalk, still determined to drag my prostrate self from one restaurant to another if that's what it took to find my bag.

Thank God some guy came along and picked me up. He pointed me toward an establishment that was just closing down. A skinny, sympathetic employee let me in and led me right to my work bag! Turns out, I had left it sitting in the seat of a chair, which had then been pushed under the table, completely hiding my bag from view. I had simply missed it every time I searched. I snatched my book out of it and dialed up my clients immediately. I was already late for our appointment and desperate to let them know I hadn't bailed on them. The woman answered the phone and I explained the situation and asked how I should find them. She gave me some directions about getting to the hotel and how to access the elevator to their room or something like that. The details have gotten fuzzy on me now, of course. Although she sounded nice, I do remember her snidely implying that I had lost out on any chance of a decent tip by being late. That's the kind of thing that can be left unsaid, ok? So, anyhow, I wandered in the dark to the Miramax hotel, which looked more glamorous in the Ballastone's pictures than it did face to face. The rooms opened directly onto exterior walkways like at a cheap motel. That's what it looked like, except much taller. I also couldn't help noticing a subtle layer of grime over everything.

That's when I woke up, right before finally achieving the object that had been driving me throughout the entire nightmare. Know what else was so frustrating about the whole experience? I had spent two nights not sleeping well, then spent the third night trapped in a nightmare that left me utterly drained! I woke up tired and worn out from all the running and panic! And I was too keyed up to go back to sleep!

I am so glad I don't have dreams like this before every tour.

We can do it... with flip charts!

The City of Savannah hosted a tourism workshop a couple days ago, so that's where I was Tuesday evening. They had a couple others in the Spring as well. I only caught about half an hour of the first two because I had tours on my book, so it was exciting for me to finally discover what goes on at these workshops after I leave. Turns out, not a whole lot. The evening began with a slide show reviewing some of the gripes tour guides had expressed at the previous meetings. Or something. It was kind of like sitting in class in middle school again. Just as I used to do in school, I paid minimal attention to what was happening up front because I was reading something else. Back in the day, it would have been a book discreetly held just below the desk. In this case, I was looking over some handouts that detailed pretty much what the slideshow went over. After that, us tour company owners had to get to work! We sat at our tables, wrote down our individual "vision statements" for Savannah, then from that the table worked out a single "vision statement" which we wrote on a large flip chart. Why do bureaucrats love flip charts so much? Each table next had to share their "vision statement" with the rest of the room. I had convinced my table to throw the word "stewardship" into ours, which went over very well with the moderators of the workshop. That was enough to earn me the Microphone of Command, so I had to stand up all official-like and read our statement for everyone. I decided to lighten things up because, you know, we were a bunch of grownups who had been provided crummy snacks (seriously, there wasn't even any coffee!) and forced to sit down with our competitors and whip up lame flip chart projects like a classroom full of fifth-graders. So, I began with "Well, we here at Table Awesome...". As intended, it got a laugh out of every one. What I did not anticipate was everyone after that turning it into a competition and trying to out-awesome Table Awesome. Also, subtly insulting every other previously stated "vision statement". This is what happens any time you assemble a diverse group of people all in one place for official reasons: they actually regress back to being snide little teenagers. I guess that's an inherent flaw in the democratic process.

This quest for tour guide input is a noble effort on the part of the City and the Tourism Advisory Council, but what will it actually lead to? There's supposed to be a follow-up workshop on the 17th. Will it involve another slide-show and yet more scintillating flip chart action? Will all this information-gathering lead to tangible changes in Savannah's approach to tourism? My guess is not anytime soon. As far as I'm concerned, nothing counts until the City has established, staffed, and funded an actual Tourism Office. Even if such a thing did not immediately remedy any of the problems we've been experiencing, it would provide a mechanism for solving those problems far more nimbly than the disconnected, lumbering bureaucracy that handles things now. Tourism has become huge and we really must have a centralized department that keeps tabs on the numbers and promotes a more controlled type of growth. Stewardship, if you will. It's a billion dollar industry. You'd think the City would have done that already.

Alas, I doubt the Tourism Advisory Council will unwrap a shiny new Tourism Department for us at the October 17th meeting. There are a lot of things to distract the City right now, chief among them being the firing of our City Manager, the complete mess she made of the Purchasing Department, and the inevitable search for a new City Manager. Also, it's an election year. I'm not sure what that has to do at all with tour guides in Savannah, but apparently "It's an election year" is a good excuse to put any real work on hold until after the first week of November. Hmmm. Maybe that means we can expect to find a Tourism Department under our tree at Christmas then? I suppose it's time for me to get started on that letter to Santa....


Berrien the past

When I got back into town from Florida on September 9th, I was thrilled to read this column by Bill Dawers in the Savannah Morning News: Important unrestored Savannah building finds perfect buyer. It's about the Berrien house, which has sat crumbling on the corner of Broughton and Habersham for years and years and years. Seriously, the last tenant in there was Pete's Shoe Repair on the ground floor and that closed up over two decades ago. The Berriens were a very prominent local family in the 18th and 19th centuries. John Berrien was a great patriot and served under George Washington. Andrew Jackson appointed his son, John Macpherson Berrien, Attorney General. I've seen their gravestones in Colonial Park Cemetery. The house was probably under construction in the 1790s and George Washington himself may have taken a gander at the site while he was in town in 1791. I picture these two southern gentlemen standing placidly next to the foundation and framing, beers in hand à la King of the Hill, and pontificating thusly: "Sure is a nice house you're building there, John."

"Thanks, George."

"Yep," as Washington takes a sip of his beer.


What John Berrien could never know is that 221 years later, the blighted husk of his once glamorous home would be rescued from decay by his own descendent, Andrew Berrien Jones of New York. Andrew Jones is also a scion of the even more locally resplendent Jones family. We should all be impressed as hell by that pedigree, but this isn't Charleston, so probably no one will care. According to Bill Dawers, Jones is an artist and businessman whose family visited Savannah regularly throughout his life. He didn't know about the old homestead, though, until about 10 years ago. I guess all the grandparents and stuff had forgotten they used to own it. So, I imagine the wheels have been turning in Jones' head for the last decade. Has he spent all this time marshaling his resources until he had enough to buy the place? Artists are famous for not having money, so where did he get his? What type of business does he run? Business better be good because it's going to take obscene amounts of money to spiff that place up. I've been telling my tourists for years if they knew any eccentric millionaires who needed a project, they should send them our way and point them toward that house.

I do not have a photo of the house, but you can take a look at this other article from 2008 to get an idea what kind of shape it's in. Scroll down to the bottom and there's even a video walk-through of the place. I have often used the Berrien on my tours to show people what the Historic District used to look like decades ago. For someone who has never been to Savannah or who didn't grow up here, they simply cannot conceive what a wreck the place was throughout most of the 20th century. It's so good-looking now. I'm pretty sure the dilapidated state of that particular house drives it home. The Berrien has been insensitively altered, it's wooden siding stuccoed over (honestly, who does that?), it's ground floor raised, its levels cut up into tenements. For years it has loomed on that corner, looking as if someone cleaned up a crime scene in a splendid home, put everything back in perfect order, then simply left the brutalized corpse lying in the front parlor.

The house is one of few surviving artifacts connected to Savannah's late 18th and early 19th century history. For that, it needs to be saved and fully restored and I am very glad it will be. But the Berrien house is also an artifact and survivor of Savannah's uglier days, it's decades of decline and neglect and crime. Nothing is for free and the restoration of yet another old building sanitizes our history just a little bit more and costs us a tiny amount of truth. Progress doesn't mean anything if you don't know how far you've come. How will I ever be able to show people what made Downtown "the bad part of town" for an entire generation? I'm losing a little connection even to my own personal history. The Historic District was still "the bad part of town" when I was a kid and I know people who are still afraid to go there, especially after dark. I will no longer be able to share that experience with my clients as fully as I've been able to the past few years. For that, I am a little bit sad. But only a little bit.

A visit to Frederica

So, I finally accomplished one of my goals recently: I visited Fort Frederica National Monument. Now that my boyfriend has a job with a regular schedule, that frees up the car for me to use on the weekends. I made plans to visit my grandma September 7th-9th, since I hadn't seen her in months. The drive is a straight 300 miles south on I-95 and takes me right past Brunswick. I realized that since I had to get up at the butt-crack of dawn to drop Don, my boyfriend, off at work, I would be out of the house early enough to turn the drive into an adventure and check Fort Frederica off my to-do list. In spite of my early reveille, I still did not manage to hit the road until about 11:30. Maybe some people can just pack a bag and walk out, but I am a victim of my own compulsions. I spent a couple of hours taking care of chores and putting the apartment in good order before I left. I know it doesn't really make any sense- I'm not going to be there and Don, being a guy, is insensible to dirt, dust, and disorder. But there are certain old-fashioned impulses I cannot shake. One of them is the 'ole whirlwind clean-up when I have guests coming over, even if they're good friends I know I don't have to impress. You just don't invite people to your place, then make them sit on a cat-hair-covered couch. Even sillier is my inability to leave a dirty house behind me when I go out of town. I can trace that to a little streak of morbid paranoia: if I should die before I return, I don't want whoever empties out my home to think I was a slob. Even dumber, I would like them to be impressed by how organized and tidy I was, maybe even to the point of feeling like inadequate housekeepers themselves. Yep, that's me, manipulating other people's insecurities from beyond the grave! We all need something to aspire to, I guess.

I made it to Brunswick in very good time, probably because  I didn't pass any construction at all on the road between here and there. I don't think that's ever happened before. Can it be a day is coming when I-95 isn't constantly being resurfaced or widened? Quick, someone light up a barbecue and grab the pigs before they fly away! I had some lunch in town since I had skipped breakfast at home, then headed toward St. Simons Island. I got lost a little bit on the way there and discovered that multi-lane roundabouts are dangerous things. But, I made it to the historic site eventually with no damage and only minimal chaos in my wake. Admission to Frederica is only $3, but I still have the receipt and get to write that off as a business expense. Big money, right? By the way, national monuments and historic sites are often the best deal in town. I know all the ones around here are super-cheap to visit. So, next time the kids whine about being bored, throw them in the car, whip out $5, and treat (torture?) them to an afternoon of HISTORY. If they learn nothing else, they may at least learn to keep their little mouths shut.

Fort Frederica National Monument is the town and fort of Frederica, which James Oglethorpe, founder of Georgia, established in 1736 as a defense against the Spanish in Florida. Oglethorpe himself had a little house there, and spent much more time in Frederica than in the city of Savannah. The fort had its guns pointed at the Frederica River to keep the Spanish out and was connected to Fort St. Simons on the other end of St. Simons Island via a military road. It was really only a rough, sometimes swampy path cut out of the wilderness and probably didn't look much better then than it does now. The town itself was very orderly and compact and fortified with a moat, palisades, earthen walls around its edges and two bastions on the outer corners. Frederica grew into a bustling hamlet, full of families and soldiers and houses and shops, numbering about 500 people at its height.

However much Oglethorpe liked Frederica, he doomed the place when he won the Battle of Bloody Marsh in 1742, which eliminated the Spanish threat from that point onward. I'm sure all the English colonists were jubilant at the time. Six miles down the military road, Oglethorpe had managed to turn away a force of 2,000 Spaniards with only about 600 English  and Scottish soldiers. He pulled a ballsy trick and confused his enemies into thinking his army was much larger. The Spanish left and just kind of gave up on Georgia from that point on. Then, they signed a treaty with the English in 1748 that set the boundary of Florida at the St. Mary's River and ended the War of Jenkin's Ear. Which, once again, I'm sure the English colonists were very happy about, but it rendered Frederica completely useless, a vestigial outpost. Oglethorpe left Georgia, his little colonial village declined, the population dwindled, and then there was a fire in 1758 that chased out the last few die-hard residents. Frederica sat alone and neglected until archaeological interest revived it as a historic monument in the 20th century.

There were no other visitors when I got there, though a few people turned up before I left. The place isn't all that distant from civilization, but remote enough to give you an idea what Georgia felt like generations ago. I could not hear or see any traffic or people. There was no whirring of air conditioning units and no electrical wires emitting their constant hum. It was the middle of the afternoon and the light was just a little too bright, the air just a little to warm, and the flies, as usual, far too abundant. I could hear the slosh of the river and the rustle of the trees and a few birds, but that was about it. Frederica, overall, feels very still. It's as if the town itself is so stunned and frozen by its own ruined state that it doesn't dare make a move and risk drawing attention.

Where once was a place full of people and potential and seeming permanence, now almost nothing remains. The only vertical structures left standing are the left half of the fort's powder magazine and the tower at the back of the barracks. Paths mown through the grass denote where the main streets used to be. There is an orange tree planted alongside Broad Street (the central street), I suppose in remembrance of the orange trees the settlers planted there 276 years ago. They thought to provide themselves with nice shade and delicious fruit. As for the colonists' houses, many of them were built of wood and have left no trace. Several were built of sturdier stuff, though, and their tabby walls jut here and there from under the dirt like broken teeth in the gums of a neglected mouth.

There are signs to tell visitors about the people who lived there, their trades, and sometimes their scandals. John Wesley spent a little time in Frederica and fell afoul of a woman named Beatre. She was the regimental surgeon's wife and had a reputation for being, well, kind of nuts. The sign in front of her home (just its foundations, really) told the story of how she tried to kill Wesley with a pistol in one hand and a pair of scissors in the other. I had read that story before and it was good to make a physical connection with where it happened. In the version I read, Beatre was in love with Wesley and demanded that she would have his heart, I guess with a bullet hole in it, or his hair. There are some rumors that both of the Wesley brothers were feckless playboys, but considering they weren't very popular ministers, we'll just treat that as gossip.

I had to get moving, as I had spent more time in Brunswick than I meant to and didn't want to lose too much time with Grandma. I got lost again trying to leave, but all roads lead to I-95, so I found my way eventually. I gassed up, then hit the road and didn't stop until I was in Satellite Beach. The ride was smooth until somewhere a little bit north of Cocoa Beach. Road construction reappeared and I was nearly smothered to death by the most hellacious thunderstorm the world has known since Noah crammed his menagerie into the ark. It was dark, those construction barrel thingies were all over the road, the asphalt was uneven, and the rain came down so torrentially I could hardly see anything except when the lightning flashed. Thankfully, there was plenty of that. It made me extremely glad I had washed my car a few days beforehand and put Rain-X on the windshield. It got so bad, people were doing 35 miles per hour on I-95! An aside for my fellow motorists: I know the scary storms are scary and you want to make sure other drivers can see you. But it does not help for you to turn on your emergency flashers and leave them on while driving. That is just confusing and makes it hard to tell when your actual brake lights are on. You have taillights that communicate your position just as well. Stop being silly. Anyway, I finally made it safe and sound to Grandma's house, where the rain was barely pitter-pattering, and found the storm had blasted all the love bug carcasses off my car and left it sparkling clean! See? What doesn't kill you cleans your car.

I mean to go back to Frederica maybe a little later in the year when the light is softer (for better pictures) and the air is cooler and the bugs are deader. Overall, it felt good to be in a place that has a lot of connections with Savannah's history and to stand where Oglethorpe stood and think about what it was like to live there and travel back and forth between Frederica, Savannah, and London. Considering the number of deer flies that will descend upon you if you stand still too long, I'm not surprised the man kept moving around.