Peeling Back the Layers (revisiting the Berrien House)

Stumbled upon your blog an enjoyed it. I am the head of Historic Preservation for Berrien House and have been working on the project for almost a decade. Would you like a tour?

Say what? Man, my blog ain’t good for much, but it does send some interesting traffic my way now and again. That was the main text of an email I got out of nowhere on December 31, 2015. So, this guy named David Kelley was referring to my “Berrien the Past” blog from several years ago. If I asked David how he found that post, I don’t remember now what his answer was. I bet he was idly fishing around on Google for “Berrien House” and I snagged his lure. So, hey, I’m not gonna pass up an exclusive (and free of charge) opportunity to scope out the in-progress preservation effort on an 18th century Savannah mansion! We finally managed to schedule a rendezvous for February 5th, 2016. 

Local Revolutionary War hero John Berrien built his house at the corner of Broughton and Habersham Streets sometime in the 1790s. Until recently, it was the last unrestored 18th century mansion in the Historic District. See my original blog post if you want more details. 

This is what it looks like right now:

Pretty spiffy, right? Well, it’s come a long way. Previous owners had altered the house to make it apartments upstairs with retail space on the ground floor, alterations common to many old downtown buildings. There used to be large windows on the bottom that said "Pete's Shoe Repair". The lettering was still visible when restoration began. In fact, a former history professor of mine told me Pete's Shoe Repair closed up and the business vanished while still in possession of a pair of her shoes! The neglected hulk of the Berrien House stood on that corner all my life with its shop empty, its upper windows boarded, its wood siding covered in dull brown stucco. Below is a 1920s photograph of the house as storefront and tenements. It looked like this as far back as I can remember, except more dilapidated:

Here is what it looked like when the current owner bought the place and major exterior work first got underway:

Makes you shiver, doesn't it?

What you see up there is how it looked after crews removed the stucco and took apart the ground floor so they could lower the basement back to its original height. (It had been raised to add the storefront.) Who would willingly entangle themselves with a money pit like that? No one less than a direct descendant of the original owner, that’s who! Andrew Berrien Jones is his name. Again, see my original “Berrien the Past” blog post for more info about him. The guy deserves a medal or something. Even now, this job is far from over.

This was the foyer as of my gratis tour in February, 2016:

Left: looking toward the back of the house and the rebuilt central staircase. Right: Looking out the front door of the house.

Left: looking toward the back of the house and the rebuilt central staircase. Right: Looking out the front door of the house.

Oh no. That’s like breaking open a Kinder Egg and finding spiders inside. This is a nightmare if your plan is to fix up a house and live in it. Fortunately, Mr. Jones does most of his living in New York. However, it was a dream for me to see this historic building turned inside out.

David and I turned to the right and I had a gander at the parlor.

When you walk in the front door and look to the right, this is the doorway into the front parlor.

When you walk in the front door and look to the right, this is the doorway into the front parlor.

You can still see original moulding around the top of the wall up there on the left. The blue tape outline on the right is what the woodwork around the door would have looked like in the 18th century. That may be a detail that has to be replicated rather than restored. I don't know if any of that made it to the 21st century.

David showed me the remnants of walls that used to divide the front parlor when the place was broken up into several units. You can see their outline in the wood and the threshold to a door that is no longer there.

Ghost marks left in the wood floor by a wall and doorway that used to divide the room.

Ghost marks left in the wood floor by a wall and doorway that used to divide the room.

Old ceiling beams reinforced with new wood.

Old ceiling beams reinforced with new wood.

The picture up above shows the old ceiling beams, now accompanied by modern reinforcements. The City of Savannah required the upgrade in order to make the house compliant with hurricane-resistant building codes. David and I shared a giggle over that. The house has already survived numerous hurricanes (including one of the deadliest ever to strike the US), three major fires, one earthquake, a couple of ice storms, and decades of neglect. But sure, Zoning Board, your oversight has made the structure stable and safe for real this time!

Enjoy a few pictures below of old-timey building techniques and rescued doors and moulding.

Closeup view of old beams notched together and pegged in place.

Closeup view of old beams notched together and pegged in place.

Three different views of original door and hardware.

Three different views of original door and hardware.

Carved wood moulding to be restored/replicated.

Carved wood moulding to be restored/replicated.

Now, I have to talk about wallpaper for a little while, which is only boring if it doesn't involve the restoration of an 18th century mansion. One of the first things David told me after I met him was how surprised he was at his own growing interest and expertise when it comes to historic wallpaper. Now, if you or I crave something new on our walls, we just tootle on down to Home Depot, look at some catalogues maybe, and pick whatever we want. We come home with a few roles and spend a weekend swearing enthusiastically as we wrangle the paper over the drywall. Any time we get bored with our current walls, it's cheap and easy enough to repeat this process. To most modern Americans, their neighbors' wallpaper doesn't convey anything except their neighbors' personal aesthetics. None of this was true for the Americans of yesteryear.

Old-timey folk decorated their houses to show off their wealth more so than any sense of good taste. This often included spending obscene amounts of money on rugs, drapery, wallpaper, etc. What they wanted was all the color and pattern money could buy. Want to see the most eye-poppingly loud and tacky home decorating in America? Do a historic house tour. (Looking at you, Davenport House.) Our forebears even risked their lives for the sake of flashy trends: there was a craze during the Victorian era for an especially vivid shade of green in wallpaper patterns, clothing, whatever. How was this color achieved? By treating the material with arsenic. People slowly poisoned themselves just to show off.

I haven't heard of any poisonous wallpaper in the Berrien House, but David has uncovered some remarkable artifacts. Decorating trends are pretty distinct and old wallpaper can be an invaluable guide to reconstructing a house's past. David has been literally peeling back layers of history, which has helped him discern the house's timeline of construction, additions, and renovations over the years.     

Examples of several different wallpapers David has uncovered. They date from different time periods.

Examples of several different wallpapers David has uncovered. They date from different time periods.

If I remember correctly, that wallpaper right in the middle is the one that had David most excited. It's original to the house and was hand painted in France. The Davenport House is helping to replicated it.

Pictured below is wallpaper that was in an upstairs room, I think. It's a chintz pattern, almost exactly the same as what George Washington put up in what they call the Chintz Room at Mount Vernon. Different color scheme, but otherwise the same. Makes me wonder if Berrien and Washington (who were buddies) shared samples. Hmmm. I do appreciate the image of two American war heroes, with all the gravitas of being Founding Fathers, poring over wall paper catalogues, trying to decide if chartreuse is timeless or merely a fad.

Top: chintz paper in the Berrien House. Bottom: Chintz paper at Mount Vernon.

Top: chintz paper in the Berrien House. Bottom: Chintz paper at Mount Vernon.

Newly uncovered  chinoiserie  patterned wallpaper.

Newly uncovered chinoiserie patterned wallpaper.

What fascinated me more than the wallpaper itself was the technique of applying it. Perfectly smooth, straight drywall wasn't a thing in the 18th century. Did old-timey folk go through the trouble of plastering the walls, then cover up all that hard work? Not really, no. The photos below display two application techniques used in the Berrien House. One logistic to keep in mind is wallpaper back then did not come in long narrow rolls like it does now. It was applied in much smaller pieces, square by square. That sounds like a good idea and I wonder why we don't still do it that way. 

Anyway, what you're looking at on the left is old paper with muslin fabric used as backing. Paperhangers would apply the paper directly onto walls made of wooden boards, not plaster over lath. To make it lay smoothly, they covered that uneven wall surface with this layer of fabric first. It's kind of like doing papier mache. On the right, you see the same principle at use again, but with newspaper as backing instead of muslin. I guess someone decided to cut corners. That choice worked out well for David, though. The date on the newspaper (1796) helped date that part of the house.    

Left: muslin wallpaper backing Right: newspaper wallpaper backing.

Left: muslin wallpaper backing Right: newspaper wallpaper backing.

Pictured below are diagrams of how the house was altered over the years. The Berrien family lived here until the mid 19th century, so each generation made changes to suit their needs, such as increasing the house's depth and adding sleeping porches to the back.

Top: a side view of the house showing its original profile and later additions onto the back. Also David's finger. Bottom: a quick sketch on plywood of the house's rear aspect before more additions were made to it in the 19th century.

Top: a side view of the house showing its original profile and later additions onto the back. Also David's finger. Bottom: a quick sketch on plywood of the house's rear aspect before more additions were made to it in the 19th century.

The slanted beam up top is a holdover from the original first story roof line, before the height at the back of the house was extended.

The slanted beam up top is a holdover from the original first story roof line, before the height at the back of the house was extended.

Major John Berrien's House was built a couple of decades before Savannah's first true mansions (like the Owens-Thomas House) and well before Savannah's golden age as a cotton port. But he did build it just at the time our city began to experience some steady low-key prosperity, free of colonial mismanagement and uninterrupted by war. 1790-1820 was a pretty good few decades and Berrien was among those at the top of the social totem pole. He was also Collector of Customs at the port here for a while, so was obligated to make a good showing for international visitors. The relative grandeur of his home spoke to his own status, but was also a way of impressing upon outsiders the increasingly refined profile of Savannah itself. Whether it was true or not, that's the impression he wanted them to take away. Hence, all the fancy wallpaper. In addition, the grandest rooms (such as the upstairs ballroom) were decorated with lavish wainscoting and moulding, pictured here. David told me something unusual about the moulding: it's carved of wood, not shaped from plaster. People even used to make details like that our of honest-to-god papier mache (heavily lacquered, of course), but not wood because it requires so much work.  

Top: two different styles of original wainscoting in the upstairs rooms. Bottom left: carved wood moulding around the ceiling of the upstairs ballroom. Bottom right: a closeup of the wooden wainscoting. 

Top: two different styles of original wainscoting in the upstairs rooms. Bottom left: carved wood moulding around the ceiling of the upstairs ballroom. Bottom right: a closeup of the wooden wainscoting. 

All the pretty details are great, but it's also tons of fun to get a look at the inner workings of an old house. As I held that old hand-cast nail you see below, I told David I felt well-prepared to skewer any tiny vampires who might cross my path!

Left: hand-cast iron nails in old wood. Right: Me holding an original nail.

Left: hand-cast iron nails in old wood. Right: Me holding an original nail.

Mine and David's last stop was to the attic. Servants or slaves undoubtedly lived there at one time. Pictured here is old hand-cut wooden lath beneath crumbled plaster, right above a picture of slightly less old machine-cut lath.

Exposed plaster and lath in the attic. Top: hand-cut wooden lath. Bottom: newer, machine-cut lath.

Exposed plaster and lath in the attic. Top: hand-cut wooden lath. Bottom: newer, machine-cut lath.

Three view of the attic, plus some initials carved inside one of the dormers.

Three view of the attic, plus some initials carved inside one of the dormers.

See this floorboard down here? What's with that finger-sized notch on the edge? Eh, it's exactly what it looks like. David had a funny story about when he first began exploring the attic and he poked his finger right there where it looks like it's supposed to go. Sure enough, the board levered up and there was a hidey-hole underneath full of old liquor bottles! Somebody hid their stash up there in the attic! Was it a servant? Someone's errant kid? Did someone need to hide their booze when Prohibition-era police broke up their Flapper party? We shall never know.

A floorboard in the attic with a suspicious notch....

A floorboard in the attic with a suspicious notch....

To my knowledge, no one has yet given Andrew Berrien Jones a medal, but they did give his house its very own historic marker. I ran into David Kelley and Jones himself in the bar of the 17Hundred90 one evening while conducting my Lightly Sauced tour. David introduced me to Andrew and let me know there was a ceremony and reception planned to celebrate the new marker that Friday. October, Friday the 13th, of all days. Easy to remember, so I managed to attend. There were some changes and new progress, but the house still has a long way to go. I found some informative new diagrams to take pictures of, which you can see below.

Another drawing depicting the house and various additions and changes made throughout the years.

Another drawing depicting the house and various additions and changes made throughout the years.

A front ways blueprint.

A front ways blueprint.

Hors d'oeuvres at the dedication of the new plaque.

Hors d'oeuvres at the dedication of the new plaque.

The house has a spiffy new historical marker on Habersham Street.

The house has a spiffy new historical marker on Habersham Street.

I hope you enjoyed this virtual tour of historic preservation in action. The Berrien House progresses slowly, but then, so does Savannah.

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!

Edit

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
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
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
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
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) inWright 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

Sauced10

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 Zerve.com. 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

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.

So....

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.

Figures.

Savannah: impulse-buy of the South

Hostess

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.

Monologuing

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.

"Yep."

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.

The perilous life of a local monument

Interesting headline in the Savannah Morning News yesterday: Terror plot targets Forsyth. Forsyth Park, that is and, more specifically, the antique cast iron fountain in the middle of it. A group of 3rd Infantry Division soldiers formed their own anarchist militia, stockpiled thousands of dollars worth of guns and ammo, and decided to overtake Fort Stewart and eventually topple the US government and assassinate the President. I'm sure taking over the world would have been the next logical step after that. And somewhere on that busy itinerary someone wrote this line: Step 3) blow up Forsyth Park fountain. The only response I can muster is "Why?" Why was blowing up this fountain-

Forsyth Park fountain, Savannah, GA

-that vital to the plan? Did one of these guys get arrested for playing in it when he was a teenager? Did one of them fall and conk his head on the fence? What did that fountain ever do to anyone? Was making everyone in Savannah real sad and angry for a while an indispensably important part of the overall scenario? Given the grandiosity of these soldiers' scheme, why would they waste time and resources on such a petty digression?

The Forsyth Park fountain is a local icon and losing it would hurt. Of all the beautiful buildings and churches and squares, this one mid-19th century cast-iron fountain has become the most identifiable landmark in town and the most enduring symbol of Savannah. It is to this city what the Hollywood sign is to Los Angeles. You know where you are as soon as you see it. And losing it would hurt a lot. But it would only hurt the people here. Destroying that fountain doesn't even approach the same caliber of terrorism as crashing planes into the Twin Towers because neither Savannah itself nor anything in it has a national symbolic status. What made the September 11th attacks so painful for the entire country was that Manhattan and every feature of its skyline are American icons. It's a legacy that belongs to all of us. Then, of course, there was the loss of human life. An explosion in the middle of Forsyth Park would not lead to an especially impressive body count. I'm sure fast-moving cast-iron shrapnel would do serious damage to any unfortunate bystanders, but we're only talking about maybe a dozen people here. How could a group of men ambitious enough to jump start an anarchist revolution be distractible enough to set their aim so low? What sort of idiot aspires to be a small-town terrorist?

You'd think the existence of a monument in a mid-sized Southern town would be simple and straightforward: stand still, look pretty. But it's amazing how frequently, just in my lifetime, Savannah's statues and fountains have been the victims either of targeted vandalism or of destructive carelessness. Sometimes it's just people being cute, like when Friday night drunkards scale the John Wesley monument for the hilarious joy of leaving a beer cup in his open right hand. Yep, that's real funny, guys. It'll be even funnier when one of you falls one night and busts your head open. Then there are your I'm-gonna-write-my-name-on-it-with-a-marker-because-I'm-that-cool type of taggers. These are not real graffiti artists who unsheathe their spray cans to colorize the black and white nocturnal world. These are just morons who stagger through Ellis Square and think it's the height of comedy to scribble all over the bronze Johnny Mercer statue. Lucky for us the statue's sculptor, Susie Chisholm, anticipated that and made it easy to clean off. Make no mistake, I don't have much respect for the higher class of graffiti artists either. It's pretty presumptuous to think you have any right to leave your mark all over something that's meant to be shared with everyone or on the wall of a building that someone else has bought and paid for.

For the most part, though, basic stupidity and alcohol have wrought the greatest havoc on the Downtown scene. I've read of drivers fecklessly zooming into Franklin Square and Greene Square. I remember one, and maybe two, instances when inebriated motorists rammed into the armillary sphere that adorns the center of Troup Square. It's taken some serious damage and had to be rebuilt at least once. The mother of all local monument murders, though, has to be the total and complete annihilation of the winged lion fountain in front of the Savannah Cotton Exchange in August of 2008.

I remember getting that phone call: I was in Florida, visiting my grandma, when a friend of mine back home called to tell me about it. I was completely amazed and scoured the newspapers for all the details when I returned to Savannah. I had to go Downtown and take a look myself, of course. Sure enough, that lion was gone. It was a winged lion (not a griffin) that had been installed as a decorative fountain in front of the Cotton Exchange in 1889. Although it was originally nothing more than an expensive lawn ornament ordered from a catalog, by 2008 it had become a local treasure and there wasn't another like it to be found anywhere else in the country. All that was left when I got there were it's terracotta paws, as if the statue was still gripping its base in petrified terror upon seeing the headlights barreling toward it down Drayton Street at 70 miles per hour.

Oh yes, I forgot that detail. Was it terrorists or pyromaniacs or malevolent teenagers who blew up the lion and the antique fence around it? No. It was a drunk woman at 7 in the morning. She charged down Drayton Street, jumped the curb, crashed through the iron railing, demolished the lion, bounced off a lamp post, and slammed to a halt against the outer doors of the Cotton Exchange. She suffered only minimal injuries, though considering how incensed Savannahians were over the damage, she may have wished for death. So, to tally it all up, a beloved statue had been obliterated, a section of 19th century fencing was mangled, and a historic building had absorbed a full-frontal vehicular assault.

Thus we began the long road to recovery. The Cotton Exchange was able to replace the windows that had been broken by flying debris. They also had to replace their doors. The original outer pocket doors were red oak and weighed about 450 lbs. To the credit of their maker, those doors did their job and admirably withstood the impact of that woman's car- the inner doors were completely unharmed. The new doors are Spanish cedar and weigh 300 lbs. The damaged fencing was replaced thanks to a sharp-eyed local who realized the very same cast-iron pattern was at the back of the Philbrick-Eastman House and they could use that to make a replica. The lion, however, appeared to be a lost cause. It had been shattered to pieces, there was no other one like it from which they could cast a new mold, the original mold was long gone..... Then, Providence smiled upon our despondent city and bequeathed us Randy Nelson, restoration artist. This daring (or crazy) man pieced together what he could, used old photographs to recreate what he couldn't, magicked up a new mold, and cast us a fresh lion out of concrete. And so, when you come to Savannah and walk by the Cotton Exchange along Bay Street, remember this story and admire for a moment the pig-headed dedication of the people who would not let their beloved fountain go quietly into that good night.

Had the 3rd ID Idiot Brigade succeeded in their nefarious plot to obliterate our even more cherished fountain in Forsyth Park, I'm sure we would have reacted in much the same way: outrage followed by mulish determination to put everything right back where it belonged. And replacing that fountain would not be nearly as difficult as replacing the lion since there are ones just like it in Cuzco, Peru and in Poughkeepsie, NY. So, you know what? Explode whatever you like, morons! We are rednecks, we have duct tape, and we will fix it!

 

 

Local theatre and bicycle thieves

My boyfriend, Don, and I spent the evening out last night. I had gotten us tickets to see the Bay Street Theatre's production of Avenue Q. I've had the Broadway cast recording since the show won the Tony for best new musical in 2003 and I saw the national touring company here at the Johnny Mercer Theater last year on my birthday. It's such a funny show and I was looking forward to seeing it again with a cast full of people I know. Don and I ate dinner beforehand at Fire Street Food. We had watched the movie Rashomon earlier that afternoon while I was painting my nails, so I had a craving for Japanese. Then we walked down to Cafe Gelatohhh! and scarfed down servings of gelatoh that I'm pretty sure outweighed our chicken teriyaki. From there, we only had to stroll around the corner to the Bay Street Theatre. It's in the same building as Club One, on Jefferson Street. The actors perform in the cabaret space above the drag club. In fact, the show finished up at 9:45 and the crew had to strike the set and get everything out of the way so the usual cabaret show could crank up at 10:30. As seems to always be the case for community theatre in this town, the performance space is small, badly designed, woefully inadequate, and has to be shared. In spite of all this, local performers (including myself- yes, I do theatre) routinely overcome the difficulties and put up knock-out shows. Last night's performance was definitely a knock-out!

The Bay Street Theatre Company is only a few years old, but they have become very active. They've expanded from doing just The Rocky Horror Show Live every Halloween and Hedwig and the Angry Inch to including smaller non-musical comedies and dramas, shows focused on LGBTQ issues as well as shows with a broader appeal. A lot of their shows double as fundraisers for an organization called Stand Out Youth. In fact, audience members were invited to give actual cash to the puppets during "The Money Song" in the show last night. Yeah, Avenue Q involves puppets. Also puppet sex. It's... not a show for kids.

One of the best things about BST is they handle scripts, musical or not, that other troupes around here won't touch. Ever notice how all the local theatres in your area seem to do the same shows over and over again? Always Rogers and Hammerstein musicals, always Agatha Christie murder mysteries, always Neil Simon comedies. You know why they do that? Because they're safe choices. Those plays are crowd-pleasers, guaranteed to make money while offending only a minimal number of people. It's very hard to get butts in the seats and keep them coming back. Even at BST, the big musicals they do, like Rocky Horror, basically subsidize the smaller, less well-attended shows like Bug and The Laramie Project. Savannah theatre-goers are getting a little braver, though. The Bay Street Theatre Company picked up Chekhov's gun and fired the first bullets at our somnolent southern scene and the pandemonium has only increased with the addition of this town's first repertory theatre company, The Collective Face Theatre Ensemble. They are always edgy, often controversial, always high quality, and never musical- a daring arrangement financially and artistically. It saddens me to think that most visitors to Savannah have no clue what theatrical variety there is to choose from. They only know about the show at Savannah Theatre on Chippewa Square. It is a good show and all the performers are excellent. However, it's always kind of the same thing: family-friendliness, bouncy musical numbers, cheesy comedy, the same cast, and cheery, cheery, cheerfulness. How sad that so many tourists should miss out the rollicking, raunchy good time offered by What the Butler Saw, or the emotional intensity of 'Night, Mother. That's why I try so hard to promote local theatrical troupes and smaller venues to my walking tour clients.

Avenue Q was spectacular and woe to anyone who misses it! (It still has one more weekend.) Everyone was perfectly cast and sounded great and I'm glad to say the house was packed with a wildly appreciative audience. It helped lift me out of my personal funk for a little while. Some jerk stole my bicycle four days ago and that has completely ruined my week. Being naturally a little obsessive, I simply cannot let it go. Have you ever been homicidally angry for days on end? It really wears you out. I cannot stop glancing at every porch and through every gate and at every bike rack in the vain hope that I will see my bicycle there. Every person I see on the street is potentially the thief and becomes the object of my directionless hatred. Every time the phone rings, I hope it's the police calling to say they found my bike in some thug's house while conducting a drug raid or something.

I bought and paid for that bicycle, it was exactly the kind I wanted, I rode it to and from work for more than a year. I was cleaning and lubing the chain in the backyard and went upstairs for a minute to put some things away and wash my hands. Stupidly, I did not lock it down. My natural sense of paranoia normally prevents me from being so complacent. I came back downstairs and my bike was gone. Just gone. Some sweaty, caviar-brained troglodyte simply opened the gate, hauled his ugly carcass across the yard, and took what was mine. I called the police immediately and they already had my serial number on file, but I know the odds of retrieving my bike are slim. Still, I am on the hunt. I am looking for you, little man. And when I find you with my bicycle, I will rip out your teeth, grind them into a powder, spit in it, and make you brush your gums with the paste. There is a special circle of Hell for bicycle thieves and I will make sure you get there. Oh, yes, I am on the hunt. And now that you have compelled me to travel on foot, my view is that much more precise.

Urban wildlife

Sometimes you get a little bonus and a typical, everyday history tour turns into a history tour and wildlife safari. I had an 11am tour with a family of four today. We strolled into Oglethorpe Square and I pointed to the Owens-Thomas house, but stopped short before launching into my usual spiel about the place. There was a bird of prey perched on a parking sign right at the edge of the square. It looked too small and sleek to be a red-tailed hawk (which are quite common all over town), so I'm pretty sure it was some sort of falcon. Don't see those downtown very often! As we moved toward that side of the square to get a closer view of the house, the bird flapped across the street and made itself comfortable on the balustrade near the front gate for a little while before taking off on its own raptor business. It's funny the number of wild encounters you can have in the Historic District if you're there often enough and you pay attention. I was leading a tour group through Chippewa Square once when one of the regular homeless guys came up to us and pointed out a hoot owl sitting on the branch of an oak tree above our heads. I see red-tailed hawks with surprising regularity all over the place. There was even a pair who decided to nest on a ledge outside a window of the Hampton Inn and Suites last year. The paper ran a story about it. One day, in Monterey Square, I watched a red-tail weave and maneuver about two feet above the ground in a high-speed chase after a squirrel-flavored lunch. What surprised me most was the squirrel got away. I guess pure fear for your fluffy rodent life is like a nitro-boost for squirrels.

So, the exotic creatures like hawks and falcons and owls are undoubtedly cool. But even the more mundane denizens of downtown sometimes manage to be charming. I notice bats zipping around overhead every time I walk through City Market at night. I can hear their high-pitched chittering. I think it's one of those frequencies people lose the ability to hear past a certain age. Maybe that's why no one but me looks for them. Every bat I spot reminds me the number of mosquitoes will be that much smaller by the end of the night. There's a beehive I've been watching for two years in an oak tree in the median of Oglethorpe Avenue. It's directly across from the Ballastone Inn. Every bee makes me think there will be that many more flowers to enjoy year after year. I'm glad they made their home in the middle of the road and out of the way of pedestrians, otherwise I'm sure someone would have had them removed or exterminated by now. Considering the potentially disastrous consequences of Colony Collapse Disorder, every bee should basically be considered sacred.

Then there are the super-mundane animal inhabitants that roam from square to square: squirrels, pigeons, and other unglamorous birds. Even the fluff-rats and sky-rats manage to be amusing now and again. Well, I can't think of many stories involving pigeons, except this one I rescued on River Street once. It was several years ago. I was relaxing between tours and watching a bunch of pigeons splashing around in one of the fountains down there. One of them was really getting into it and completely soaked himself. I actually thought, "If something startles those birds and that one tries to take off, he's going to flop right into the fountain and drown." Sure enough, something sent the pigeons scattering into the air, all except the one who was sopping wet already. He went slap! right into the deep water around the base of the fountain. That bird was doomed. I walked over there to fish him out and the stupid squab kept splashing around and paddling out of my reach. I finally managed to scoop him up and dump him in some bushes to dry off. Stupid bird.

Squirrels are kind of prone to incidental cuteness. They're squirrels- they can hardly help it. Minding my own business while sauntering through Oglethorpe Square one day, I heard this loud rustling from one of the trashcans. I looked and up popped a squirrel's little grey head! He flew out of the trashcan with his freshly scavenged loot and up into the nearest tree. The squirrels around here have become just as expert trash-pickers as the homeless, I guess. Another day, I saw a squirrel in Reynolds Square munching on a Pringles potato chip that a person on a nearby bench had given him. I wonder if even rodents are destined to become part of the obesity statistics in the South? The funniest squirrel I ever saw, though, was the one doing nothing at all. I stretched out on a bench in Warren Square to relax between tours one day. It was on the south end where the oak branches swoop down very low. While lying there, I suddenly noticed a squirrel directly above my face doing exactly the same thing. He was snoozing belly-down on a branch with his little legs splayed on either side of it. Well, I guess he could have been dead, but I'm just going to tell myself he was asleep. A dead squirrel would have fallen off the branch, right?

Being a tour guide has made me realize that some critters I take for granted are still new and exciting to people who aren't from around here. Australians tend to get all loopy over the squirrels because they don't have those Down Under. I think every harmless critter that once lived in Australia was eaten long ago by all the deadly things that exclusively inhabit the place now. I even get upstaged by lizards, those common little green or brown lizards, whenever I have Yankees on the tour. Then I remember reptiles do not thrive in cold climates, so to see lizards casually climbing up every vine must seem so foreign and thrilling to Northerners. I think the real thrill comes later on, though, when they realize how big the roaches get down here....

So, look out for the six-legged wildlife, kiddos!