‘What a day! Today it was sunny and a balmy 28°C!! Inside a store I overheard the owner say he was from Florida and for him this qualified as “cool”. Well, I live in Versailles, and for me this qualifies as August!!
Our main mission today was to walk the length of Bull Street, a scenic street that runs North-to-South across the entire Historic District, all the way to Forsyth Park, crossing some of the most iconic Savannah squares in the process.
Savannah has lots of small squares at the centre of each ward, with beautiful trees and normally a monument at the centre and lots of benches. It’s refreshing to see benches everywhere; what with defensive architecture being par for the course now, in Versailles and Paris you barely can find a place to sit outdoors. The thing about these squares, though, is that they’re all crazy mismatched in their names and monuments. Let me walk you through it:
Johnson Square doesn’t have a monument to Johnson, but to Nathanael Greene (who has his own Greene Square, with no monument to him). Reynolds Square’s monument is not to Reynolds but to methodism founder John Wesley, Wright Square’s monument is not to Wright but to William Gordon, Chippewa Square is named after a battle but the monument is to general James Oglethorpe, who already has Oglethorpe Square, Madison Square is named after the US president but has a monument to soldier William Jasper, and Monterey Square is also named after a war with Mexico but it has a big monument to Count Pulaski, who died in the war against the British.
Still with me? That should give you an idea of both the tangled history of this place and also how whimsy it is.
The walk to Forsyth Park looks really long on the map, but in fact it’s very doable, even if you stop in every corner to check out the cool stores like we did! There’s a good independent bookstore, as well as a dealer with amazing decorative Asian imports. I know it makes no sense to buy chopsticks when you’re in Georgia, but they were cool!
During this walk, we saw Chippewa Square, which is where Tom Hanks sat waiting for the bus in Forrest Gump, and the law firm in Wright Square that appeared in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. A very cinematic journey!
Forsyth Park is a huge, square park on the south side of the historic district. The edges and the paths are lined with all sorts of trees, among them the omnipresent oaks, most really old and tall. Everybody seemed to be out and about on this sunny Friday morning. One of the first sights to greet us in Forsyth was its famous fountain; if you’ve ever seen just one picture of Savannah, chances are it included this whimsical fountain that instead of elegantly cascading water down its steps, like any normal fountain, sprays water everywhere in all directions. This is madness!
After crossing all of Forsyth Park, we retraced our steps northward and had a great lunch at a very fashionable place called Collins Quarter, along the way.
For the afternoon, we amped up the culture and went to the Telfair Museum, a small but beautiful three-storey art museum. The lady at the ticket office, upon learning that we’re Spanish, told us “We’re old by American standards, not European standards”. It’s hilarious, but it’s not the first time we get this reaction. The guide at Houmas House was describing an armoire as being “extremely old, from the early 1800s” and then turned to us, the Europeans, and added “not to you guys, to you guys this is a baby”. The bottom floor has 19th century casts of famous sculptures, while the other two floors showcase paintings. It’s a nice collection, and you can get a pass for all three Telfair institutions, which also include the Jepson contemporary art museum and the Owens-Thomas House.
We’re going to leave the house tour for tomorrow, but we went into the Jepson (it’s literally on the other side of the street) to see the Bird Girl, the beautiful sculpture that became famous thanks to the cover of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. There’s something preternaturally serene about her, her posture symmetrical but with the head cocked to one side. Photographer Jack Leigh found it in Bonaventure Cemetery after a suggestion from author John Berendt, and it made it into the book and also into Clint Eastwood’s movie. So many people began visiting it in the cemetery that they had to remove it from the family plot it was in and move it to the museum.
Appropriately, after seeing the Bird Girl, we got into our car and drove to Bonaventure Cemetery to check out where it came from! Turns out it closes at 5PM, so we didn’t have a lot of time, but the cemetery has roads, so that saves time!
Bonaventure is a vast, sprawling cemetery with distinct neighbourhoods: there’s a Greek section, and a big Jewish section as well. There are tall flowerbeds on the sides of the drivable roads to shield the graves from the dust, and tall oak trees with Spanish moss everywhere. There were a couple of spots, with the older graves, that reminded me a bit of Koya-san, in the way the trees were completely part of the scenerey (of course, the difference is that the older graves were from the 1800s, rather than from the 800s).
An entire day of history and amazing vistas. You should all come!