As a native belle of the south, I fancy myself to have a lot of fondness for some of these particular haunts of the south that makes my heart yearn for this patch of dirt-no matter where I am in this world. I was born and raised in South Georgia, near the Okefenokee Swamp, in a pretty rural area. I’ve had family in or around Savannah all of my life, so my family did hardly need an excuse to go to Savannah for the day. Savannah has everything: history, food, activities for all ages, and it’s near the beach. What more could a family ask for?
I’ve been to Savannah more times than I can count throughout my life. Throughout the untold trips during my early childhood, the experience that stands out to me the most, as a child, is a school trip I took part of in the 4th grade. Our first stop was Fort Pulaski, the pre-Civil War-era fort that served to fortify the coast during the Civil War. We then went to the iconic River St, a staple of any trip to Savannah for both locals and tourists. Seeing the Cathedral Basilica of St. John the Baptist for the first time was a really cool experience for an eight or nine-year-old. It was very humbling going to the First African Baptist Church and learning about its extensive history for humans and civil rights, as well as its contribution to the Underground Railroad. No grade school field trip is complete without a good dose of history and education. What better way for a teacher to rally around a subject of history than is taking them to a place where history is preserved-and filmed. Our field trip was not complete without a stop to the Savannah History Museum, where most of us youngsters were most excited at seeing the bench and suitcase of Forrest Gump. The famous opening scene was shot in Chippewa Square-one of 22 squares in the downtown historic district of Savannah. Our last stop on the field trip was for a late lunch at the Pirate House, which is both notorious for being the oldest building in Savannah, and supposedly one of the most haunted as well. I specifically remember being particularly excited about that latter detail, as, at the tender age of nine, I loved all things spooky and paranormal, a fondness which still carries on to this day.
I am sharing this anecdote because I have come to believe that this particular trip to Savannah left me with a profound yearning for the city. I was offered just a wee taste of what the city had to offer to my interests as a young child. But now as an adult, my interests in the city has grown beyond what I could have imagined as a child. Now, I see Savannah as opportunity, excitement, living history, the embodiment of southern hospitality, but most importantly, I now see it as home.
The people who have also called Savannah home, both in the past and present, is what keeps Savannah being Savannah. Savannah isn’t called “the hostess city” for nothing. It lives up to it’s name because of the hospitality shown to both tourists and locals that has helped Savannah become home to so many colorful souls that breathe life into the city. Savannah is a port city, and historically, port cities are havens for those of all walks of life. And being that Savannah is the oldest city in the state of Georgia, some of the colorful souls that have wandered its streets and river have been everyone from Native Americans to pirates, merchants, traders, soldiers and slaves, and everyone in between. Even in our modern era where many traveling ports by sea have been replaced by air, Savannah still lives up to its port city status as it attracts untold numbers of travelers for almost as many reasons.
One of the most popular reasons to become a visitor for Savannah is its notoriously haunted history. I have been on a few ghost tours in Savannah, and I’ve never been disappointed with the experience. I have even learned some interesting and creepy facts about some of the history in Savannah while on them. Such as the eerie reason why many bricks on the sidewalks in the downtown are partially unevenly sucked into the ground. The reason is because you are literally walking on someone’s grave! Savannah has seen a lot of life and death in its nearly 300-year history. To put it bluntly, modern Savannah is built on top of its own dead. In the ye olden days, wooden coffins would be buried and often built over, and overtime the wooden coffins would rot and ultimately collapse, which essentially causes little tiny sinkholes in the surface above and thus making anything built on top of the graves sink a few inches into the earth. Colonial Park Cemetery, established in 1750, is home to an estimated 9,000 departed souls in its six acres. Among those, 9,000 bodies includes the nearly 700 lives lost to the Great Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1820. Unlike those fortunate enough to have a designated resting place for the rest of time, those lives lost during the Great Yellow Fever Epidemic were unceremoniously buried in a mass grave in Colonial Park Cemetery to lower the risk of contagion. Colonial Park Cemetery officially ceased any further burials in 1853 due to the fact that no where in the cemetery remained uncorrupted. Nearly every square inch behind the walls and beneath the earth of the cemetery lies some soul’s resting place. Considering the miles upon miles upon miles of sidewalks with these uneven bricks, let alone under the modern streets and buildings in the downtown historic district, is there any wonder why Savannah is claimed to be the most haunted city in America? Some of my personal favorite haunts are Madison Square, the same square that is adjacent to the infamously haunted Sorrel-Weed house, the Moon River Brewery, the Pirate House, and, of course, Colonial Park Cemetery. Just to name a few.
But if haunted happenings aren’t your thing, Savannah has some wickedly good food. Savannah has everything a true foodie could wish for and more. Savannah is home to one of the south’s most recognized chefs, Paula Deen. Her restaurant, Lady & Son, is a hot spot for both locals and tourists. Her restaurant serves classic southern staples with a hefty serving of the southern hospitality that Savannah is known for.
River Street has some of my favorite restaurants in the whole city. The Olympia Cafe is a little slice of Athens, Greece right in the heart of downtown Savannah on River Street. It shows the type of culinary diversity that Savannah has to offer rather than just classic southern comfort food. Another hopping restaurant on River Street is The Cotton Exchange Grille & Tavern. In my opinion, The Cotton Exchange has some of the best seafood in town, and it has an amazing bar! There is just something particularly satisfying about eating seafood right on the water.
Savannah is also home to some eats that are distinctly unAmerican. The British Pie Society is one of those hidden gems you can expect to find in any port city. They have two locations in the Savannah area; one in downtown Savannah, and the other in Pooler (about 20 miles away from downtown Savannah). Their Savannah location has British meat pies, whereas their Pooler location has more familiar British staples such as fish n chips and other imported British pantry items like British Heinz baked beans and blood pudding. The British Pie Society also has a food truck that drives around the Savannah area.
In true port city fashion, Savannah has a diverse culture and is home to countless cliques of types of people. Savannah is also a major college town and home to the illustrious SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design), which helps bring its own culture into the city just in and of itself. As a previous artsy college student, the “artsy college student” crowd is one of my favorite types of cliques. To me, as someone who isn’t far off from that age group, I like to think I can identify with them a great deal more than other young adult cliques. I feel like they offer a breath of fresh air to what is already there instead of changing what has been there for decades upon decades, at least in the architectural and design sense. I also feel that this age group is more adaptive and accepting to change when and where it is needed.
Savannah has the second largest number of practitioners of voodoo and hoodoo outside of New Orleans, Louisiana. Voodoo and Hoodoo are not the same thing. Voodoo is a religion and has a belief system. Hoodoo is the magic that has come from the teachings of voodoo. Think of hoodoo like a practice and voodoo like the mindset behind the practice. Being that Savannah held the largest slave auction ever recorded in US history in 1859, called The Weeping Time, its little wonder how Savannah still holds on to some many practitioners of voodoo and hoodoo. An interesting tidbit came from the practice of hoodoo that, in a way, is beneficial to all Savannahians. Haint blue is a color of blue that derived from hoodoo and low Georgia culture. Haint blue is made from crushed indigo, which used to be a highly profitable plantation crop, and when the crushed indigo was made into paint it resembled water or sky. Because of the belief that ghosts and spirits cannot travel across water, people would paint their door frames or porch ceilings with the haint blue paint to trick the ghosts into thinking that they were approaching water or the sky. In my opinion, it is also a very pretty color and I would definitely be willing to paint my entire house in that shade of blue.
Hoodoo also plays a major role in the real life trial of Jim Williams in the book Midnight in The Garden of Good and Evil. According to v/hoodoo, you can cast a spell for good or evil with grave dirt dug from a grave depending on whether you dug up the dirt before or after midnight. If the dirt is dug up before midnight, it’s a spell for good; if it’s after midnight, it’s spell for bad. According to the book and real life accounts, Williams hired a hoodoo root doctor to craft a spell to get him off of the murder trial. The root doctor done so, and thus Williams was acquitted each time on all of his four murder trials, but Williams didn’t pay the root doctor for her services. Williams suddenly died less than year after his last acquittal, no more than 10 feet where he shot dead his former lover in supposed self-defense.
Hoodoo and Voodoo are also the reason why Colonial Park Cemetery locks it’s gates from 8pm to 8am when a sacrificed goat was found on one of the graves in the cemetery.
Savannah is also the home of some major contributions to the United States. For instance, the Girl Scouts were founded in Savannah in 1912 by Juliette Gordon Lower. Coming from a family of wealth, Juliette Gordon Lower began the Girl Scouts after she divorced her cheating husband. She started the Girl Shouts by encouraging young girls to learn how to be self-sufficient. Considering her experience in learning how to live independently without her husband, she must have thought it was a pretty good idea for young girls to learn that they don’t have to be a man to survive in this world. Right on.
One thought on “Savannah: Pearls of the South”
Really appreciate you sharing this! Now I have some fine ideas on what me and my girlfriend will do on our Staycation at Savannah next week! I’m checking it too on https://www.visitsavannah.com/ and I think a trip Downtown is a great idea on our first night there!