Three things visitors need to know about Savannah: When General Sherman reached Savannah, Christmas neared and the city’s citizens – through libation or sweet southern hospitality – persuaded Sherman to allow the city to remain intact. Sherman did so and presented the city to President Lincoln as a Christmas present.
Next, in 1733, General James Oglethorpe landed in Savannah when the British wanted a buffer between the Carolina colonies and the Spanish in Florida. Oglethorpe pictured a city laid in twenty-four square to station troops in each square if needed. The squares, with their monuments and many trees, now give the city great beauty.
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
Thirdly, visitors must read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. In Savannah, people call John Berendt’s southern gothic novel, simply, The Book. The Book tells of Berendt’s experiences in Savannah in the 1980s, but focuses on a few eccentrics, but mainly Jim Williams, who is tried three times for a murder of a young hired worker. Lyricist Johnny Mercer built the house in which Williams lived and the murder occurred. Readers learn about the parties, the haves and have nots, and, basically, the good, bad and the ugly. On the trolley tour, the guide refers to The Book many, many times.
Exit the trolley at the Six Pence Pub on 245 Bull Street and step into England. Devour bangers and mash, Guinness Sirloin Tips, prime rib or hot open roast beef sandwich. Try the outdoor cafe and sit near the red English phone booth. Of course, wash everything down with Killians and Guinness.
Up from Bull Street, a bronze Oglethorpe stands in the center of Chippewa Square. Just north of Chippewa Square is the Independent Presbyterian Church. In the beginning of Forrest Gump, a feather fluttered freely in the air in front of the church. The feather eventually falls in front of Tom Hanks, who is sitting on a bench in Chippewa Square. The bench, just a prop, is not there.
Up Bull Street, on the corner of Oglethorpe Avenue, stands the childhood home of Juliette Gordon Low, the founder of the Girl Scouts. In the same direction on Bull Street, Wright Square, named after Sir James Wright, the first colonial governor of Georgia, marks the resting place of Tomochichi, the Yamacraw Indian chief who befriended Oglethorpe and his people, helping them survive those early years.
Near the Savannah River, still on Bull Street, City Hall, with its ornate copper dome, can be seen. Along the river, akin to trends in many southern cities, developers reconstruct river warehouses that once stored cotton, now house bars, little shops, restaurants, offices, and residences. It’s a great walk along the river, but sometimes crowded. The Pirates’ House, a few blocks away from the end of the river walk area on East Street, is one of the most famous former pirate establishments in the country and one of the oldest buildings in Georgia. The tavern first opened their doors in 1753 and written about in Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic Treasure Island.
Another writer, Flannery O’Connor, grew up in Savannah at 207 E. Charlton St. She wrote many short stories in the 1950s, including the well-known “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” which disturbed many college students. Pulitzer-Prize winning poet Conrad Aiken spent the first and final eleven years in Savannah. He lived at 228 Oglethorpe Ave. until his father killed his mother and committed suicide. He spent the last eleven at 230 Oglethorpe. Talk about the circle of life. All the Aikens are buried at the Bonaventure Cemetery and, in The Book, the author and Mary Harty sit on Aiken’s bench-shaped tombstone as they sip martinis.
The Bonaventure Cemetery is, at once, beautiful and spooky with its many trees, low canopy and hanging Spanish moss. Johnny Mercer, often mentioned in The Book and on the tours, is also buried at Bonaventure. He hailed from Savannah and wrote such classics as Moon River, Glow Worm, That Old Black Magic, Hooray for Hollywood, Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive and On the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe. He also co-founded Capitol Records and won four Academy Awards. Romantically, his wife’s stone reads: You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby — another of his songs.
Lady Chablis also hails from Savannah, but you’ll have to read The Book to find out about “her.” Also mentioned in The Book is Cleary’s, a dinner mention in The Book, where an eccentric character visits daily for breakfast. The breakfasts are great. Try the seafood omelet or the corned beef hash.
Savannah prides itself on its hospitality – one of its nicknames is the Hostess City. From the people at the Visitor’s Center who leap at the chance to help you decide how to spend your visit to the bartenders who pour your drink into a plastic “travel cup” – which the law allows you to carry on the street – everyone seems very eager to help you enjoy their city as much as they obviously do. Relax, explore and allow yourself to be charmed by people eager to charm you. Savannah is one of the best places to do just that.