Friday, April 15, 2011

Down South in Savannah

My wife and I traveled to Florida recently to visit relatives, and on the way back home, stopped by Savannah, Georgia for a brief looksee.  I have always been fascinated by Savannah as a place of old world charm, gentility and hint of sweet decadence.  As a writer I love its layers of personality, with its colonial past, its shaded park-like squares of restored mansions, and its thriving business center and seaport.  And then there are the city's unusual surprises like the Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences (one of the south's first public museums), the First African Baptist Church (built laboriously by slaves after long days in the field), and the Temple Mickve Israel, the third oldest synogogue in America.  Savannah also happens to be the birthplace of Juliette Gordon Low (founder of the Girl Scouts) and more recently, Johnny Mercer, singer, actor and composer of over 1500 songs. 

Author John Berendt might have captured the city's qualities best in his book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.  Although in my short visit I didn't see the characters he described in his book, Savannah is a place with a certain feel which I'm sure can incubate all kinds of people and drama. And there must also be lots of stories buried in the city's colonial and civil war past.  A little digging, and I'm sure a writer could unearth some interesting facts to build a novel around - like the underground railway used to transport slaves north, or the fact that Savannah was one of the few important cities spared by General Sherman during his march across the south.  (It seems old William Tecumsah had a couple of friends who lived there, and as a favor to them and because he wanted to present Savannah as a gift to Lincoln, he didn't torch it.)  And thank goodness for that!  Sherman's gift is one I would say just keeps on giving.

So if you're a writer, and it's history, mood and color you're after, a locale like Savannah is close to pitch-perfect for a good story.  I believe I'll return some day - but only after I explore a little more in my own backyard of western North Carolina.  I'm sure there are a few surprises there too. 

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