You glance over at your now lost limb as a nurse throws it under the floorboard, not caring that you once ran through fields, swam in lakes, and climbed trees back home. No longer an innocent child, but now a man, wearing a badge of honor.
General James Oglethorpe was 37 years old when he first laid eyes on what was then referred to as “Open Grassy Plain, King George II” in the Winter of 1733.
Not even knowing exactly where he was going to put this utopia-like debtors and poor person's colony, Oglethorpe embarked on a mission to aid those under stress.
Thirty-five families made up of 120 souls boarded the Ship Anne in hopes of fleeing death-infested prisons and poor neighborhoods in England for a new life and new opportunity.
Fifty acres and a home was the agreement among skillful debtors and poor while expanding the economy and goals of The New World for England.
For Oglethorpe, perhaps, founding Savannah was closure for the death of his dear friend Robert Castall, a tragic casualty from small pox in debtors prison.
Perhaps it was a way to flee working in slave trade, an act he deeply hated.
James was a man of honor and care.
One unopposed truth, this planned utopian city would seal James Oglethorpe’s name forever in the hearts of those he helped and those he welcomed.
Welcome to “Open Grassy Plain, King George II”. Otherwise known as Savannah, Georgia.
If you were standing on the corner of Bull and Hull Streets in the early 90’s, you’d see a forgotten quiet city nestled among Live Oaks and Spanish Moss. Locals would quietly leave their offices at the closing bell and retreat to their homes outside of Savannah’s historic district. Because inside, Savannah lacked restaurants, hotels, and was overshadowed by empty buildings. Still beautiful by nature, the Hostess City didn’t have anyone to host.
Thankfully, he’s a Savannah boy. Blessed by the genteel grace of the South, kissed by the Georgia Sun, and loved fiercely by his Southern Belle of a mother. To be a Southern Gentleman is not God-given. It’s earned through lessons of “yes ma’am”, opening doors, and looking into people’s eyes with genuine care. It’s leading by faith, and not fighting with words, but proving through actions.
For two though, the stench of Mr. Wise became their daily task…Alice Riley and Richard White. William Wise thought it was playful to beat and abuse Alice daily. Her only goal was to payback the price for her passage to the new world, a common ritual for poor indentured servants in 1734. As for Richard, he angrily looked on as his beloved Alice was torn by this old man and forced to bath him night after night.
I’ve had the pleasure of hosting guests from Canada, Australia, England, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Austria, Ireland, Russia, Bulgaria, Columbia, and Israel to name a few. Most of them have only read about the South, seen pictures, and Savannah never disappoints any preconceived notion. For me, I become a student of their country as much as they become a student of ours. For the greatest lesson I’ve learned is that we’re all incredibly similar.
Of all of Savannah’s hidden locals, one of the most somber is the east end of Calhoun Square. Over her history, Savannah played home to thousands of African American slaves. At the time, the place where Calhoun now sits buttressed on all sides by beautiful stately mansions and draped in the shade of moss-laden oak trees, all was overgrown wilds, just past the edge of town, where it was deemed that those seen as property could bury their dead.
And this old shaded town started out as a debtors colony, after all. The first people who settled this place, they were the paupers, the cast-offs of English society. And so it’s no wonder that as the city grew, and as the original generations grew old and died off, the bricks of buildings and sidewalks paved right over the top of Savannah’s original burial grounds, snuffing out any record of the old paupers forgotten underneath. And so it continued. Generation after generation until untold burial plats, caskets, and bones were forgotten and hidden forever.
Upon entering Savannah's Colonial Park Cemetery, you're immediately taken back in time to the Hostess City's rich past, both dark and triumphant.
You'll walk past monumental historical figures including Button Gwinnett, who signed the Declaration of Independence. You can't help but stroll by graves of those perished by Yellow Fever in 1820. Dive deep enough into the details, and you can easily find yourself there for hours.
And you're sure to notice the back wall of the cemetery. It's covered with tombstones, oddly displaced, mounted to the brick like carefully preserved banners that would have otherwise been lost forever.
But take a closer look. You'll notice something strange.
There's not a day that goes by when I don't walk down Bull St. and enjoy our visitors' eyes down on a map of Savannah's picturesque Historic District.
The grid-like appearance of the map can be confusing to the first-time visitor, but at least the benefit is that we don't have 71 "Peachtree" streets, circles, industrials, or avenues like our neighbor to the north, Atlanta.
This wasn’t the burial place of tin men, heartless and void of story. The ones who lay here possessed singing voices once, running feet, and lips made for kissing.
Here was a place of rest and remembrance, the ground a spongy bookshelf, filled to bursting with volumes closed, but carefully remembered. Destined to open again.
For me, the truest legends rested beneath the soil of the graveyard.
Blame it on the famous mystique of Savannah, but I’ve held a fascination with graveyards.