December 2018 – Mark Vawser
Savannah, Georgia is one of the oldest cities in America’s south. Established in 1733 the city was once the most strategic ports in the south during the Revolutionary and Civil wars. Today it is one of the smaller cities I have visited in the US with a population of just under 150,000. This smaller size is to city’s advantage because Savannah is the best looking city I have visited thus far in the US. The historic downtown area is steeped in history and preserved beautify, the iconic live oaks and hanging Spanish moss block out the sun, and tales of haunted squares are tantalizing. Let’s take a stroll in downtown Savannah.
Savannah Streets (2018)
Savannah was very aesthetically pleasing. The colonial houses, the oak trees and the spanish moss give the downtown area a feeling of fantasy.
For photography is was a challenge. The sunlight was very sporadic, only peeking through the oaks at main roads or crossing. The low light conditions made it difficult for the beginner I was in 2018. But what did work was worth the effort.
Downtown Savannah at first glance was a maze of one-way streets and stop signs. My Australian countenance instantly bemoaned the American refusal to use roundabouts but as I began to discover as I walked through the old town of Savannah the stop signs had a point. The old section of the city was made up of a series of squares, each with their own garden square complete with monuments or fountains. The pattern continued until we wondered outside the old town towards suburban housing.
The squares were by far the best looking area of the US I had visited so far. Each was named after a Revolutionary leader such as Washington, Lafayette or early statements like the fourth President James Madison. The thick knurled oaks twisted together to create a thick canopy with only shifting sunbeams able to touch the many flower beds. Clinging to the oaks were the iconic hanging Spanish moss that occupied every branch of every tree, even some light posts began to cultivate their own colony. During the day this botanical combination was gorgeous giving the old town a distinct almost mythical environment. But at night without the sunlight piercing the canopy the twisted oaks and reaching tendrils of moss become sinister. Savannahs reputation as the most haunted city in America becomes clear. Half of the dozen picturesque squares have their own ghost story and supposed witnesses to ghostly apparitions.
One such haunted square is Wright Square, the gravesite of Native American leader Tomochichi who helped General James Oglethorpe found the colony of Georgia. The Yamacraw Chief was buried there in 1739 but a century later his grave was desecrated by the City to make way for a monument to politician William Washington Gordon. Some believe that the disgruntled ghost of Tomochichi can be seen in the square at night. This along with the square’s history as the cities gallows makes for an ominous reputation.
Other highlights were Oglethorpe Square that’s home to an impressive statue of the general. Orleans Square has a very serene fountain, and Chippewa Square was the setting of Forrest Gump’s bus waiting scenes. The seat is unfortunately not a permanent fixture, but fans of the movie will still enjoy the experience.
Jepson Centre & Telfair Academy
Telfair museums are the oldest public museums in the south. Operating for over a century the Telfair museums are made up of three separate facilities, the Telfair Academy and the Owens-Thomas House & Slave Quarters, both of which are National Historic Landmark Buildings, and the more contemporary Jepson Centre. Access to all three museums cost $22 USD (Approx. $29 AUD).
The Jepson Centre host contemporary art and travelling exhibitions, the big draw of the trip was the Monet to Matisse exhibition that showcased impressionist art from the late 1800s to early 1900s. The exhibition had approximately 30 works by Monet, Matisse, Degas and many more. Highlights of the exhibition were Degas ‘Ballet Scene’ (1880) and Monet ‘Port of Dieppe’ (1882). The contemporary art on display was somewhat less inspiring. Going from the stimulating colours of the Impressionists to the incomprehensible sculptures, black and white photographs of boots, and a sensory room with the sound of dripping water had none of the detailed critique (or none that I could identify) of the best contemporary art. Disclaimer, art is very subjective and I gravitate towards classical art so I do struggle with some contemporary art. The exhibition was worth the ticket price, but without it, the Jepson Centre held little for me.
The Telfair Academy located just across the street from the Jepson Centre is a former mansion owned by the Telfair family. Opened in 1886 as a foundation for art and cultural education it is the oldest art museum in the south. It hosts a collection of art, decorative art, statues and period rooms. Easy to identify with five statues of artists in the front garden, Raffle, Michelangelo among them. Contrasting to the Jepson Centre the Academy is steeped in period history with no contemporary art to be seen. The east and west wings are preserved rooms from the 19th-century mansion, the Telfair family was renown travelers and collectors decking their rooms with all the display pieces a wealthy Georgian family could dream of. The dining room was a highlight with its walls covered in woodblock printed wallpaper of the monuments of Paris on every wall. The two galleries were also of interest the lower housing impressive classical statues and the upper housing a diverse range of art, the largest of which was a painted scene of the aftermath of the Battle of Crecy. The Black Prince standing imposing over his defeated foe. After leaving the Telfair Academy we opted not to travel to the third museum due to time limitations but the exhibition and the academy were well worth the price of admission.
Savannah is probably one of the most beautiful cities in America’s south. The old town can be walked through thoroughly in a single day and the cafes were full of trendy hipsters so you know it’s good. It’s unfortunate that the beauty of the old city doesn’t continue into the new. Only one block away from old town the houses are in disrepair and things begin to look a little dodgy. Only a ten-minute walk from the heart of the historic squares the Air BnB I stayed in, while good in itself, was only five houses down from a strip club. Next door was a fantastic Chinese take away shop that looked just as dodgy but whose food was brilliant. Savannah consistently surprised me, it seemed to swing from amazing to dodgy in a heartbeat. When it was good it was very good, when it was bad, it was a little unnerving. Best to stick to the cultivated tourist sections for the best experience.
Savannah Jazz (2018)
One of my favorite shots of the trip. Very little processing was needed with this one. The colours haven’t been edited and only a quick pass to smooth the image out was necessary. It’s amazing when street artist dress in the perfect colours for their surroundings. I can feel the Savannah vibes.
* All photos taken by me unless otherwise stated.