In Savannah, Ga.
By CHRIS DIXON
1733, a Yamacraw Indian leader named Tomochichi agreed to the plans of
James Oglethorpe, founder of the colony of Georgia, to create an
agricultural settlement on the Savannah River. Oglethorpe set to work,
laying out an unusual town based on an elaborate system of 24 public
squares. Today the squares, shaded by live oaks and surrounded by
stately houses, churches and the columned houses of government, define
old Savannah, where shops and cafes occupy mansions and town houses,
and tourists and locals stroll at a leisurely pace. Nearby is
Bonaventure cemetery, where John Berendt, author of "Midnight in the
Garden of Good and Evil," sipped martinis as his friend Mary Harty told
tales of the departed. While Savannah's builders carelessly flattened a
burial mound holding Tomochichi's ancestors, they set aside ample
acreage for the city's own dead, and in those graveyards, beneath long
gray beards of Spanish moss, restless spirits are said to walk. Most of
Oglethorpe's city has passed on to the ghostly realm, too, but his
urban-planning legacy remains: a walkable, bikable, town, one of the
loveliest haunts in the South.
1) Brer Scallop
While working as a post-Civil War editor for The Savannah Morning News,
Joel Chandler Harris, known for his Uncle Remus stories, lived for a
while at the Marshall House, where it is said that he asked for a room
far from the odorous, noisy courtyard that housed guests' horses and
carriages. Today, that same courtyard's art-lined walls hold the
wonderfully intimate 45 Bistro (123 East Broughton Street,
912-234-3111). The chef,
Ryan Behneman, prepares dishes like lasagna of jumbo sea
scallops, wilted spinach, mascarpone cheese and a tomato ragu ($20) and
filet of salmon gratinéed with sautéed hearts of palm and artichokes
2) The Sixth Sense
Ever since the 1994 publication of Mr. Berendt's best-seller (now known
in the city as simply the Book), with its spooky portrayals of
spiritual communions, Savannah has played host to an increasing number
of ghost tours. One guide is Shannon Scott, who has produced segments
of Fox's "Scariest Places on Earth" television show and has interviewed
hundreds of Savannians who claim experiences with ghosts, poltergeists,
demons, witchcraft or voodoo (locally known as "root"). He recounts
stories of the unquiet dead in his Sixth Sense Savannah walking tour,
beginning at East Jones and Abercorn Streets and ending at his own 1850
town house, which he said is haunted by a long-passed resident named
Eliza. "The first night I took people into the house," he said, "a
woman on the tour shouted out, `Eliza wants you to talk about her.' I
had not told a soul about Eliza." Reservations at (866) 666-3323; $15
for 90 minutes beginning at 9 p.m., $22 for two and a half hours
starting at midnight.
3) Pick Your Poison
In the Book, Luther Driggers visited Clary's Cafe (404 Abercorn Street,
912-233-0402) each morning, carrying a bag of a poison said to be
strong enough to wipe out the population of Savannah. Today's reality
isn't so scary. Clary's, in business since 1903, dishes up omelets,
grits, steaming biscuits and plain, pecan strawberry or blueberry
malted waffles ($4.95 to $5.95). In back is a quite remarkable
back-lighted stained-glass rendition of the Book's cover.
4) Antiques and Squares
Take a leisurely walk through Savannah's squares and shops. At 24e (24
East Broughton Street, 912-233-2274), in a 1921 department store
building, handmade furniture from Indonesia and Hungary can be ordered
with custom upholstery designed by the owners, Ruel and Delaine Joyner.
Nearby, the wonderfully cluttered Pinch of the Past (109 West Broughton
Street, 912-232-5563) is full of chandeliers, doorknobs and other
hardware from old homes. At Chippewa Square, stop at Michael V. DeCook
Antiques (20 West Hull Street, 912-232-7149), in an 1853 town house.
Its owners, Mr. DeCook and Mark R. Hill, are as familiar with
Savannah's gossipy history as with the high-end antiques they sell,
like a 1790 Hepplewhite sofa priced at $10,000. Monterey Square holds a
monument to a Polish count who died fighting the British in the Battle
of Savannah in 1779 and the nondescript downstairs entrance to Alex
Raskin Antiques (441 Bull Street, 912-232-8205), a jaw-dropping
collection in a spooky, unrestored pre-Civil War mansion.
5) Devil Worship
At Walls Bar-B-Que (515 East York Lane, 912-232-9754), a three-table
hole-in-the-wall renowned as an authentic gem of African-American
cooking, an out-of-this world choice is the devil crab — something akin
to a very meaty crab cake — for $3.25. A lunch plate of the crab, or
chicken, fish or pork, runs from $5 to $7.75, with sides like rice,
cole slaw, collard greens or okra and tomatoes, a delicious local
specialty. If no seats are available, order your meal to go and picnic
in nearby Crawford Square.
6) Girl Scout Palace
Juliette Gordon Low became the patron saint of generations of Girl
Scouts when she founded their organization in 1912, but the Andrew Low
House (329 Abercorn Street, 912-233-6854), where she lived with her
husband, William Mackay Low, is as much a shrine to Savannah's past as
to Mrs. Low herself. You can tour rooms with 13-foot ceilings,
monstrous mahogany doors and Egyptian marble fireplaces.
7) Park It
The 20-acre live oak-shaded Forsyth Park, Savannah's largest and
perhaps most beautiful open space, is frequented by all manner of
Savannians. At its south end is the Sentient Bean (13 East Park Avenue,
912-232-4447), a delightful coffee shop and cafe, and a haven for indie
film, live music and literary readings. Grab a "fair trade" latte and a
pain au chocolat, and watch the remains of the day float by. If you're
a fan of the Book, keep an eye out for the ghost of Jim Williams, its
antihero, at 447 Bull Street, his former residence, the Armstrong House.
8) Under the Indoor Stars
Opened in 1924, the rambling Johnny Harris (1651 East Victory Drive,
912-354-7810) is the oldest continually operated restaurant in
Savannah. One dining room is ballroom size. You'll sit in a mahogany
booth under a domed ceiling of stars, surrounded by a 360-degree mural
of bucolic scenes by an artist who painted it in exchange for food. On
Friday and Saturday nights, Buddy Owens plays guitar. The fried chicken
dinner ($9.95) is the stuff of legend.
9) On the Antebellum Railroad
Battlefield Park Heritage Center (300 Martin Luther King Boulevard,
912-651-6840), on the site of a Revolutionary War battle, is home to a
fascinating railroad museum, including a roundhouse that dates to 1845.
It holds what are considered the nation's best surviving examples of
pre-Civil War railroad structures. Don't miss the chance to thoroughly
disorient yourself by standing in the base of a towering defunct
smokestack and looking up to the sky.
10) Full of Ginger
Ten booths run by local artists are near tables at the Soho South Cafe
(12 West Liberty Street, 912-233-1633) in what was once an auto repair
garage, but you're here for dishes like eggs Savannah, an English
muffin topped with a jumbo crab cake, poached egg, asparagus and
bearnaise ($12.95, with roasted potatoes and cheese grits). Homemade
ginger beer tastes even better than it sounds.
Savannah is served by the Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport
and by Amtrak. Thanks to its flat terrain and its wide one-way streets
and parks, it is a terrific place to explore by bicycle. Bicycle Link
(22 West Broughton Street, 912-233-9401) rents single-speed cruisers
with baskets, locks and helmets for $20 a day.
The Marshall House (123 East Broughton Street, 912-644-7896) was built
in 1851 and restored in 1999. Its 68 rooms are $99 to $239.
The Bed and Breakfast Inn, a gracious Federal row house just off
Chatham Square (117 West Gordon Street, 888-238-0518) has 15 rooms and
three cottages for $89 to $169.
The 17Hundred90 Inn (307 East President Street, 800-487-1790), a
regular stop on most of Savannah's ghost tours, has 13 rooms for $149
to $169 a night.
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