After leaving Jekyll
Island, we traveled north on Interstate 95 to Savannah,
Georgia. My first trip to Savannah was with a Lebanonese engineer
named Hassan in 1980. Hassan and I were traveling together to a Nuclear
Power Plant in south Georgia to do intensive fault tree analysis studies
of the power plant. We were in Hassan's small Toyota.
We arrived late one night
and went to bed. The entire trip had been a sermon on the greatness
of Lebanon and talk of all the land that Hassan owned.
"If it's as great as
you say," I said. "Why aren't you over there?"
"They're bombing the
place," he answered.
At five o'clock the next
morning my phone rang. It was Hassan. "I'm sorry, but I must leave and
go to Birmingham. My brother just called from New York City, and he
will be arriving in Birmingham shortly. I told him I would be there
to meet him at the airport."
In a stupor, rather startled,
I abruptly said, "Well, that sounds great. Why can't he wait until we
finish our work here? "
Excitedly, Hassan responded,
"Oh, that would never never work. My brother no speak English. He would
not know what to do."
"But, Hassan, what about
me? What about our job?"
"You can go with me," he
"Wait a minute. You must
be kidding. I came here to work. You go ahead. I'll rent a car and work."
I really don't remember
the rest of the story. That was an unusual group of people I worked
with during those days. One of the bosses had a PH.D. in physics and
always ate at McDonald's. "It saves having to make a decision every
time you eat, " he said. He knew the location of every McDonalds in
five states. He was a great source of information for McDonald addicts.
As to Hassan, I learned
one lesson: 'Never go anywhere with him alone. You might end up who
knows where. And worse -- you might be walking by yourself."
Dan Kenneth Phillips
A BRIEF HISTORY
Savannah was founded on February 12, 1733, by James Oglethorpe. It is
a city of squares and statues, patterned much like Washington D.C. It's
a city whose distinctive quilted design means every tourist needs a
specially designed map with large letters printed in varying colors.
It is a city of organized
idiosyncrasies and famous names: James Oglethorpe, the first governor
of Georgia founded it; Juliet Low, founder of the Girl Scouts, was born
here in 1860; General Nathaniel Greene, who served brilliantly under
George Washington in the Continental Army, is buried here; William Jay,
world famous architect who designed the Owen-Thomas House; Lowell Mason,
famous hymn writer ("My Faith Looks Up to Thee" and "Nearer My God to
Thee") was the organist at the Independent Presbyterian Church where
Woodrow Wilson married Ellen Axson, grandaughter of the pastor of the
church; and Savannah is also the home of the imminent Burton Gwinnet
-- signer of the Declaration of Independence -- who died in a bloody
duel at the hands of General Lachlan McIntosh, Georgia's ranking officer
in the Continental Army during the American Revolution. Both are buried
in the Colonial Park Cemetary.
is also a city of firsts:
1. First capital of 13th
colony and later of Georgia, 1733.
2. First Moravian Church in North America, 1735.
3. First Sunday School in Georgia, at Christ
4. First practical cotton gin, by Eli Whitney, 1793.
5. First golf in the United States , 1796.
6. First steamship to cross an ocean, S. S. Savannah, 1819.
7. First use of rifled cannon in modern warfare, at Fort Pulaski, 1862.
8. First motorized fire department in United States, 1911.
9. First Girl Scout troop, founded by Juliette Gordon Low, 1912.
10. First Nuclear-powered merchant ship, the N. S. Savannah, 1962.
William Makepeace Thackerary
in 1855 described Savannah as "a tranquil old city, wide-streeted,
tree-planted, with a few cows and carriages toiling through the sandy
road, a few happy negroes sauntering here and there, a red river with
a tranquil little fleet of merchantmen taking in cargo, and tranquil
warehouses barricaded with packs of cotton, no tearing Northern hustle,
no ceaseless hotel racket, no crowds."
Her character hasn't changed,
as has that of other cities of the same longevity. Horse-driven carriages
still pull tourists through shade-covered avenues. Jazz bands entertain
on street corners. People sit on wide benches and read wild west stories.
In modern times Savannah
has been likened to a gracious lady with polished treasures, a hostess
who sets a tempting table, or America's secret Mona Lisa.
In strange cities of beauty and dignity, I often throw away my map and
set out on a journey of surprising
discoveries. I don't care if I get lost, for I feel it will enlighten
me at a later time when I have organized the idiosyncrasies of the city
in my own mind.
For Savannah, walking down
alleyways, reading historical signs, watching cars and buses pass, and
sitting in the parks listening to jazz, was a way of involving myself
in the mood of the city. It is also a good way to run into the unusual
and capture the picture of another side of a city.
I like to sit on benches
beside famous statues and dream of the likes of John Wesley or James
Oglethorpe passing, dressed in typical European fashion of the 18th
century, and waving to me as they pass.
My favorite Savannah statue
is the one dedicated to James Oglethorpe. It is located in Oglethorpe
Square. The nine-foot bronze statue was designed by Daniel Chester,
the celebrated American sculptor who also designed the Lincoln Memorial.
JAMES EDWARD OGLETHORPE
"The monument in this
square dedicated to James Edward Oglethorpe, the great soldier-philanthopist
who founded the state of Georgia."
Guarding the statue was
an elderly black man seated on a green wooden bench. He was wearing
a blue shirt and tie, a flat hat stripped in black and red, brown pants,
black socks, white shoes, and a rolled up piece of paper in his hand.
It looked to me like Oglethorpe was in good hands.
Dan Kenneth Phillips
It is also a peculiar trait of mine to read all historical signs. I
am drawn like a magnet to the quaint and obscure facts that pop up on
the side of buildings and highways. I have been known to stop on deserted
roads and walk a half a mile to read a historical sign. As an absorber
of certain eccentric traditions, I am particularly interested in historical
spots with kinship to literary giants, jazz
musicians, and preachers.
Janet's attitude toward
signs is, "The people are dead. What difference does it make?" She
grows increasingly impatient the more signs I read. She comes from a
family that never stops to read historical
signs. It is a weakness she inherited from generations of relatives
always in a hurry. The most important feature of her family is that
they are never late to anything. They don't have time to read signs.
Being on time is more important than history.
On this occasion I was lagging
behind everyone. In fact, to be honest, I was almost a half a block
behind. With video camera rolling, I had been videoing the twin-spiralled
Cathedral of St. John, the oldest Roman Catholic Church in Georgia.
One block south of the church,
near the corner of Abercorn and East Charlton, there was a small realtor
sign with SOLD stamped on it. Three men and a woman were standing in
front of the older building talking excitedly. They were gestering:
one man pointed upward, another scratched his head, the other was tugging
at his pants, and the woman was nodding her head. (I thought to myself,
it must be the realtor showing new features to the new owners). Getting
closer, a small sign on the building caught my attention:
Stunned by the revelatory nature of this sign, I shouted to my wife
almost a block ahead of me. "Janet, guess what! This was the
birthplace of Flannery O' Connor."
I could tell how touching
to her this was when I heard her shout back, "Who cares. If you don't
hurry up we will leave without you."
As I fumbled with the video
camera to get a quick picture of the sign, I noted that one of the men
in the group standing by the sign was rather taken by my dilemma. As
fortune would have it, he really wasn't a realtor; he was Dr. Bob Strozier,
head of the Department of Language Literature and Dramatic Arts at Armstrong
State College in Savannah, Georgia.
apologetically, he said, "Really, Flannery O'Connor was not born here.
She was really born in a hospital around the corner. We have just bought
this house, and the first thing we are going to do is take down that
He then shared the truth
about the house. "Flannery O'Connor lived in this house from the day
of her birth, March 25, 1925 until January of 1938, when she and her
family moved to Atlanta. Later, she and her mother went to Milledgeville,
and the father followed sometime after. At the time he was already afflicted
with Lupus, a disease that killed him when he was 41, and killed Flannery
in 1964 when she was 39. This was not really her birthplace. She was
born in St. Joseph's hospital."
I could tell the sign issue
wasn't over. It was a perplexing matter to him. The sign was a ploy
placed by the historical fathers of Savannah to pique the interest of
passing tourist who were in a hurry to catch their wives.
Historically speaking, Flannery
O'Connor was the only child of Edward Francis O'Connor and Regina Cline
O'Connor. As a youngster, one of her claims to fame was that she taught
a chicken to walk backward at her request. This was such a phenomenal
event that a newspaper reporter interviewed her and published the story.
Throughout her life she mentioned this event as a highlight of her life.
After graduation from Georgia
State College for Women in Milledgeville in 1945, she went to Iowa City
and became a graduate student in the Writers' Workshop at the State
University of Iowa. She studied under Paul Engle. Her writing was described
as "filled with insight about human weakness, hard and compassionate,"
by her teacher. The themes of her stories often were about displacement,
homelessness, and homesickness. Two of her favorite writers were Gogol,
from whom she learned how effectively underlying religious themes could
be treated with grotesquely comic characters, and Hawthorne.
She became a great admirer
of Joseph Conrad. A particular quote of Conrad's influenced her. "My
task, which I am trying to achieve, is, by the power of the written
word, to make you hear, to make you feel -- it is, before all, to make
you see. That -- and no more, and it is everything. If I succeed, you
shall find there, according to your deserts, encouragement, consolation,
fear, charm, all you demand -- and, perhaps, also that glimpse of truth
for which you have forgotten to ask."
She also read: Hawthorne,
Allen Tate, Tate's wife Caroline Gordon, Faulkner, Robert Penn Warren,
and T. S. Eliot. In 1947 she earned her master's degree at Iowa and
went by invitation to the Yaddo, a writer's colony near Saratoga Springs,
New York. She left there and moved to Ridgefield, Connecticut, where
she lived with Robert Fitzgerald and his family. She continued writing
Wise Blood, having been encouraged by Caroline Gordon.
Then she received a severe
setback. Her health declined. She discovered she had lupus erythematosus
, like her father. When she had a reoccurrence her doctor suggested
she move back to Georgia. At most she thought she might have three years
left . At the end of three years, she had completed nine beautiful short
stories that forever attested to her talent.
Her strength as
a writer was her unique ability to convey religious conviction and a
dramatization of the conflict within individuals. The families in her
stories are often incomplete, that is , a dead parent, or children living
without grandparents. She died in 1964 at the age of 39, leaving a legacy
as one of the South's finest writers.
Before I left, Strother
referred to the sign again. "A lot of people are exasperated by that
(sign), including her mother, who's still alive in Milledgeville by
the way. She told me recently to 'Get ‘em to change that sign. She wasn't
born in that house.' She's kind of irritated by that."
Then, with excitement in
his voice, he said; "We are buying this house to turn it into a museum.
We've raised $45,000 in seven weeks, and we've got a loan of $100,000
and five months to close on it. We plan on turning the parlor, dining
room, and sun porch back to what it was like in 1930. We will have a
bookstore with her work and other items that would be attractive to
tourists. We hope to have it open by February 1990. We're dreaming about
it." I like dreamers like Bob Strother. They have a vision and make
a difference in the world. I know where I'm going the next time I return
to Savannah -- to the "erroneous birthplace" of Flannery
O'Connor to see if the sign is still there.
Dan Kenneth Phillips
PAPA JOE'S POOL HALL
The hospitality of this great city has touched some unknown and forgotten
historic figures. For instance, after Flannery O'Connor moved to Atlanta
in January 1938, there was a heavy set man with a scar over his left
eye, who sang softly to himself, who picked up a job racking billiard
balls in a pool hall in Savannah. At the age of 53, "Papa Joe," as
he was called, was tired. Tired of people making fun of his music. And
the young pool players often laughed at him when he said he wrote some
of the songs he sang in the pool hall.
Papa Joe was born in New
Orleans in 1885. As a 13 year old he began playing cornet for funerals
around New Orleans. In 1900 his mother died and his sister Victoria
raised him. He soon became a butler at a hotel, but music was his passion.
By 1910, Joe Oliver was the lead cornetist at the Abadie Cabaret in
Storeyville, Louisiana. One late night in 1910, he walked out onto the
streets of Storeyville, blasted his trumpet music into the night air,
and proclaimed himself "King" of the trumpet. From then on, he was "King
Oliver" -- the best trumpet player in New Orleans, a name that would
immortalize him forever with Jazz fans.
His fame spread rapidly,
and soon a rag-tag of a kid named Louis Armstrong tagged along behind
him. In 1918, King Oliver moved to Chicago to perform at the Royal Gardens
and the Dreamland Cafe.
In 1922, he called
for Louis Armstrong, and Armstrong moved from New Orleans to Chicago.
Between 1922 and 1924 the Creole Jazz Band performed in Chicago: King
Oliver, 1st Cornet; Louie Armstrong on 2nd Cornet; Johnny Dodds on Clarinet;
Honore Dutrey on piano; Bill Johnson on bass; and Baby Dodds on drums.
They played rags and blues and novelty songs. They used a lot of two-bar
breaks, some of them in trickery duets by Oliver and Armstrong, and
there were occasional short solos.
By 1927, King Oliver's teeth
were beginning to give him trouble. Blowing the cornet became difficult.
Soon his fame began to deteriorate. His last triumph was Memorial Day,
1935, in Savannah, Georgia. A capacity crowd turned out to hear him.
Because they remembered him, this city of classic beauty became his
In 1936 he decided to move
to Savannah, hoping for one last chance in the music world. He never
made it. He died on April 8, 1938, and his body was shipped in a cheap
wooden box to New York where he was buried.
Every city has
its hidden side. It caused me to wonder. Did Flannery O'Connor ever
walk past King Oliver, a 53 year old man with a wrinkled face? I have
the feeling that if she had , he would have been the type of character
she could have written about. Two of the legends of a historic city
passing in the night, drawn together by the hospitality of a generous
FAMOUS PREACHER'S LOVE AFFAIR
There are many monuments to John Wesley in Savannah:
Wesley Monumental Methodist Church is at the corner of Abercorn and
Gordon Streets, and Wesley Chapel is on Oglethorpe Street.
Wesley's presence has been
fully accounted for in Strange Fires, a book of his early ministry.
According to historical records, John Wesley preached his first sermon
in Savannah on March 7, 1736. In the audience was Sophia Christinana
Hopkey (called Sophy), 18- year- old niece of Thomas Causton, the first
bailiff, one of the ruling body of Savannah. John Wesley officially
met Sophy six days later at Caustons' house. From that time forward
there are constant references to Sophy in Wesley's diaries.
John, concerned for the
spiritual welfare of Miss Sophy, had begun giving daily attention to
her spiritual development. They prayed,
read scripture, and meditated together. He also read to her from his
journal and shared spiritual insights. Those who knew Miss Sophy described
her as: "beautiful, reined, intelligent, with polished manners and a
At the time of Wesley's
concern for her welfare, she was engaged to Thomas Mellichamp, who was
serving time in the Charles-Town jail for counterfeiting and threatening
to kill Sophy and her new husband if she should marry. Thomas, his
father William, his brother Lawrence, and a friend Richard Turner had
caused quite a scandal with their counterfeiting activities.
One W. Augustine, writing
on July 13, 1735, lamented: "Have had sad doings here with counterfeiting
money supposed 'twas uttered by Ould Mellichamp; and myself lame with
bite of a dog in my leg. "
Once John was so bold as
to ask Miss Sophy her relationship to Mellichamp, and she responded,
"I have promised him either to marry him or to marry no one at all."
Wesley responded by saying, "Miss Sophy, I should think myself happy
if I was to spend my life with you."
At his response, she broke
into tears and said, "I am very unhappy. I won't have Tommy; for he
is a bad man. And I can have none else." After this exchange, they were
soon engaged in spiritual affairs again. She listened to John read prayers
and the psalms; then she walked with him in the garden and prayed.
The issue was confused by
John's desire to preach to the Indians, and he told her he would not
marry until he had succeeded in that endeavor. He wrote in his diary
that marriage was not for him because it would probably obstruct the
design of his coming into America, the going among the Indians; and
" because I was not strong enough to bear the complicated temptations
of a married state."
This attitude disturbed
Sophy. She became angry and told him, "People wonder what I can do for
so long at your house; I am resolved not to breakfast with you any more.
And I won't come to you any more alone." He met shortly after with her
and noted she was sharp, fretful, and disputatious. In his blindness
he did not realize she loved him.
Soon she was seeing William
Williamson, a clerk from England with a reputation as "the bastard son
of Mr. Taylor of Bridewell." He was noted for his wildness and as a
"person not remarkable for handsomeness, neither for greatness, neither
for wit, or knowledge, or sense and least of all for religion."
When she broke
the news of her engagement , Wesley noted in his diary. "Miss Sophy
to be married. Quite distressed. Confounded! Could not pray. Tried to
pray, lost, sunk! No such day since I first saw the sun! O deal tenderly
with Thy Servant! Let me not see such another!"
The next day he went to
see her, only to confront William who told him he could not speak to
her further until they were married. He accussed Wesley of upsetting
her. "After you left yesterday, she would neither eat nor drink for
two hours; but was crying continually, and in such an agony she was
fit for nothing." Two days later Sophy was married to William.
then, Wesley acted like a distraught rejected lover. His reasoning
seemed to have left him. Jealousy became the order of the day. He was
infatuated by Sophy to the point that he questioned the legality of
the marriage, accused her of insincerity before her marriage, and ingratitude
since, then the ultimate insult came when he ceased to offer her the
Lord's Supper. The situation continued to decline until five months
later one of the constables of Savannah served a warrant to John that
Two weeks later the court met,
and 39 jurors were chosen. After a lengthy array of witnesses, the grand
jury deliberated for almost a week, and then delivered two presentations
containing indictments against John. One of the indictments was for his
refusal to give her the Lord's Supper; "To the great disgrace and hurt
of her character; from which proceeding we conceive that the said John
Wesley did assume an authority contrary to the laws established, and to
the peace of our Lord the King, his crown and dignity."
"To all Constables, Tithingmen
and others, whom these may concern:
"You, and each of you,
are hereby required to take the body of John Wesley, Clerk:
"And bring him before
one of the bailiffs of the said town to answer the complaint of William
Williamson and Sophia, his wife, for defaming the said Sophia, and
refusing to administer to her the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper,
in a public congregation, without cause; by which the said William
Williamson is damaged one thousand pounds sterling: And for so doing,
this is your warrant, certifying what you are to do in the premises.
Given under my hand and seal of the 8th day of August, 1737."
There were also several
other indictments relating to his church service. When he appeared before
the court to hear the indictments, he was so highly nervous he was seized
with a violent flux, which so weakened him before evening service he
"had much ado to get to church." To add to the humiliation, he was replaced
in his duties by Reverend Dison, chaplain at Frederica, a person of
whom his brother Charles had formed a low opinion.
Some of his friends suggested
he return to England. He decided to stay, but when the time for the
trial lengthened from days and weeks to months, he reconsidered. With
his duties limited and his parishioners staying away from church, he
grew more discouraged. At one service he completely broke down and was
unable to proceed with his sermon.
On December 3,
1737, at 8 o'clock at night, he sat in a rowboat with three-muffled
figures: a constable, a tythingman, and a barber, making his exit from
Savannah. Twenty days later, he went on board the Samuel at Charles-Town
for his return voyage to England. He was seasick for many days on this
journey. And he had a fear, not of losing his life, but of losing his
faith in God. One of his biographers, Robert Wearmouth, concluded: "If,
perchance the High Church missionary to Georgia had succumbed to the
attractions of Sophia Hopkey, married her as his natural impulses prompted,
made a home of her uncle's estate in accordance with that gentleman's
wish, there can be no doubt that Methodism, an acorn planted at Oxford,
would never have grown into a tree of marvelous statue."
Dan Kenneth Phillips
THE CHICKEN COMES HOME
We stayed only part of a day in Savannah. About two o'clock we rounded
up the family and said our goodbyes. My brother-in-law and his wife
were going to Columbus, Georgia. We were going toward Tennessee.
Nearing Atlanta, I stopped
at a service station to fill my gas tank. The gas was 76.9 cents a gallon
-- much cheaper than where I live. The weather was warm. There was no
longer the smell of sea water in the air.
After paying the bill, I
returned to my car, and beside it -- waiting to fill his gas tank --
was a young man in shorts and a T-shirt. I quickly did a double take
as I read the shirt. "The Crab Trap," it read in bold red letters.
I couldn't resist the urge:
"I just got back from eating at The Crab Trap,"
I told him.
"How was it? Is it still
the best restaurant in the world?" he asked.
"Sure is," I said. "Wish
I lived nearer."
"Been nearly two years since
I've been there, but sure would like to go back," he said.
I nodded to myself as I
got back in my car. I remembered a cute comment from over 200 plus miles
away. "Nobody in their right mind would buy a Crab Trap T-shirt." I
quickly pulled the car onto I-65 and headed north. My daughter said,
"Daddy, what were you and that man talking about?" I smile. "T- Shirts,"
I answered. "T-Shirts!"