The Owens Thomas House – Our First Bad Experience in Savannah
We had been excited to get into the old homes of Savannah, especially after our great experience at the Scarborough House. So it was with high expectations that we visited the Owens Thomas House on Oglethorpe Square. High expectations that, unfortunately, weren’t met.
Let’s start with the good — the William Jay house truly is an architectural masterpiece, with design elements I’ve never seen before, such as a bridge connecting the two halves of the upper floor. It was one of the first houses in America with running water, and every room is elegantly designed. Plus, the house has been kept in excellent shape. The price is initially shocking, at $20 per head, but when you consider that it includes entrance to the three sites of the Telfair Museum for a week, it’s fine.
Moving onto the bad. The first, and least understandable, problem was the unfriendly attitude of the ticket sellers. Apparently, our obnoxious desire to gain entrance had interrupted their conversation, and they treated us with open contempt. It wasn’t just us — they were equally rude to the group behind us. “And there are NO pictures inside!” Fine, lady, sheesh! “Absolutely NO PICTURES! Not even with your sneaky phones!”
Our tour began immediately. After a bit of history in the carriage house, we moved into the main residence. Problem #2: we were sandwiched between other tour groups. The people ahead of us were moving too slowly, and the group behind us was advancing too quickly. Our guide often became flustered, not knowing what to do with us, and it was annoying to be shoved through rooms.
The guide, while pleasant, was obviously not an expert in the history of the house. As long as she stuck to the script, she was fine, but when (god forbid) we had a question, she was almost always at a loss. “Please admire the fine engraving on the fireplace, based on a famous myth”.
“Interesting! What myth is it?”
“You know, that’s a good question. I have no idea, but it is a very famous myth”.
Seriously. While we were waiting on the group ahead of us to move on, she would just stand there in uncomfortable silence, having exhausted the four factoids she had about, say, the kitchen. Even when we’d prompt her, “Who is that a portrait of?”, her awkward responses made us feel bad. Eventually, we stopped putting her on the spot.
The worst was when we were viewing the balcony from which the Marquis de Lafyette once gave a speech. First of all, the Owens Thomas House’s proudest moment of glory is that the Revolutionary hero once spent two nights here. She went on and on about the Marquis, about how because of his stay, the house is now a national heritage site, but I fail to see why it’s such a big deal. I drolly asked her if every house the Marquis stayed in during his life was now a national treasure. “You know, I think probably so.” I’m sorry darling, but I think probably not.
Anyway, she described the speech he gave from the balcony, “About liberty and freedom, and these things that…”, now she looked at Juergen, who she knew was German, “Well, as an outsider, you have to understand that the concepts of Freedom and Liberty are just very important to us Americans”. I almost dropped dead. Juergen just smirked. “Liberty? But vas ist das, mein Fr√§ulein?”
This house could offer a rich experience, but the staff needs to get their act together. The tour guides need to study up, and they should really not rush people who’ve just paid $20 to get in. From reading online reviews, I don’t think our experience was a fluke. A missed opportunity for the city.
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November 26, 2010 at 9:58 am