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The Sorrel-Weed House

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Found on Madison Square, the Sorrel-Weed House has gained a reputation as the most haunted spot in a city known for ghouls. The house has been the subject of just about every sort of “Ghost Hunting” reality show that exists, and even offers visitors the chance to take a spooky nighttime tour. But Jürgen and I decided to check it out during the day, on an architectural tour.

Haunted Sorrel Weed House

This house was built by the shipping merchant Frances Sorrel in 1837. Sorrel had acquired a fortune while living in Haiti, but fled the island nation after its successful slave rebellion. He installed himself in Savannah, a city which still believed in the honorable institution of slavery, and proceeded to extend his fortune.

It seems safe to assume that Mr. Sorrel was a jerk, and this theory is supported by his amorous affair with the beautiful Molly, one of the slaves under his command. Soon after the tryst came to life, his wife Matilda fell from the house’s third-story window to her death in the courtyard. Her family claimed she fainted, while society believed she had committed suicide. But there were also whispers that she was pushed. And when Sorrel’s lover Molly was found hanged in the carriage house, the whispers grew louder. Was it another suicide, or was Mr. Sorrel cleaning up his mess? Today, the ghosts of both Matilda and Molly are said to haunt the Sorrel-Weed House.

We met in the ground-floor salon, where we learned about the house’s history, and then followed our guide through the various rooms. The tour wasn’t as comprehensive as we would have liked, as much of the Sorrel-Weed House is still under renovation, but the rooms we were able to see were beautiful. This is one of Savannah’s most sterling examples of Greek Revival architecture, and was one of the first homes in the city to be protected as a State Landmark.

Haunted Sorrel Weed House

We went to the second floor to see the family’s private quarters, and then out to the carriage house where the slaves lived, and where Molly either committed suicide or was murdered. Did I detect any paranormal reverberations while standing in this famously haunted spot? Well, of course not, but others have claimed to.

Many of Savannah’s classic mansions have been around for so long, and have such unique histories, that they seem to have taken on characters of their own. The Sorrel-Weed House is no exception. You get a sense that the house itself is just as alive as its former residents. Perhaps there’s something to this idea of ghosts… not that they’re roaming the halls, rattling chains and spooking visitors, but that the people who lived and died here have somehow seeped into the walls and the floors; that their vital essence has been transferred.

Or maybe it’s just an old house. We’ll let you decide.

Location on our Map
Sorrel-Weed House – Website

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April 6, 2016 at 11:41 am Comments (0)

Lady Hats at the Mansion

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“Lady Hats at the Mansion” is a suggestive title, yes? Is it a metaphor? A play on words? Well, apologies for being so literal, but in this case, we’re referring to actual lady hats. As soon as we learned about this bizarre collection, we raced over to the Mansion on Forsyth. Nothing gets our blood pumping like dainty hats for lady-folk!

The “Kessler Collection Celebrating a Century of Hats” is a permanent exhibition found within the stately halls of the Mansion on Forsyth Park. Even if you’re not into hats, you should still step inside this red-brick, Victorian Romanesque mansion, which is among the most beautiful buildings in the city. Today it operates as a hotel, and the lobby is a study in elegance. The Mansion is also home to 700 Drayton, a popular restaurant on the ground floor.

But we were here for the lady hats. We’ve always been drawn to oddball exhibitions, and have visited museums dedicated to witchcraft, brothels, parasites and private parts, so this collection was right up our alley.

A few glass cases in a first-floor hallway of the Mansion contain dozens of bonnets and fedoras dating back to the 1860s. Some of them are pretty, while others are just insane. And whether or not it was intentionally designed this way, you can position yourself so that your reflection appears to be wearing the hats. Have I always wondered what I’d look like in a sassy silk bonnet? Well, not really. But it turns out I look like a cross-dressing psychopath.

Even if you’re not an aficionado of antiquated fashion, the Mansion’s Lady Hat collection is a sight which is fun, free and bizarre… and somehow feels right at home in Savannah.

Location on our Map
The Mansion on Forsyth – Website

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April 5, 2016 at 9:52 am Comments (0)

The Massie Heritage Center

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Located on Calhoun Square, the Massie School opened its doors in 1856, and was the first public school in Georgia. Today, it’s been converted into the Massie Heritage Center, featuring an overview of Savannah’s unique urban planning, and exhibits dedicated to the most important aspects of the city’s culture, from architecture to the Native American influence.

Massie Heritage Center

The Massie Heritage Center provides a great introduction to Savannah. In the first room, you’ll find a large-scale model of the historic district, complete with a laser show that highlights important events in the city’s history. Just as interesting is a walk through the various architectural styles which can be found in Savannah. From Colonial to Contemporary, seventeen styles are detailed, with their periods of prominence and photographic examples from around in the city.

The Heritage Center is spread across two floors in three buildings. The central building was the former schoolhouse, while the buildings to the left and right were the boys’ and girls’ dormitories. Exhibits in these side buildings include an introduction to the work of the Historic Preservation Society, which rescued many of Savannah’s most lovely buildings from the wrecking ball of progress, and a tribute to the Creek and Yamacraw people who lived in the region long before the arrival of the Europeans.

Massie Heritage Center

Perhaps our favorite section was the old classroom, found on the top floor of the schoolhouse. With old-time desks and chalk slates to write on, this room doesn’t seem to have changed much over the course of the years, and it’s not hard to imagine a group of fidgety kids learning their arithmetic here. In the teacher’s office, at the front of the room, visitors are allowed to ring the school bell, which once called the children in for class.

We really enjoyed our visit to the Massie Heritage Center, but wish we had seen it when we first arrived in the city. It provides an easily-digestible introduction to Savannah, and should be one among your first stops.

Location on our Map
Massie Heritage Center – Website

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March 16, 2016 at 9:02 am Comments (0)

Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room

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Mashed potatoes, fried chicken, collard greens, mac and cheese, blackeyed peas, green beans, stuffing… and could I get more of that sweet tea? Uncle Chuck, could you pass the noodle salad and cabbage? Boy-oh-boy, Grandma, you really outdid yourself this Thanksgiving!

Hold on a second. You’re not my grandma, these aren’t my relatives… and this isn’t Thanksgiving! Oh well. Hey stranger, pass the rutabaga!

Mrs Wilkes

Sorry, Paula Deen, but Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room is Savannah’s most famous dining establishment, with a history that stretches back to 1943. That’s when young Sema Wilkes bought a boarding house at 107 West Jones Street and began serving family-style meals to her clients. Her reputation grew quickly, and soon enough, people were lining up outside the door to get a taste of her famous home cooking.

Throughout the decades, the lines have never died down, even after Mrs. Wilkes’ passing in 1995 (today, her granddaughter runs the show). The restaurant accepts no reservations, so be prepared to wait. The line starts forming around 11am, and the doors open a half hour later. Groups of ten are seated around the table, so you’ll almost definitely be eating with a few strangers. But that’s the idea — you get to meet some people, hear some stories and share some of your own.

Mrs Wilkes

It really is like Thanksgiving, but without the drama usually inherent in family gatherings. Maybe this woman sitting next to you is feuding with her daughter-in-law. Maybe she’s homophobic. But you wouldn’t know, because here in Mrs. Wilkes, such topics don’t come up. You can exchange niceties with her, and inquire politely about where she’s from. And then you eat, eat, and eat some more. There were at least two dozen bowls on our table and everything is delicious. Chow down as much as you want, and don’t worry about things running out: at the end of the meal, our ten-person table had barely put a dent in all the food that had been served.

Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room is a quintessential Savannah experience, and even though the line may seem daunting, believe me that it’s worth the wait. This is an experience you’ll be remembering for a long time… even in November, when your real grandma serves up a decidedly inferior Thanksgiving meal. It’s unfair to compare, though, because nobody does this style of home-cooked feast better than Mrs. Wilkes.

Location on our Map
Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room – Website

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March 13, 2016 at 6:18 pm Comments (0)

Madison Square

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Madison Square, on Bull Street between Chippewa and Monterey Square, is possibly the most monumental in Savannah. With a magnificent tribute to William Jasper as its centerpiece, Madison offers a wealth of things to see and do.

William Jasper

South Carolinian revolutionary hero Sgt. Jasper was mortally wounded during the Siege of Savannah. He had found fame during an earlier battle with the British, when he recovered a shot-down South Carolina flag and held it aloft in the midst of heavy fighting. The statue in Madison Square pays tribute to that event, and includes other scenes from his life.

Madison Sqaure’s southern flank is symbolically protected by defunct cannons from the Savannah armory. And a monument to the ill-fated 1779 siege, which cost both Jasper and Casimir Pulaski their lives, can be found in the square.

Around Madison, there’s enough to occupy an entire afternoon. You can visit the Green-Meldrim House, where General Sherman famously stayed during his sojourn in Savannah. With its cast-iron fence and extended covered porch, this National Historic Landmark from 1861 is a stunning example of the Gothic Revival style, and is connected to St. John’s Episcopal Church. According to legend, the ladies of the congregation, offended by the next-door presence of the enemy Yankee, rang the bells through the night, without pause. Sherman responded by having the bells removed.

Green Meldrin Garden

On the northwest corner of Madison is one of Savannah’s most famous residences: The Sorrel-Weed House. One of Savannah’s best examples of Greek Revival and Regency architecture, the house is the subject of numerous ghost stories.

Across Bull Street is of Savannah’s most unfortunate buildings: the Hilton DeSoto. An ugly, towering blight on the city’s skyline, the Hilton has loomed over the middle of Savannah since 1966, when it replaced the lovely red brick DeSoto hotel. Continuing clockwise around the square brings you to the most popular independent bookshop in Savannah, E. Shaver’s, where Jürgen and I stocked up on Savannah literature, during our first week in the city.

On the southeast corner of Madison is the SCAD shop, which is the perfect spot to hunt for unique gifts. And should you need a break while touring the houses and shops of Madison Square, you can stop in at the popular Gryphon Tea Room. With its high ceilings, cozy furniture and classy interior, this former pharmacy is a great place to relax tired feet.

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January 26, 2011 at 1:49 pm Comment (1)

The Inescapable Influence of The Book

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Before we moved to Savannah, me, Jürgen and four-year-old Xiao Liang of Taiwan were the only three people on Earth who hadn’t read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, by John Berendt. And now, noble Xiao stands alone. Jürgen and I have buckled down and read “The Book.”

Midnight Garden of Good and Evil

And it was great! We had already become relatively familiar with the city, and the characters and locations leaped right off the page. Berendt has an amazing talent for description, and a knack for mixing his way into interesting situations and meeting bizarre, charismatic people. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil still holds the record for the length of time spent on the New York Times bestseller list, and there’s a reason for it.

But, man, after living in Savannah, did we get tired of hearing about “The Book.” I wonder if another city has ever capitalized so much on a single work of art. I doubt that even Bethlehem milks the Bible as outrageously as Savannah does Midnight. Copies of it can be found everywhere in the city, on every bookshelf, and on sale in every shop… even clothes stores! There are tours of The Book’s locations, an entire store shop dedicated to it, and fans can even tour the Mercer House on Monterey Square, where Clint Eastwood’s adaptation was filmed.

While I loved Midnight, I’m glad I didn’t read until after we’d lived in Savannah for awhile, otherwise I might have been tempted to follow in Berendt’s footsteps exactly. But sometimes we can’t help ourselves. He documented this city in such a unique and engaging way, it’s hard to resist repeating his experiences. For example, how could we not visit Club One to watch the fabulous Lady Chablis do her thing? And after reading Berendt’s description of it, of course we were going to eat at Clary’s! I suppose that, as far as guidebooks go, you could do a lot worse than Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

Buy The BookThe Movie or take The Tour

Where is the bird statue now?
We have published our own Savannah Book

Mercer House Savannah
Danny Hansford
Jim Willams Savannah
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January 23, 2011 at 6:46 pm Comments (6)

Inside a Savannah Mansion

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On New Year’s Eve, we were invited into the home of an old-school Savannahian. Our soft-spoken host, Alvin, was a true southern gentleman, as gracious as possible, and both his character and his house seemed to be straight from the pages of some Victorian Gothic novel.

Mysterious Mansion

Alvin’s brick mansion, built in 1887, was in our neighborhood and we had admired it often. So when we were invited inside, we jumped at the chance. Since purchasing the mansion decades ago, Alvin has worked to restore its original elements, decorating it with artwork and period furniture. Jürgen made an appreciative comment about much all this original artwork must have cost, which caused Alvin to laugh. “This is all stuff I get for free!” He pointed to a painting of a dancing jester. “The girl who painted this gave it to me in exchange for a month’s rent.”

The mansion’s architect, William G. Preston, had also been responsible for the late, lamented DeSoto Hotel. Alvin reminisced about that building, which was torn down to make space for the Hilton, a much derided eyesore on Madison Square. He got out a book of old images from Savannah, back in the days when the live oaks which now tower over the city’s squares were just saplings. Alvin was a member of the Historic Savannah Foundation, and recounted some of the battles which he helped fight; preserving the DeSoto was one they lost.

After a couple cocktails, we took our leave; the New Year’s celebrations were just heating up in the city, and Alvin urged us to go and have fun. We did so, but somewhat reluctantly. The party we ended up at was alright, but I have a feeling that spending New Year’s with Alvin in his incredible mansion would have been the more memorable evening.

May we guide you through Savannah?

Alvin Neely
Lady with Dirty Face
Savannah Garden
Savannah Tower
Savannah Mansion
Savannah Details
Savannah Design
Savannah House Tours
Mirror Lamp
Savanah Salon
Savanah Salon
Haunted Mirror
Porcelan Clock
Savannah Memories
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Angel Boy
Savannah Glass
Savannah Curtain
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Flower Baby
Round Window Savannah
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Old Fashion Bathroom
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Neely Alvin
Alvin Neely

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January 21, 2011 at 6:21 pm Comments (12)

The Andrew Low House on Lafayette Square

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Andrew Low was a Scot who moved to Savannah when he was sixteen. He entered the cotton business and, by the time he was in his thirties, had become the leader of uncle’s company and the richest man in the city. Accordingly, he built a house which would reflect his newly-acquired status on Savannah’s newest square, Lafayette.

Andrew Low House Savannah

For his new residence, Mr. Low hired John Norris, an architect who had done a number of important buildings in Savannah, including the Customs House on Bay Street. Norris designed Low’s house in the Italianate style, with a three-storied structure of stucco and brick. In 1849, the Lows moved in, and began throwing lavish dinner parties to which they invited famous guests such as William Thackery and Robert E. Lee.

The house would eventually be passed down to Juliette Gordon Low, who had married Andrew’s son William. Ms. Low is most well-known for being the founder the Girl Scouts, and the carriage house in the back yard was the site of their first meetings. Today, it’s become a sort of Mecca for the organization. Almost every time we’ve passed by, there’s a group of green-skirted girls waiting to get in.

We joined house tour, and had a great time. Every room has been wonderfully preserved, and is decked out with period furniture and ornamentation. The house is currently owned by the Colonial Dames of America, and the ladies who led our tour were as sweet as could be. Our guide answered all the questions we could muster, and were full of anecdotes about the house, the family, and the era in which they lived.

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Juliette Low, Girl Scout Founder

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January 5, 2011 at 6:47 pm Comments (4)

Arrrr, Matey! Dinner at the Pirate’s House

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The Pirate’s House, on the northeastern corner of Savannah, is thought to be Georgia’s oldest building, and is certainly one of its most famous. Captain Flint, from Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, is said to have died here after drinking too much rum.

Pirate House Savannah

Now, this is a touristy place, so you shouldn’t go expecting fine cuisine. But much like Paula Deen’s restaurant, the Pirate House a Savannah institution and we felt compelled to check it out. Our food was decent, if a little overpriced. But that’s to be expected; at the Pirate House, you’re paying as much for the experience as the dinner. We started with fried pickle slices, and I had a kind of seafood lasagna bake. “Arrr, delicious! Fry me pickles and bake me fish!”

I kept up the pirate voice, having a big time, until Jürgen begged me to knock it off. “Arrrr, I be annoying to me matey!”

Legends abound in the Pirate’s House, including one that concerns the underground tunnels leading from the basement of the house into the sea. These tunnels were used to shanghai drunken sailors: villains would wait until they had passed out, then steal them away onto ships bound for unknown destinations. The “Pirate’s House” was a rough, dangerous place, and normal 18th-century Savannahians knew to stay well away from it.

After our meal, our waitress led us on a tour of the house. She explained its history, and showed us into the haunted Herb House, the oldest structure in Savannah. It’s also the the restaurant’s fanciest dining room, available for parties.

We had a good time at the Pirate’s House. It’s fun to simply be inside a building with so much history. And should you wear an eye-patch, and insist on talking in pirate-voice to your dinner companions, you’ll enjoy yourself even more. But they might not.

The Pirate’s House – Website
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December 19, 2010 at 7:09 pm Comments (4)

The Telfair Academy

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Found on on the eastern side of Telfair Square, the Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences occupies a Regency style mansion built in 1818. It’s been a public art museum since 1886, which makes it the oldest in the South.

Telfair Academy

The museum blends its artwork seamlessly into its historic property, and the mansion itself is just as interesting as the paintings which adorn its walls. One of the most impressive rooms has no artwork at all: an octagonal study outfitted with 19th century furniture. We also liked the kitchen gallery, which featured some modern art alongside old cooking equipment.

But our favorite room was the main rotunda, with high ceilings, giant canvases and a plush bench in the center, where visitors can relax and study the artwork at leisure. I spent at least ten minutes taking in Julian Story’s seventeen-foot long The Black Prince at Crecy.

We’d be remiss not to mention the Bird Girl statue, famous as the cover to Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. The Telfair Academy snatched it from Bonaventure Cemetery to “protect it,” and have displayed it prominently in their museum (snugly behind their paywall). Removed from the cemetery, the statue has lost all of its haunting magic. And it’s aggravating that this work of art was taken from a public place, and put somewhere that forbids photography … “Heavens, no photos in the museum! But please, feel free to buy a postcard.”

Entrance to the Telfair Academy will set you back $20. That’s a crazy price, though it also gets you into the Owens-Thomas House and the Jepson Center. Still, the fact that you can only buy the package deal is exploitative. Why not offer cheaper admissions to the individual spots? What if you’re only interested in classic art? Or if you only want to see a historic home? Well, too bad! We severely disliked the Owens-Thomas House, and blew through the gleaming, sterile Jepson Center with its pretentious modern art in about five minutes. The Telfair Academy is definitely the highlight of the bunch, but at $20? I’m not sure it’s worth it.

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The Savannah College of Art and Design: Restoration of an Architectural Heritage

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December 17, 2010 at 3:42 pm Comment (1)

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The Sorrel-Weed House Found on Madison Square, the Sorrel-Weed House has gained a reputation as the most haunted spot in a city known for ghouls. The house has been the subject of just about every sort of "Ghost Hunting" reality show that exists, and even offers visitors the chance to take a spooky nighttime tour. But Jrgen and I decided to check it out during the day, on an architectural tour.
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