Saturday, March 5, 2011

Georgia on My Mind

If being the birthplace of Johnny Mercer is the only thing Savannah, Georgia ever did for the world, it would be enough, but there is much more to this antebellum, soft-spoken Southern city. We traveled there last week for the first time and were completely charmed. Savannah is famous for many things including battles in the Revolutionary War, Sherman's March to the Sea during the Civil War, birthplace of The Girl Scouts, and of course the movie "Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil" was set here using Johnny Mercer's ancestral home as a backdrop. We stayed in Savannah's Historic District where landscaped town squares, period homes, walled gardens, museums, picturesque waterfront, art galleries, theaters, churches, and great Southern restaurants offer the visitor a rich cultural experience.

A lot of this beauty may not have survived if not for the good ladies of the Georgia Historical Society headquartered in Savannah. Chartered by the Georgia General Assembly in 1839, the Georgia Historical Society is the state’s oldest cultural organization and first and only statewide historical society. They have been instrumental in preserving the cultural and architectural legacy of Savannah and other Georgia cities. When the demolition crews planned to tear down some of the state's most treasured residential and commercial structures, the Society fought for and won the right to see them preserved. We owe them a great debt of gratitude for their determination and foresight.

Shortly after our arrival we started walking; you won't find a nicer city to see on foot. We passed The Lady and Sons, Paula Deen's restaurant in Savannah, and were lucky enough to get a reservation for the same night. Dinner was good, but the crowds that storm the place force them to keep their menu somewhat limited. We also had good Southern dinners at Churchill's Pub and The Chart House on the Savannah River. They have a trolley-style bus that tours the Historic District, and you can hop on and off for one price. We used it some, but did most of our sightseeing on foot. We made interesting stops at the Julia Lowe House, the woman who founded the Girl Scouts, the Owens-Thomas House where the walled gardens are colorful and serene, and the Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum on manicured grounds with amazingly realistic ship's models including the Titanic.

A pleasant surprise was ours when we looked for a church to attend Sunday Mass and found the incredibly beautiful St. John the Baptist Cathedral just a short walk from our hotel. The interior of this magnificent church looks like something straight out of Florence, Italy. Vaulted ceilings, marbled columns, stately altar, sculpted Stations of the Cross, and murals everywhere make this a stop worth seeing. Coming off a multi-million dollar renovation, the Cathedral is awe inspiring. Mass was a tad long for my taste, but the congregation was dressed so nicely, it reminded me of high mass in my old neighborhood parish. We left feeling spiritually uplifted, and walked into the bright sunshine of an 80 degree Savannah Sunday, a treat in itself after this year's brutal winter up North.

Another fun stop was Leopold’s Ice Cream, founded in 1919 by three immigrant brothers from Greece: George, Peter, and Basil Leopold. Generations of Savannahians have loved Leopold’s ice cream. During the early years, food service was added and Savannah began enjoying tasty treats such as hamburgers, baby clubs, and pimento cheese sandwiches. Johnny Mercer grew up a block away from Leopold’s and was a faithful customer when he was home from Hollywood. He even told Peter he would write a song about Leopold’s famous “Tutti-Frutti” ice cream, which had become a Leopold’s hallmark and Savannah’s favorite. The fountain and interior looked a lot like the ice cream parlors we frequented growing up in Brooklyn. Needless to say, we dropped in to sample the legendary ice cream and it didn't disappoint.

Savannah is a place you go to decompress. The flowers, palm trees and brightly colored houses are just so calming to Type A Northerners. It's definitely a city worth visiting. Here's a little Johnny Mercer to put you in the mood.


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Joseph Del Broccolo said...

Sounds like a place to visit! I always wanted to see Savannah, and now you gave me a good reason to tell TLW to!

Jim Pantaleno said...

I think you and Ellen would like it. Great food, great hospitality, thank God General Sherman agreed not to burn it down as he had other Confederate cities.