Why write this book? Contents of the book People who made this possible People who influenced the author Dedicated to: About Dan K. Phillips

SAVANNAH, GEORGIA

The Writer and The Preacher

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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 said.

"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."

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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.

Savannah 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 Church, 1736.
    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.


WANDERING



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. It reads:

JAMES EDWARD OGLETHORPE 1696-1785

"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.


FLANNERY O'CONNOR


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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:

BIG

BIRTHPLACE

of

Flannery O'Connor

American Writer

1925-1964



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.

Rather 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 sign."

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.

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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 favorite.

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 people.


A 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 cultivated mind."

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.

From 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 read:

    "Georgia, Savannah.

    "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."

    Tho. Christie"

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."

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."

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THE CHICKEN COMES HOME TO ROOST



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!"


Send any comments about Savannah via E-mail Dan Kenneth Phillips

To Chapter 10 - Calvin Swine - The Greatest Restaurant in America. Or to the previous chapter on Jekyll Island.

How To Develop A Spiritual Journal Process of Spiritual Growth Sitemap of Dan Phillips Works Thoughts In Solitude With Merton Thomas Merton Retreats Spiritual Direction Workshops Thomas Merton - Monk and Poet A Pilgrimage to the Abbey of Gethsemani A Pilgrimage to the Abbey of Gethsemani How To Develop A Spiritual Journal Process of Spiritual Growth Sitemap Spiritual Direction Workshops Merton Retreats More Thoughts with Merton in Solitude

1. Preface (Four Corners )

Includes photographs of Four Corners and the background of why Dan wrote this book.

2. The Photographer - (Tucumcari, N.M.)

Dan goes to Tucumcari, New Mexico, to visit the photographer who took Ian Frazier's picture for the the book Great Plains

3. An Outlaw and a Politician - (Las Vegas, N.M.)

He travels to the Teddy Roosevelt Rough Rider Museum to visit the "smartest lady in the world."

4. The Blues Brothers - (Las Vegas, Nevada )

Who would have guessed that riding an airplane-dressed as Shumu the whale-, would take him to the mysterious rhealm of multi-millionaire Howard Hughes.

5. Mysterious Adventures With Mark Twain - (Reno. Nevada )

Read some weird stories of a bunch of "wild consultants" who spend a week in Nevada exploring!

6. The Poet - (San Francisco, CA. )

This story describes his first visit to San Francisco to celebrate a wedding anniversary. He discovers the "ghost" of Jack Kerouac and hits several other literary high spots while here.

7. The Distant Listener - (Cape Cod, MA. )

Visiting Cape Cod,he discovers Henry Beston and Gugliemo Marconi. This leads to a history lesson on the beginning of radio listening and a unique baker (Ollie Ross) known to have picked up every radio station in the world. Was Ollie Ross for real?

8. Hermit of the Essex Coast - ((Jekyll Island, Georgia )

Jekyll Island is a special place for Dan. Study the billionaires who inhabited this island every winter. Listen to their stories of richness and pettiness.

9. A Writer and A Preacher - (Savannah, Georgia )

Did you know that the sign indicating where Flannery O'Connor was born is really a lie? And did you know John Wesley once fell in love here and caused a major disturbance because of this love affair. If you have read The Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, you need to read The Writer and the Preacher to capture even more weird tales of Savannah.

10. Patti's - The Best Restaurant in the World (Grand Rivers, KY.)

This is Dan's favorite eating place in all the world. Read this story and discover how a pot-bellied pig named Calvin Swine became the symbol of great American cooking.

 

Dan K. Phillips, writer of this Savannah, Georgia story, is the author of the internet travel book FOUR CORNERS - A LITERARY EXCURSION ACROSS AMERICA and is the editor of the monthly travel e-zine The Web Surfer Travel Journal. He also writes extensively on the works of the monk and poet, Thomas Merton. Please check all of these sites. THANKS! To E-Mail him click here!

 

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