A Randonauting adventure to an unknown cemetery

There are two things you should know about Savannah. 1. Everything is connected. 2. Time moves differently here.

A few weekends ago I was bored and the dogs were dying to get out and do something, so I decided to open my Randonautica app and go exploring. I did not expect it to take me to a park inside a cemetery I didn’t know about.

My youngest sister introduced me to Randonauting when she visited me back in July. For those of you who have never heard of it, Randonautica is an app that takes you to random places close to you.

When my sister and I tried, it kept trying to send us to Hunter Army Airfield or neighborhoods with limited parking, so we kind of gave up. But this time when I tried it, the app popped up a location I didn’t even know existed.

I had heard plenty about how Bonaventure Cemetery got started. I knew there was a plantation and that it burned down and maybe that’s why this other cemetery slipped past me.

Greenwich Cemetery is next to Bonaventure and was also built on the plot of a mansion that burned down. Since you have to drive through Forest Lawn Memory Gardens in order to get to Greenwich, maybe that’s also why I never noticed it.

As soon as I pulled into the cemetery, I was awestruck at how beautiful it was. The road winds along the outside of the cemetery giving you a fantastic view of the river.

Even though it shares some similarities with Bonaventure, Greenwich is definitely unique. Many of the headstones are more modern but have an artistic flair you rarely see in newer cemeteries. You can also still buy burial plots there.

The park inside it is right off the water and includes a little pond fed by the river. (Watch out for alligators. I haven’t seen any, but there’s always a risk in southern states like Georgia.)

When I was researching the cemetery, I found out that this is actually a spot where some couples choose to have their weddings. And it’s not just gothy/horror types getting married there. It’s just totally normal people. (I love it when normal people let their inner weirdness shine!)

If you want to read more about the insanely lavish the mansion that used to exist there, you can read more about it on Forest City of the South’s website.

This home had so much priceless art. When it burned down, much of it went with it, but you can still see some of the statuary at the Mary Telfair Museum downtown. (Seriously, if you’re an art lover, go read Forest City’s post. You will cry at what was lost.)

The only parts of the original property that you can still see are the stables and a fountain.

Remember how I said everything in Savannah is connected? There are two major stories with ties to Greenwich Cemetery.

When the mansion caught on fire, everyone escaped safely. One of the children was forced to jump out of a second story window. That little girl was Sandy West who grew to become a children’s book author and painter.

Ossabaw Island, the island she and her family moved to after the fire, eventually became an artists’s colony. Sandy was a huge advocate for not only the arts but also environmental preservation. She lived on the island until 2016 when she moved back to Savannah. (She’s still alive and kicking at 107.) You can read more about Ossabaw and how to visit it here.

The other connection to Savannah lore in the grave of Danny Hansford. His death and the four murder trials of Jim Williams are the main story of “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”. (There are a bunch of other stories in there that all tie together because EVERYTHING IS CONNECTED HERE!)

I know I’ve hinted at the story here and there, and I promise I will write a full post on The Book (and movie) eventually, but suffice it to say that poor Danny played an important part in Savannah’s history.

I won’t comment on his personal life. (He had a reputation around town.) I didn’t know him. In fact, he was killed a few weeks before I was born. That and the fact that it’s hard to dig up any info on him outside of the trial makes it very difficult to get a sense of him as a person.

His death at the hands of Jim Williams is one of those stories that people around town tell that seems ancient and recent at the same time.

Like I said, time moves strangely in Savannah.

Greenwich Cemetery

330 Greenwich Road

Savannah, GA

Explore what you can of the Old Sheldon Church Ruins

Locals’ relationship to tourists is always complicated. Growing up in Florida, every local I knew would cringe when Spring Break season rolled around. While the rest of the country gets a week, Spring Break is a full season in the Sunshine State, and that always means teenagers and college students from all over the U.S. (and even Canada) looking to blow off steam.

Some kids are just looking for a little fun, but some get destructive. I’d like to say people outgrow that, but I’d be lying. In fact, destructive tourists have taken away a unique part of one place to visit in the Lowcountry.

My mom walking up to the church during our visit in 2017.

The Old Sheldon Church Ruins in Beaufort County, SC mark two big moments in American history. The first church built there in the mid 1700s was burned to the ground in 1779 by British Loyalists during the Revolutionary War. It was rebuilt only to be burned down again by Gen. Sherman’s troops during the Civil War. (There are some letters that say the church was actually gutted to rebuild homes burned during Sherman’s March to the Sea.) The bits left of the church are brick columns, a portion of what was probably the pulpit, and some nearby graves.

For years, visitors could wander through the ruins and feel America’s past. Photographers took pictures of families and couples were married between the old columns. No one can do that now.

The ruins are still there, but due to defacing and theft by some visitors, the old church is now surrounded by a fence. No one is allowed inside.

The Old Sheldon Church Ruins are on the National Register of Historic Places but the land is owned by St. Helena’s Church in Beaufort. The private property is free to visit, and you can still look at the ruins from outside of the fence. The pictures in this post are from a visit with my mom a few years ago.

I did find an article in a local newspaper that said St. Helena’s Church does have plans to allow people inside the church again as part of tour groups. The pandemic has most likely put those plans on hold.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not anti-tourist. I love for people to visit places I love. I love sharing that experience with them. I’d just like visitors to remember that these places don’t exist just for them. We all have to be responsible to make sure places like the Old Sheldon Church Ruins continue to exist for the visitors after us.

Old Sheldon Church Ruins

Old Sheldon Church Rd.

Yemassee, SC

A boat trip with some salty dogs

My friend Magen and I have been talking about going out on her boat for a few years, but the timing just never seemed to match my schedule until this week.

Since I haven’t been swimming at all this summer due to one of my favorite beaches being closed and the others being too crowded for comfort, this Floridian was excited to be on the water. I was also excited for my dog, Vash, to finally have his first boat ride.

For all his barking and bouncing around my yard, he really isn’t an adventurous dog outside of it. Vash was apprehensive about getting on the boat and it took me and Magen both to coax/pull him on. He nervously paced around and tried to hide underneath me, but he eventually got used to it.

Magen and I had talked about looking for Shark Tooth Island, but due to uncertain weather, we ended up off the coast of Pigeon Island between Shipyard Creek and the Skidaway River, which part of the Wormsloe Historic Site.

Since it’s protected property, people aren’t actually allowed on the island. You can stay just off of it. Magen told me there aren’t any gators or wild boar, so it was safe for the dogs to run up and down the tiny beach while we swam. That’s the closest we got.

Even though Magen and I were just splashing around, we were still able to enjoy some wildlife. Magen pointed out an eagle as we were pulling into shore. Its huge nest in one of the pine trees was hard to miss. While Vash and Magen’s dog Miles were busy playing tug of war with a stick they found, I spotted a dolphin a little ways off the coast. Magen wondered if it was the same dolphin she spotted earlier this summer near the Isle of Hope Marina.

If you head out to Pigeon Island, DO NOT GO ON THE ISLAND! You don’t have to worry about being chased by a wild boar or eaten by an alligator, but it’s important to protect natural habitats. I can’t tell you how many nifty places I’ve seen ruined by careless tourists with no regard for nature or history. (More on that in next week’s post.) Being just off the shore is still fun, and there are plenty of good photo opportunities.

Exploring a Georgia ghost town

I love abandoned places! I will sit for hours watching urban explorer videos of forgotten mansions, creepy hospitals, and decaying theaters. Would I like to do all that myself? Yes, but I’m also one of those people who thinks of every little thing that can go wrong, and I’m also super allergic to mold. That said, I did find out about a ghost town located not too far from where I live, and I had to see it for myself.

Ebenezer was a settlement established by the Salzburgers a year after Savannah was colonized. The Salzburgers were Protestants living in what we now call Austria. They left because Europe was doing that thing where certain countries alternated between if it was cooler to be a Catholic or a Protestant. Suddenly, it wasn’t trendy to be a Protestant in Austria, so some of them packed up and headed to Georgia after an invite from King George II of Britain. (Not the King George from Hamilton. That’s King George the Third.) Those poor Salzburgers were not prepared.

There are actually two Ebenezers. The first was along Ebenezer Creek. Noble Jones (remember him from my Wormsloe post?) did his best to help the Salzburgers make it livable, but the creek was almost impassable and prone to flooding and the land wasn’t good for farming either. After two years and a bunch of deaths, the remaining Salzburgers moved to New Ebenezer on the Savannah River near modern-day Rincon. This was where I was headed. With my trusty Google Maps app, bug spray, and my fearless companions, Vash and Hemingway, we set off!

The drive out there was pleasant. Hemingway hung his head out the window for most of it. The scenery was mostly farmland and churches. The early days of religious settlers are still evident in the yards of the homes we passed. Many of them had crosses. I grew up in the Bible Belt, and I’ve never seen so many crosses in yards before. One yard even had a giant banner that read “Christ is the Answer”, which is funny because I thought the answer was 42. (If you get that joke, you get it.)

At the very end of Ebenezer Road, we found what remains of New Ebenezer. The Jerusalem Lutheran Church is the first building I spotted. The church was built in the mid 1700s and is actually still in use today.

The other buildings include a museum, which wasn’t open that day; the Salzburger House and Kitchen, that had a bunch of cool antiques inside; and the old parsonage. I wasn’t able to go inside any of the buildings, but I did take a few pictures through the windows.

Hemingway tried to go inside every building, and then as we headed over to the outdoor amphitheater, he made a dash for the river. Hemingway is my foster dog, and I don’t know a whole lot about his life before Renegade Paws Rescue, but I guess he has fond memories of a river because he really wanted to go for a swim. Fortunately, I was still holding his leash and was able to keep him from jumping into the fast current.

The amphitheater was simplistic but peaceful. The sounds of the running river and singing birds were soothing. I could easily imagine coming out here by myself to write.

After poking around for a while, Vash and Hemingway decided they wanted to be back in the car with the AC, and I certainly didn’t blame them. It was hot! If you decide to visit, I recommend going earlier in the day or during a cooler time of year. Also, wear closed-toed shoes. I ended up with burs stuck to one of my shoes.

I still wanted to find the site of Old Ebenezer. It’s on private property, but it is supposed to be marked, so I thought I could possibly see something from the road. On our way to track it down, I passed by Jerusalem Church Cemetery. You know I had to stop and check it out.

I saw an open gate from where I parked, but I couldn’t figure out how to get there. The road I assumed would take me to that gate was marked as private property, but I was able to take a few photos through the fence. They all ended up with weird glitches. Ghosts or just a foggy lens? That’s up to you to decide. I already plan to go back and explore the cemetery properly at a later date.

My attempt to find Old Ebenezer was also unsuccessful. My cell phone reception was spotty, which prevented me from searching for better directions. Next time I head out there, I’m going to attempt to contact the property owner to see if they’ll allow me to actually explore the original settlement. Until then, I leave you with this final picture of Vash checking out the statue of Ebenezer’s first pastor.

A walk around Wormsloe

I love taking my dog, Vash, and my foster dog, Hemingway, out for scenic walks. Before the pandemic, Vash and I would walk around downtown most weekends and end at Gallery Espresso for a puppuccino. Nowadays, it’s too crowded for my comfort level, so we look elsewhere. Luckily for us, Wormsloe Historic Site is close by, dog-friendly, and gorgeous.

When we arrived, I stopped by the office to say hello to my friend Gretchen, who works at the park as the site manager. She gave the boys some homemade dog treats that she keeps on hand for all the dogs that visit. In fact, Georgia State Parks are incredibly welcoming to dogs. There is also an entire program dedicated to them called Tails on Trails! Gretchen was able to explain a bit about it before the dogs signaled that they were bored and wanted to starting hiking.

Tails on Trails offers hikes at 42 different parks across Georgia. A $20 membership gets you a t-shirt for yourself, a bandanna for your dog, and a checklist for your explorations. You can learn more about it on the website. I didn’t have time to get my membership on this trip, but I’ll definitely get it next time.

Once the dogs got me outside again, we headed down the trail to the tabby ruins, which is all that’s left of the home built by Noble Jones in the early to mid 1700s.

The Tabby Ruins

I stopped there to give the dogs a break and some water while I shot some video of the ruins. I’m always amazed at what it took to live in places like Coastal Georgia before the invention of air conditioning. You can still see the remnants of a cellar inside the fenced-off portion of the ruins. That probably was a relaxing place to steal a few moments on hot summer days.

The dogs and I kept hiking down the trail along the water before taking another mini-break at the family burial ground. If you ever go to Bonaventure Cemetery, you’ll notice Noble Jones has a family plot there. His wife and son are still buried at Wormsloe though. In fact, some descendants of the family actually still live on the property. You pass their home as you drive to the Wormsloe visitor’s center.

Hemingway and Vash sported their new bandannas from Buddy Bandana.

After some more wandering, we ended up at the Colonial Life Area. There’s a blacksmith shop and a small home with a garden. It was quiet the day we went, but this spot is buzzing with activity in February during the Colonial Faire and Muster. There are reenactors showing how early settlers would make tools, cook, harvest, trade, and defend the area. (Vash may have been startled and growled at a Revolutionary soldier, who laughed it off and told him to use that attitude on red coats.)

Poor Hemingway was getting tuckered out by this point, so we had to cut the trip short because he’s just a bit too big for me to carry. On previous visits, Vash and I have explored more of the 3.2 mile trail. During the summer, this trail is perfect because it’s shaded and breezes from the nearby salt marsh keep it cooler than some other hikes we’ve been on. If you’re tackling this trail, don’t forget to bring bug spray and water. Sand gnats and mosquitoes are no joke, and the humidity makes it easy to get dehydrated.

One of the things I love about Wormsloe is the photographic opportunities. Some of my photographer friends love taking clients out to the park because the canopied drive and salt marsh offer beautiful backdrops, so when you visit, don’t forget your camera.

Skating through the streets

There’s something liberating about street skating. While nothing beats a freshly polished indoor skating rink, skating outdoors is equal parts dangerous and delightful. To make it a little less dangerous, I always wear my protective gear: helmet, wrist guards, elbow pads, and knee pads.

Eenie, doesn’t that get hot in the summer? It does, but it also saves my brain and knees from serious damage, so it’s worth it. Now with COVID, I also get to add a mask which makes me look like a mysterious roller skating bandit.

In Savannah, one of my favorite paths to take downtown is the Lincoln Street bike path. It’s been painted a bright green to let drivers know that it’s exclusively for non-motorized transportation. It’s also a fairly smooth skate. There are portions that are a bit bumpy because of tree roots or brick crossroads, but it’s also shaded. Perfect for summer skate time!

In my last post, I told you about the Birthday Bash at Leopold’s Ice Cream that happens every year in August. (Fingers crossed that they’ll be able to have it this year too.) That’s one of my favorite times to skate downtown because you really work up a sweat. That makes the ice cream taste even sweeter by the time you get there.

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50's costume contest! #leopolds96

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I won the costume contest one year. Can you spot me?

Outside of Savannah, my favorite place to skate is the Spanish Moss Trail in Beaufort County, SC. It’s about an hour’s drive from Savannah. Its a 10-mile paved walking trail that takes you past some gorgeous scenery filled with marshes and historic buildings.

You might be tempted to skip wearing protective gear on this trail, but I wouldn’t recommend it if you plan to skate the entire trail. There’s a tunnel with a rough grate on both sides, plus there’s always the possibility that you’ll need to jump over a snake like my friend Krystal did.

She’s fine.

If you’re ever in the Savannah area and want to go on a street skate, you are more than welcome to message me. I love an excuse to lace up and roll!

Chillin’ at Leopold’s

When people ask me for a list of places they absolutely must visit in Savannah, Leopold’s Ice Cream is always on that list. One visit, and you’ll see the magic for yourself.

In Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, there are places in America that hold real magic, such as House on the Rock. While Savannah is never mentioned in the book or the TV show, I still feel like Leopold’s should’ve been added. Every time I visit, something new and amazing happens. Plus, their ice cream is just so good! I don’t know what old god the Leopold Family made a deal with to have ice cream that delicious, but it’s worth it.

The black marble soda fountain and wooden back bar are original to the first location.

The ice cream shop was originally opened by the Leopold Family in 1919. It’s now owned and operated by Stratton and Mary Leopold. The shop you see today is in a different location, but the family tradition of quality ice cream continues. Aside from some of the fixtures in the shop, another holdover from past years is their signature flavors like Tutti Frutti and Rum Bisque. My personal favorite flavors are Lemon Custard (perfect for cooling off on hot days) and two seasonal flavors: Rose Petal Cream (the lightest, creamiest floral taste) and Lavender (which strangely tastes like the milk left in the bottom of the bowl after you finish your Fruity Pebbles).

Yes, they have seasonal flavors, and they aren’t what you’d expect. They offer Guinness flavored ice cream in March, Spicy Mocha in July, and Sugar Plum Fairy in December. There are loads more to try and even vegan and gluten-free options.

One of my favorite Fourth of July traditions involves Leopold’s. I go for an evening run downtown right before the fireworks on River Street. If I time it just right, there isn’t a line. I run in, take a picture with the Captain America: The First Avenger poster, and grab a scoop of whatever strikes my fancy before heading to my secret fireworks-watching spot. Unfortunately, that won’t happen this year. The fireworks have been cancelled due to COVID-19.

Stratton Leopold was a unit production manager on Captain America. Also, you may not be able to read it, but my shirt says, “on your left.” I admit I’m a nerd.

If you’re wondering why there’s a movie poster in Leopold’s, well, there’s actually a lot of film memorabilia. Stratton Leopold’s other job is in the film industry. He’s been a producer, a production manager, and a bunch of other things on movies you may have heard of. He has posters, clapboards, props, and pictures all over the ice cream shop.

You can see how Stratton’s work with productions pays off every August for the annual Birthday Block Party! This year marks 101 years in business for Leopold’s Ice Cream. I’m not sure if the pandemic will mean postponing the celebration or not, but if you have a chance to go the party, do it. Broughton Street in front of the shop is closed to traffic. There’s dancing, music, a car show, a photo booth, games, contests, and tons of ice cream!

When I say Leopold’s is a magical place, I really do mean it. There are special moments that only seem to happen there. Back in my news producer days, I was there with a reporter who was interviewing Mary Leopold. Mary would stop every so often to check in on customers. Towards the end of the interview, we ended up outside where a group of ladies, all wearing sparkly green cowboy hats, were sitting with their ice cream. Mary asked where they were visiting from, and they told her they were all from Ireland. They had seen Leopold’s on a travel show and made it a point to stop there. Mary thanked them for coming, and then this group of Irish women started singing. I don’t remember what song it was, but I remember being entranced. It felt as if I had entered a dream. I’ve lived in my fair share of tourist attractions, but I never experienced the same sense of happiness I felt coming from Mary and these women. When I think about Leopold’s, I think about that moment. There’s a special magic there if you look.

Art for both enthusiasts and the uninterested

I love art museums! But I fully realize that it isn’t everyone’s jam. That’s part of the appeal of the Jepson Center in Savannah. There’s a little something for everyone even if you aren’t an art fan.

Source to the Sea exhibit by Ansley West Rivers

The Jepson Center is more of an experience than it is a museum. There are the usual art museum exhibits of paintings, sculptures, photographs, and mixed media, but there are also interactive, history, and video exhibits.

Five Decades exhibit by Suzanne Jackson

My baby sister is in high school. She loves art, but the Jepson Center has so many different exhibits to check out that she can’t get bored with the same style presented in the same way. Our favorite spot was the interactive exhibits. We must’ve spent an hour in there alone playing with the flight simulator and games involving movement and lights.

The last time I went there, they had an exhibit on tea sets! It made me think back to when I was little and my grandmother would gather all the little cousins together for tea parties using her Peter Rabbit tea set.

There weren’t any Peter Rabbit tea sets at the Jepson that day, but I couldn’t help snapping some pictures to send to my cousins’ group text. Even though they weren’t there with me, it was fun to share the experience with them.

If that’s not enough art for you, admission into the Jepson Center also gets you into the Telfair Academy This is where you’ll find the iconic Bird Girl statue from the cover of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. (Yes, I know I mentioned Midnight in the last blog post, but it’s very popular, and this won’t be the last time. I haven’t even told y’all about the Mercer House yet.)

The Bird Girl

Aside from the Bird Girl, there are pieces from all over the world and throughout different periods. You can choose to have a guided tour, which I recommend because the guides point out so many things you wouldn’t normally notice, or just walk around at your leisure.

Hours have changed a bit because of COVID-19 prevention measures, so be sure to call or check the website before you go.

Gallivanting through the graveyard

A graveyard may seem like a strange place to take your dog for a walk, but Savannah is used to the strange and unusual.

Cemeteries aren’t just got Goths and ghost hunters. The South has plenty of fun graveyards to explore; each with its own unique stories to tell. Savannah is no exception.

Driving through the gates of Bonaventure Cemetery, it’s easy to see why it was used for the opening of the 1997 film adaptation of “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” The branches of oak trees laden with Spanish moss crisscross over dirt roads winding through old headstones.

My dog, Vash, and I like walking here for different reasons. I like it because it’s quiet and easy to socially distance from people, and I also enjoy spotting the names of tombstones that match with streets, squares, and nearby towns. Vash likes it because it’s shaded against the summer sun and there’s plenty of wildlife to smell.

Vash loves all the smells the wildlife provide for discerning doggie noses.

It isn’t just local historical people you’ve never heard of buried there. You can follow the same paths that inspired poet Conrad Aiken to write Cosmos Mariner, and even stop by his grave site, sit on the bench inscribed with his name, and see what words it inspires in yourself.

If you’re a music fan, pull up a Johnny Mercer playlist on Spotify (Yes, the guy who wrote the song Moon River.)and wander over to his family’s plot. Snippets of the songwriter’s vast catalog can be found engraved on some of the headstones as well as a bench.

Given the recent scrutiny Confederate memorials are receiving, it’s worth pointing out that there are some graves of those who served in the Confederate army. A few years ago, you would’ve found tiny battle flags next to the headstones. Those have all been removed, but you can recognize some of them by a small Maltese cross sticking out of the ground nearby.

If you love a good ghost story, don’t forget to stop by and say hello to Little Gracie.

When you pull up to the cemetery gates, you’ll notice there are two entrances. The one to your right leads to the Jewish side. Savannah is Georgia’s first city and is home to the state’s oldest Jewish congregation. If you’re wondering why the Jewish side has a separate entrance, it’s a religious custom. There’s also a special chapel.

On one trip to Bonaventure, Vash and I found the Holocaust monument.

While Vash and I walk here year round, I think the best time to go is in the spring when the azaleas are in full bloom. If you have seasonal allergies like me, make sure to take your antihistamine before you go, but the sight of all the pink flowers spilling out everywhere is worth a few sniffles.

There are plenty of tours available to give you a better history (and some ghost stories) of Bonaventure Cemetery. The Bonaventure Historical Society also has a free app available if you’d like to tour by yourself. And if you happen to see me and Vash out there, you can definitely ask me for directions.

Here’s some video of my favorite spots with a Johnny Mercer tune.

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