My Huckleberry Friend…

By Shannon Scott

Some of my fans and friends out there have already read this but wanted to add it to my blog as its been a popular request. Really looking forward to the expanded version of this story one day so people can really appreciate what a great friendship I shared with Paul Blatner and what a great man he was to this life!

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So I have a theory on why I saw the ghosts two days ago. It was today that I learned that on the same day, one of my very good friends, mentors, teachers, Paul Blatner died. He was an amazing man who I will never in my life forget and he was just 58. He was one of the most amazing collectors I have ever met and very distinguished in his accomplishments. He started The Savannah History Museum, was an archivist at The Smithsonian and some of the objects on permanent loan there in the black studies collection, are considered priceless and the most valuable in the museum itself. He was funny, like a brother and I just talked to him less than two weeks ago for the last time and we shared some laughs. I am currently writing a story to honor his memory and our friendship and will be sharing it with everyone soon. A funny moment occurred this morning. I did not know his funeral was in Bonaventure at 10:30am but as I walked my tour to the map board there, I see the red funeral arrow bearing his name. I briefly mentioned him to my crowd, and first person to drive in and up to me was Professor John Duncan (Midnight In The Garden of Good and Evil character) and naturally he asks me for directions. So for about 5 minutes I stood there and directed everyone towards Paul’s plot. I believe this was the universe operating yet again and Paul was smiling on this. Our friendship was about stories and ribald and while he was being sent to the Great Beyond, I was peppering the grounds shaman style with the energy of my storytelling. Naturally I intend to make him a stop on my tours in the future. Yes, later I went back to have a word with him and wanted to take him something personal that was “of me” and “of us.” As he was one of the great bottle colllector’s of Savannah, and almost literally, “The Father Of,” I placed a broken 19th century Savannah made Ginger Beer bottle at his grave as a flower vase. I found this in Bonaventure awhile ago and to me, the broken aspect, symbolic of the end of our earthly friendship and that yes, an earthly gesture that there will never be another like him. Bottles can be seen as the foundation collection of real collectors and shows humbleness and the ability to see beauty in simple things, which too are often very valuable as objects. At core bottles show others that you’re willing to really get dirty and dig to find something great and that you’re more than high brow academic or snooty antiques’ dealer. I kid the reader not, but I could bring Paul a pile of mixed glass out of a hole in the ground and Paul could tell me where and when every piece if it was made! The other object is a miniature of the statue to the Unknown Confederate Dead that you find in Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta. Paul was a Reb through an’ through and had one of the most amazing Confederate collections in America, including the rifle surrendered to Sherman by the Savannah Mayor. Interestingly, Paul was also buried with his father today. Howard Lee Blatner who died in 2009. I also knew him and he was a great man who grew up in the orphanage, Bethesda, America’s oldest orphanage begun by Ben Franklin in 1740. His father had been cremated and Paul had his ashes in a closet the whole time so Paul’s sister interred both of them together and as they were really a team for so many years in so many things, it was only right. I am grateful that Paul doted some amazing story objects on me as collector and that these things are now part of my storytelling. I consider it a blessing that I will always be evoking his name with the ways that I continue to inspire people. In that sense, we too will always be a team. And to some degree, this is why I believe I saw the two children spirits with their Tom Sawyer & Huck Finn hats. We were two friends that like children, delighted in the world around us and made one another giddy without any thought paid to who was watching. Long live Paul Blatner. The South mourns you fine sir.

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My Song Dedication To My Friend Paul Blatner

Shannon On National Public Radio

Click To Hear Shannon’s Interview

When I was growing up, I loved the radio. WLS in Chicago and “Animal Stories” or Paul Harvey (who once mentioned me on his show!), Wolfman Jack, Kasey Kasem and so many others. I would buy crystal radio hobby kits and build them with my solder iron and at night, move the antenna wire around my headboard to catch the signal just right. I would also play with my voice and create characters and did my best to emulate and immitate the rise, fall and other nuances of my favorite MC’s voices. All of this made more ironic later when at 15 I learned that my biological father had been a radio announcer and confirmed without doubt, I’d inherited at least his voice.

Before the video game craze

Before the video game craze

Eventually, like lots of young intellectuals and music snobs in the making, I learned there was nothing cooler than National Public Radio. Other than sugar & cream, it was the other condiment for your coffee. And I lived for this station and their relative affiliates from state to state. I couldn’t wait until announcer Karl Haas opened his “Adventures In Good Music” with his intellecutally amused, “H-E-L-L-O every-one, I’m Karl Haas.” And of course Garrison Keillor to modern day storytellers, was the Mark Twain we never got to meet. My co-pilot is Lake Wobegon Days! In High School, when public radio was still largely classical music, it was my soundtrack for artistic all nighters, and continued later in my art school college years. Sadly my affections have waned as now, NPR has just become a government control tool funded by the worst of government operators and the wildest of liberal, Leftist political circles. I know, don’t throw the baby out with the bath water, but let’s just say I savor my memories and my fingers, eyes and ears now shun the call letters. You know, Paradise Lost an’ all of that.

Karl Haas & Arthur Rubenstein

Karl Haas & Arthur Rubenstein

But “Back in the early 2000s,” a tall yummy writer with naturally licorice red hair, Heather McHelhatton, contacted me about doing an interview for the Minnesota NPR show, “Savvy Traveler.” That was also a goodie back then. The show’s announcer, Diana Nyad (Champion Swimmer) had one of those smart, sardonic, even bedroom tonalities that you just wanted to worship and take a bath in. Sticky good. So when one of her field agents, Heather wanted to interview me about Savannah’s growing paranormal reputation for the show, I was beyond thrilled. I really wanted to do a good job for Savannah and myself. Which I was all about promoting Savannah to the greater world and having my name on the marquee as such. I’ve been criticized and hated for what people have called self promotion through the years, but if that’s all people think its been, they just don’t get it. Anyway, Heather was familiar with Savannah and had lived here for brief writer meditation periods, but didn’t know much about the ghost scene of Savannah. She arrived with headphones attached to a very cool 4-Track recorder and after sitting on a bench in Monterrey Square around sunset and did a “Testing, Testing, Testing 1-2-3,” we went off into the night together as we discussed many subjects tied to Savannah’s weirdness and mysticism, real and imagined.

Heather & Her Map

Heather & Her Map

Heather’s Website (Click To See)

Heather has a very silly kind of demeanor and was a lot of fun to be around. We had a natural repoire and I just did my best to conceal that I really just wanted her job instead of my own. She made it easy really and it was kind of like we were just hanging out as friends more than as interviewer and interviewee. To our credit, the NPR folks after hearing it, told her they didn’t just want to use me in a soundbyte, but wanted me to have the whole 7 minutes of the episode. This was manna to my ears! I felt like I was following in the footsteps of my heroes or something! Joining the ranks! And yeah, as my mom was a fan of NPR, I think as her son I couldn’t wait to tell her!

On premiere night, which was around Halloween if I recollect correctly, it sounded so smooth. Diana narrated the front end and the back end, introducing the episode and to me the coolest thing of all, was the music that they used to close out the episode and not sure if that was Heather’s choice or not, but it was music after my own heart — Massive Attack. Which at that time, was the coolest kid on the block. Unfortunately my own recording version in this article doesn’t really let you hear it-hear it but to me, it was the icing on the cake. Heather also did an amazing job with the narration and of course, I bow to her for her production of it and honoring me with the participation. Heather has since become a novelist, writing several smart story books that allow the reader to kind of go their own direction with different options. Yes, like grown up Choose-Your-Own-Adventure-Books. I’ve got them all autographed. Last I heard she’s writing a novel where I’m a character driving a tour bus in Bonaventure and something about me carrying around the head of a statue but that’s that last thing I’ve heard….

One of my greatest validation moments regarding came later, at go figure, a coffee house. My home away from home was Savannah’s The Sentient Bean on the south end of Forsyth Park. Still the city’s best I think and occasionally I moonlight there reading poetry and telling an adventure story on stage. I was talking to a newly arrived barista, and while he was making up my latte, we mentioned what brought him to Savannah. He said, “well I grew up in Minnesota and years ago I heard this story on NPR about Savannah being haunted and after that, I knew I wanted to be here.” Yes, job well done and one more recruit secured for Savannah.

Massive Attack

Massive Attack

 

 

Daufuskie: The Lost Island & Joe

NOTE: Years ago I had two tours primed to begin on South Carolina’s mysterious and “cursed” island, Daufuskie. A ghost tour and a history tour. All was in place until a resort had its golf carts repossessed and a boat captain couldn’t keep his business of years afloat from the sheer collapse of things on the island economically. Life is still a struggle there but some say getting better. Jimmy Buffet wrote his “Prince of Tides” poem-song about his fears of development threatening this special place. This is my peek at the island through one of its characters and for a time, a man who was to be partners in the endeavor. Meeting him was the best thing that came out of it all really. If you like Part One, encourage me to write Part Two in the comments section. You never know, I just might.

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Daufuskie is only lost to those who don’t have a good guide. As is it goes for any in a strange new land who wish to journey it. But that’s the trick if you want to uncover Daufuskie. Unlike some other coastal vestiges with at least the random historical marker or friendly local, on Daufuskie, without the right hired guide, it’s a place that you can explore for hours and literally come away missing her soul beyond the visual obvious. Many like myself, found advance intrigue through Pat Conroy’s autobiographical novel, The Water Is Wide which recounts his time as a teacher to the Gullah children of the island and all of its cultural and political peculiarities. John Voight in one of his earliest film roles took on the role of Conroy in the 1974 film version, “Conrack,” which is how the Gullah children pronounced Conroy’s name.  Conroy’s book over time has certainly become Daufuskie’s most sacred, if not controversial text. But beyond Conroy’s tales, most of the info on Daufuskie is scattered in history book footnotes and one or two obscure books. There is great lore in those kinds of passages, but in most respects, that lore is limited to inside the pages of such books. To be on the island itself, it is once more silent on those subjects and gives no real clues to finding any tangible objects pertaining to such stories.

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As abstract as Daufuskie remains, a surprising many indirectly know of the island through Jimmy Buffett’s song The Prince of Tides which also became a Conroy novel title and subsequent film. Buffett’s beautiful 1988 poem turned song, is his own lamenting cry to the island and warns of Daufuskie becoming exploited for its beauty by elitist land developers. Today, over 20 years later, the song’s fore-shadowing has been proven all too true. The private neighborhoods and clubs across the island have a feeling of oblivious existence in contrast to the island’s older defining cultures and more integral historical identifiers.

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There seems to be an unspoken rule that if you are visiting Hilton Head, “you must go to Daufuskie.” It’s seen as a proverbial “Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $200” type of thing. To the outsider this recreational advisement  resembles something unconsciously embedded in minds of coastal residents. Much akin to asking directions to City Hall somewhere, you either get an autonomic like directing nod or a plethora of stories. Some can explain Daufuskie to you and some cannot. Most simply tell you that you must go and most listeners nod back that this must be unfailingly done!  On the simplest level to the simplest mindset, it’s a nice boat ride and you can rent 4-wheeler type golf carts and drive around for 6 hours with Bartles & Jaymes wine coolers. Of which as an activity, I have confessedly partaken. I won’t make excuse for that type of fun, but will say that when I did this almost 20 years ago, there was no Plan B for more soulful gain. Alas, to only go Plan Golf Cart will leave you with the sense that you aren’t really very welcome on the island as a whole and by the end you will be abandoned to an empty feeling that you missed out on something that might have been truly great. But yes, most in the end content themselves that the island lunch was good, shrugging  that their momentary hollow must be due to the long day and leave no worse for their lack of exploration.  But to the Daufuskie pious?  This missed chance for island enlightenment cuts a note like news of an unforgivable crime! To the reverent, the island is natural holy ground consecrated by a long history of unique tribes, food, music, artisans, plant & animal life and more. Daufuskie to many is the Low Country equivalent of Mecca! One goes to Daufuskie to commune with all of it’s beauty and inspiration and for those that understand this they might cry, “Put down thy golf clubs and pick up thy divining rods!”

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But yes, for those who lack divining rods and don’t already speak Daufuskie’s very spiritual language, one must find themselves the company of a great spirit guide. Permit me then to speak of Daufuskie’s storytelling minister. A man with a calling on Daufuskie known as Low Country Joe. Depending on who you ask, he’s like other mythical, many sided things found on Daufuskie. The meaning is all determined by the degree of light and shadow occurring when you encountered said thing or as in this case, man.  Much like the time cured stones from which Joe crafts and wire wraps jewelry, Joe is a composite figure. With Joe, you’re not getting delicate, unobservable crystals. By the time he’s gotten to you, he’s already a complete piece ready for application. Simple to observe and hold, but much the same of other gems, there was a long complex process went into making him. Joe in fact might as well be Daufuskie. By all counts he’s considered the living face and voice of the island, and like the island, Joe has as many faces as he does voices.

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Like all those trying to survive on a complicated land mass like Daufuskie, Joe walks in multiple worlds in order to thrive and to live creatively.  When Joe is on Hilton Head Island, he works as a realtor and is greatly admired by his peers for his track record.  But for Joe, Hilton Head is the physical world and Daufuskie is the spirit one.  One gets the sense that Joe sees going to Hilton Head as the place where he does good earthly work, but that crossing back over the water to Daufuskie is a return to a place more sanctuary like for himself. Yes, Daufuskie is home for Joe, but it’s also a bit of his own personal heaven.  Yet for Joe it’s not the Heaven of eternal rest. No, Joe is more than just another celestial resident. He’s more like like an angel on call and his duty it would seem is to explain the place’s surroundings.

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He often tells the tourists that he’s a “tweener.” Meaning that he lives and lavishes in between the two cultures on Daufuskie.  There are the fore mentioned rich, living in the Haig Point community, and then there are those who are rich only in culture and family called “Gullah.” They are descendants of the first quarter of a million slaves to enter the colonies, stolen from their native African nation of Angola.  Interestingly, if you were to ever visit there, you’d find that those Africans refer to themselves as Golla. When slaves were emancipated, there were many freedmen who trekked Northward to the cities for real work and to begin fresh. In contrast, the Gullah (and the Georgia Geechee), for reasons of home affinity and economics,  opted to move themselves to the islands of the Southern coastline. Understandably, this move was basically the perfect situation for those that had mistrust of their former white detractors. The Gullah came to harvest the islands and the sea and traded with the mainland but generally speaking, their culture became an isolationist one.  Yet even in those early days of the post war Gullah, there were people who acted as tweeners.  People who had need of the Gullah and they had need of them for one reason or the other. Well in the modern sense of Daufuskie, this is the position from which Joe works. Joe cannot be Low Country Joe without the Gullah and whether the Gullah know it or not, they have need of Joe. There aren’t very many people trying to bring positive energy directly to the island in terms of presenting the Gullah’s life and times.  But even amongst those who are, Joe is clearly unique.

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As a member of Haig Point, Joe is certainly not poor, but he is neither extraordinarily rich. It should be noted that when living on Daufuskie, there isn’t much middle of a middle class and of what there is, it’s so far removed from those in the upper crust that they are living more towards the fiscally poor. Low Country Joe’s riches have more to do with quality of life measures. There are other very interesting “tweeners” on the island (some parcel to his tours), but none respectfully seem so much a captain or island dignitary as does Joe. What truly sets him apart is his role as champion storyteller. Of which Daufuskie has more than one bard to count. But Joe through guts, passion and even the occasional act of folly, has landed himself as ringmaster and his guided tours serve as center stage.

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The ferry ride from Hilton Head to Daufuskie is as perfect  a 45 minutes that one could ever possibly spend. The unhurried waterways are full of breathtaking scenery of islands, boats, coastal houses, birds, dolphins, clouds, and other sensory delight that only add to the emotional  mythos  of the journey. In the case of the tour that day, there were a handful of friends with me and Low Country Joe met us earthly side for the ride over to the spiritual sands of Daufuskie. One of the first things you notice about Joe is that he’s very gentle in appearance.  His eyes are very soft and he has a very distinguished alabaster white beard and head of hair. He wears a long white, oversized and very finely made safari shirt with lots of pockets and buttons. His wrists and neckline bore wire jewelry that he crafts and with its simple wire, crystals and arrow flint, his whole wardrobe made him feel very much like some holy man escort. There’s a quality to him that is very light and at first, very under spoken. Before we boarded the ferry and were walking through the parking lot, it was almost as if he floated and I had to force myself to catch his sound. This nature I would come to understand is his style as a storyteller.  Going from underwhelming to then overwhelming is more his trick you could say.  Joe was quietly preparing to run us up a storytelling mountain.

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While on the ferry, Joe began to talk to us about “root.” Offering that there was good root operating in the world and bad root. The concept was not unfamiliar to me having lived in Savannah for so long and for having called some Gullah friends and neighbors. I’ve even known a few root doctors in my own time.  Root inside the Gullah world and in the most basic sense, is a reference to natural energy in the world that can be used for good and evil. But probably even more primordial than that, it stems from the long history of using roots for the improvement of health, or sometimes to the detriment of an enemy. The belief is that it can be channeled into an object and offered for protection or presented to harm or it can even be instrumented through words. One of the most serious things you could ever say inside of the Gullah culture or even just in some southern neighborhoods would be, “I’m going to root you!” At one time when root doctors were more the medicine people (and a bit like lawyers), of neighborhoods, this kind of a statement was a declaration of war. It would have typically resulted in all parties enlisting their own root doctor to help them do battle.

 

The phrase and suggestions of root can still be quite affecting. Root isn’t unlike Voodoo or aspects of Macumba or Santeria. Depending on who you ask about the subject, and I might argue that authority in the subject is as subjective as the craft itself, you’re going to get varying claims on it being more good or more evil. Most Gullah are and have been either Christian or Muslim so they tend to stave off the importance or value of root. The mention either gets you scoffs because their churches have taught them its anti-faith or they will simply do their best to avoid getting into its discussion. But make no mistake, root still thrives in this region and those who worship one way or the other in their churches or mosques, still seek out its purpose and practice if they feel it will benefit them in certain situations. If just as a back up measure to prayer and regular legal or medical counsel.

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Joe extended his hand to me to show that he held a piece of good root. It was a very old piece of Indian pottery and looked like black obsidian. He handed it to me so that I might consider its energy or powers. I could tell that it was not just old but ancient. It had ridges that reminded me of the way bakers pinch certain pastries at their edges. Its known that Daufuskie was home to what they call the “Woodland” tribes that date about 9000 years ago and Joe estimated that it was somewhere from that time. He’d said he’d found it on “Fuskie” and considered it his personal charm. Which at first I thought it was a gift for me and when he requested it back I made him laugh a little when I called him an Indian artifact giver.

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We arrived not far from the historic Haig Point Lighthouse and walked up a winding tabby path towards the Strachan Mansion.  Joe marveled to explain that this historic house had been built in the 18th century and in a very fancy move, one of the developers had moved the mansion onto the island flatboat style as a show piece to accent the nearby golf courses and other resort aspects. Somehow the mansion no longer felt antique with its highly manicured surroundings and buzzing golf carts. It looked less historic and more historic “like.” As we stepped into the mansion foyer, or what was once a very grand porch, for all of the many tables and other seating niches, it was devoid of people. Joe began to explain that since one of the resorts went bankrupt that it wasn’t quite what it used to be. I must explain that my interest in Daufuskie is much more about the Gullah and antique for its own sake and my lifestyle isn’t much akin to the life and times of gated communities and resort life. So frankly I was indifferent to the news and for this part of the tour I found myself feeling less convinced about it being that compelling or material. One resort is but another cut of the same cookie in these parts really. Old house out front or not. But besides this, I remained patient because I knew that the “good stuff” was just around the corner.

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As we went out the back door to what would have been an area for horses, we found instead a stable of golf carts. Some privately owned, some rentals and there were a variety of 57’ Chevy designed ones, those of limo length and off road ATV looking types. On a side note, I would recommend if at all possible, getting one with the fat tires if you’re going to voyage beyond the resort as we did. The sandy, unkempt roads of the historic neighborhoods and other areas aren’t much for the small tread wheels of the one we ended up securing. But I suppose that was a part of the fun too so take it or leave it. Joe made his introductions to the garage staff and we found one that sat all 8 of us and mounted up. What I came to admire about Joe that day was he isn’t one to really color inside of the lines all of the time. He didn’t much bother with golf course, golf cart etiquette and if there was something he felt dire to show us, by God he was going to drive across a yard or some boundary implied border to get us there! Which is also a rank he’s kind of earned but walks finely too. It became clear to me that day by looks and comments of resort members, that he’s revered for his character by some who are worldly and accepting enough, but that he’s also snubbed now as a distasteful entity among the elite. So goes his life as the tweener and for now, he pays his membership dues just like the rest of them.

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At this point I want to impress that if you have ever wanted to satisfy your childhood or perhaps even adult fantasy of riding shotgun to Willy Wonka inside of his factory, less the immaculate chocolate part of that idea, spending a day with Low Country Joe is a very close equivalent! He is all at once the island mystic and tour guide guru but it comes with personality streaks of a mad hatter alright! He’s going to show you all of the special and secret rooms with much dramatic annunciation, but yes, he’s quick to remind you to have the proper respect of this mechanic or that facet to the island. It would be easy to convince yourself that the island is just his factory with some of his libertine stories and off color takes on the place, but he truly manages to evoke and maintain the appropriate respect for the place while he’s dazzling you. He’s truly a master at balancing this like any great performer. Which I might add is another virtue of Joe’s kind of touring and its importance to the island by contrast to the general offerings of the “get a golf cart and go” routines. As you pass by those “other types” doing that, it’s basically comes off as out of control and bears no resemblance to having any respect for where they actually are.

As we sputtered off across a path or two, our first stop was to a series of tabby ruin buildings. If you’re ever in the South and you want to show off your regional knowledge and even one-up some of the locals, just expound on the subject of tabby ruins and you’ll gain instant respectability. It’s a statement that you’ve put some time in the area and have quite possibly sought them out like an ancient shrine, as many a tabby ruin are only found in obscure places and some even more obscure than Daufuskie. Tabby is a “lost” building art and the substance is comprised of oyster shells, limestone, sand and water. It took 8 men an entire work day to build a section a foot high and 10 ft long. Some of the sturdiest stuff every manufactured in its time and the chemical moment that made all of the ingredients bind is gone from memory. So yes, they’re iconic structures that to the unfamiliar eye look quite primitive and almost like natural formations rather than manmade.  According to Joe, these ruins were some of the early slave quarters for the no longer extant Haig Point Plantation of the mid 19th century. But as these ruins sat somewhere between the tee green and the clubhouse, we stayed but a minute and then went ambling back down the road.

A moment or two later we set our sights on the very curious and very beautiful Haig Point Lighthouse built in 1872.  It stands so close to the bluff that it very much looks ready to jump into the water! The structure is very much the definition of “light” and “house.” Unlike the rising cylinder or needle styled light houses, it looks like a home that was built around a tower containing a look out deck and housing for the lens. Haig Point Lighthouse was built on top of the foundation for one of the largest tabby homes ever built and when the lighthouse was restored in the 1980s, instead of covering up the foundation, they left the tops of its walls exposed and marks an impressive outline that at first glance appears to be an unusual sidewalk. Joe drove us up close to the house and around it and described that it was now a 2 bedroom B&B situation for guests of Haig Point. Low Country Joe is also known as “Lighthouse Joe” and anything lighthouse is very dear to Joe’s heart since he lives in his own, The Bloody Point Lighthouse on the other end of the island. So if you want to endear yourself to Joe forever, brush up on your lighthouse history and you’ll be fast friends.

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Pre-Order Your Haunted Savannah Illustrated Map! (March 1st Release!)

Having been one of the principal founders and builders of Savannah’s ghost touring trade, I can tell you this product has been long over due for explorers in the market. Friend & fellow map making colleague Michael Karpovage has succeeded in bringing this wonderful guide to satisfy. Over a year ago we discussed its prospect and I did all to encourage and offer some wisdom towards its creation and he has far exceeded even what I thought possible. One can take ghost tours all day and read all of the ghost books, but to have everything at a glance in such a devoted map guide, is really the icing in this kind of interest in Savannah. We wish to thank Michael Karpovage for not only all of his passion, skill and energies, but my personal appreciation for including my After Hours Cemetery Tours in his listings and for promoting the Haunted Savannah App on the map itself. We look forward to more to come from the talent pool of Michael Karpovage who is also a novelist -and hope you’ll check out his website! KarpovageCreative Pre-order your copy by clicking here Haunted Savannah Map Illustrated 

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America’s Most Haunted City DVD/CD Back On Amazon For Sale!

Fan of the paranormal? Hauntings? Family or friends who just can’t get enough of it? Shannon Scott’s film, “America’s Most Haunted City” a perfect buy for those seeking an intelligent narrative about Savannah’s social heritage and all told through the voice of Savannah’s most respected and long standing journalist of Savannah mythos and mysteries. Nearly 2 Hours in length and comes with soundtrack by composer Edwin Brown and his 12 Original Tracks. Can be purchased on Amazon.

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6th Sense World Mystery Intro

(Please Allow To Load Fully Before Watching)

Here’s another sample of my art direction talents. I took a myriad of my antique Masonic ritual objects, such as a ceremonial casket from 1857, a paper mache Goliath mask, along with an executioner’s robe of the 19th century, and put a video together promoting 6thSenseWorld, a Savannah ghost & cemetery tour company that I founded in 1995. Originally this was designed to be the intro of a TV show, but for now, is being utilized as a company promotion. Camera, Music & Editing by Matt Duplessie. 

 

 

The Hanging Tree in Savannah

One of my prouder moments in my story telling career was having the acclaimed George Noory of the legendary Coast To Coast AM radio show, do the narration over a segment on Savannah featuring my take on the hanging tree of Savannah, Georgia in Colonial Park Cemetery. Subjects like “Hanging Trees” on ghost tours or “whipping trees” on history ones, have become the stuff of cliche and are often entirely fake. More the reason why I am remiss that I can no longer show a true hanging tree that stood smack dab in the middle of Colonial Park Cemetery and pre-dated the cemetery of 1750 by another 50 years or more at 300 plus years of age. True to form, the failed Park & Tree Commission of Savannah, did nothing to save this tree and permitted its murder in my opinion when it was cut down. Granted some would say such a tree is made evil, but lets face it, it had more purpose as beautiful tree and less say in the matter when they threw a rope over one of its grand branches. In fact, I often sat on the bench beneath this tree and we kept each other company during many daytime and evening visits. This tree was one of the capital live oaks of downtown Savannah and will never forgive the loss or forget that tree. Incidentally you can see me talking about it in my film America’s Most Haunted City and I feel blessed that I could capture it in a forever spotlight with my documentary. The last known hanging from the tree was in 1911. A black man had been falsely accused of raping a white woman, was being kept in the neighboring Old City Jail (currently Habersham Hall of the Savannah College of Art & Design), but the man never made it to trial. The mob beat the courtroom to the process. They dragged the accused to the tree, hung him and burned his body on the tree. The photo of the man charred on the rope, has never been published, but a friend of mine owns the photo, in 2001 loaned it to a lynching exhibit at the Martin Luther King, Jr Center in Atlanta, GA. Seeing it was something else. One wonders if the tree didn’t bear the scars of flames for a very long time. All the same, that tree saw the founding of Georgia, is where many famed and acclaimed strolled, picnicked beneath its branches, dueled nearby on the duelling grounds and it survived every fire, hurricane and act of war that Savannah ever experienced! And aren’t you a little sad you never got to see it? Or if you did, maybe a bit mad that they just took it down without much ceremony? Me too. That tree was kind of one of the first familiars for me in Savannah. In this video I discuss the hanging & spiritual tale of legendary figure and phantom, Rene Asch Rondolier, Savannah’s ghost king. We’ll talk about him in a future post! For now, enjoy the video!

“We Live Here In Fear”

Boy, I was really working that Fabio look wasn’t I? This was 2004 I believe. Most of all I was rocking it for Savannah and always happy to do that!

Bonaventure: Heaven’s Playground (Part II)

Apologies that this has taken awhile to publish. Please read Part One on the blog first Bonaventure: Heaven’s Playground (Part One) These articles originally appeared in the Halloween Edition of Twisted South Magazine.

Gracie – Photo courtesy of Jennifer Anne Photography

Bonaventure feels old. Really old. But beautiful. It feels like a destination after a long journey. I was told it’s a 10-minute drive from downtown but was once hours by horseback. In fact, the winding roads going up to it from two directions bespeak of an old carriage road that was never straightened. At the main entrance stand towering live oaks that look like elder guardians and an elegant brick caretaker’s house with pristine flower gardens. It’s a city office today, but was first the home of the cemetery’s sexton families. You ever look at a house and get the feeling it knows things? This one does. Especially those upstairs rooms, but they weren’t talking. Again, those confounding dualities of the Midnight In The Garden of Good and EvilSavannah. Mysteries hidden like you have to earn them or wait til they come to you.

My first clues? Little bat or gargoyle wings cast into the main iron gates and these two statues capping the entrance pillars. These “Mary” figures look sleepy and kind of sensual prompting in the reverent spectacle, what felt a semi-blasphemous thought, “Can cemeteries be sexy?” Before I could give that much attention, I saw something looking at me. An eye shape on what appeared to be the main cemetery map board encased in glass. Sure enough as I approached, the eye was there (not unlike the one on the business card given to me by Sabine). I walked closer and as I did the sunlight went from feeling yellow to golden. I mused, “Shadows and sunlight are stronger in here.”

When I got to the map board, I saw that the cemetery is rather large to say the least (100-200 acres). As I looked at this very distinct hieroglyphic-like eye, the map seemed to have a profile of a head around it. I’d seen things on TV about map makers and park planners using symbols and other impressions of antiquity inside such designs but wondered if it was my over-active imagination. The Victorians were into the iconography of the Egyptians, although this head reminded me of those murals of bald slaves or perhaps a pharaoh without his headdress. Near the map board was a yellow wooden arrow on a temporary stake. Taped to it was a piece of printer paper bearing a name and time, “Martin – 2pm.” I presumed this was pointing funeral goers to a plot, so I decided to walk in that direction. It was still early, and I might meet someone interesting.

As I roamed, I was taken with how garden-like Bonaventure seemed. The sheer number of live oaks dressed out in dangling moss cobwebs. It occurred to me that if one was seeking to conceal anything gothic or creepy, they might consider sticking to just palm trees. The live oaks are like something out of Tolkien’s imagination, waving gnarled arms with mouths that are both yawning or screaming in the serenity. As you pass, it’s as if they’re saying, “Wait til the sun goes down, that is when our day begins.”

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Anne Photography

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Anne Photography

Just ahead I could see a black van and a green tent. I continued to pass through an array of mourning statues, towering obelisks several stories high, broken columns and urns covered in veils. The many symbols made me aware of how so many religious views live on the backs of others and how diverse Savannah is or had once been. Suddenly more eyes were on me. A small headstone depicted the faces of three children peering from inside a heart-shaped window as if they were in heaven looking down on their family. The expressions of sympathy carved into their tiny faces was so natural. I marveled at the artist’s skill while trying to comprehend the mother, who in 1903, lay with all three of them lifeless in her arms. Standing over this small grave there was a simple but jarring phrase stamped in bold letters…(TRIPLETS). The parenthesis there as if to whisper the impact. Neighboring were the headstones of two other children for what appeared to be a total of five lost by a single mother. I was reminded of how novelist Mary Shelley had lost several children during childbirth and that “Frankenstein” in some way was her processing her anger toward God.

“Those are the carvings of John Walz,” a voice announced from behind.

As I whirled around, an older man stood there, probably in his 70s, breathing tubes extending from his nostrils leading to an oxygen tank strung over his shoulder.

“Sorry if I startled you, young man. I’m here for a friend’s service and came early to walk around as I’ve got a lot of family and memories here,” he reminisced. He called himself Mike Deegan.

“Who was this sculptor again?” I asked.

“John Walz. He was from Philly, married a Savannah girl and made our cemeteries more beautiful for sure…yeah, Savannah really lucked out with him,” he noted with a certain pride.

“Mike, is it true that those sculptors made their livings, so to speak, from children’s deaths during that period..it really seems like their graves are everywhere,” I noted.

“Yes, I suppose you’re right,” he sighed. Mike then popped up and asked, Have you met Little Gracie?“

Telling him no, he asked if he could introduce me. As we walked, Mike spoke of many names and families. Although the monuments seemed more than twice his age, he spoke of them as if he had known them. I heard both happiness and sorrow in his voice as if he wished they were still here.

Mike stopped in the road for a moment, wheezing, “Kid, whatever you do, don’t smoke anything stronger than pot…man, I shoulda listened to my friends at Haight-Ashbury,” he chuckled.

For all of the hushed conversation in Savannah, it’s amazing what residents will actually tell you if they determine you’re worthy. Like they want you to carry the truth outside of the walls and share, but not give them up at the same time in their home town. Mike said the reason he could talk more like this was because he lived way out in another county now.

As we continued to walk, I seemed to miss the major monuments in plots as I was struck by all of the children’s graves tucked at the back of family plots. Whereas monuments to adults were often bold, gray granite pieces, the memorials to children appeared stark white as if the stone marked their innocence. Tiny, even miniature headstones with little marble borders surrounding the grave poked out, and depending on their lengths, hinted at the child’s age at death. Toddlers a foot or so long mixed with slightly longer pieces of marble of children closer to 7 or 10 years old. According to Mike, these were flower beds where ivy once grew or morning glories, and now most are barren. There were reclined lambs carved into the top portions of some, with the occasional toy or trinket placed by family or perhaps a random stranger moved by the loneliness of one grave. I pondered if these were some of the lights and sources of the laughter at night. Do people hear it during the day?

Gracie - Photo courtesy of Jennifer Anne Photography

Gracie by Jennifer Anne Photography

As we turned down a road bearing the sign, “Gracie Section,” there were a few cars parked narrowly by a fenced-in plot and several people standing in front smiling and stretching their arms above or through the fence to take pictures. Rising above some interior shrubs, there stood a glowing white marble statue of a small, pleasant-looking girl seated on a bench. One hand of the child was resting on a tree that looked chopped in half, a vine climbing it, the other hand holding perhaps a flower, and the pedestal she was seated on had branches forming the girl’s name, “GRACIE.” There were toys scattered in the front part of the plot, some handwritten notes and coins placed along the railing of the fence. She was also holding a toy teddybear on her lap, evidence that the fence didn’t deter everyone. There was a marble plaque with a few details but I preferred to hear Mike’s take on her.

“Who was she?” I asked.

“She’s Savannah,” Mike replied. “Her mother and father had a fancy hotel downtown during the “Cotton Boom” and Gracie was their only child. There was something special about her and everyone knew it. Everyone came to see her at the hotel (that was their home)…mayors, politicians all saw her as good luck, travelers too that were so far from their families. She must’ve been an old soul or something. People would give her things because they believed it meant their own families would be well when they returned off a long road,” he remarked.

“Newspapers and travel journals talked about her for awhile and it seemed like everyone wanted to know her…but she died when she was six in 1889 of pneumonia. Some say she got hit by a carriage first, but I don’t know that.  First statue John Walz did in Savannah, and no one every forgot him for it…people were real sad over her death,” he noted solemnly.

“Every kid in Savannah grew up with her in a way…we all played around her before this fence was here, and you know, we all kept coming back to her as we grew older..she was like family, and I won’t lie, we might have had a beer or two with Gracie, but that’s ok, her parents owned a bar,” he laughed.

I asked him if he had more than oxygen in the tank, and after Mike stopped roaring over my jest, he looked at me like he was making a study and prompted, “Bet you wanna know the legend, huh?”

Of course I did, and said as much.

“Well don’t you believe that junk on the internet about her crying tears of blood…dumbest stuff I ever heard,” he fired back. “Even my grandmother told me this one, if you come out here under a full moon in the winter, all of these headstones are cold as ice, Gracie though – warm – like she’s still alive!”

As I looked at Mike’s elated face back over at Gracie, it seemed that she was smiling more than when we first arrived.

“She does that,” Mike boasted.

“What do you mean?” I chuckled.

“You saw her smile didn’t you?” he said proudly.

I thought to myself, had I? Was I becoming part of this illusory Savannah mindset?

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Anne Photography

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Anne Photography

Gracie suddenly seemed to me the reigning child; princess of “Heaven’s Playground”. Like she was the central figure in the cast; that all living and dead children came to pay homage to and perhaps lead their games. And for all of those who have no life-like statue, no headstone, no face, she symbolizes all of them. She is every child buried at Bonaventure.

“Why is Gracie here alone, Mike?”

His face grew sullen. He looked deeply at Gracie and said, “No one really knows, but after Walz unveiled the monument, her mother and father lost faith in the business…things…they sold the hotel, and within a few years were all gone. Guess they had nothing left for this place after such a golden time.”

Mike genuinely had tears in his eyes as he spoke, “Stranger still no one knows where they went or what happened to her parents.”

After holding back, I bravely asked, “Mike, do you know any ghost stories about Bonaventure?”

He shot me a look, and then humored, “Boy you really know how to work a guy!”

We both cracked up for a minute. I went on to tell him what I’d heard about the spook lights and children’s laughter. I could tell from his face he understood every word.

“So you wanna know about Heaven’s Playground?” Mike asked. “Now I don’t want you to think what I’m going to tell you is dark or evil or anything, because I think these kids out here have passed on but come back to fill this place with good energy and that’s what people feel out here day and night. They’re like cleaners of all the energy people come in with. They take people’s pain away, you see. They send everyone back to their lives good or better than they were before,” he concluded.

“I appreciate that Mike, but how does Gracie fit in?”

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Anne Photography

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Anne Photography

He went on, “Well before they put up that dern jail cell around her, the tradition was for everyone to come here and give Gracie a toy, maybe a coin and keep her company for a minute. The old saying is that she adopts every passerby and every passerby adopts her…she’s kind of the main attraction in “Heaven’s Playground” I guess you could say.”

He added, “But now she’s in a pen, and I don’t much like it. Gracie was out here for everybody. I know people do dumb things but I miss the old-fashioned way, you know…guess I’m showing my age.”

Out of the corner of my eye I noted that hearses and a string of cars were flowing into Bonaventure.

“Mike! Oh man, I forgot you were here for a funeral!”

He looked over in the direction of the tent and laughed, “Do I look like I’m in a hurry to get to a funeral, son? They need this oxygen more than me!”

We laughed. He appreciated my own quip when I told him that I too had a “deadline” waiting on me. As we were saying our goodbyes, I couldn’t resist asking, “Mike, has anyone ever seen Gracie’s ghost? I mean, does she play here or does she just sit here?”

He seemed impressed, “Son, I’ve never seen her myself, but I had some good friends who did. They used to live in that house up at the front for a long, long time. Just before the city moved in to take over the cemetery, there were my friends who were the sextons. One night in the heat of the summer, the grandmother and great grandmother were alone in the home when a friend dropped by. They were all sitting in the den with the door open with just the screen closed to catch the breeze off the bluff. Without a whisper, …there was suddenly a girl standing at the door with her hands on the screen and her nose pressed into it. She was just staring at them.there was suddenly a girl standing at the door with her hands on the screen and her nose pressed into it. She was just staring at them. The family friend took no notice of the girl’s appearance, but the other women knew who she was and couldn’t even speak. They said that the buttons on the girls dress were identical to that of Gracie’s, as were the style of shoes and buttons as well. The family friend was first to speak and asked the strange girl if there was something they could do for her. The girl responded by taking her hands off the screen and began to walk backwards away from the door. The family friend got up and went to the door and the other women followed. There the girl stood at the top of the steps, still staring at them and without a word, and without taking her eyes off of their’s, walked backwards down the steps and uncanny I tell ya, walked backwards staring at them back into the mist of the cemetery! Can you believe it? In reverse! Just gives me chills thinking about it and the two women of the family were stupified! But the family friend hadn’t made any spiritual connection and said casually to the women, “I’m going to go after her.” As she opened the screen door, an icy breeze blew into the house and the great-grandmother lunged at the woman yanking her back in and shrieked, “DON’T YOU DARE!” Once the two women explained to her who they believed had just visited them, their friend began to tremble with understanding and fear. Funniest part is, they went over to a bar in Thunderbolt that next minute and ordered themselves the biggest shots they’d ever drunk in their whole lives!”

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Anne Photography

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Anne Photography

Mike roared with laughter, yet I felt reluctant to do the same, as I stood there trying to process what he had just told me. Laughter was the last emotion I could conjure up thinking about not just a vaporous apparition doing this, but a flesh and blood statue spirit walking in the night.

“Why do you think Gracie did that or came to them in that way?” I managed to ask.

“Well, I can tell you what those women told me as a much younger man…since they were moving out they believed it was Gracie coming by in her own way to say goodbye to them, and a kind of “job well done for us here in the cemetery” parting moment. And I need a drink for just telling you that, young man,” he amusingly confided.

“But right now, I gotta go say a final toast to an old friend,” he said as he turned to go.

Some crows nearby began to caw in the trees and he commented, “Oh boy, that ain’t good luck. People used to say if you heard that at a funeral, meant someone else in your family was going to die. Sure hope it ain’t me, I gotta lot more to do today!”

I told him the crow would probably die before he would, I heard him laugh approvingly as he walked away. As I turned to leave, I caught sight of a note that didn’t seem to be there the whole time Mike and I were talking. It was a little weathered, yellow piece of journal paper, tied to Gracie’s gate, written in a child’s hand:

Dear Gracie, my baby brother came to join you last week. Please take good care of him for us. I loved him very much. Love, Jenny

Her handwriting told me she wasn’t more than 5 years old. Right about the same age as Gracie when she passed. A part of me wished I could tell Jenny that it would be ok and that Gracie would be looking out for her little brother.

That’s the thing about Savannah. It has the most beautiful of living things and the most beautiful of life gone by. It is full of notes and signs that seem to be found in the slightest moments with random encounters or people. They’re all reaching out and telling you something at every turn, entrusting you with it for some purpose of your own. And when I thought about why Mike had told me that ghost story, it dawned on me, that through the story, both he and Gracie wanted me to do a good job telling their story; and I certainly hope that I have.

So strange, but Savannah in a short time has become a new layer of my own skin. A part of its soul, now my own. Even if I didn’t have a moment with a ghost, in the very short time I visited, I feel like I got something better. Like I had a profound out-of-body and other worldly encounter with a mystical city and its most mysterious cemetery.

Photo courtesy of Dick Bjornseth

Photo courtesy of Dick Bjornseth

#Savannah #BonaventureCemetery #BonaventureCemeteryJourneys #BonaventureTours #TourBonaventure #MidnightInTheGardenofGoodandEvil #CemeteryTours #SavannahCemeteryTours #ShannonScott

“Savannah: City of The Dead?” by Shannon Scott

This article first appeared in Twisted South Magazine’s Fall 2014 Issue. Photos by Dick Bjornseth. www.twistedsouth.com 

Imagine if you will, a city where the discussions of ghosts, hauntings, or the dead are a daily part of community life – where it’s so casual, it’s giving the one about the weather a run for its money. If you’re having trouble imagining chatting about the deceased over your morning coffee or lunching with friends while you tell a good ghost story, then just visit Savannah, Georgia.

Upon arriving, visitors find the town somewhat removed from the 21st Century, so much so that when modernism does creep in (like anything or anyone entering Savannah’s suspended dimension,) it’s absorbed in a flash by the town’s living past. Savannah gives most people some sort of spiritual and mental reconfiguration, even to the general traveler coming to the city for a good dose of Southern gentility – you leave feeling a bit different. Some never know the reason why Savannah grabs hold of them or pulls them back to her. So make no mistake, these are no ordinary ghost stories you are hearing. Not every haunting is scary or should be interpreted that way. As residents of this town, we live with the past as much as with the present – ‘The Savannah Effect’. One has to evaluate other aspects that influence our concept of this “Effect” which is part of the strange consciousness found here.

We’ve all experienced marveling at seeing an old building, often announcing matter-of-factly, “Wow, that building is over 100 years old!” Understandably, most place 100 years between themselves and the object without comprehending how close they are to it by the logic of time. The very years since something was built or created are always right at the back of us in every moment. In Savannah, yesteryear is more a part of the present than usually fathomed. In some sense, there is no yesteryear here, merely the people and some shades of details have changed or been added to the spectrum. We accept that buildings still stand after 100 years, but is it really so strange to consider that so do the people? Granted buildings are buildings and biology is biology, but as buildings housed people and were so central to their lives, the very next question is often (even if subconsciously,) “Where are the people, and are they still here?”

Savannah may seem to stand still but the city is very much concerned with the active preservation of this time phenomenon. The more we aim to preserve something old, the more we are able to connect or stay in touch with the past. It gives us roots, grounds us, supplies us with tools for every type of advancement. To destroy important relics is like reading a worthy novel, but then ripping out the first half or every other page and giving it to a friend to read hoping they will understand it. So you see, to do away with objects made with care, shows carelessness for the past as well as one’s self. In effect, to tend to the cultural old, the very substance of a culture’s soul, may not be a guarantee for the future, but is it not promise of a greater one? Savannah seems to understand this connection of past and present.

What an amazing concept, having an object of the past, living in the present. Well then, what of a whole town and one filled with the objects of life from the spirits of the past that once dwelled there? These object have remained and so too have the people and their stories. So it is YOU who is new to it. Man has been moving around, era after era. It doesn’t die per say, we do. Do you understand now? We are all Savannah’s ‘ghosts’ – floating in and around the place. To marvel at spirits in nature is merely to be astonished by our own reflection! Savannah is filled with lessons of our own mortality – flashback reminders that we are mere life-filler. We are of course substantiating its existence with our own, but life comes with the knowledge that it will not last. We all stumbled out of the dark, and we will all stumble back. Which is a part of the visitor’s awe when absorbing Savannah as a place. It’s almost like survival envy.

Savannah shares her secrets by revealing the lives of the people who built up her neighborhoods, erected her churches, commissioned her statues and cemeteries to those who visit. Spirits wander her streets like a time capsule of love, war, betrayal, happiness, sadness, friendships, life. For many, entering Savannah is like entering Heaven for a time; there is evidence here that your struggle in this life is rewarded in the next. She captures her visitors by teasing them each time with one more story, one more ghost – imprinting their own experiences here but always bringing them back for more.

Savannah’s endurance through time, its ability to withstand and recover, its very existence refutes the nature of our own. People look upon this city and realize their mortality in a single glance. Part of experiencing the joy of Savannah is that all at once we are asked to sound the depth of her sadness, and this can invite some very deep feelings of lament. It is bitter sweet. Yet it is to honor Savannah and ourselves by allowing her to plumb our inner strings so that we might play something back to her. We all leave something behind within her walls after we are gone, and she accepts it with the grace of a sweet Southern lady.