TOUR DETAILS: Saturday July 10, 2021
WHERE: Bonaventure Cemetery & Erica Davis Lowcountry
TIME: Tour 9AM to 11:30 RECEPTION: 11:45 to 1PM
COST: $30 (30 Tickets Only!) LUNCH OPTIONAL RESERVATIONS: Click BOOK NOW any page or call 912-319-5600 Shannon Scott will conduct a special FIRST ANNUAL tour dedicated to a portion of the 200 works of sculptor John Walz found in Bonaventure Cemetery with Little Gracie’s plot being the highlight. Shannon will present a never-before-seen artifact pertaining to Gracie’s life during tour. Cake Artist Extraordinaire Tina Arnsdorff Tina Bakes On Instagram will present the amazing Little Gracie inspired cake at Erica Davis Lowcountry Restaurant near Bonaventure and is not-to-be-missed!
“She adopts every passerby, every passerby adopts her….”
This has become a cultural credo for Savannah of sorts. My guests hear it every day as I tell them, “you cannot say that you’ve been to the Savannah village, you’ve not joined the spiritual ranks until you’ve gone to Bonaventure for the adoption moment with Little Gracie.”
Its hard to believe that a girl who died just a few months shy of her 7th birthday in 1889, is at least, in spirit, turning 139 on July 10th, 2021. The statue unveiled in 1891 so technically a tad younger but not by much. And 137 years later, this statue has become the most important locally made piece of portrait art that Savannah will ever know. She is literally irreplaceable.
The Tender Face of Gracie
In 1889, newly famed and recently arrived Philadelphia sculptor, John Walz, had only been in town for a few days when in walks an early customer, hotel proprietor, Wales Watson. A man so bereft by the loss of he and wife Frances’ only child, Walz claimed they didn’t even speak. The father, who at first was unknown by name to Walz, simply handed him a photo of Gracie and turned around and left the studio. A powerful moment and an exchange perhaps not uncommon in such studios Pre-Pencillin 1928 when memorials to children paid every sculptor and stone cutter’s overhead in America and every parent the week a child was born, went to a bank and opened a Funeral Fund Saving’s Account.
Gracie’s Childhood Home
Later in life, Walz, a man who’s crew had worked on Mount Rushmore and Stone Mountain Georgia and he himself adding to The Gettysburg Battlefield, called his Little Gracie statue, “my life’s finest work.” As a father himself, how could she not be?
Eventually Little Gracie was left alone to fend for herself and both nature and some persons were not kind. In 1909 a local newsman called her plot “unrecognizeable.” It was that year, some of Gracie’s friends who outlived her, stood her statue upright, cut out the jungle that had consumed her plot and a grand tradition of traditions came to life wtih community caretaking. When you came out to Bonaventure, you always stopped by to check in on your other relative, Little Gracie. And just like they do now, children 100 years ago would fawn and leave toys while parents would leave money to aid in her protection and all very alms like. As I say to guests, “if there were a mountaintop in Savannah and a shrine near the peak, this is that shrine.” She is the people’s icon of thing’s eternal in The Church of Savannah, a non-denominational place. She is the eternal child spirit in everyone and the innocence we must always maintain some of and never forget or abandon. For if we do all of life and us in it becomes lost. Visiting Little Gracie is like personal life maintenance.
I first heard of self-professed, “modern day pirate,” Michael Torres, through a casual acquaintance on Instagram. We were discussing the world importance, even UNESCO level, of the mass grave containing over half of France’s Royal Navy who were killed during The Siege of Savannah Battle hours of late 1779 and their burial on Greenwich Plantation. And obviously, how such a Normandy-in-reverse-like site should be fully discovered and vetted in some joint venture of our country and that of France. During our conversation, they offered, “You should meet my friend, Michael Torres.He’s found an iron casket, a sword and bones of a soldier.” Naturally, my ears pricked up at the mention. Even a twinge of envy to think a lucky finder had stumbled upon such ideas in an explored wood-line area or low water’s edge of the cemeteries. Not impossible. Many things here await discovery. I, myself, have found remarkable things, although often randomly. Coins and the like. It’s perhaps the one upside of hurricanes that blow through. Upon the recommend of my new associate, I took to Instagram and peeked at Michael Torres’ page, The Black Dive. As I perused over the many random titles about “Lost Colonial Towns” and “undiscovered” this or that pertaining to Georgia, I came across a video Torres shot in Bonaventure
As I watched, I admit I was amused to see Torres use a grappling rope or rock climber gear and go Batman style down what is, in most places, a very non-challenging river bluff descent. And then I realized what he was up to. Having worked in television myself, for years, producing my own documentary and other pitch work, I understood he was essentially trying to grab the eye of potential production companies or investors. No foul on the surface to the uninformed eye, — not bad TV, really. Even if you can’t just run around Bonaventure in any old manner, without permission for such adventures. So, as I watched further and saw him attempting to make broken headstone debris from rubble piles into proverbial historical mountains or as he would later alarm, a “possible hate crime” associated with “mass Jewish graves,” — this was more than pushing the limits of making himself audience worthy. It was just bad research or lack thereof and worse, already published on social media and uneccessarily in the ears of concerned locals.
Delving a little further to get more of an understanding of what a person like Torres was invested in, and if just because he might have something to truly offer up, a special nerve was hit with myself, which raised some sanguine flags. And this is where, I too, became skeptical of Torres’ path or claims. One interview showing Torres looking out across some beautiful ocean, and very much over playing to the camera, mentions being in possession of perhaps the only copy of a “lost” map of Savannah had been commissioned by King George III and was declared by many who knew it to be the most accurate map ever made of the area or Savannah parts and nearby coastline, and it was the true key to the exact locations of “lost settlements.” According to Torres, the map had been thought lost during The Revolutionary War but that he’d found the only known copy in a collection, and the owner allowed him to make a copy of it. That last part is highly unlikely but like all things “Torres,” the jury is out, and rumor has it, because they may be phantom jurors.
What Michael Torres doesn’t know (and has no reason to know really), is that when you become obsessed with Savannah and the journey of understanding her history, you become an accidental expert on the maps associated. Savannah Map Lesson No 1 is that the city was America’s first planned city laid out on a grid design. Famous map makers would travel here just to add their own depiction or version of Savannah to their own resume collection for history’s sake. Maps are taken quite seriously by The Who’s Who of local historians. When I published my first map in 1995 under my company, Jones Street Productions, “The Savannah & Tybee Map,” I handed off a pre-press copy to noted preservationist and antiquarian, Mills Lane IV. He looked over it more seriously than I imagined, made invaluable corrections and I published it with much greater pride having a very tough critic’s approval. I should also add that before the greater internet, I made my maps over the years working from the satelite maps made for The Army Corp of Engineers and were more than just mere copies of previous tourist maps. Maps were my literal business. Even earlier in my young historian ambitions, I spent hours scouring over The Sanborn Maps in The Georgia Historical Society, which are the equivalent of Biblical scripture in so far as understanding how things came and went and shifted in The Colony of Georgia. So, if my name were Bo, I’d then say “Bo knows maps.” And not to say I know everything as I don’t. I’m not that vain and love learning of the unexpected gems and even being corrected on historical points. I even relate to an outsider who comes to Savannah and shocks, educates and offends. I’ve been that guy. I’ve just done it over three decades now, and after being afforded much good grace same time, and never under the open guise of being a pirate. All the same, I’d never heard of a King George III Map gone “lost” during The Revolution. I have known all of the map guys like historian Paul Blatner (RIP), Professor John Duncan, Jefferson Hall and, trust me, no one had ever mentioned it as an object of mystery or wonder. Was this something else Michael Torres was going to thrill and surprise us with? I mean after all, at the close of the earlier mentioned Instagram episode, he looks at the camera wide-eyed and boasts, “The maps are wrong y’all.”
Any hopes of Torres bearing out more genuine was dashed when speaking to a local archeaologist that has worked the important sites relevant to The Savannah River and Low Country interiors. While watching Torres’ videos, he debunked the areas where Torres was shooting as claims of “discovery,” to simply being random interesting looking scenes near Bonaventure and downtown Savannah. They were not connected to anything Torres claimed in the narration was tied to the fabled lost map. In my mind, more “B-Roll” to tease an interested producer with or prospective investor. Which again, is one way of going about it, but maybe a little too Vegas style for Savannah in my view, and who and what are you selling short and selling out as it’s done? I can’t knock him for being a showman, as it takes a Ringmaster to sell a circus, but the risk of failure is high, if while stirring hearts, imaginations you come up tragically short, shown to be a confidence man with nothing but fool’s gold. I would just advise him to better have a map showing the fastest backroad out of town if the latter!
As fate seems to have a sense of timing, it only took a week for Michael Torres to re-enter my life with a phone call from a rather congenial, well humored host of a true crime podcast called PRETEND – Stories of People Pretending To Be Someone Else. Apparently, Torres had been making waves with the wrong people for a long time, and his past is now catching up to him or because he’s an interesting character or both. Essentially, I conveyed all of the above to the interviewer and gave him my permission to use whatever he liked of our conversation. What did not make the interview was my summation that Michael Torres has real skills and probably is genuine in his wants to share his passions with the world. However, in the rush to succeed in these ways or have a name, the sincere things have been belied or have become confused by his fantasy of his role as the pirate. Granted, academia in many ways has hijacked processes. Frozen them and made access near impossible for those with a genuine love of exploring. Time’s understanding truly does sit too still because of those controls and more private companies and individuals need to lead the way to liberate the information and enlighten us all. And in that notion, we need real rebels. Just not so sure of the role of pirates in that equation or those merely playing the role of one.
LISTEN to Shannon Scott giving his thoughts by CLICKING LINK BELOW