God’s Acre: Behold A Storyteller Is Born! (Chapter One)

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“Hedged in by city streets and tradition blest, lies a sleeping township long since silenced into rest”

                                                     — Elfrida DeRenne Barrow

In many ways, I chose to move to Savannah 32 years ago because of this very special burial ground. No fooling. The decision was made one late spring evening while sitting directly below the low hanging branches of a live oak, arms stretched out on the back of a cemetery bench. I recall sliding down in my seat a bit and leaning my head comfortably so I could stare up through the giant tree branches at the stars above, and then I exhaled, making myself one with the place. I felt at home. Like I’d made it.

My parents and brother were sleeping in the nearby DeSoto Hilton hotel, and per my nighthawk habits, I let myself out and wandered over to Colonial Park Cemetery. It was fascinating to me that it was open all night. We were here visiting The Savannah College of Art & Design, and while they had granted me a handsome scholarship for the study of Fine Arts, the cemetery is what really sealed the deal.

Although I had not verbalized it while inside of the experience, looking back I remember musing at how surreal it was to be in this cemetery in the middle of town. It was legal for me to be here at 1AM and not 50 feet away was the early grave site of George Washington’s 2nd in command, Nathanael Greene; a man who literally gave it all away for our country’s birth. And just slightly up from my location was the plot belonging to Declaration of Independence signer, Button Gwinnett. At the time, his autograph was considered the rarest and most valuable in the world. Never mind that directly in front of me, I could sight and partially read the grave marker plaque of Teddy Roosevelt’s great-great-grandfather, Archibald Bulloch; a man so fiercely patriotic, he declined going to Independence Hall as a signer because he felt his duty was to be on the front of things bubbling in Georgia. All of this was completely blowing the mind of my inner history buff kid who revered Williamsburg second to none but had found a new Holy City! I really wanted to run around, wake them all up, and ask them a ton of questions! But more than anything, this place spoke to something core existential that my spirit had been craving. I suddenly understood I wanted to live an existence close to the graves of my heroes — immersing myself in the streets and buildings they knew — and that these would be the sources for inspiring my personal art.

Little did I know, this moment would soon lead to the making of a story archaeologist, and the art I would make would be the stuff of graveside legend and not without controversy!

Starting March 15th 2020, I invite the public to join me in the reprisal of my original 1990s Savannah tour, The God’s Acre Tour of Colonial Park Cemetery. This 2 Hour Tour will be offered daily and will be full of surprises. You’ll soon see that this small patch of  cemetery with scattered graves and crypts is the richest story acreage in all of The Historic District!
                           http://www.GodsAcreTour.com

CHAPTER TWO COMING TOMORROW!

View towards the police barracks & Old City Jail. Can you find the policeman reading a crypt?

 

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!