Thursday, October 28, 2010
Traveling Thursdays: Evolution of a Story, Savannah-Style
This photo from 1912 shows the Savannah Cotton Exchange on Bay Street. Shrouded by the vines is a terra cotta statue of a winged lion, a symbol of Mark the Evangelist, that had been in this location since 1889. I took this photo of the same building on my first trip to this historic city back in 2005. Note the growth of the two palms on either side.
I have also included a closeup of the statue:
On a trip to Savannah in October 2008, I noticed something was missing as I walked past the Cotton Exchange on Bay Street. This is what I saw:
The rough look on the claws of the lion alerted me to the fact that the statue hadn't been removed for a restoration. Storing it away in my brain, I figured I'd eventually find out what happened.
In Savannah, the residents don't just give you the facts...they give you a story. At the next instance I was able to talk to one of my friends (a Savannah local), I asked her about the statue. "Oh, my Lord! You'll never believe it! Some lady was drunk, driving down Drayton Street in her Lexus...she wanted to kill herself. She was going over 100 mph, and somehow got airborn, took out the Gryffon statue, and landed on top of the Cotton Exchange! The statue was over 140 years old and was a gift from France." What a story! As my jaw dropped in amazement, all I could say was, "Only in Savannah."
Later in the week, I was walking by the area again and looked at the top of the Cotton Exchange. How the hell did a car get all the way up there? Standing nearby was a group of locals discussing the tragedy. I decided to be nosy and ask them what happened, feigning ignorance (it comes easily to me!). They told me that the lady was most likely medicated, had taken out the Lion (not Gryffon), which was a gift from Philadelphia (not France), and then ran smack dab into the front doors of the Exchange...not the roof. They told me that the city was on the lookout for another statue to replace it, but that they weren't having much luck.
A day later, I was on an architectural tour. Intrigued, I decided to ask this person's take on the lion, especially since he prided himself on his accuracy and knowledge. When I related to him what I had heard, he chuckled and let me know it wasn't a Lexus, it was a Toyota Corolla, and that most likely the lady had had a seizure. He also told me that SCAD was involved in trying to find a replacement, even looking into a more permanent solution such as limestone, since the original was made of an extremely fragile terra cotta. When I let my original source know of what I'd found, she told me, "I like my story much better!" And you know what? I agree! Let the urban legend begin.
Two restorers examined the debris and developed game plans to return the historic lion and the surrounding ornamental wrought iron to downtown Savannah. Restoration specialists from an Ohio-based firm were confident that they could use the terra cotta pieces to create a copy of the lion. "I realize it looks like a pile of rubble, but once we get the base parts and the haunches in place, it will be easier from there," said Tom Podnar, a conservator with McKay Lodge Conservation Lab in Oberlin, Ohio. What had cost $173 back in 1889 would now easily cost $60,000 or more to replace.
As I reported in a previous post, I was happy to discover on my last trip to Savannah that a copy of the lion was back in its original spot.
The driver that crashed into the statue & the building, Donna Haddock, pleaded guilty to a charge of driving under the influence. She was sentenced to 12 months on probation, ordered to pay a $500 fine, served 24 hours in jail, and was ordered to complete 40 hours of community service. She also was ordered to attend a victim impact panel and a risk reduction program.
From The South, my fave Savannah magazine, comes this short & fun clip of an ongoing story:
Forrest’s Search for Mongo: Episode 1
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