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 by 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

Follow my updates on Twitter. For more Daveland Savannah photos, visit my regular website.


Sky Princess said...

Great post Dave. I think I got just as many stories about the Waving Girl. I am glad the statue was back in place when we visited. it really looks great with the building behind it.

I came across a cool webcam that I thought you might enjoy, if you have not seen it already:

Major Pepperidge said...

So is the new lion a copy? Is it made of something other than terra cotta (even though it looks like terra cotta)? Or did the restorers take the pieces and magically reassemble them?

Connie Moreno said...

Wow what a great post today! Great story! Great photos! I've had too much coffee! NO, no I haven't - one cup, that's it. I really did these stories. On a serious note, I'd like to slap the stupid witch with a capital B for destroying something so historic. AND for driving under the influence - I have NO tolerance for that!

Anyway, again, really enjoy your photos of Savannah and they make me want to book a flight right now.

Davelandweb said...

Sky Princes - wow! That's the next best thing to being there.

Major: The lion is a copy; I'm not sure if it's terra cotta or not; if it is, it seems to have some kind of lacquer or sheen to it. My understanding was that the original one re-pieced together was going to be on display somewhere. I will have to follow-up!

Connie - Hold off on that next latté!

Momma Nic said...

My usual routine on Thursdays goes something like this: Turn on computer, check email, click on you blog, as it loads I always remember that its Thursday and say to myself, "Oh darn, no Disneyland today" Then as usual your post pops up, I read it, and I always say to you-Thanks Dave, I needed that. Thanks for the break. This was a fun and amazing story.

CoxPilot said...

Dave: Great story. Would it not be accurate that it IS a griffin? Do griffins not have wings? If not a griffin, what?

JG said...

What a yarn, I love it.

The Lion of St. Mark is not a griffin.

The Lion is a symbol of Saint Mark and is believed to be one of the four Living Creatures that surround the Throne of the Most High in the Revelation of St. John of Patmos.

Each of the Living Creatues (not named by John) were later believed by Christian interpreters to be "totem animals" of each of the four saints of the gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

The griffin is a mythological conflation of much later date, combined of bits and pieces of other animals, including lions (body and limbs), eagle (beak wings and claws) and reptiles (snake for a tail). A story fabricated by travelers to those places beyond the edges of the maps, where anything could happen and from where only the strong and wily might return.

Now, where was I...sorry...


CoxPilot said...

Fascinating! Never knew that. Thanks JG

TiKiMOOSE said...

Hey Dave,
Great post...I went to college in Savannah at SCAD back in 1988 to 1992...there sure were a lot of characters around that city...and I must say, a lot of Inebriated ones, luckily most of them don't drive and just walk around the parks. I was so busy, too young and dumb while I was there. I didnt get a chance to appreciate all the history and beauty of the place.

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Thumbs up for the post.I like the story and the capture of the post.Thanks for sharing the post.