#57: Flannery Oโ€™Connor & #59: Climb the Tybee Lighthouse

Two goals accomplished in one day! Yay!

Yesterday, Harvin, Ticcoa, Jessie, and I headed to Savannah for the day. Our first stop was the information center and Savannah History Museum. The Museum was just okay. It contained a lot of info about Savannah’s involvement in wars and stuff (and frequent mentions of Casimir Pulaski, for whom Fort Pulaski is named–I visited the fort in March 2008, and it’s my favorite fort, if one can have such a thing). Anyway, the best part about the museum was that the bench from Forsyth Square, where Tom Hanks sat when filming Forrest Gump in Savannah, is on display.

Next we had lunch at the Whistle-Stop Cafe, which is adjacent to the info center and museum, and is housed in an old train passenger car. Of course, I ordered fried green tomatoes (which are the best I’ve ever had–they came with a raspberry-jalepeno sauce–yum!). All the food was magnificent. I ordered smothered chicken, collards, and fries; Jessie ordered citrus BBQ chicken; and Ticcoa and Harvin had pulled pork. We ate until we were stuffed and then finished because we couldn’t bear to leave food on our plates. And our waitress was named Xeular (pronounced ex-ler). She was delightful. After lunch, we set off on our real adventure of the day:

#57: Visit the Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home in Savannah

As a girl, O’Connor lived with her parents in downtown Savannah, in a beautiful neighborhood. The house has been restored thanks to the generosity of Jerry & Linda Bruckheimer (yes, the movie guy!). We arrived at the house in time to join the 1:30 tour with a wonderful tour guide named Toby.

The house itself is a long, narrow house, full of some original furniture from the O’Connors (as well as some donated by family friends). Our docent Toby is quite a fan of Flannery, which was wonderful. The best house-museum tours occur when the guides are fans of the work and are completely immersed in the author’s life. When Toby mentioned “Mary Flannery,” it seemed as though he were recounting his own memories of her. Anyway, we saw the parlor of the house, as well as Flannery’s and her parents’ bedrooms. Also, dedicated in Oct. 2007, the Bruckheimer Library contains some first editions of Flannery’s works, as well as some of her own personal books.

The only other people on the tour besides the four of us were a couple from Ohio, who left right after the tour was over. We, of course, stuck around to buy merchandise, and we continued to talk to Toby. He asked if we were teachers (I had commented earlier that I was glad the precocious Flannery wasn’t one of my students), and we talked about being English majors and visiting literary sites. He asked if we’d ever seen Flannery’s drawing. We didn’t even know she was an artist, as well, so he walked back into the library, pulled out one of her old yearbooks, and showed us the drawings she had done while in college. It pays to be curious and passionate. We frequently get extra-long tours and behind-the-scenes info when we stick around asking questions. ๐Ÿ™‚

Because someone else on the tour has asked if Toby was the one who lived on the third floor, we also asked him about how he wound up in Savannah. He’d been living and writing in Louisiana when Hurricane Katrina hit and he lost everything. He then moved to Atlanta, with minimal belongings, to stay with a friend, but wasn’t happy there. He felt compelled to visit Savannah at Thanksgiving of 2005, discovered Flannery’s house, remembered reading “A Good Man is Hard to Find” and loving it, and saw a sign in the window that said “For Rent.” He soon moved into the third floor of the house, above the museum, and has lived and worked there ever since.

The Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home now ranks as one of my favorite tours (up there with The Wren’s Nest in Atlanta and The Old Manse and the Wayside in Concord, MA). If you’re ever near Savannah, GO! Also, if you want to take me with you again, that’d be okay, too.

#59: Go back to Tybee and climb the lighthouse

After the tour, we left Savannah and drove the 13 miles or so to Tybee Island. In March 2008, I went to Fort Pulaski and Tybee Island by myself, but I didn’t climb the lighthouse when I was there. Because the line was so long, and because I was newly diabetic and alone and worried about what climbing 178 steps would do to my blood sugar, I merely toured the grounds on that visit. Yesterday, I finally climbed the lighthouse.

It was kinda stupid to pick January 2 as the day to climb the lighthouse. When you’re standing 154 feet in the air, looking far out to the ocean and far down to the ground, and the wind is whipping around a narrow conical tower, and it’s 40 degrees outside, the event just isn’t as pleasant as it could be. It was, however, adventurous. I’m pretty sure we were all afraid for our lives. ๐Ÿ™‚

This was my second time climbing a lighthouse. My first climb was at Hunting Island, which is only 108 feet tall. Those 46 feet make a difference. I’m not generally the one who’s afraid of heights, but I was a little nervous, dizzy, and queasy, so I can’t imagine how nervous Harvin and Ticcoa were. Yikes. Thanks, friends, for climbing the lighthouse with me anyway.

After touring the grounds of the lighthouse, we went back into the gift shop, where I found a real treasure: Lighthouse-opoly! Yes, that’s Monopoly with a lighthouse theme. Am I not the coolest person you’ve ever met? ๐Ÿ™‚ Anyone want to play with me?

We left Tybee around 5:15, with the intention of hitting the interstate and finding a quick bite to eat on the road. Originally, we’d planned to head back downtown to find a restaurant, but exhaustion one out. Sadly, our plans changed a bit when we merged onto the parking lot that was I-95. For the next 45 miles, the traffic was a headache. It was stop-and-go for a few miles, then we sped up to about 60 for awhile, then we slowed down significantly–I was actually driving around 5 mph for awhile. The problem? A horrendous wreck around mile marker 50–an RV crushed a car, and a pickup truck was also somehow involved. We finally got through and pulled off a few miles later at the Walterboro exit, which was also the first restaurant that featured not-fast-food restaurants.

Sadly, every other traveller had the same idea. The Ruby Tuesday had a 30-35 minute wait, so we crossed the overpass to the Cracker Barrel and waited about 15 minutes for a table (fortunately, there was still room to wait inside the restaurant). We finally left Walterboro around 8:30, with a three hour drive ahead of us. It was almost midnight before we arrived home.

Nonetheless, the day was wonderful. We drove 572.5 miles (of which I drove about 490–crazy!), visited two museums and a lighthouse, ate lunch in an old train car, got stuck in traffic, and had one grand adventure over the course of about 17 hours.

I fell asleep really quickly last night, slept almost 10 hours, and woke up with a beastly headache that only two cups of coffee and a few hours of consciousness could cure. A travel hangover, if you will. ๐Ÿ™‚ Nonetheless, I’m already itching for another adventure. Any suggestions on what we should do next?

New England Trip Day 3: Salem, Massachusetts

Our first full day in New England, we headed to the great little seaside town of Salem, which is, of course, most famous for the Witch Trials that took place there in 1692. And, boy, do they play it up. There are so many museums dedicated to witch history, but we only visited one–supposedly the best and most visited–the Salem Witch Museum. It was fun, for the most part–not as kitschy as I expected. The first part was a dramatic reading, of sorts, of the history of the witch trials, and then we walked through a section of the museum detailing the portrayal of witches throughout history.

After leaving that museum, we wandered through Salem Common, played on the swingset a bit, and then headed to the Engine House Restaurant for what promised to be the best pizza in Salem. We were not disappointed.

derby street booksThe best part of the day came after lunch. First we visited a half-priced bookstore with books stacked to the ceiling! It was surprisingly well-organized for a store with almost no shelves. And it’s certainly an adventure shopping for books when you’re a clutz maneuvering through narrow aisles with the constant threat of books falling on your head. It was here, however, that I found my copy of The Road, and it’s awesome to have such an adventurous story of buying what’s now one of my favorite books.

After leaving the bookstore, we drove to The House of the Seven Gables, which was one of our best visits of the entire week. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s cousin once lived here, and while he was visiting the house (which only had 3 gables at that point) one day, she told him, “This was once a house of seven gables.” With that remark, his story of the curse of the Pyncheon family was born.

seven gables gardenSeven Gables is a beautiful place. The gardens are marvelous, and it sits right on the Salem waterfront, so one may sit in the garden and look out at the boats in the harbor. Ah…I wish I were there right now. Here we are in the Seven Gables garden, before the tour even started.

And, oh, the tour! The house has a lot of stuff original to the families that lived there. But perhaps the coolest part is that, a hundred or so years ago, when the house was first transformed into a museum, the owners added elements of the fictional Seven Gables in order to attract more guests. So, readers of the novel will note the room where Hepzibah Pyncheon would have sold her baked goods. While not original to the house, it’s still been there about a century, which is seriously cool. But the best part about the whole tour was the tiny, narrow, hidden staircase that was added behind a chimney. In the novel, Clifford maneuvers around the house and appears in the dining room from the story above, seemingly like a ghost. The owners added the staircase to show how Clifford could have been so stealthy. And we got to climb that staircase! It’s steep, dark, narrow, and a little scary. All of that equals awesome, though. Because I was standing closest to the chimney, I got to be the first to climb it, and when I arrived at the top, I burst out of the staircase gasping for breath. It’s confining, but the coolest part was just that I got to climb Clifford’s staircase. Yes, I’m a literary dork. ๐Ÿ™‚

nathaniel_hawthorneAlso at Seven Gables is the Hawthorne House, the house where little Nathaniel was born in 1804. He only lived there a few years, but it was just the first of several houses that we got to tour that darling Hawthorne had lived in. Also, in the gift shop, I bought a poster-sized print of the Osgood portrait of the angelic, handsome Hawthorne. Soon, he will grace the walls of my room. Indeed.

custom house stepsBecause Seven Gables is so near Derby Wharf, we walked there after touring the house. First, we stopped by the Custom House, where Hawthorne worked and wrote much of The Scarlet Letter. I sat on the steps of the Custom House. Perhaps in the very spot where Hawthorne’s foot once touched as he walked into work one day.

derby wharfIf one sits on the steps of the Custom House, one will look straight down Derby Wharf, to the adorable lighthouse there. It was my first lighthouse outside of South Carolina or Georgia! So exciting! It’s an adorable little 25-foot-tall lighthouse, one of three small ones used to guide ships into Salem Harbor. Off in the distance, we could see one of the other two. Two lighthouses in Massachusetts in one day. Very awesome.

Salem really is a great little town. I thought it would be much more involved in the witch history, and while they definitely embrace it, the tourist aspect of it doesn’t take over the whole time. Salem is worthy of visiting on its own merit, beyond just its history. It really is a great New England, seaside village where people live everyday lives. However, I would definitely love to see it in October. I hear it transforms into a spooky little place then.

Salem also embraces its literary history. They seem quite proud of their most famous literary icon, Nathaniel Hawthorne. There are two roads there that can be confusing if one knows the history of the name–Hathorne St. and Hawthorne Blvd. Hawthorne added the “w” to his name in order to remove himself from the stigma of the Hathorne name–his great-times-something-grandfather was a judge in the Salem Witch Trials, and Nathaniel wanted to dissociate himself from the name.

Finally, at least, I’ll show you the massive Hawthorne statue on Hawthorne Blvd. It isn’t representative of the young, angelic, heartbreaker Hawthorne, but older Hawthorne was a distinguished-looking fellow.

(We really love Hawthorne, by the way. I love his work, particularly his short stories, but he seemed to be the author that evoked the most giddiness in all of us, as you’ll see in later posts. We even ran into a mother and daughter in Concord on our second day–we had all toured the Wayside together the day before–and she referred to us as the “Hawthorne girls.” I like that title.)

hawthorne statue salem