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Archive for June, 2015

Visit to Bonaventure Cemetery, Savannah, Georgia

For me, cemeteries are fun to explore.  The older the cemetery the better.  As a photographer I look for stories to tell with pictures.  Cemeteries create an atmosphere all of their own.  One of my favorite places to go when I was in college was Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati, Ohio.  When my professor, Father Tepe, suggested I go there to “create” I was shocked…that was until I walked through the gates and began exploring.  The grounds were immaculate, with ponds, bridges, swans, geese, and seasonal flowers…it just came together.  I recently went back to Spring Grove for a photo walk with my camera club.  It is still beautiful and a great place to create!

When I planned my trip to Savannah, Georgia, I had heard so much about Bonaventure Cemetery…from other photographers. “You must go there!”, “No trip to Savannah is complete without a visit to Bonaventure!”  Bonaventure was already on my “list” of places to visit while I was there.  A friend of mine asked me to visit Johnny Mercer’s resting place and photograph it for him.  Since I had planned to go there anyway, why not!

The history of Bonaventure (meaning Good Fortune) is well documented.  Originally it was plantation which included over 600 acres.  The land was acquired by John Mullryne and in 1764 he, his wife and daughter moved to the Bonaventure site along the St. Augustine Creek.  Mr. Mullryne was active in the Georgia political system. Bonaventure remained in the in the Mullryne family until 1864 when it was sold to Savannah hotel owner, Peter Wiltberger. A portion of the acreage was developed into the Evergreen Cemetery Company at Bonaventure for use as a public cemetery. The Bonaventure Historical Society is presently responsible for the protection, preservation, and restoration of 22 gave sites in Bonaventure Cemetery. The cemetery encompasses over 100 acres and is also a city park.

St. Augustine Creek adjacent to Bonaventure

St. Augustine Creek adjacent to Bonaventure

My friend Julie and I drove around and explored a few parks in Savannah; some were in questionable areas of town.  We had to retreat to the car once when we heard a woman yelling and cursing at someone not far from where we were.  We decided that Bonaventure might be a better destination and we were only a few blocks away.  I pulled into the lot and parked the car and went into the office to pick up maps and to find out any details that we might need to know.

When I walked into the office there were 4 women gathered behind a table that had the maps and brochures on it.  They were all dressed in various fashions of goth.  One had pink hair, one with green…the woman who waited on me had black hair, was wearing a black print long sleeved top belted over a short black print skirt, black tights, black shoes.  As I approached her I noticed she appeared older than the other girls, maybe mid to late 40’s. I thought she was dressed a little “young” for her age but her petite stature allowed her to carry it well.  The most striking feature of this woman was her eyes. They were a golden brown.  Remember, I’m at Bonaventure Cemetery, reported to be haunted…

Her first words to me were, “Who are you here to visit?”  I may have chuckled out loud, but then said, “I guess that is one way of looking at it; I’d never thought of that way before.”  She smiled back and said, “Yes, we want you to enjoy your visit and I can make suggestions on those you should visit while you are here.” I dropped a couple of dollars in the tip jar and that stirred a little excitement among the other girls in the room.  “Oh, she made a donation; give her maps and make sure you tell her about Gracie!”

As she spoke, the woman’s eyes would change to a bright gold in color and almost glow.  I turned to look at the lighting in the room thinking my eyes were playing tricks on me.  There was a window behind me so I thought, “Maybe if I move and create a shadow, her eyes will be less distracting.”  I tried to do that several times, casually, as she was telling me about the notables interned at Bonaventure, I could not get past the color of her eyes.  I kept looking closer, they did not appear to be contacts, but her natural eye color. I told her I’d be interested in the Mercer site for sure.  “Oh, you want the historical section!  There are so many to visit there, you will love it!”  The walls of the office were lined with posters of photographs and plot numbers and she pointed them out and gave their history in such detail, just like she was a family member.  She said, “If you get lost or can’t find someone, come back down here and I’ll take you.”

She proceeded to tell me about Little Gracie Watkins whose statue stands in a lone plot.  She died of pneumonia when she was six.  Her family was grief stricken and they ended up moving away. Her parents are buried elsewhere, so Little Gracie is all alone and is reported to appear at times where they used to live as well as in the cemetery.

Entry into Bonaventure Cemetery

Entry into Bonaventure Cemetery


Bonaventure Cemetery

Bonaventure Cemetery

I drove into the cemetery and the moss covered oak trees gave it an ambience that it is difficult to describe in words.  It was almost like you were being transported back in time. The historical section was definitely the right choice.  Most of the time I just walked up and down the pathways looking at the monuments and inscriptions.  Back in the 1800’s people were more poetic and it seems they romanticized death.  The sculptures and monuments were more ornate.  What was striking was the number of people buried in Bonaventure.  We marveled at the closeness of the graves and wondered how they could get so many in one plot?  Many of the graves had fresh flower arrangements on them.  There were other people walking around, but not as many as I would have expected.

Photographing Bonaventure is a difficult challenge.  Many of the photographs have been taken, especially at the more popular monuments.  Finding a new angle or a new perspective is not easy.  Sometimes just being able to document that you’ve been there is where the satisfaction lies.

Plot at Bonaventure

Plot at Bonaventure


One of my favorite statues in Bonaventure is one of a wife of Confederate soldier, Thomas Theus.  According to a search on Thomas Theus, he had requested when he died he be buried in Confederate Gray and named his own pall bears, all Confederate War Veterans.  Eliza Wilhelmina, his wife who preceded him in his death in 1895 is remembered in this monument.  The statue is very delicate and was lovingly carved. The curves and the lines are smooth. She is beautiful!

Note the delicate curves and detail.

Note the delicate curves and detail.


Civil War Soldier's wife at Bonaventure

Confederate Soldier’s wife at Bonaventure

I especially liked the curves in her hands. When you consider the time and detail the sculptors put into these works and the years they’ve withstood the weather, you cannot help but to admire works of art such as these. Plus they are available to view by the general public!  I looked at this statue and imagined what she was thinking about. Was she waiting for her husband to come back from war? The flowing dress, the wreath, her waves in her hair, the stones she is sitting on.  All of the detail and care placed in just one statue.

Close-up of the detail on this sculpture

Close-up of the detail on this sculpture

She must have been a very special lady to be memorialized in this way!


Up the road from Bonaventure was another cemetery, Forest Lawn Cemetery.  It still had character, but the newer monuments and fewer “family plots” gave it a more modern feel. The large moss covered oak trees gave it the “nostalgic” look, but the atmosphere at Forest Lawn was completely different.  At Bonaventure, I felt I had been transported back in time; the old worn marble monuments, the victorian style writing. At Forest Lawn many of the monuments had not received their lovely aged patina from the weather.

Large Oak Tree Forest Lawn Cemetery

Large Oak Tree Forest Lawn Memory Gardens


Forest Lawn Cemetery

Forest Lawn Cemetery

One monument at Forest Lawn caught my eye.  It was one of a girl holding a shell. When I arrived at Forest Lawn, I saw it from a distance and made my way to it.  When I approached there was a young man standing at the grave so I casually walked by standing and taking in my surroundings. Moments later he left and I decided to take a few photographs of the monument as it reminded me of one I saw at Bonaventure.  This girl was older, possibly a teen, where the other girl was much younger . The green moss on the statue punctuated the detail on the face and along the lines of the shell she was holding.  The sun was strong and as I found my way around (all angles), I decided to photograph it in a silhouette. The details the sculptors put into their art is amazing.  There is texture of the clothing, the hair, even the eyes have a “real” appearance to them.

When you compare the two statues (Bonaventure and Forest Lawn) you can see how the family/sculpture gained the inspiration for the one at Forest Lawn.  There are as many similarities as there are differences in the two. “The Girl with the Upturned Shell” is in the Baldwin Family plot at Bonaventure.  I spent much time walking around it, reading the inscription, and studying the detail in the statue.

Girl with shell at Forest Lawn Cemetery

Girl with shell at Forest Lawn Memory Gardens


Girl with shell at Forest Lawn Cemetery

Girl with shell at Forest Lawn Memory Gardens

Clearly this person was loved by her family.  The care in which the statue was crafted gives one a sense of great grief the family must have felt to lost this child.  A loss of a child is tragic.  Our children are supposed to out live us and move forward in life.  They have so much to look forward to.  The inscription on the monument is from Mark 10:15: Verily I say unto you whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child he shall not enter therein. Powerful words on this monument. Even though the monument is not mentioned in the brochure, there are plenty of photographs on the office wall of it.

Girl with shell at Bonaventure

Girl with the upturned shell in the Baldwin Family Plot at Bonaventure


Girl with shell at Bonaventure

Girl with the upturned shell at Bonaventure


Girl with shell at Bonaventure

Girl with the upturned shell at Bonaventure

I wish there was more information available on this monument.  The woman in the office made mention that I should see it…”go to the Baldwin Family Plot and see the girl with the shell, it’s lovely!”

Girl with shell at Bonaventure

Girl with upturned shell at Bonaventure


Mercer Family Plot

One of the notable individuals interred at Bonaventure is lyricist, Johnny Mercer.  I was asked before I embarked on this venture, “if there is time could you please take a few photographs of his grave?”  My friend knows far more about music and writers than I will ever know.  Yes, I’d heard of Johnny Mercer, but I had not really given it much thought to what works he had produced during his short life (he died at age 66 of a brain tumor). While in Savannah, I had seen Moon River, and had driven across the bridge, but it wasn’t until I saw his memorial bench did I make the connection that he had written it.  That was my “duh” moment for the trip!  Andy Williams made “Moon River” his signature song and that was the association I had prior to visiting the Mercer site.

Johnny Mercer family plot

Johnny Mercer family plot


Johnny Mercer family plot

Johnny Mercer family plot

Upon viewing his memorial bench, I realized he had penned many of the lyrics to songs I was familiar with.  How many times have we heard “Hooray for Hollywood”, “Jeepers Creepers”, “You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby”, “That Old Black Magic”, and the list goes on!

Mercer married a show girl named, Ginger Meehan.  They adopted a daughter named Amanda.  When Mercer became ill, he developed a friendship with Barry Manilow. Mercer was quite fond of Manilow’s song “Mandy” because it reminded him of his daughter Amanda. After his death in 1976, Mercer’s wife gave Manilow some of her husband’s unfinished lyrics. In 1984, Manilow had a top 10 Adult Contemporary hit with “When October Goes”; it has since been recorded by notables like Rosemary Clooney and Nancy Wilson.

Mercer received 18 Academy Award Nominations and won 4 for his lyrics for the following songs: “On the Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe” (The Harvey Girls), “In the Cool, Cool, Cool, of the Evening” (Here Comes the Groom), “Moon River” (Breakfast at Tiffany’s), and “Days of Wine and Roses” (Days of Wine and Roses).

Johnny Mercer memorial bench

Johnny Mercer memorial bench

The caricature on his memorial bench is said to be a self portrait.  I spent time documenting the site for my friend. While editing the photographs I noticed a few details I had missed or just plain over-looked while at the grave site. While at the cemetery, I had noticed on Mercer’s grave marker that there was an inscription: “And the Angles Sing”.  I contacted my friend and he confirmed for me that was one of Mercer’s earlier songs.  After I made it home from my trip I caught a glance at another inscription, “Momma Done Tol’ Me” (on his mother’s marker), then I started zooming in on the markers and on each of them were song titles…Why did I not see this before? On Mercer’s wife’s marker is “You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby”.  His niece is buried there (died 2013), her marker has “Skylark Won’t You Lead Me There”.  The other two I saw were, “Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day” and “Dream when the day is thru”.  All very touching and appropriate.

Johnny Mercer and his wife's plot

Johnny Mercer and his wife’s plot

I was curious about the song “And the Angles Sing” so I looked up the lyrics:

We meet, and the angels sing.
The angels sing the sweetest song I ever heard.
You speak, and the angels sing.
Or am I breathing music into every word?
Suddenly, the setting is strange.
I can see water and Moonlight beaming.
Silver waves that break on some undiscovered shore
Suddenly, I see it all change.
Long winter nights with the candles gleaming.
Through it all your face that I adore.
You smile, and the angels sing.
And though it’s just a gentle murmur at the start.
We kiss, and the angels sing.
And leave their music ringing in my heart!

What red-blooded woman would not want to hear these words?  To me, the words are simply poetic.  That was Mercer’s trademark, simplicity. All accounts indicate what he did, he did with such ease.  The beauty of his words left a permanent  inscription on our history of music.

Johnny Mercer family plot

Johnny Mercer family plot


Little Gracie Watkins

My final entry is about Little Gracie Watkins.  Gracie’s burial site is possibly one of the most visited sites in Bonaventure.  Gracie died of pneumonia when she was 6 years old.  Her family had been hired as caretakers of the Pulaski Hotel, one of Savannah’s pre-eminent lodging facilities of its day.  Gracie was reported to have been the self-designated entertainment hostess of the establishment.  She would sing and dance in the lobby for the guests and soon became a “public figure” at the the Pulaski.

After Gracie’s death, her parents, as well as guests at the Pulaski became heartbroken.  Her parents had a photograph that was taken before her death.  She was wearing her Easter best.  They asked John Walz, one of Savannah’s finest sculptors of his time to create her image for her grave.  The sculpture is said to be life-size and has every detail of the dress she wore in the photograph. She sits gracefully next to a tree stump. Her look is pleasant and she has a rose in her hand.  Her eyes have a sullen appearance. I was very moved by the signs of affection visitors left at her grave; little trinkets, coins, etc.  Over the years the cemetery had to erect a fence to protect the monument.  There are rumors of people hearing her laugh, cry, and other unusual activities occurring both Bonaventure and at the former Pulaski Hotel site.

Little Gracie Watkins

Little Gracie Watkins

How do you feel about ghosts and spirits roaming around?  I have mixed feelings, but I do think there are happenings that cannot be explained with simple science or maybe our minds like to play tricks on our eyes.  Gracie is intriguing because after her death her family left and never came back.  She is buried here alone and her parents are buried elsewhere in New England.

The lady in the office shared a story with me that the local children would often come to Gracie’s statue before tests at school and rub her nose for luck.  I thought, I need to go to the side and take a profile picture of the statue to show the wear on her nose.  I leaned into the fence and focused.  I pressed the shutter button on my D800E camera and an odd noise came out of the camera, kind of metallic “click”.  The image was black.  I tried again…same results.  I looked at the statue and said, “Gracie, are you messing with me?”  I then looked at my friend Julie and told her, “My camera is not working”.  She just laughed.  I said, “Seriously, it isn’t working, look!”  I carried my camera out to her and showed her what it was doing.  I tried several troubleshooting attempts and it just wouldn’t work.  Fortunately I had my D700 with me as a back-up “just in case”.

Gracie Watkins Profile

Gracie Watkins Profile; notice how her nose has been rubbed down.

I put my lens on the D700 and walked over to the fence and said, “Ok Gracie, I am going to take this picture.” I took one and figured I shouldn’t tempt fate any longer.  It was getting ready to storm anyway, so I figured it be best to move along.

No cemetery visit is complete without a storm brewing!

No cemetery visit is complete without a storm brewing!

To conclude my “Gracie” story, when I arrived back to my camper, I took my camera out and began checking the settings and giving it a look over.  I depressed the shutter button a couple of times and it began working again…just like normal, and has worked without a flaw since. Was Gracie really being mischievous or did I just have a coincidental malfunction while I was there?  We may never know the answer to that question…


Here are a few additional images from my visit to Bonaventure Cemetery. Enjoy!

Iron gate

Iron gate


Fascinating with the star on it's head

Fascinating with the star on it’s head; note the green patina on the statue. it adds to its beauty!


Urn monument at Bonaventure

Urn monument at Bonaventure


Urn monument

Urn monument


Arch monument at Bonaventure

Arch monument at Bonaventure


Patriotic flowers adorn graves at Bonaventure. This is the only image I could get with the wind blowing. It was still the rest of the time there.

Patriotic flowers adorn graves at Bonaventure. This is the only image I could get with the wind blowing. It was still the rest of the time there.


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Creative Trip to Ossabaw Island, Georgia

My friend Julie Thayer and I decided to take a road trip to Savannah, Georgia.  Since we are both a little short on funds we decided to pull my little Towlight camper and stay at the KOA in Richmond Hill, Georgia.  During the short planning stage of our trip I discovered a small island not far from where we were staying called Ossabaw Island.

Ossabaw Island is the 3rd largest barrier island along the state of Georgia.  It has over 26,000 acres of land, beach, and marshland. Dr. Henry Norton Torrey purchased the island in 1924 and built a home there.  The home was a 20,000 square foot Spanish revival house. The family was from Michigan and would winter in Savannah.  When daughter Eleanor (Sandy) was 10, the family’s home burned and they moved to Ossabaw Island.

Sandy and her husband Clifford West established the Ossabaw Foundation in 1961, operating the Ossabaw Island Project and Genesis Project as well as funding scientific research, public use, and educational programming on Ossabaw.

In 1965 Sandy learned about several donkeys needing adoption from a former breeder in South Carolina so she had them brought to the island as pets for her children.  The descendants of those donkeys still inhabit the island.  In 1978, Sandy sold the island to the state of Georgia due to the tax burden of the rising property value of the island. The sale stipulated that Ossabaw Island be declared Georgia’s first heritage preserve–set aside in perpetuity for scientific, educational, and cultural uses only.  Sandy at the age of 102 still lives on Ossabaw Island.

Opportunities to explore an island like this are rare.  The foundation offers few tours and workshops each year.  I was happy to discover that they were offering a tour while we were in the area.  The tour was an educational tour; it was posted as a “creative trip” to Ossabaw.  Many of the passengers on the tour were painters, writers, photographers, and historians.  It was nice to be among those who were there to absorb the beauty and the mystery of the island.

We departed Delegal Marina at the Landings around 9:45 a.m.  Our Captain was Mike Neal of Bull River Cruises.  He, too, was very knowledgable in the history of Ossabaw Island.

The Landings Marina

As we left the marina we drove through the marshlands and along side of the boat we saw dolphins, and a variety of birds.

Waterway out to Ossabaw

Waterway out to Ossabaw

The highlight of the trip out to Ossabaw Island was seeing a momma Osprey and her babies.  In the photograph below you can see only one, but on our return trip we saw 3 babies in the nest.

Momma Osprey and baby

Momma Osprey and baby

A loon surveys his surroundings.

A loon checking out the area

A loon checking out the area

Buoy

Buoy

Out for a ride

Out for a ride

During the ride out to Ossabaw Island, all on board gravitated to the boats railings to capture the image of the dark cloud hanging over this barrier island as we passed.  Many on board commented, “I’m loving this cloud” or “Isn’t that an awesome cloud”.  I’m sure it will be written into a book somewhere or painted into scene on canvas.

A dark cloud.

A dark cloud.

As we progressed, I kept seeing this massive boat in the distance.  It looked like it had wings.  I knew it was too big to be a sailboat (although a schooner came to mind).  As we traveled closer to it, I realized those were nets hanging off of the masts.  It was a large shrimp boat. Captain Mike explained there are not that many shrimp boats any more.  I was very interested in this image…I kept looking at the name of the boat; if it had been Jenny I would have laughed out loud!

Shrimp boat from a distance

Shrimp boat from a distance

As we moved closer to the boat, you could see the hundreds of birds (seagulls, pelicans, and other water birds) flying around the boat vying for position to be ready for “today’s catch” to be cleaned and the “extras” tossed overboard.

Shrimp boat

Shrimp boat

Shrimp boat

Shrimp boat

The birds were lined up on every available space of the shrimp boat.

Birds on a wire!

Birds on a wire!

Pelicans waiting for a treat

Pelicans waiting for a treat

Shrimp boat

Shrimp boat

Shrimp boat

Shrimp boat

Bradley Beach was to be our first destination on Ossabaw Island.  The lush green tropical trees and the high sand dunes were very inviting.  I would have loved to have stayed on the beach longer than 30 minutes though.  The beauty of that area was breathtaking!  The palm trees, sand, driftwood, gave the beach its own character.  The contrast of the colors and the textures were amazing!

A view of the dunes on Bradley Beach

A view of the dunes on Bradley Beach

A boat in the waterway outside of Ossabaw Island.

Boat out on the bay

Boat out on the bay

The large oak tree on Bradley Beach is used for research of the erosion on Ossabaw Island.  It is rapidly eroding. Each year the tree gets closer to the water.

A view of Bradley Beach

A view of Bradley Beach

If Ossabaw Island is “private” what are people doing on the beach?  Robin Gunn of the Ossabaw Foundation explained to us that the laws in the state of Georgia say that all beach front areas are public access.  As long as an individual can transport themselves to and from the island between daylight and dusk they are welcome to use the facilities.

Beach lovers!

Beach lovers!

Look closely…there is a little boy in the oak tree!  See how little everyone looks standing next to it?  Such a beautiful tree!

The mighty oak!

The mighty oak!

The young lady below was on a surf fishing trip.  She managed to land a skate.  She said that was enough for one day; she was going to enjoy the sun!

Surf fishing at Ossabaw

Surf fishing at Ossabaw

I met a charmin lady named Iris.  Her husband is the tall man in the blue shirt.  We were talking about photography and she said she just became interested in it.  We talked about camera clubs and I told her I was the president of the club in Huntington, West Virginia.  Her face lit-up and and she said she was from Winfield, West Virginia and her husband was from a town close to Wheeling on the Ohio side!  We walked and talked for several minutes.  They live in Savannah and this was their first trip to the island.

Iris and Mike posing for a picture

Iris and Mike posing for a picture

The lady standing on the sand dune has a magnificent tattoo on her shoulder…it is of an accordion style camera…it was wonderful! You can see how high the sand dunes are on Ossabaw.

On top of the dunes on Bradley Beach, Ossabaw Island

On top of the dunes on Bradley Beach, Ossabaw Island

The driftwood was beautiful.  These tree roots had great texture.  To photograph them was challenging because they had a sheen to them.

Drift wood roots on Bradley Beach

Drift wood roots on Bradley Beach

Along the beach at Ossabaw

Along the beach at Ossabaw

I decided to climb up on the dunes to get a better view of my surroundings.  I loved this tropical scene!

Tropical scene

Tropical scene

Another view of the oak tree.

Large oak tree on the Ossabaw beach

Large oak tree on the Ossabaw beach

Captain Mike captured a horseshoe crab (they were close to the surface and would pop up out of the water as the waves came in) and showed us what they looked like.  We saw several dead ones on the beach and he said they come in with the tide and often times they do not make it back out and die.  The horseshoe crab is used often in medical research; especially in research involving the human eye. There are no edible parts to a horseshoe crab.

Captain Mike Neal explains the benefits of the horseshoe crab.

Captain Mike Neal explains the benefits of the horseshoe crab.

A view of Sandy’s 20,000 square foot Spanish Revival home is not easy.  It is gated on the island and with the lush growth of trees you can only get a glimpse of it’s span from the water.  The home was built in 1924 and at the time contained the largest plate glass window in the United States. You can barely see it behind a large oak tree on the left. Her family were heirs to the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company. It is the original window. Sandy, at 102, still resides in this home.  It is reportedly in poor repair, but having read quotes by Sandy, she is happy on the island she grew up on and will not leave.  The tour guides shared a quote by Sandy, “I will not pass away; I will die”.  Sandy has a staff of caretakers who see to her needs and provides repairs to her home.  They have been the same family of caregivers for a couple of generations.  They, too, live on the island.

Eleanor Torrey-West estate.

Eleanor Torrey-West estate.

The boat dock at Ossabaw

The boat dock at Ossabaw

After we docked we met at the historical marker on the island.  Robin went over the history of the island.  As for other residents of the island there are staff of the Department of Natural Resources who live there as well.  We were given our boundaries and the trails we could walk.

Our group for the Creative Tour to Ossabaw

Our group for the Creative Tour to Ossabaw

The clubhouse was our meeting place for the day.  We could stow our coolers and other gear while exploring and being “inspired”.  The clubhouse is used for workshops for those spending overnights on the island for research and scientific study.  There are two bunk rooms upstairs and a kitchen, dining room, and living room downstairs.  It would be interesting to participate in a workshop or study.  They have an archeological dig going on as well.  After a long day hiking, it was nice to come and cool off on the porch in a rocker.

Ossabaw club house

Ossabaw club house

When we arrived we had about 30 minutes so we all broke out our lunches.  The donkeys must have a keen sense of smell because we were not even taking our first bites and they rounded the corner of the clubhouse!  We were told not to encourage them, they are like really big dogs.  I was taken in with how close these creatures came to us and how “patient” they were.  A few of the group shared their lunches with them.  I’m used to big dogs and have the strength to ignore them, so they did not get any of my food.  They sure tried to put Dr. Presley on a guilt trip though.  They double teamed him!

Domesticated donkeys

Domesticated donkeys

Domesticated donkeys joining the tour for lunch.

Domesticated donkeys joining the tour for lunch.

Keep a close watch on your food.

Keep a close watch on your food.

Pleaaassse.....share?

Pleaaassse…..share?

Captain Mike was trying to photograph them and they kept moving around. Instead they received attention and a nice pat on the heads.  Mike did his best to keep the donkeys away from us while we ate. You could tell that he, too, has a great love of the island.  He knew much about the wildlife, life on the island, and the history of Ossabaw.  If you are in Savannah, take one of his tours.  He is at Bull River Cruises.

Attempting to photograph the donkeys.

Attempting to photograph the donkeys.

Captain Mike Neal pays attention to the donkeys

Captain Mike Neal pays attention to the donkeys

Domesticated donkey begging

Domesticated donkey begging

While Robin was giving us a lecture on the history of the indigo crop on Ossabaw, I heard a rustle in the palms; it was more like a rumble!  I made my way around to the back side and one of the donkeys was hiding in the palm tree.  A few minutes later it made its escape by charging out during the lecture.  We decided he did not want to learn about indigo!

Donkey in the palms

Donkey in the palms

Indigo is a plant that is harvested to make the blue indigo dye for clothing.  It takes several thousands of bushels to make an indigo ingot. The process is very labor intensive.  From what I understood, the workers would have to fight the biting flies and withstand the high temperatures while working the vats. The longevity of the workers was short due to disease and fatigue.  In the early days of the textile markets the bidding for Ossabaw indigo was high. It was reported to be the best indigo produced in the United States at the time. The indigo crop died out on Ossabaw.  A few years ago, researchers found indigo growing wild on the island.  They were able to genotype it and discovered it was a mutation from the same indigo that originally grew there. They are trying to grow the indigo on the island again.

Robin Gunn discusses indigo processing.

Robin Gunn discusses indigo processing.

One of the historical landmarks of Ossabaw is the presence of tabby shacks.  I had no idea what tabby was until I arrived on the island.  Tabby is an “ancient” form of cement.  It took several attempts for historians to reproduce tabby so it looked like the original.  Tabby is equal amounts of oyster shell, water, and sand.  All have to be void of salt. This is a barrier island and those items have to be void of salt?  The tabby shacks on the island dated back to the 1700’s and at the end of the island there is a shell midden that supposedly was started by the Native Americans who inhabited the island.  The shell midden had been there for hundreds of years so the shells were void of salt.  The sand was acquired from different areas of the island and then the water had to be processed to rid it of the salt.  There are different tributaries that come in to the waterway we traveled.  The waterway is fed by rivers and the ocean. I attempted to go view the shell midden, but the walk became too strenuous and with the heat and ticks everywhere we became discouraged.  One group ahead of us said the pathway became covered in water and they turned back as well.  I realized we were there during high tide so that explained the water.

Captain Mike Neal of Bull river Cruises discusses tabby making.

Captain Mike Neal of Bull River Cruises discusses tabby making.

Looking inside the tabby shack you could see the primitive living arrangements.  At times some of the walls were discolored in the shapes of previously present doors or windows.  Each resident would restructure their “home” to suit their needs. The tabby shacks were built as duplex structures, meaning two families resided in the building.  There was a fireplace in the middle, often shared by both families for cooking and heating.  Dr. Presley told us about a group that had visited Ossabaw a few years back on a “reunion” tour.  He said in the middle of the tabby presentation the group moved into a different room and were saying things like, “this is where I slept” or “here was my brother’s bed”.  He said the entire tour grew quiet as they listened to the group reminiscing about their lives on Ossabaw.  He said during a historical interview the people who lived in the tabby shacks grew up thinking they “owned” the island and that the Torrey-West family were their guests and their jobs were to make them as comfortable as possible.  Talk about a “WOW” moment!  The caretakers lived on the island and kept the property up all year round and the Torrey-West family would come only in the winter to stay.  That was their way of life.

Inside a tabby shack

Inside a tabby shack

Inside a tabby shack

Inside a tabby shack

The day we were there the temperature was in the 90’s and the humidity was at least 90%!  We had, what we thought, plenty of water, bug spray, sunscreen, and our camera gear all ready to capture birds and whatever else we found down the dirt road leading to marshlands.

Tropical paradise

Tropical paradise

Palm tree

Palm tree

Instead we were limited to photographing the lush green trees and moss along the way.  We walked for about 30 minutes and Julie discovered multiple ticks crawling on her and her gear (yes we used bug spray and reapplied a couple of times). I did not see any right away.  There was a group ahead of us, who turned and came back out as well, for the same reasons.  Lots of walking not much to see and an invasion of ticks!

Spanish Moss

Spanish Moss

Hiking through Ossabaw

Hiking through Ossabaw

Once back to “civilization”, I stowed my gear on the boarding house steps and went to the clubhouse for more water.  I took my water to the boarding house and removed my shoes and socks to let my feet cool! I enjoyed the tranquility of the boarding house porch and listened to the birds singing and watch the painter in front of me work on her creation.  All of a sudden she stopped and laid her canvas down and said, “Well, that ruined my day!  A tick just landed in the middle of my painting!”  She said she could not concentrate now.  I agreed with her that definitely was a “creative killer”.  One of the painters started early.  She did not participate in the indigo talk and began painting the tabby shacks. She worked on them the entire time we were on the island.  She said she would finish it when she returned to the mainland and that she only worked outside.

Ossabaw Artist

Ossabaw Artist

Painter on Ossabaw

Painter on Ossabaw

Ossabaw artist

Ossabaw artist; she will finish her painting once returning to the mainland

The setting for the boarding house was like that out of a romance novel.  I peeped in the windows and the decor was very elegant and very southern.  Again, it would be nice to stay there a while and enjoy the peacefulness of the island…without the ticks of course.

Boarding house

Boarding house

The smokehouse was the oldest tabby structure on the island, dating back to the 1700’s.  It had been built onto several times and remained functional into the 20th century.

Smokehouse door

Smokehouse door

There is a gravel road that runs through Ossabaw.  It is the longest, active, gravel road in the United States.  It is 7 miles long.  The beginning of the road is lined with oak trees.

Road through Ossabaw

Road through Ossabaw

By the time we were ready to leave the donkeys had taken to the field to graze on grass. They gave up hope of a few snacks from the tourists!

Domesticated donkeys

Domesticated donkeys

After a long hot day on Ossabaw, the 1/4 mile walk to the dock was met with mixed feelings.  For the creatives in the bunch we learned a great history lesson about our past.  The writers in the group have plenty of imagery to work with as well as enough information to do character development about life on a tropical island.  I enjoyed hearing the stories and capturing the images. While I would have enjoyed a longer stay, the ticks ruined my excitement and the humidity exhausted me.  Would I go back?  Yes, and I would do things a little different.  I would love to participate in one of the workshops or an archeological dig.  I think that would be very interesting.

Leaving Ossabaw

Leaving Ossabaw

I can understand Sandy’s love for the island.  The solitude and pureness that exists here is something you can only experience on Ossabaw.

Tabby Shack dating from the 1700's on Ossabaw Island.

Tabby Shack dating from the 1700’s on Ossabaw Island. My image from the Creative Tour