“Some people walk in the rain, others just get wet.” – Roger Miller
“Is it empty because it’s Sunday?” my husband asked the museum clerk as we purchased our tickets. “It’s empty ’cause it’s raining. No one goes out in the rain.” Sun-dappled squares full of bubbling fountains and trees dripping with Spanish moss. It’s the image that comes to mind when you think of Savannah, a city made for strolling to best savor the meticulously preserved historic townhomes and manses. So what do you do when it rains?
I needed to execute Plan B on a recent visit due to torrential downpours forecast for the last day of my trip. Don’t despair. There’s plenty to keep you occupied and Southern hospitality takes the edge off limp hair and damp pant hems.
The day’s first recommendation? Linger over breakfast. We were staying at the Kehoe House, one of the elegant bed and breakfasts located in the city’s historic district, midway between Forsyth Park and the river district. There are many of these inns to choose from and staying in one opens a unique window to history. Since the forecast was bleak, we’d asked to have our morning meal served in our room. Lingering in bed with eggs benedict, grits, biscuits, bacon, three newspapers and a pot of coffee was the right way to carpe the diem.
And we were off! I’d made a reservation with Old Savannah Tours based on a recommendation I’d received the night before at a screening of “To Kill a Mockingbird” at the historic Lucas Theatre. While waiting on line for a beer in the lobby (why every movie theater doesn’t offer this option is a mystery), I started chitchatting with a professor at SCAD (The Savannah College of Art and Design). There are several trolley tour operators in the city, but she stated definitively “Take the white one – their guides are all locals.”
We weren’t disappointed. Dennis, our driver, conducted a professional 90-minute tour that included 16 stops. Purchasing a hop-on, hop-off ticket enables you to debark at any of these locations and rejoin a later trolley. This is a great option to employ when the weather’s uncooperative. Another fun feature of the tour is the boarding of special Savannah citizens. At various stops, actors portraying Johnny Mercer, pirate Grinning Gus, and Forrest Gump climbed aboard to provide their own personal stories.
When the trolley returned we decided to duck into a nearby museum, the Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum. We are not mariners; however, it was pouring at the moment. It’s a petite collection located in the Scarborough House, designed by architectural wunderkind William Jay who also created the city’s crown jewel, the Owens-Thomas House. The gardens are supposed to be lovely, when the weather’s cooperative. There are grand ship models, including the Titanic, and nautical antiques such as dramatic figureheads and painstakingly etched scrimshaw.
Once we were warm and dry, we headed back out into the wet. We thought we’d head down to check out the riverfront. There are lots of candy stores, souvenir shops, and bars located in the old industrial complex. Cotton merchants would prowl the elevated metal scaffolding known as Factors Walk to survey the bales and make price determinations before shipping. But in the rain, the cobbled, hilly streets are fraught with danger. It’s also a bit nasty; picture the resulting spawn of an Atlantic City boardwalk coupling with NOLA’s Bourbon Street.
So we headed back to midtown and wandered through the Colonial Park Cemetery. Many of the city’s victims of the yellow fever epidemic of 1876 are interred there. Another unique feature are the headstones lining the eastern brick wall. During the Union occupation of Savannah, Sherman’s troops grew bored and uprooted many of the grave markers. There was no index of the burial sites, so the headstones could not be returned to their proper locations.
Shopping is always an option when the weather’s foul. Browse the shops near Laurel Grove on Whitaker Street, including stationery retailer La Paperie, Custard Boutique for women’s apparel and the to-die-for home store, One Fish Two Fish. I shoulda brought a bigger bag. And don’t miss shopSCAD on Bull Street; the items for sale are created by faculty and students at the nation’s premier art and design school.
Then it’s time to eat. If your friend who frequently travels to Savannah recommends a restaurant and the leader of your historic architectural tour recommends the same restaurant and the lady you met in the movie theater recommends that particular restaurant as well, it would almost qualify as a sin if you didn’t go. The Gryphon Tea Room is that restaurant. Currently operated by SCAD and housed in a beautifully adorned former apothecary, the cafe offers delightful brunch and lunch fare. It’s THE place where Savannah’s ladies take their afternoon tea and young girls gather in pastel dresses for bridal luncheons. Sitting in the elegance of yesteryear, warming my hands on a cup of African Autumn, I concluded Savannah’s lovely in the rain. And then I wondered if Johnny Mercer ever wrote that song? If not, he should have.