Sunday, April 27, 2014

4/27/14 Trolley stop # 13, River Street Market waving girl

Trolley Stop #13  River Street Market

     Old Savannah Tour's stop 13 is on River Street at the market, and the most compelling story at this stop is that of Florence Martus.

Florence Martus

      Florence was born in 1868 to a sergeant at Ft. Pulaski, which sits 5 miles down the Savannah River where it empties into the Atlantic Ocean.  Her brother was the keeper of a lighthouse that was located a ways upriver just before Savannah proper.  

     Legend has it that a young sailor proposed marriage to her and she accepted.  He had one more voyage before he had fulfilled his contract with the shipping company, and they planned to get hitched on his return.  She told him she would be waiting for him and would wave at his ship as it came in.

View of the river of the statue of Florence Martus

    Well, it turned into a long wait.  Florence waved a towel at ships by day and a lantern at them by night until 1931 - 44 years !!  Sailors and locals both swear she never missed a ship in all that time.  Her legend grew, and bags of mail from all over the world were delivered to her - simply addressed to the waving girl in Savannah.  Several reporters at the time went out to write about her and noted that they had no idea how she could hear the ships arriving at night - one suggested that is was some sort of "dog sense" that nudged her awake at night.
View of the statue from land

 In 1921, at 63 years of age she announced that her brother was retiring as light-keeper and thus she would no longer be waving at ships.  So some citizens of Savannah thought they would plan a little party for her to acknowledge and thank her.  Well, word got out about the party - in fact word got out all over the world.  Sailors from everywhere converged on Savannah - thousands of them.  The city ended up using Fort Pulaski for the party.  

Fort Pulaski

Evelyn Singleton

     But most folks don't realize that Savannah still has a "waving girl."  Evelyn Singleton manages the International Seamen's House in Savannah, which was organized by local religious leaders in 1843.  That's right - 170 years ago, and 25 years before Florence Martus was born.  Today's waving girl drives a 15 passenger van and manages two facilities for visiting sailors.  The group wanted to give visiting sailors an option besides the brothels and bars that lined the docks on river street.

     Ships arrive here from all over the world, and although things are a good bit different today than they were in 1843, arriving sailors still have needs and issues that they need help with.

     Today, ships are usually unloaded in the span of 18 hours, and put back out to sea.  There are exceptions when there are unusual cargoes or a ship has mechanical problems.  The sailors usually want to be able to call home, to be able to purchase personal items and to just get off the ship and enjoy the company of someone besides their shipmates.  Sometimes sailors have legal difficulties and cannot get off their ship.  In any event, Evelyn goes out to the ships with newspapers and magazines - National Geographic is the favorite but it is hard to get copies.  (Many local people drop off papers and magazines on her porch each day.)  If they are allowed off the ship, she gives them rides to Walmart and Best Buy to get the personal items they need.


     There is another facility inside the port itself that has some sleeping facilities, wi-fi and phones for the sailors to use.  Chaplains, priests and ministers from various religions help man the facility so that a sailor never arrives without a sympathetic ear and a helping hand.  Evelyn says no one preaches to the sailors, but they keep bibles in every language that visiting sailors might use.

     There is also a chapel that can be utilized for services.

     As a side note, when this chapel was built in 1965 the stained glass windows were brought out of storage.  They had been used in a previous house for the seamen in Savannah, and no seems sure how old they are.

     Anyway, Evelyn is given gifts from all over the world.  Sailors often have time on their hands, and many of them are finely crafted - made by hand by the same sailors that give them to her.  In the middle of the table below is one - a German sailor made this contraption which rotates when you light candles in the holders below it.  There are gifts all over the place - in cubbyholes, on tables, in display cases - a lot of really neat stuff from all over.

     Evelyn doesn't think she is doing anything special - she just thinks she is doing what God wants her to do.  She says although the work at times will tire her, she never tires of the work.  Thanks for doing what you do Evelyn !!

     A few other items of note along this stretch of River Street - there are plenty of shops and kiosks for those looking for unusual items.  There are also plenty of eateries of various types.

WW II memorial

     The World War II memorial is here - symbolically splitting the globe apart.  I haven't decided if I think the symbolism is genius or just another example of the overly self-important view of ourselves that seems to be a trait of our specie.

     Also here is a statue commemorating the Olympic Games of 1996.  A number of the aquatic events were held here in Savannah.  This cauldron was lit with the flame from Mount Olympus for the duration of the games here.

     And there is one more waving girl that hangs about River Street these days ...

Maggie Hart

     Maggie Hart plays the role of the Florence Martus for Old Savannah Tours.  Maggie teaches theater, music and art to 6th, 7th and 8th graders in Savannah. She also performs as an actor and musician for Savannah's collective theater.  Maggie says interacting with the public and creating a unique experience for them is her favorite part of the job.  And right on cue, as she was giving her performance on the trolley, an arriving ship blasted its horns at the statue of Florence.  It almost gives you goose bumps...

      And today's parting shot is the X on River Street.  Regardless of how much passing traffic there is, if you stand on this X and speak you hear a perfect echo of yourself - regardless of how loud you speak.  It is kind of eerie.

"X" marks the spot.

Have a great Monday everyone !!

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