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CAPTURING A WORLD OF WORDSCapturing a World of Words explores the city of Savannah, Georgia, as created through travel literature over time. It is based on over 30 literary works on Savannah, written between 1791 and 2000 by authors native to New York, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Ohio, Iowa, Texas, England, Scotland, Sweden and France who held full-time jobs as publishers, editors, silversmiths, steam-boat captains, farmers, politicians, railroaders and US military commanders.The project photographically records the locations mentioned in the writings and shows the different atmospheres, places, urban personalities and histories which emerge between the heterogeneous literary accounts of the same place.A city is a collective designation for many different places and this work reveals Savannah as a changing rather than a fi xed realm and draws attention to the fact that an urban environment never has just one single character or reality. As opposed to being a ‘true portrait’ of the city the images provide glimpses of Savannah, matching the descriptive, poetic and sometimes fi ctional tones of the texts.

The two ladies were still standing outside Cynthia Collin’s front door waiting to be admitted.
That was one of the unusual rituals of the Married Woman’s Card Club.
Married Woman’s (as it was known for short) was one of Savannah’s most exclusive societies.
No other city had anything like it. It was founded in 1893 by sixteen ladies in search of
amusement during the day while their husbands were at work. [...]
According to custom, the ladies would arrive a few minutes before four in the afternoon,
wearing white gloves, long dresses, and huge hats adorned with flowers or feathers.
They did not ring the doorbell. Instead, they waited outside [...] until their hostess opened the
door punctually at four o’clock. [...] Once the ladies had begun playing, events proceeded
according to a strict schedule [...] It read:
Four fifteen: water
Four thirty: remove water
Four forty: empty ashtrays
Four fifty-five: pass napkins
Five o’clock: cocktail
Five fifteen: second cocktail
Five thirty: third cocktail
Five thirty five: last hand, pass linen
Five forty: serve dinner plates
Five forty-five: high scores and cut for aces
Five o’clock: prizes, ladies leave promptly.
John Berendt,

John Berendt, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1995)

How did the peach tree look in the dark?
Would its leaves be dark or shiny?
And the Chinaberry tree?
He thought of the two trees standing motionless in the moonlight,
and at last he felt that he must get out of bed and look at them.
But when he had reached the hall, he heard his mother’s voice
from downstairs and he went and lay on the old sofa in the hall,

Conrad Aiken, Strange Moonlight (1950)

The house suddenly loomed over Zelda, at once monstrously forbidding
and incredibly splendid.
She stared. [...]
It became, in that instant, an awesome and enchanted fortress, behind
whose walls her future lay battlemented. Impulsively she hopped up on
the stepping stone, pretended to lift a long skirt, then tripped airily across
the brick pavement.
Katie eyed her with lackadaisical suspicion.
“What you doin’?” she demanded.
“Practicin’,” Zelda answered. “Some day” – and she pointed toward the
house, her eyes glowing with a solemn light – “I’m gonna live there.”

Harry Hervey, The damned don’t cry (1939)

He was tall, about fifty, with darkly, handsome, almost sinister features:
a neatly trimmed moustache, hair turning silver at the temples, and
eyes so black they were like the tinted windows of a sleek limousine
– he could see out but you couldn’t see in.
We were sitting in the living room of his Victorian house.
It was a mansion, really, with over fifteen-foot ceilings and large, wellproportioned
rooms. A graceful spiral stairway rose from the centre
hall toward a domed skylight. There was a ballroom on the second
floor. It was Mercer House, one of the last of Savannah’s great houses
still in private hands. [...] Mercer House was the envy of house-proud
Savannah. Jim Williams lived in it alone.
It stood at the end of Monterey Square, the most elegant of
Savannah’s many tree-shaded squares.
It was an Italianate mansion of red brick with tall, arched windows
set off by ornate ironwork balconies. It sat back from the street, aloof
behind its apron of lawn and its cast iron fence, not so much as looking
out on the square as presiding over it.

John Berendt, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1995)

There are far vaster and wealthier cities, with much more commerce and
culture than this city; but for architectural simplicity and natural beauty,
for an indescribable charm about its streets and buildings, its parks and
squares, its genial climate and congenial habitants, there is but one
Savannah. Without a rival, without an equal, it stands unique.
By taking up our temporary abode in this little fertile forest, with its
rectangular rows of cheerful residences reposing beneath the cooling
umbrage of tall pines and sycamores, live-oaks and magnolias, with here
and there a palmetto or Cyprus tree [...] we shall derive many advantages
in our pursuit of knowledge.
Rev Timothy Harley FRAS,
Southward Ho!

Notes of a tour to and through the state of Georgia in the winter of 1885-86

An early evening mist had turned the view of Monterey Square
into a soft-focus set with pink azaleas billowing beneath a
tattered valance of live oaks and Spanish moss.
The pale marble pedestal of the Pulaski Monument glowed
hazily in the background.

John Berendt, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1995)

The sun sets quickly, with a strange, abrupt quickness. This is a characteristic
of the sun when he goes south. There is no evening twilight. There is broad
daylight, this gaudy show – the evening sun going down – and then, suddenly
night. [...]
I turned westward, facing the setting sun, thinking now of all that stretch of
land lying between me and the South Seas, thinking of Alabama and Texas, of
the deserts of the movie-makers in Hollywood [...]
I say as I was thinking all this, standing in the city of Savannah and reading
over the old Georgia State charter, and as night came on, I saw, or I imagined
I saw, a woman running through the street.
Before her was the day and back of her the brown night. She was nude, a
slender thing. She ran bare-footed on the stones of the city street and – at
first – I could not see her clearly. She passed and I myself stood in darkness.
It was the figure of the night, the southern night, coming and passing. Of
course it couldn’t have been a white woman being night [...]
I sang.
There isn’t a question but that, being in Savannah, being a loafer here, seeing
red rivers and red lands, starts something down inside me singing again.

Sherwood Anderson, Adrift in Georgia: Savannah (1930)

The beautiful church of St. John can be called dear to both ear and eye.
It’s spire rises from the sea of foliage which sweeps the plain to the
horizon, and at the appointed hours its chimes fill the air through and over
the other city noises, on weekdays as on Sundays. [...]
The structure on the outside is of such Sir Christopher Wrennish
renaissance that one might well seem to be looking at it in a London street.

William Dean Howells, Savannah Twice Visited (1919)

I do not insist; I only say that these old mansions are lovable,
if not always lovely, and that the soft damp, coolish air of late
March which clung about them after the rain was undeniably
English [...].
One of the best of them, or which earliest took our fancy,
is the house where Thackeray stayed when he was in
Savannah and immensely liked staying, in 1855. [...]
Such houses abound chiefly in and about that sequence of
squares which follow up from the business streets along the
handsome length and breadth of Bull Street.
One of these [became] the headquarters of General Sherman
in 1864. [...]
These very characteristic and memorable mansions can still
be counted by scores, but every now and then one of them
disappears through natural causes.

William Dean Howells, Savannah Twice Visited (1919)

Savannah received its name, originally, from its general appearance,
which was justly called by its founders a savanna, a term that
signifies an open, marshy plain, without timber, as its settlers first
found it.
But though it still retains its first name, with merely the addition of one
letter it can no longer be applied literally to it; for it now looks like a
city built in a forest, so numerous are the shade trees in every part of
it. Beneath these trees, the lamps are suspended that give light to the
city in the evening. These lights, intersected with the many long, black
shadows, that fall every where around, heightening the romantic
effect that the first sight of these streets would naturally produce in
the mind of one unaccustomed to southern scenes.

Thos. P. Janes, A manual of Georgia for the use of Immigrants and Capitalists (1878)

Katie’s house was on a corner, near the end of Bay Street and
the river – a low, hybrid house, squatting against the gas-works.
The basement was of old brick from which the whitewash
had practically disappeared; the upper portion was unpainted
clapboard. Faded green blinds sagged open at the screenless

Harry Hervey, The damned don’t cry (1939)

The strange house was dim and exciting.
A long winding dark staircase went up from near the front door, a clock
was striking from a far room, a small beautiful statue of a lady, slightly
pinkish, and looking as though she had been dug out of the earth, stood
on a table. The wallpaper beside the staircase was rough and hairy.
Upstairs in the play room, they found Caroline, sitting on the floor with a
picture book.
[...] he stayed for a long while, talking with John and Caroline.
The house was mysterious and rich, and he hadn’t at all wanted to go
out of it, or back to his own humdrum existence. Besides, he liked to
hear Caroline talking.

Conrad Aiken, Strange Moonlight, 1950

At the outbreak of the fighting, Savannah was the world’s leading cotton port.
General William Tecumseh Sherman selected it as the climax for his
triumphant march to the sea, bringing seventy thousand troops against
Savannah’s ten thousand. [...]
When Sherman drew near, the mayor of Savannah led a delegation out to
meet him. They offered to surrender the city if Sherman promised not to
burn it. Sherman accepted the offer and sent President Lincoln a famous
Sherman stayed a month and then marched to Columbia, South Carolina,
and burned it to the ground.
Savannah emerged from the war impoverished , but it recovered within a
few years and prospered once again. By then, however, the city’s financial
underpinnings ahd begun to erode. Rural labor was being drawn away to the
industrialized North [...] In the financial panic of 1892, the price of a pound
of cotton dropped from a dollar to nine cents. [...] From that time onward,
Savannah fell into decline. Many of its once-great houses fell into disrepair.
Lady Astor, passing through in 1946, remarked that Savannah was like ‘a
beautiful woman with a dirty face’.

John Berendt, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, 1995

Night [...] reveals hitherto unseen beauties of outline, crowns
it with a tiara of sparkling gems, and enwraps the whole
scene in an air of romance and mystery which is charming to
a person of poetic nature.
But whether seen by day or night, Savannah is indeed a
beautiful city, probably the most beautiful in all the Southern

Captain Willard Glazier, Peculiarities of American Cities, 1886

Savannah. While riding, aimlessly, in the suburbs, I came upon a square field,
in the midst of an open pine-wood, partially with a dilapidating wooden paling.
It proved to be a graveyard for negroes. Dismounting and fastening my horse
to a gate post, I walked in and found much in the monuments to interest me.
Some of these were billets of wood, others were of brick and marble, and
some were pieces of plank, cut in the ordinary form of tombstones.[...]
OF HENRY. Gleve, ho
Dide January 19 1849
Age 44
In men of CHARLES
Who died NOV
20. THE 1846
aged 62 years Blessed are the
dead who dieth
in the Lord
Even so said
The Spirit. For
The Rest From
(The remainder rotted off.)
BORN 1814 DIED1852.
In Memr
y, of,
M a
-t. Born
29 and
died oc
tober 29 1852
(Sand drifted over the remainder.)

Frederick Law Olmstead, The Cotton Kingdom - A traveller’s Observation on Cotton and Slavery in the American Slave States

When they reached East Broad Street, where they lived, the street, figuratively
speaking, was airing itself on its retrospective stoops.
In the wake of the rain had come a faint, muggy haze, through which a somber,
brassy light in the sky glared weirdly. Again the air was still, insidiously secretive,
as though sharing with the heavens some mysterious pact, of which that shower
was but an indication.
In this unnatural lemon twilight, the people looked malarial and unhealthy.
This atmospheric tension [...] always scared Katie. It was unearthly. It promised
some indefinite doom. She felt it all about her, even in the street.
East Broad moved to its customary rhythm.

Harry Hervey, The damned don’t cry, 1939

Negro boys are on the Savannah River in their row boats. [...]
Your river bank in your late afternoon – any where, any river - is your grand
place for your idlers. I sit at the end of a pile, see the water of the river, see
a majestic ship coming slowly upstream, see the sun going down in a sea of
I hear Negroes singing. I see gulls flying. ‘This is the place for me’, I say to
myself, ’this suits me.’
I have become like an old Negro man, walking on the big road. I talk to myself.
I burn cigarettes and throw the ends into the river.
The gulls are circling and diving, the water in the red river is running swiftly,
Negro boys are rowing their boats and singing.

Sherwood Anderson, Adrift in Georgia: Savannah, 1930

Everything was changed and ghostly.
The long street in the moonlight, was like a deep river, at the bottom of
which they walked, making scattered, thin sounds on the stones, and
listening intently to the whisperings of elms and palmettos.
And their house, when at last they stopped before it, how strange it was!
The moonlight, falling through the two tall swaying oaks, cast a moving
pattern of shadow and light all over its face. Slow swirls and spirals of
black and silver, dizzy gallops, quiet pools of light abruptly shattered, all
silently followed the swishing of leaves against the moon.
It was like a vine of moonlight, which all of a sudden grew all over the
house, smothering everything with its multitudinous swift leaves and
tendrils of pale silver and then as suddenly faded out.

Conrad Aiken, Strange Moonlight, 1950

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