Views of the USA (3)


Savannah, Georgia

A surprisingly comfortable twelve hour train journey to Savannah, Georgia, care of Amtrak, with a warm family welcome to greet us on arrival.

US patriotism is quite manifest here, where we were also kindly invited to a concert of the 'Savannah Winds' on 'Patriotic Day', the annual celebration of American independence, which took place on Sunday the 30th June, as the 4th July falls on a week day this year. The concert hall was full of fervent flag wavers, including a few Afro-Americans, expressing their community spirit and national pride quite naturally. And once more one's mind drifts to Europe, the nations of which still seem to continue to nurture their differences rather than any real pride of being an integral part of the old continent. Many Europeans tend to correlate patriotism with politics.

What continental Europeans do have in common, is an extraordinary wealth of history, but sometimes it seems to be treated more with irony and cynicism, than with any real pride. European history naturally includes centuries of wars and revolutions. Certain European nations still have to come to terms more honestly with their past, and this is not an allusion to Germany, one of the few nations of the world that has properly assumed this, to its honour and credit.

I had no idea that an early English explorer and military leader, General James Oglethorpe, successfully negotiated with Tomochichi, chief of the Indian tribe of the Yamacraw, to permit English settlers to start building the town of Savannah. Then, even in 1733, on reaching this haven of enormous, old oaks embellished with Spanish moss, Oglethorpe knew that he and the English settlers must first negotiate with the neighbouring Indians, the Creeks, in order to succeed in their projects.

Mediation between Tomochichi and Oglethorpe was facilitated by a certain Mary Musgrove who served as interpreter. She was born of a Creek mother and English father.
Tomochichi was a visionary who saw an opportunity for his people to step into the future. His aspirations, wisdom, generosity and tolerance, plus the desire to develop trade interests and education, encouraged him to allow the English settlers to establish Savannah, one of the first important American towns in American history as we know it.

Oglethorpe and Tomochichi became life-long friends. The Indian even accompanied Oglethorpe to England in 1734. Tomochichi then had the honour of meeting King George II at Kensington Palace, and as a token of peace, gave him a gift of eagle's feathers.
Tomochichi wanted to found an Indian school in Irene (1736) and was delighted to obtain the support of one of Oglethorpe's colleagues, Ingham, who enabled this wish to become a reality.

The old Indian chief died in his nineties (October, 1739). The colony gave him a public funeral, and with James Oglethorpe he remains to this day, deservedly commemorated.
Tomochichi's original memorial however, was callously destroyed in 1883 when another monument celebrating the founder of the Central of Georgia Railroad, William Gordon, was built directly upon its emplacement. Even Gordon's own daughter-in-law, Nellie Gordon was outraged by this insult, and insisted that Tomochichi's memorial be restablished. This was carried out and his Memorial in Savannah is appropriately represented by an enormous, granite boulder.

Such an example of eighteenth century wisdom, vision and tolerance, might make one ponder on the many examples of myopic narrow-mindedness, intolerance and ignorance apparent in more recent history, including our own epoch.

The Hutchinson Island ferry that crosses Savannah River is toll free, (as is the Staten Island ferry in New York City from where one can get good views of the Statue of Liberty and the new, 'One World Trade Center'). It takes you to the majestic Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort & Spa. From this plush and sedate side of the river one has an excellent view of the opposite bank. More popular and touristic, the old town riverside has a lot of cosmopolitan, carefree charm.

The old town of Savannah is beautifully laid out. It prides fine examples of colonial Georgian architecture. The more secluded residences appear to be in natural harmony with the massive surrounding oaks, some five or six centuries old, majestically trailing their Spanish moss, as if the ancient trees too continue to generously receive the settlers, shading and protecting them peacefully and affectionately for posterity.

With 'courage, character and patriotism' in mind, I should also make a special mention of the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force, which is not, as its title might suggest, limited to the American AF effort during the Second World War and the Japanese War. 
The Mighty Eighth Air Force was established in Savannah in 1942 before being based in England from where it greatly contributed to the allied effort against Nazi Germany.
The museum in Pooler, just east of Savannah, presents the whole episode of Anglo-American co-operation, the London blitz, a reconstruction of a Belgian room of the epoch- referring to the risks taken by certain Belgians and French who hid allied pilots whose aircraft had been shot down.
The museum even relates a moving example of German Luftwaffe chivalry during the war, when a Messaschmitt escorted a badly damaged American bomber. Seeing that the crew were in a sorry state, the German pilot allowed the bomber to fly on home to safety. Apparently the bomber pilot and the
Messaschmitt pilot met later on in this particular museum.
Everything, including weapons, personal uniforms and authentic war posters, is presented in a highly objective, and commendable way. It brings it all back also with some very interesting film footage taken during the war. It even houses the restored 'Memphis Belle', the famous B-17 that completed twenty-five combat missions, and always managed to return home. A museum
well worth visiting. 

Text and photographs © Mirino (PW). Top- The Wormsloe Plantation entry avenue of oaks. Second- A morning view at low tide. Third- A visiting Red-tailed Hawk. Fourth- A famous old oak of about 600 years old. Fifth- The Savannah River. Sixth- A classical example of the colonial styled architecture of Savannah. Seventh- Evening seascape, Tybee beach, not far from Savannah. 
(With special thanks to S & B for their kind attention and hospitality).   July, 2013

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