As travelers – and travel storytellers – we live for that “click.” It’s that feeling when you and a destination just, like, vibe. You’re just in sync. You get each other, and the more you learn, the more in love you fall. It’s like love at first sight, only with a place.
And, much like true love, it’s hard to explain that feeling without sounding like a weirdo unless the person you’re explaining it to has experienced it before.
What I’m trying to say is this: we CLICKED with Savannah. We fell for Savannah HARD. I’m talking like, we were looking at homes on Zillow 2 nights in. On the way home, we were obsessively reading Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil – an absolute must-read for anyone mildly curious about Savannah, and referred to locally as The Book – and listening to podcasts about Savannah, like this one. For weeks after our trip we gushed to friends & family about how amazing this place is. And we couldn’t figure out a way to condense our newfound obsession into a single post, so instead, we’re writing …well, let’s just say a few.
So what’s the deal? Why are we such huge fans of Savannah? Was it the town’s stunning beauty? Was it the fact that literally everything or we ate or drank was absolutely incredible? Was it the friendly locals who struck up conversations with us for hours over coffee or dinner or drinks? Was it the thrilling tales of ghosts and murder and hoodoo lurking behind the closed shutters of Savannah’s elegant, refined homes? Was it the weird quirks, the unexplained mysteries, the myths and legends and nuanced history of a city that’s older than the country it’s in?
…. Well, yes.
By the end of this post, I hope you’ll have some idea of what I mean when I say that Savannah is a place unlike any we’ve ever visited – and why we’re so completely and utterly enchanted with it. So without further ado, here are a bunch of random things nobody tells you about Savannah, Georgia, of no particular usefulness and in no particular order.
Table of Contents
Psst: Looking to plan a trip to the South? Here are a few posts to help!
- 10 Enchanting Things to Do in Savannah, Georgia
- 11 Crazy Romantic Things to Do in Daytona Beach, Florida
- The Perfect Itinerary for a Weekend in Nashville, Tennessee
Things Nobody Tells You…
… About Savannah’s History
Savannah’s squares were meticulously planned out before the city even existed.
Savannah was founded in 1733 by James Olgethorpe, a member of the British parliament who was given the project of to founding the colony of Georgia. The first thing he did upon receiving his instructions was sit down with a ruler and map out Savannah’s many squares, which he envisioned as little tiny communities.
And thus, the most aesthetically pleasing, geometrically perfect map of any city that we’ve ever seen was created. Savannah is a city planning dream come true, and wandering around it’s perfectly logical streets is like heaven for someone as perpetually lost as me.
Savannah was progressive way before it was cool.
Savannah’s founder, Oglethorpe, didn’t just look out for the welfare of his future citizens in terms of helping them not get lost. He was also pretty darn #woke, especially for the 1730’s.
For starters, he wanted Savannah to be a land of opportunity for poor folk trapped in the downward spiral of debtor’s prisons. Yes, y’all: he was a champion of prison reform! For anyone willing to take a risk and move their family to his colony, he promised free land: 50 acres for everyone, including a house downtown and a plot of land for farming. Everyone was promised the exact same size house and the exact same amount of land. Even Oglethorpe, who also decided to live in a tent for 10 years because of … equality, I guess?
Anyway, Oglethorpe also bucked the trend of treating the existing residents of the Americas with hostility. Instead, he befriended the local indigenous people, the Yamacraw tribe, and established peaceful relationship with Chief Tomachichi, who to this day is buried in Oglethorpe square.
Oh: and he banned slavery, too.
When Savannah was first founded, 4 things were outlawed.
- Slavery. Because – shocker – human bondage was every bit as horrifying to champions of human rights in the 1730’s as it seems to us today.
- Catholicism. Because the Spanish in Florida were Catholics, and Britain was NOT A FAN of the Spanish in Florida.
- Liquor. Oglethorpe wasn’t trying to found a party colony, and I suppose when you bring over a boat full of people recently released from prison, you gotta set some ground rules.
- Lawyers. Just cuz like, f**k laywers, I guess.
… But that all changed real quick.
Oglethorpe’s peaceful, egalitarian, humanitarian approach to the founding of Savannah and the utopian colony of Georgia lasted about as long as he did. 10 years in, he fell in love, headed back to England, and everything immediately changed.
I imagine Savannahians were pouring shots from their smuggled booze as they waved goodbye to his boat.
No longer tended by a well-meaning and incredibly progressive leader, residents demanded the ability to compete with other southern colonies, like Charleston, who was stupid rich and made everyone in Savannah feel salty and petty. And so in 1750, slavery was legalized. Followed by, probably, lawyers.
They also let Catholics in.
The ban on Catholics didn’t last nearly as long as the other 3. The story goes that a boat full of Irish Catholics washed up at Savannah – totally lost and completely by accident. Upon realizing that they needed help (and weren’t Spanish) kind-hearted Oglethorpe allowed them to join the colony.
And that’s why there’s a massive, stunning Catholic cathedral towering over the city and St. Patrick’s day is now the biggest holiday in Savannah.
They say there’s never been a battle in Savannah, but that’s not entirely true.
Many credit Savannah’s preservation with the fact that the city was spared during the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. But if you hear someone say that no battles have ever been fought in Savannah, that’s not actually true.
The Siege of Savannah occurred in 1779. It was one of the bloodiest and most important battles of the Revolutionary War, and the last battle ever fought by Casimir Pulaski, who to this day is buried in Savannah (in Monterey Square).
The largest military unit fighting in this siege was the Chasseurs-Volontaires, a group of French Haitian freemen. They comprised the largest black regiment to serve in the War of Independence and one of the few black regiments to fight for the American side in the Revolutionary War. Many of the same soldiers went on to be involved in the Haitian Revolution, the only slave uprising that led to the founding of a slavery-free state ruled by non-whites – a pivotal moment in the Atlantic Slave Trade.
Today, this historic contribution is commemorated by Savannah’s Haitian Monument.
General William Tecumseh Sherman enjoyed a pleasant stay in Savannah during his March to the Sea.
Sherman’s March to the Sea is a legendary tale that all Civil War buffs know well: how Sherman marched through Georgia, destroying entire cities in his path and devastating the South.
But when he got to Savannah, he didn’t destroy anything. Instead, the Mayor welcomed him with open arms – he even moved his family out of their home so that General Sherman could make himself right at home. General Sherman sat down at the Mayor’s desk and wrote Abraham Lincoln to tell him that Savannah was his Christmas gift.
That’s not to say that Savannah wasn’t staunchly Confederate: they just knew that the best way to preserve their beautiful city, and recover from the economic hardships of war, was to surrender and do what they do best: play hostess. And so they did, and not a drop of blood was spilled in Savannah during the Civil War.
General Sherman spent the next month relaxing and enjoying Savannah’s legendary hospitality, as well as speaking with local African American leaders and coming up with the “40 acres and a mule” policy that he rolled out at the conclusion of the Civil War.
… About the Dark Side of Savannah’s History
Savannah was once the largest slave port in the south.
River Street, along Savannah’s historic waterfront, is the best place in town to grab a drink, take a stroll, watch the sunset, and sample the world’s best pralines. But, like everywhere else in Savannah, the area has a complex history, and its 200-year old cobblestone streets bear witness to a dark past.
Savannah is a port city – the Savannah Port is still one of the largest in the country. But the Port’s historic claim to fame was as the South’s primary point of entry for ships arriving full of cargo from West Africa: slave ships. 200 years ago, the warehouses lining River Street were filled with cotton – and enslaved families. You can still see the marks on the walls where humans were chained as they waited to be sold in an auction as property.
It’s said that this area – and Factor’s Walk, just behind River Street – was the site of the most death in all of Savannah, and is considered to be the most haunted part of town. Today, River Street’s sad history is memorialized by the African-American Monument.
Savannah was the site of the largest sale of human beings in America’s history.
It’s known as The Weeping Time, a name whispered from slaves to their descendants, so called because the heavens themselves seemed to open up and cry as 436 men, women, children were sold in the largest slave auction in American history. There’s an excellently written book about this devastating chapter in Savannah’s history, which details the lives of those on the auction block, the families that were torn apart, and the impact of this episode on the institution of slavery in the United States – add it to your Savannah reading list.
In 1820, Savannah was ravished by a Yellow Fever epidemic.
It was the first of 3 absolutely devastating Yellow Fever epidemics, which wiped out a massive chunk of Savannah’s white population.
Yellow Fever was brought to the USA on slave ships – it’s spread by a specific type of mosquito from West Africa. The disease involves turning jaundice yellow, vomiting black sludge, and then dying a horrible death, and it swept through Savannah like a gauntlet. The city was never the same.
Psst: this is why you should absolutely get a yellow fever vaccine if you’re traveling anywhere that still carries a risk, such as South America. /rant
… About Savannah’s Resident Ghosts
Every inch of Savannah is haunted.
Literally every inch. Look, you can’t just build a town on top of a Native American burial ground, become the largest port for the Atlantic Slave Trade, and suffer 3 devastating Yellow Fever epidemics (a direct consequence of the slave trade) and not end up super haunted.
Whether it’s the open graves that Yellow Fever victims were thrown into, or the open graves that the enslaved were thrown into, no matter where you are in Savannah someone’s bones are lying deep in the ground below you.
You’re gonna hear some ghost stories.
Every city has its thing: San Franciscans all have strong burrito opinions, Louisvillains can shoot off population facts at a moment’s notice, Los Angelenos (yes that’s what they’re called…I looked it up) all have Google Maps in their heads and will tell you the proper route to take.
Savannahians? Well, they all have ghost stories to tell. Whether they’re showing you photos of ghosts over coffee (or dinner) or just telling a story about their resident house ghost (everyone has a resident house ghost), don’t be surprised if ghosts come up in casual conversation.
We heard a LOT of ghost stories during our trip to Savannah, but one of my favorites was the story of the Espy House. This story has it all: prohibition, corruption, the mob, a guy with his *ahem* bits cut off, and a hilariously inaccurate news story to cover up the whole sordid tale. To hear the best ghost stories about Savannah, we recommend taking a ghost tour.
Most of the porches in Savannah are painted with Haint Blue to ward off ghosts and evil spirits.
Haint blue is a superstitious color that originated in the Gullah culture of the Georgia low country, derived from the African Voodoo religion – “haint” is an AAVE version of “haunt.”
The color Haint Blue is made from crushed indigo, which was once one of the South’s most profitable plantation crops. By painting your ceiling “haint blue,” it was thought that you could trick a ghost into mistaking it for water – which they cannot cross – or the sky, and not a home that they can take up residence in.
While wandering through Savannah, you’ll notice quite a lot of haint blue ceilings, especially on outdoor porches. Supposedly, the color is also good for tricking bugs, too.
Savannah is in Hoodoo country.
Nope, that’s not a misspelling: Hoodoo isn’t the same as Voodoo. Voodoo is an African religion. Hoodoo is like … folk magic. It’s like spirituality mixed with superstition, all jumbled together from hundreds of various African-originating cultures and beliefs – another byproduct of the slave trade. And it’s quite common in Savannah.
You might hire a root doctor, say, to visit a graveyard (“the garden”) and speak to the man you killed about your murder trial. For example.
And yes, that’s a real example, from the most famous Savannah story: the Jim Williams trial, made famous in The Book. While on trial for murder, Jim Williams hired a Hoodoo Root Doctor to put various spells on everyone from his lawyers to his former lover turned murder victim. It worked, too: Jim Williams was put on trial 4 times and walked away free each time. (Yes, this is a true story, and it’s one of the. most ridiculous and fascinating true crime stories we’ve ever heard.)
But the story doesn’t end there: after his acquittal, Jim Williams went home to Mercer House… and fell dead, just 10 feet from the spot where his former lover/murder victim had fallen. It was the same spot he would have fallen had he been shot by the man he claimed to have killed in self-defense.
The kicker? Some say they saw Jim Williams’ root doctor leaving his house the day before. She’d come to collect on her bill for 5 years worth of Hoodoo, and apparently, he didn’t pay.
Y’all: do not try to stiff a root doctor. It will not end well.
… About Savannah’s Many Contributions to the World
The Girl Scouts were founded in Savannah, and their founder was deaf.
Juliette Gordon Lowe was born on Halloween in Savannah. She grew up in a wealthy and well-connected family, hanging out with General Sherman and Rudyard Kipling and the Carnegie family. She got married and then later divorced, pocketing a bunch of cash and a house from her adulterous husband in the process. She used that cash to found the Girl Scouts in 1912, where she encouraged the girls to become self-sufficient by learning wool spinning and livestock care, knot tying, map reading, knitting, cooking, first aid, military drilling, signaling, and camping. You know: bada** stuff.
Oh, and she did the entire thing while deaf. She wasn’t born deaf, but she went deaf twice: once for each ear. Apparently, she was famously accident prone and clumsy. My kindred spirit!
Savannah is the hometown of famous composer Johnny Mercer.
Johnny Mercer is a legendary American lyricist, songwriter, and singer, who co-founded Capitol Records and wrote – oh, I don’t know, roughly every major American hit from the 30’s to the 60’s? From classic Hollywood to Sinatra to Bing Crosby to Ella Fitzgerald to Disney, you’ve heard his songs even if you didn’t realize it.
Like, you know the opening scene in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, where Audrey Hepburn gets out from a taxi with her to-go bag from McD’s and just like, drools all over the window displays? The song playing during that scene is called Moon River, and it’s Johnny Mercer’s homage to his beautiful hometown. Moon River is actually the Savannah River, and it’s lyrics are beautifully appropriate for any travel loving couple: “Two drifters, off to see the world / There’s such a lot of world to see.”
As for Mercer’s love life, well, apparently he had a long and torrid affair with then-19-year-old Judy Garland. While he was married. Yikes.
Still, his songs and lyrics are undeniably beautiful works of art, and you’ll see plenty of references to them and to the man himself throughout Savannah. If you come across the Johnny Mercer statue, it’s said that if you rub his shoulders, it will bring you good luck. I’ve been trying to start the same rumor about my shoulders for years…
Tutti Frutti was invented in Savannah, and it’s AMAZING.
It was invented at Leopold’s Ice Cream, founded in 1919, and it’s INSANELY GOOD. The Tutti Frutti ice cream at Leopold’s is chock full of candied fruit and rum-soaked roasted Georgia Pecans, and I can honestly say that it is the best ice cream I have ever had in my entire life. EVER.
…About Food & Drink in Savannah
Savannah’s trademark drink has more stories than it does actual recipes.
Chatham Artillery Punch, Savannah’s most famous drink, is what happens when you’ve got 13 nearly empty bottles of booze and you pour them all into a glass along with whatever else you happen have on hand. There’s a storied history about the drink (because, of course, everything in Savannah has a few good stories).
Of course, we had to try it, and it’s served all over the place. But no two recipes are the same, because there isn’t exactly a recipe to begin with. When we asked our bartender what was in our drink, she listed Champagne, Bourbon, Rum, and Cognac, and then just sort of trailed off with a shrug.
Listen: this isn’t the tastiest thing you’ll drink in Savannah, but it’s certainly the most uniquely Savannahian drink – and by far the strongest.
You can take your drink to go, thanks to Savannah’s open container laws.
Feel like taking your drink for a spin along the waterfront? Have a few social engagements lined up? Or just feel like leaving before you’ve quite finished your cocktail?
No worries: Savannah’s open container laws allow you to walk around the entirety of downtown historic Savannah with your beverage in a plastic container. Just ask for a “To Go” cup at the bar and step outside. You’ll feel like a miscreant in the best possible way.
Savannah’s food scene is LEGENDARY.
At least, it is to us. Because the strangest and most amazing thing happened during our trip to Savannah (strange and amazing both being two excellent words to describe this city): we had a PERFECT food streak. Everything we ate – EVERYTHING – was absolutely amazing. Delicious. Flawless.
We’ve never had a perfect food streak on a trip before. Usually there’s at least one dish, or one meal, that makes us say “hm, well, that was just OK. But not in Savannah. Everything. We ate. Was amazing.
In addition, everything we ate reflected Savannah, both past and present day. Savannah has its complex history to thank for its amazing food, because Southern cooking is almost entirely derived from West African cooking.
Here are a few must-eat Savannah specialties to try during your trip – and we’ve got a giant list of where to eat and what to order in our Savannah travel guide.
- Savannah Red Rice
- Oysters in general, but especially fried
- A low-country boil
- The Tutti Frutti ice cream at Leopold’s
- Pralines from River Street Sweets
Visit any bar, diner, or coffee shop in Savannah, and there’s a good chance you’ll make a local friend.
Here’s how I like to explain Savannah to people who’ve never been. Savannah is like this: we’re at a cafe, sipping some truly excellent coffee and flipping through our photos. Seated next to us is an older gentleman. He leans over to us, a photo pulled up on his phone of a park in Savannah at night. “I took this 2 years ago,” he says. He scrolls to the right. “Now look.” There’s a shroud of filmy white fog in the photo. “I took this just a second later, and there wasn’t any fog that night.” (Mind you, this interaction came out of NOWHERE.) The barista, pouring coffee, casually nods. “Yep, that square’s haunted, just like the rest of the town.” And just like that, we’re all swapping ghost stories over coffee.
The next night, we’re dining at the bar in The Grey when a young woman in a bright red cocktail dress leans over to us. “Order the croquettes,” she says, without prompting, “They’re amazing.” They were, and we spent the next 3 hours chatting to her about what it was like to grow up in Savannah.
During my trip, I was complimented by strangers enough times to get a full-on ego boost (nobody has EVER stopped me on the street to tell me I have fabulous hair – but it happened in Savannah MULTIPLE TIMES). Tour guides who interacted with us in a large group for like, an hour, waved hello the next day while leading other tours.
Mind you, we’re not, like, particularly chatty people – that’s just how locals in Savannah are. They’re friendly. They’re approachable. They’re full of tips and suggestions. And they’re REALLY complimentary.
If you want to experience Savannah’s friendly, chatty culture, here’s a tip we got from several of the locals we met during our visit: go eat at Clary’s Diner. Put your phone away. Put your book away. Just sit and listen. This is where Savannah comes to gossip – and the same diner frequented by the author of The Book. You might make a friend, or you might not, but you’re bound to leave with a good story.
…About the Quirky Savannah of Today
The Savannah Baseball team is called the Savannah Bananas.
Yes. REALLY. They held a vote, someone made up the name as a joke, and OF COURSE it won. WHICH IS ALREADY SO GOOD, but it gets BETTER, people!
Their team slogan is “we will peel you away.” At the start of the season, they wear green jerseys. As the season progresses, they wear yellow jerseys when they’re on a winning streak, and brown when they’re on a losing streak. THIS is the kind of pun dedication the world needs, right here.
Oh, and for what it’s worth – the team is incredibly popular (a-peel-ing?) They sold out every single game – in both 2017 AND 2018. So uh, get your tickets early.
Tons of movies & TV shows are filmed in Savannah.
Savannah is an incredibly popular filming destination, thanks to the facts that 1) it’s freakin’ stunning 2) it can be easily adapted to look like any moment in United States history and 3) Georgia gives fantastic tax breaks for the film industry.
So don’t be surprised if you randomly get Deja-Vu walking through Savannah: you probably recognized something from one of these 2876286728768276 productions.
The owner of Leopold’s Ice Cream also makes movies… at Paramount.
What’s cooler than co-owning one America’s most famous historic ice cream shops? Producing a bunch of America’s most famous movies, too. Stratton Leopold, son of the founder of Leopold’s Ice Cream, also casually happens to be an Executive Vice President of Production at Paramount Pictures.
Which I didn’t even know until I started writing this post.
I’m not even surprised, I guess. As Savannah goes, that’s just sort of exactly what I’d expect – and it’s this plethora random, weird quirky factoids like this that make me fall in love with it over and over again. Anyway, next time you watch Mission: Impossible III, don’t be surprised if you start craving ice cream.
Most of the historic downtown is college campus.
The Savannah College of Art & Design, one of the best and most famous art schools in the country, owns a whopping 67 buildings in historic Savannah, all perfectly preserved (thanks in no small part to its historic restoration studies program – where better to learn?)
Essentially, downtown Savannah is a living, breathing art school campus. Students roam the squares of Savannah in search of artistic inspiration, then go home to their dorm rooms and sleep in some of Savannah’s most haunted buildings. Like for example, a former hospital with a network of secret tunnels that supposedly once shuttled Yellow Fever victims from the hospital to a mass grave under Forsyth Park. (Read more.)
Yup. The old Candler Hospital is now an art college residence hall. On the bright side, nightmares are probably great for inspiring works of art! … We hope.
Savannah is a hotspot for artists.
In addition to housing one of the best art schools in the country, Savannah is an artist mecca. From its excellent art museums to its theatre and drag scene – and its most notable drag artist, The Lady Chablis, RIP – you’ll find plenty of artistic talent in Savannah.
Wandering through town, chances are you’ll see someone with an easel set up, painting away. Or two, or three. You’ll probably also stumble upon an adorable little art fair as well. Art is everywhere in this beautiful city, and we only wish we’d left room in our suitcases to take some home with us!
Savannah didn’t always look as good as it does now.
At one point in time, Savannah did not have a the beautiful, well-preserved historic district. It had a bunch of old houses with broken windows and cracked shutters. This was the Savannah that Lady Astor, visiting in 1946, described as “a beautiful woman with a dirty face.”
At this time, historic downtown Savannah was on the brink of destruction: it was cheaper to tear down the existing buildings and build new ones, and a few developers had a mind to do just that – which is why you’ll see a small handful of hideously ugly buildings sticking out. like sore thumbs among the stunning historic district.
All of that changed when a brigade of influential society women clutched their pearls and banded together to form the Historic Savannah Foundation. They raised enough money to create a revolving fund that allowed them to purchase homes from the clutches would-be developers and re-sell them to inhabitants, who in turn agreed to maintain a certain set of historically accurate standards. The very first home they saved is the Davenport House, which you can still tour today.
Their work preserved the entirety of historic Savannah, which is one of the best maintained historic districts in the entire USA. To this day, local homeowners must get every single detail of their houses approved by the historic commission, from historically accurate paint colors to historically accurate door handles.
There are 22 squares, but there used to be 24.
In 1851, Savannah had 24 beautiful little green squares decorating its tidily arranged streets. In the 1900’s, some a**holes destroyed 3 of them. For like, parking lots or some other idiotic reason.
Thankfully, one of them has since been restored, and the historic foundation has managed to save the rest of them from destruction.
The Savannah airport is the cutest airport in the world.
Listen, we’ve seen a lot of airports in our line of work, and “adorable” is the last word I’d use to describe any of them. But Savannah’s airport is freakin’ ADORABLE. It looks like a movie set. It is SO. CUTE.
The Savannah Airport is home to the private jet company that created the G6.
You know, as in the song, “Like a G6.” That just like, tickles me SO much.
For every story told here, there are hundreds more.
Savannah is a city full of stories, myths, and legends. We’ve never visited a place so incredibly full of colorful history, with a cast of characters straight out of the history books. Every time we thought we’d heard the best Savannah story yet, someone would tell us a new one an hour later that would blow the last one out of the water.
You see, everything in Savannah has a story to tell. Every historic home. Every restaurant. Every friendly local. Every scenic square.
On the surface, this elegant city just looks like one of the most beautiful places we’ve ever seen; but peel back a layer or two and you’ll find that it’s also one of the most deeply fascinating and complex. It’s this rich tapestry of stories and legends and quirks that draws us to Savannah and makes us yearn to go back and explore and learn more of its secrets! I hope the stories we’ve told in this post have piqued your interest in visiting this incredibly unique place.
So … when are you gonna go!?
Did you learn something new about Savannah, Georgia in this list of things nobody tells you? Which one of Savannah’s quirky facts and fascinating stories most surprised you? Drop us a comment below!
Looking to plan a trip to the South? Here are a few posts to help!
- 10 Enchanting Things to Do in Savannah, Georgia
- 11 Crazy Romantic Things to Do in Daytona Beach, Florida
- The Perfect Itinerary for a Weekend in Nashville, Tennessee
- The Perfect New Orleans 3-Day Itinerary
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