Virginia Kiah was a nationally recognized artist, teacher, museum curator, and civil rights leader. Her museum was on the second floor on her home in Savannah’s predominantly African American Cuyler-Brownsville neighborhood. Started in November 1959, Mrs. Kiah named it the Museum for the Masses, because everyone was welcome. During a time of heightened racial aggression in the Deep South, Kiah successfully opened a place where African American youth felt welcomed and comfortable. She wanted to show visitors, and most importantly children, that they were in a public space where they were no longer second-class citizens and not categorized by their race.
Dr. Deborah Johnson-Simon has spent years recording oral histories and writing ethnographies on Mrs. Kiah and her husband, educator Calvin Kiah. We also completed a small archaeology project on the Kiah House in the Spring of 2018. Dr. Johnson-Simon continues to maintain their gravesites and hold events to memorialize these remarkable people. She is also leading the cause to install a Georgia Historical Marker at their house. Please consider giving a donation towards this goal. You can donate on the Go Fund Me website and read more about the project there.
I was pretty sick last weekend, nothing unfixable, but something that definitely will have to be fixed. Immobile for 30 minutes while a machine took pictures of my insides, I contemplated 1870s medicine (and what IS that thing stuck to the ceiling?). The Benedictines at Skidaway Island’s monastery and Freedmen school were often ill from malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases. Father Oswald frequently writes to Abbot Boniface about the monks’ health troubles. Many religious only stayed on Skidaway for months or a year before requesting a return to St. Vincent or elsewhere, anywhere north, and away from the mosquitoes.
Bro Alphons is sick in the hospital in Savannah, this day a week ago, I gave him the last Sacraments, now he is recovering, but still he will never be strong.”
Courtesy of Benedictine military school archives
Brother Alphonse Schoene is often referenced as suffering from illness but was present throughout nearly monastery’s entire existence. In August of 1878, Father Oswald administered the last sacrament, but Alphonse recovered. A month later, Father Oswald wrote, “Poor Bro Alphons is at the hospital again in Savannah, he has dispepsy in a high degree, these many years already; and the fever besides”. Alphonse’s stomach trouble (the dyspepsia) was attributed to his childhood, but not further explained.
The treatment for malaria was quinine, which is no longer very effective and therefore not recommended. Today there are stronger drugs, with pretty wicked side effects for some people. Historically, when quinine was ineffective, doctors recommended traveling north to allow the body to heal without danger of constant re-infection. This was the case with another malaria victim, Brother Ignatius. In September, 1879, Father Melchior reported, “Brother Ignatius is almost continuously sick. He has not worked one day for the last week”. By November, Father Oswald requested Brother Ignatius’ reassignment “because the Doctor told him he cannot get well again here as his system is filled with Malaria, which consists in little animals that pass from the Atmosphere into the blood and regenerate and propagate themselves in the blood, and which can be killed only by Quinine, or a preparation of Peruvian bark”. However, quinine is not effective in everyone. Poor Brother Ignatius had been “sick continually since June” and hospitalized repeatedly. Father Oswald regretted losing him and wrote very highly of him as a modest, pious man who was the best carpenter on Skidaway. Brother Ignatius was transferred back his native Pennsylvania by the end of 1879 and spent the rest of his life working throughout western Pennsylvania including Pittsburg in 1890s and Mount Pleasant, a small town near St. Vincent around 1900. Brother Ignatius died in 1914 at the age of 62 and is buried in the St. Vincent cemetery.
I was delighted to hear the Girl Scouts of America received an Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) grant to make Scouting and all Girl Scout programs more inclusive. From the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace blog: “Access for All: Advancing Girl Scouts’ Commitment to Disability Inclusion is a two-year initiative led by the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace in Savannah, Georgia, that will consist of trainings, conversations and activities promoting inclusion, empowerment and equity for those living with disabilities. The trainings’ goal is to spark an ongoing conversation about disability history, culture, rights and advocacy within the Girl Scout Movement.”
As a former employee, I had a truly memorable experience while leading one Girl Scout troop tour of the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace. One young Girl Scout had several disabilities including some difficulty walking, and perhaps some difficulty hearing (I can’t remember precisely). She was blind. But she loved art and was thrilled to learn that Daisy (Juliette Gordon Low) was also an accomplished artist. Another employee produced a pair of white cotton museum gloves. With the gloves on, we allowed her to touch Daisy’s sculpture Girl with Tortoise. This artist plaster original was in the front parlor at the time. She was able to “see” the sculpture through her touch and truly connect to another artist and the Girl Scouts’ founder. The wonder and amazement on this young woman’s face still brings tears to my eyes.
We were not serving her remotely adequately with a traditional tour. But with some quick thinking, we improvised and created a lasting, special memory we all treasure. But most importantly, we made history come alive to everyone in that room. We made Juliette Gordon Low a vital, creative, force of nature again in her childhood home.
More from the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace blog: “‘Many people don’t know that Juliette Low had profound hearing loss throughout her life, making her birthplace the perfect location for Girl Scouts’ new initiative, Access for All, to offer inclusion training for the birthplace staff, Girl Scout troops and their leaders, and other local audiences,’ explained birthplace Executive Director Lisa Junkin Lopez. Perhaps because of this hearing impairment, which worsened in adulthood, Low uniquely understood the value of Girl Scouts for girls with disabilities. As a result, the organization has long been inclusive of girls with disabilities, and it aims to serve all girls equally.
Recently on three separate occasions, people spontaneously shared their personal Hull Park history. Twice, it was grandfathers watching grandchildren at the playground and baseball diamond, and once it was a City of Savannah employee who manages the park. This week, a gentleman told me that while the city has replaced nearly every piece of playground equipment over the years, the merry-go-round is the original. He said, “I’m 66-years-old. I got hurt on that merry-go-round. My daughter got hurt on that merry-go-round…” He trailed off but smiled and shook his head as he watched his granddaughter hang off it and spin around crazily.
“By the 1930’s, development of Ardsley Park and Chatham Crescent was nearly complete. The [Developers] Lattimore’s then set out for their next development, Ardmore. Running from 52nd Street to 55th Street to the South, and punctuated with a large, diamond shaped Hull Park, Ardmore would also become a popular Savannah neighborhood. On Sunday, November 8, 1925, a full page ad in the Savannah Morning News reported the public sale of lots in Ardmore. The day after the sale, it was announced that every lot had been sold before noon the same day.”
I also found a great little video on the neighborhood’s history produced by the City of Savannah and featuring one of my favorite people. I love histories written with multiple layers: the practical details about time frames and architectural styles mixed with personal stories about the residents’ lives.
My three-year-old insisted on going to Tybee today. He’s had worse suggestions, so we went and had a few relaxing hours on the beach. Me reading, him playing with his toy dump truck and loader. I haven’t taken my son up in the lighthouse yet, mostly because I think that will end in me carrying him. It’s a lot of stairs.
James Oglethorpe had a navigational marker placed on the property now housing the lighthouse in 1733, the same year he founded Georgia. A lighthouse has stood in this area ever since. By 1736 Noble Jones, Georgia’s surveyor, supervised the construction of a 90-foot wooden tower, although it did not have a light. This daytime navigation marker was the largest on the British-controlled east coast. In 1741, a storm destroyed the tower.
A second, 90 to 94 foot lighthouse was built by 1742. It too did not have a light. An associated Keeper’s House was also built nearby. This lighthouse was gone by 1768, a victim of the harsh coastal elements. The third lighthouse was built in 1773 and destroyed by fire in 1791. The current lighthouse, a 100-foot, octagonal-base brick lighthouse, was built in 1791, probably on the foundation of the 1773 building. Note: the Tybee Light Station is a museum today; entry fees apply.
The Assistant Keeper’s House was restored in 2003. Since the restoration included some ground-disturbing activities, the Tybee Island Historical Society, which runs the Light Station and the Tybee Museum, called in archaeologists to make sure they weren’t destroying historic resources.
Archaeologists examined two corners the brick foundation beneath the existing, circa 1885 house. They excavated two test units (square areas that were dug out), finding nearly 5,000 artifacts in their small excavation. Artifacts recovered included architectural materials like brick, mortar, and window glass; kitchen ceramics, bottle glass, and tin cans were also discovered. Food remains showed the dietary variety: turtle, beef, pork, foul, fish, and eggs were eaten on site. Shellfish were also an important part of the diet including oysters, clams, crab, and whelk. Personal artifacts were found as well: a brass finger ring, pocketknife fragments, a glass marble, mirror glass, newspaper scraps, matches, and a piece of engraved slate. Bullets and other armament artifacts were found as well as uniform buckles and a brass insignia. Many of these are probably from the Civil War soldiers camped near the lighthouse.
The brick foundation under the current house is the footing for an earlier keeper’s house. A brown transfer printed sherd (ceramic fragment) was found in the foundation’s builder’s trench. Brown transfer printed ceramics were first made in 1809, so the building must date after 1809. The historical record states this circa 1809 house burned in 1885. Melted window and bottle glass were found with exploded bricks and highly tempered (heat-treated) nails. When iron is heated to extremely high temperatures, the nails are preserved and rust-free.
Artifacts from the 1700s were also found, so an even earlier building was also probably on this site. While no structural remains were found for an earlier building, an undated brick hearth and chimney pad were found, possibly from this 1700s era building.