Old houses and Murder
Trip Start Mar 27, 2010
4Trip End Apr 03, 2010
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Our first stop was at the Mercer-Williams House. The Mercer part of the name is for the great-grandfather of Johnny Mercer, co-founder of Capitol Records and composer of Moon River among other famous songs. You can't go to Savannah without hearing Moon River, usually sung by Andy Williams in some shop or restaurant. It is as much a part of Savannah as its' squares, Spanish Moss, grits, Paula Deen and 16 ounce clear plastic cups.
The Williams part of the name is for Jim Williams. Jim Williams made the house famous when he killed a "friend" in the house back in 1981.
I don't wanna give the book away, so I will fast forward to the part where Jim William's sister now owns the house and offers tours of the carriage house, garden and the first level of the house. We were met at the start of the tour by a very proper light skinned black gentleman, with the appropriate southern accent. He also appeared to be very proper and no fun. Once again appearances were misleading. He turned out to be an excellent tour guide, who did not tap dance around the murder and provided interesting information about all facets of the house.
My interests lie more with people and events than furniture and drapes. I will not attempt to describe the rooms other than to say everything seemed to be very big and flowery. But big and flowery is apparently the hallmark of the Victorian Era which is when the houses were built and decorated.
After finishing the tour it was time for lunchClary's for lunch. Clary's is a regular haunt of the author of the book and it had to be visited. The menu has a little of everything, reasonable prices and the food was good. The only thing that was missing was a guy trying to kill flies. You will have to read the book to get that.
Next is was over to the Andrew Low House. Andrew Low was the father-in-law of Juliette Gordon Low who is the founder of Girl Scouts. This time we were met by genteel southern bell, with the prerequisite southern accent and slightly snobbish attitude. About what you would expect when you come to realize the house is owned by The National Society of Colonial Dames of America. You come to realize this because she immediately tells you who owns the house.
The house and garden are laid out similar to the Mercer-Williams House. It was decorated a little less over the top, but definitely Victorian. In the second room she asked if there were any questions. I asked something about Girl Scouts and Juliette Gordon Low. She informed me in no uncertain terms that the tour focuses on Andrew Low not Juliette and her husband, William. Then she looked away as if I never asked a question.
Now I have been told to "f-off" in English, Spanish, Turkish, Arabic, American Sign Language, middle school sign language, and probably a half a dozen other languages I am not aware of. All of these normally involve some kind of explicative or hand gesture. She did this so well it took me a few seconds to even realize I had been told off. It was impressive and now I can add being told off by a blue blood to my resume.
Some of you may be asking why my question would illicit such a response. Quite simply, Andrew Low's son William couldn't keep it in his pants. Juliette caught him and was divorcing his butt. This was big deal in the early 1900's because women just didn't do such a thing. From what little I know of Juliette Gordon Low she did not put up with much crap and she was not going to put with his dumb butt. Of course this is not a favorite subject of the Lows and is glossed over; hence my cold shoulder response for asking a Girl Scout question.
Next it was over to Sorrel-Weed House. This house is a work in progress. The exterior appears to be in pretty good shape. The interior is not. There is very little furniture, cracks in the wall, trash in corners and a general over all run down appearance. Once again appearances are not everything.
The guide was college age female. Between the appearance of the house, (including 20th Century air conditioners) and her initial stumbling over her words I figured this tour was a bust. She turned out to be very good and between Mr. Sorrel's story, the dead bodies supposedly in the basement, the suicide in the garden, the possible murder in the carriage house and the ghosts there was plenty of material.
It seems Mr. Sorrel escaped from Haiti during a slave uprising in the early 1800's. What is more Mr. Sorrel was 1/4 black. He moved to Savannah, hid this fact he was black and became a very successful merchant and shipping magnet. He had a son named Moxley who went onto become a Brigadier General in the CSA. I am not sure that would have thrilled some of the southern participants of what is known in Savannah as "The war of Northern Aggression".
Mr. Sorrel's first wife, who was white, died during child birth. A few years later he married his sister-in-law which was not unusual for the era. One evening during a party, his second wife caught him in a room in the carriage house with his slave Molly, as the guide put it, "reading a book". Another custom of the era. The second wife took umbrage with this, went to the third story of the house and jumped off the balcony, killing herself in front of all the guests. As was not the custom.
Not too long after the suicide, Molly turned up hanging from the rafters of her room. This was ruled a suicide also. According to the guide she was found hanging about two feet off the ground with nothing to stand on near her. Apparently in Savannah in the 1800's this could be ruled a suicide. Now a-days we tend to classify people hanging with nothing to stand on or jump off of as a homicide. But we have the benefit of the fine crime drama CSI to help solve these sort of crimes. I am sure the ruling of suicide had nothing to do with the fact she was a slave, and according to the guide Mr. Sorrel's sons blamed Molly for their mom's death.
This house has been featured on the HGTV program, "If Walls Could Talk", Ghost Hunter, "Savannah", several articles, and is supposedly one of the finest examples of Greek Revival Architecture. I just know it is a neat house with a lot of stories attached to it, including one that there are bodies buried in the basement from a shelling of the city during the revolutionary war. Sarah had quite a bit of fun trying to tip toe around the bodies when we walked in the basement.
With the completion of this tour the day was complete. We did a little shopping and square ogling then headed back to the hotel for some free wine and dinner. Then it was off to bed to prepare for a trip to the beach on Thursday.