Southern Fortitude

It was a bad day for Col. Charles Olmstead and the Confederate Army on April 10, 1862, when Capt. Quincy Gillmore’s Union artillery attacked Fort Pulaski from the northwest beachhead of Tybee Island, forcing its surrender thirty hours later,

direction dial

and proving that a seemingly invincible coastal fortification that required 25 million bricks, 18 years, and $1 million to build could never catch up to evolving weapons technology.

Overview

Even 7½-inch-thick mortar walls were insufficient to protect the Fort’s garrison from the explosive bombardment of Gillmore’s experimental rifled cannon fire from one mile away.

gate

Construction on Fort Pulaski began in 1829 as part of the Third System–in defense of Savannah’s 20,000 citizens and dynamic seaport–adopted by President Madison in response to the War of 1812.

Gorge Wall

With Fort Sumter under Confederate control by Christmas, 1860, Gov. Joseph Brown ordered state militia to seize Fort Pulaski–still unoccupied by Federal troops–on January 3, 1861…

Demilune

…and transferred ownership to the Confederacy following Georgia’s succession on January 19, 1861.

the yard

It was a controversial gambit that ultimately escalated into eleven States joining the Confederacy–spiraling the South into Civil War by April 12, 1861.

spiral stairs

Every Picture Tells a Story

It’s happy hour in the heart of Savannah’s historic City Market, where the American Prohibition Museum is surrounded by bars, cafes and restaurants…serving alcohol–a decided irony for the two museum attendants who may be wondering whether they will ever attract any patrons, sober or otherwise.

unintended consequences (2)

 

*This photograph is a small part of a much bigger story about Savannah, Georgia…with pictures and words entitled L’Chaim–yet another irony, given the universality of the word when toasting with an alcoholic beverage!

 

L’Chaim

A second pass through historic Savannah on our way north left us with a day to cover a small part of the city left unseen from our last visit. Previously, Leah and I had budgeted two days in Savannah–between Thanksgiving and Christmas–as we ever-so-slowly slipped into our winter’s hibernation in Florida. Additionally, our obligation to celebrate Dad’s 93rd birthday in West Palm Beach (Happy Birthday, Dad!) on December 11th didn’t leave us much wriggle room for extra time.

Nevertheless, our first visit was rewarding, with memorable stops to: Bonaventure Cemetery, a fabled 18-century burial ground;

Bacon (2)

the revival of River Street, along the Savannah River;

Georgia Queen (3)

neighboring City Market, an 18th-century open-air marketplace;

unintended consequences (2)

Forsyth Park, with its famous oak-lined pathway…

Forsyth Park

leading to legendary Forsyth Park Fountain;

Forsyth Park Fountain

and finishing at the landmark Gothic-Revival Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist, the centerpiece of the historic district.

St. John exterior

But Savannah’s geo-positioning (part of the I-95 corridor) made it an easy transition point for routing our return home, and a welcoming destination for a second helping of Southern hospitality…and of course, we were not disappointed.

“So, we have another day here,” announced Leah. “How would you like to spend it?”

“You’re probably gonna laugh,” I stated seriously, “but just like Charlotte, there’s lots of Jewish heritage in Savannah, and there’s a historic congregation in the historic district we could check out.”

“But it’s Saturday, so there’s no way we’re getting in during the Sabbath,” she forewarned, so the best you could expect is an outside picture of the building.”

“Unless we attend services.” I added. “C’mon, it’ll be spiritually enlightening, and you can pray we made the right choice by relocating to St. Augustine.”

We arrived at Congregation Mikve Israel, walked past a uniformed police officer, and through the anointed doors…

doors

where we were met by welcoming ushers who immediately apologized for the temple’s appearance, and offered us a program outlining Catherine’s Bat Mitzvah. We were twice surprised.

Ordinarily, we would have taken a seat at the back of the temple making it easy to leave at our earliest convenience, but it seems that God had other plans for us.

We crossed a chuppah of scaffolding shrouding one-half of the sanctuary’s neo-Gothic architecture, and placing the back rows of the pews off-limits.

scaffolding

Instead, we took a seat closer to the altar among other congregants, while feeling somewhat out of place.

Bimah and Ark

We opened our siddurim to the selected text announced by Rabbi Haas, and subsequently followed the service to its conclusion, as it was meticulously led from the bimah by Catherine.

Catherine at the ark

While chanting familiar prayers with familiar melodies, I reflected on the original forty-two Sephardim and Ashkenazim who disembarked from the William and Sarah in 1733–having sailed aboard a London vessel bound for Oglethorpe’s fledgling colony in Georgia with their precious Sefer Torah in tow–

1733 Torah (3)
1733 Torah

in search of religious freedom and a fresh start.

1737 Torah
1737 Torah

As we prepared to exit after the last refrain of Adon Olam had echoed through the hall, we were approached by an elder of the congregation who encouraged us to stay behind and enjoy lunch with the other members in celebration of Catherine’s mitzvah.

There was no way of turning down Jack’s invitation. He wasn’t taking “no” for an answer. We feasted on lemon chicken, orzo with roasted vegetables, artisan lettuce with dressing, mixed fruit salad, and challah. The company at our table was as delightful and fulfilling as the meal.

During dessert…

cake

we lamented over a missed opportunity to learn more about Mikve Israel’s storied history, given that tours only occur on weekdays. However, a temple docent–conveniently seated at our table–volunteered to escort us to the second floor for a personal inspection of museum exhibits…

 

Wall of Presidents

GW decree
“… May the same wonder-working Deity, who long since delivering the Hebrews from their Egyptian Oppressors planted them in the promised land – whose providential agency has lately been conspicuous in establishing these United States as an independent nation – still continue to water them with the dews of heaven and to make the inhabitants of every denomination participate in the temporal and spiritual blessings of that people whose God is Jehovah.”

Ford's visit

A Colonial Congregation (2)

Historic Preservation (2)

Building for a Congregation (2)

and museum artifacts…

artifacts1

artifacts2

artifacts3

As serendipitous as this adventure was, I knew as I descended the stairs…

window and stairs

that I was meant to tell the story of Mikve Israel’s descendants: about their unwavering regard for their American Revolutionary roots, their continuing crusade for community; and their unconditional code of acceptance and inclusion.

Leah and I were invited to return and sample real Southern Jewish hospitality the next time we pass through Savannah, and I think that’s an invitation that I can easily accept, regardless of the obstacles.

scaffolding1 (2)

Cross Beams

Life on the road can be unsettling to the soul, so from time to time–when passing through towns and cities–we’ll randomly take our time to wander through a variety of houses of worship for a healthy dose of salvation and inner peace.

As we’ve wound our way across America, several sanctuaries have stood out for their historical significance, stunning architecture, and their integration into the communities they serve.

The chapel of the Mission San Antonio de Valero, better known as the Alamo, was founded in the early 18th century as a Roman Catholic mission along the San Antonio River,

exterior choir

and distinguished itself as the Shrine of Texas Liberty, commemorating the Battle of the Alamo on March 6, 1836, when a 13-day siege ended in the Mexican army’s victory over 189 Texian soldiers.

lone star flag

Originally, the compound was intended as an education center for America’s Indians who converted to Christianity,

compound.jpg

but, ultimately the Alamo became a fortress of New Spain militiamen after the Franciscan missionaries abandoned it in 1793.

interior1

In 2015, the Alamo was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

profile


While exploring Big Sky country around Helena, Montana, Leah and I visited the Cathedral of St. Helena,

cathedral exterior

a Roman Catholic parish patterned after the Gothic form of Votive Church in Vienna, Austria,

buttress (2)

and distinctive for its 59 stained glass windows depicting scenes from the Old and New Testaments.

nave

Nearly destroyed by an earthquake in 1935, the cathedral was restored to its original design after three years of reconstruction.

rose window

The interior was gilded in time for the Cathedral’s Golden Jubilee in 1959,

lights

and included in National Register of Historic Places in 1980–giving the residents of Helena something to crow about.

rose window perch


Romanesque architecture defines the exterior of the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, completed in 1914,

cathedral ext

and attributed to patron Saint Louis IX, King of France.

ceiling of the Narthex (2)

However, the interior reflects from a Byzantine style rooted in soaring domes and mosaic art.

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Installation of the Cathedral’s mosaics–which adorn almost every decorative surface of wall, ceiling and dome–began in 1912 and was completed in 1988.

depiction of Pentacost

Twenty different artists collectively inlaid 41.5 million tessarae tiles of 7,000 colors, covering 83,000 square feet, making it the largest mosaic collection in the world.

depiction of Easter

Pope John Paul II designated the Cathedral a basilica in 1997, where it acts as the mother church for the Archdiocese, and seat of its archbishop.

Historic Bay


In stark contrast, the Cadet Chapel–a multi-faith house of worship–soars heaven-bound at the Air Force Academy campus located in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

chapel exterior

With 17 upright wings on edge, and piercing the sky at 150 feet, the Cadet Chapel is a stirring example of modern American Architecture.

chapel 2xt (2)

Constructed mostly of aluminum, glass, and steel,

chapel alter (2)

the main sanctuary is home to an Air Force Academy demographic that is primarily Protestant.

chapel int (2)

However, the lower level of the structure houses chapels and prayer rooms for Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and Orthodox Christians.

lower level chapels.jpg

The Cadet Chapel was awarded the American Institute of Architects’ Twenty-five Year Award in 1996, and was named a U.S. National Historic Landmark in 2004.

stained glass ceiling


Also reflective of modern American architecture, and an homage to nature in its purest form is Thorncrown Chapel, nestled in the Ozarks of Arkansas, on the edge of Eureka Springs.

Exterior

Constructed from the same Southern pine indigenous to the site, the chapel is so integrated into the landscape that it stealthily stands camouflaged by its surroundings,

camouflage

and represents an inside/outside sensibility, with Arts and Crafts flourishes.

pews and lights

Thorncrown Chapel was named a National Historic Place in 2000, and received the Twenty-five Year Award by the American Institute of Architects in 2006 for design of enduring significance.

crossbeams


The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Savannah, Georgia is a Roman Catholic sanctuary built in the French Gothic style, and was dedicated in 1876.

St. John exterior

Twelve years later, fire gutted the interior, leaving behind only the walls and towers.

reference sign

Overcoming adversity, the church community quickly rebuilt much of what was destroyed, and resumed inside services in 1900,

alter

while interior decoration continued for an additional 13 years,

pews

to restore the stained glass and organ loft to its original splendor.

pipe organ

Embedded in Savannah’s Historic District, the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist was awarded landmark status by the National Park Service in 1966.

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Lastly, in our effort to somehow balance the preponderance of churches and chapels we’ve toured, we visited Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim Synagogue in the Historic District of Charleston, South Carolina.

exterior

Kahal Kadosh is notable as the country’s second oldest synagogue, and the oldest in continuous use. Established in 1749, Kahal Kadosh grew into America’s largest and wealthiest Jewish community by the end of the 18th century.

historic landmark

A new vision of American Reform Judaism originated at this site in 1824 after parting ways from its conservative Sephardic origins.

1st temple (3)

After Charleston’s fire of 1838 ravaged the city and destroyed the synagogue, a new Greek revival style was adopted for the new structure, with rich interior ornamentation,

Greek Revival

reminiscent of Greek temples.

peeling ceiling

Jewish services, according to reformist rituals and practices, were now conducted in English, with a new emphasis on organ music, and women were encouraged to participate with men on the main floor, breaking with a long-standing tradition of separation and isolation in the sanctuary balconies.

pipe organ (2)


The rich history and diversity of religion and protected religious freedoms in America cannot be overlooked as increased debate centers around self-centered interpretations of our Constitution’s First Amendment.

Moral outrage and hubris abound as politicians and public figures drape themselves in stars and stripes, while preaching to their flock from behind protective glass with handfuls of stones at the ready.

A reckoning of biblical proportion awaits us if we cannot ascend beyond our intolerance, and let each other live as we would have others let us live–in peace and without judgement.

Amen.

Mercer’s Swan Song

High on a bluff, overlooking the Wilmington River, sits Bonaventure Cemetery, 160 acres of inspired Southern Gothic funerary art and monuments worthy of any fabled ghost story setting, and one of the most hauntingly beautiful resting places found in America.

Named Bonadventure–good fortune in Italian–and conceived as a 9,920-acre plantation stretching from Ebenezer to Sunbury, Georgia, the land owners, Tattnall Sr. and Mullryne (son and father-in-law) mistakenly sided with King George III during the Revolutionary War, and were immediately denounced as traitors and stripped of their holdings by a Georgia council.

Tattnall Jr. returned from England soon after the war and reacquired a 750-acre tract of the property, where he settled with his Savannah-bred wife and family, before selling to Peter Wiltberger in 1846, who converted the land to a cemetery.

The day of our visit was dreary and wet, and it seemed fitting that the Spanish moss draped over 300 year-old oak trees would be weeping from the occasional drizzle.

Theuslandscape

Oddly, two sets of gates provide access to the graveyard: a Christian wing to left…

Christian entrance

and a Jewish gate to the right.

Bonaventure gate for Jews

We approached a gravedigger who was stepping out of his pick-up.

“I couldn’t help but notice the Jewish stars on top of the gate posts,” observed Leah.

“Yes, ma’am,” responded Doug, “This here’s a public cemetery.”

So Christians and Jews are buried together?” I questioned.

“Yes, sir,” agreed Doug. “Each religion’s got their own separate sections, and…”

“And there’s still room inside?” Leah interrupted.

“Yes, ma’am. I dug two fresh graves today. But you can’t buy your way in anymore, cuz everything’s all sold out long ago. But people keep askin’. I guess they’s dyin’ to get in,” joked Doug.

Fascinating!

We set off to explore. The cemetery was unexpectedly quiet for being a top attraction for curiosity seekers, and the bereaved.

Bonaventure Lane

We were on separate missions. Leah went in search of her namesake, and found her in a short matter of time.

Leah Goldstein

Whereas, I was in search of Johnny Mercer’s memorial–the legendary lyricist who penned over 1500 songs, was nominated for 14 Academy Award nominations, won Oscars for The Days of Wine and Roses, Moon River, In the Cool, Cool, Cool, of the Evening, and On the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe, and co-founded Capitol records–which turned into more of a scavenger hunt.

Resorting to the internet, I discovered the section and plot (H-48), but finding it was another matter, since the layout is unlike any grid, with over 31,000 burial records to date.

map.jpg

Leah went one way, and I went another. We wandered aimlessly through rows and rows of plots till we plotzed. I quickly understood why guided tours through Bonadventure Cemetery are so popular.

Eventually, I got some help from a pair of caretakers who were blowing damp leaves across the dirt and gravel roads. They were eager to help, but my inability to translate Malaysian, turned my request into a game of Charades.

Using broken English and hand gestures, they redirected us to the general vicinity, where we crossed paths…

intersection

with officers…

General Anderson

Wheaton and wife

and gentlemen…

Morgan

Rauers

Dieter

ladies…

Hartridge

Ives

…and children.

4 babies

We wound our way through Section H until signs pointed to Johnny Mercer’s shrine of hits.

Johnny Mercer site

JM bench

Also in the vicinity, lies Georgia’s poet laureate and tragic orphan, Conrad Aiken,

Conrad Aiken

who is buried beside his father who murdered his mother, before turning the gun on himself when Conrad was 11-years old. Conrad went on to study at Harvard, where he was mentored by T.S. Eliot, and won the Pulitzer Prize for Selected Poems in 1930.

Another literary thread woven through the Bonaventure fabric includes New York Time’s longest-standing (216 weeks) bestseller, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, a true tale written by John Berendt.

midnight-in-the-garden-of-good-and-evil

The book cover featured Sylvia Shaw Judson’s Bird Girl, who graced the graveyard in relative obscurity for decades, until fans of the book sought out the statue’s location at Bonaventure, and began chipping away at its base for souvenirs. Eventually, Bird Girl was rescued and resettled in Savannah’s Telfair Museum of Art, where she can rest in one piece.

Bonaventure Cemetery under overcast skies during late autumn appears mostly monochromatic and presents a solemn and sombre mood. There are occasional pops of color from late blooms, to liven up a lifeless location,

angel and roses

but I was unprepared for the cheeky display I discovered on my way out.

cheeky Vaughn

For me, this represents a bonafide celebration of a life once lived, versus a death soon forgotten.