On a recent trip to Georgia and Virginia to visit family, I managed to find all kinds of book nerd delights. Several authors I was well acquainted with but many local finds were unexpected. As blog readers know by now, I have a particular soft spot for Edgar Allan Poe and was happy to add another brush with Poe to my collection. So, without further adieu, here is what I found rambling about the South.
Author Eugenia Price fell in love with St Simons Island, as have I. After visiting Christ Church Cemetery, she became interested in some of the island’s early settlers which lead to her St Simons Trilogy ( The Beloved Invader, New Moon Rising and The Lighthouse ). You can follow her stories with visits to the Lighthouse and to Christ Church. She went on to write many more well loved books, some set in Florida but also a series set in nearby Savannah. She is buried in the Christ Church cemetery near the graves of those characters she brought to life in her books.
Leaving St Simons and an hour up the coast to Savannah, you are in the land of all things Good and Evil. John Berendt’s 1994 book, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, is set in Savannah. You can tour the Mercer House where the murder in the book happened. There are all kinds of tours of the city based on the book. A trip to the evocative Bonaventure Cemetery where the original sculpture for the book cover was originally located is a must. That statue has been moved to protect the cemetery from being overrun with fans of the book but the cemetery offers beautiful flowers, moss draped trees and tombs of unique design. While at Bonaventure, I stopped by the grave of Poet and author, Conrad Aiken. His tomb was mentioned in Berendt’s book as well so is well marked for anyone looking for it. I have not read any of Aiken but after finding his grave, I feel like I should check out his poems and writing. There are many organized tours of the cemetery though the actual cemetery that figures in the book is located in nearby Beaufort.
Once I had my fill of tombs and moss and blooming azaleas, I headed back into the historic district of Savannah to hunt down Flannery O’ Connor. Flannery wrote many short stories and two novels set in the South which are often full of grotesque characters and happenings. Southern Gothic is the term often used to describe her writings which include A Good Man is Hard to Find and the Violent Bear it Away. She was born in Savannah and lived in this house until her mid teens. The house is open limited hours for tours. I didn’t get to go in on this visit so will have to go back. She lived and died in Milledgeville, Georgia and there is a museum there in her memory as well so you could easily add on a visit there to round out your O’ Connor pilgrimage.
Savannah and St Simons island are wonderful destinations for food, beaches, architecture, history, music, gardens and for book lovers! I next headed to Richmond, Virginia to visit my mom. I am there frequently so have done all the major Civil War sights. Richmond too has an awesome cemetery for those who want to find civil war generals and officers and even a few US Presidents ( and one confederate one) but on this trip I skipped all of that. Instead , I took my nephew to Belle Isle for a school project.
Belle Isle is an island in the middle of the James River in downtown Richmond. It is the subject of the book, Hell on Belle Isle, Diary of a Civil War POW by Don Allison. Belle Isle was a Civil War prison for captured Union soldiers. The diary of Osborn Coburn, who spent months starving and freezing out in the open on the Island during the war is a heart breaking read. Thousands of captured soldiers suffered and died here by neglect, including Coburn. Today, it is a green park area where you can walk all over the island and enjoy the rocks and rapids in the river. But the sight of the Tredegar Iron works right across the river is a stark reminder of what this area was like in the 1860s. Tredegar is now a very well done museum of the Civil War which you can tour before or after your visit to Belle Isle.
My family lives in nearby Ashland. Ashland was founded as a railroad town in the mid 1800’s and boasts some beautiful old houses, Randolph Macon College and the home of Patrick Henry and birthplace of Henry Clay. However, one house on the town walking tour caught my eye. 706 Center Street was the home of Sarah Elmira Royster Shelton. So, you ask? She was the childhood sweetheart of Edgar Allan Poe. He left her to attend the University of Virginia and she married another. Poe later wrote Tamerlane, probably about her. After she was widowed, they renewed their friendship. I attended Easter service at my mom’s church, which happens to be the church that Sarah helped establish. Be still my tell tale heart!
I learned all kinds of interesting local history from the Ashland Museum and guide, Nelson Vaughn. While there, we met local author Roseann Groat Shalf and picked up a copy of her book, Ashland, Ashland: The Story of a Turn of the Century Railroad Town. We had lunch at Hanover Tavern in neighboring Hanover, another spot full of history. I never get tired of visiting the south. There is so much to see and do and learn -from the wars that shaped our history to historical and literary figures to beautiful homes and gardens and countryside. My book club just finished America’s First Daughter about Patsy Jefferson. I should head up to Charlottesville and visit Monticello next. So much to see, so little time…