Chippewa Square

James Oglethorpe gazes south from his permanent residence in Chippewa Square. Daniel Chester French placed the Spanish Invasion there forever in his eyes. You see, Oglethorpe is weathered bronze, French is long dead, and the Spanish are only in the statue’s cold bronze memory.

To the General’s right is the First Baptist Church of Savannah. During the Civil war, while every other church in the city was being used for hosptial duty, First Baptist saw itself become the only house of worship available to “Savannians” of any creed. “Baptists, Catholics, Presbyterians, Blacks, Whites,” as Harry put it. I suppose race was very nearly a religion in that place at that time, though, wasn’t it . . .

“Are you Catholic or Protestant?”

“Protestant,” I said. Baptists are not actually an historical Protestant denomination, having never been affiliated with or part of the Roman Catholic Church; but I decided that particular history lesson had little place there, and let it be.

“You probably sing a lot of hymns, then?” As I affirmed, he went on, “Lowell Mason wrote his five hundred hymns from that church.” That was something I did not know. A prolific and beloved hymnwriter (q.v. “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” and “My Faith Looks Up to Thee”), was actually a member (in fact, the chorister and organist) of Independent Presbyterian, rather than First Baptist (this I found on further study). I had no idea he was even an American. That shows how little of even the history which should matter to me I know.

Next on the slate was North. Independent Presbyterian stands there, stone and imposing as ever it has been. Actually, that is one of the interesting points of its story. It has not always been stone. In 1889 (Harry thought it was around 1870 or ’80), the original church burned. Its replacement was erected in stone, really precluding (in my opinion) the possibility of a second trial by fire.

A second point of interest is the marriage of President Woodrow Wilson, a devoted Presbyterian. Actually, that is a first point of interest, since his marriage to Ellen Louise Axson took place in 1885, four years before the fire.

Moving around the square to the east, you’ll see the Savannah Theatre, the oldest continuously-operating theatre in the United States. True, during a dark time (artistically speaking . . .) in its history it was a movie theatre. However, it is now a live theatre hosting true performing arts on a regular basis. Now, in the grand tradition of giving a story for each location, let me tell you about Charles Coburn.

It’s not exactly “rags to riches”, but have you ever had a friend tell you they work in the film industry, only to find that they are ushering or sweeping at the local theatre? The actor Coburn got his start that way. Beginning as an usher at the Savannah Theatre, Coburn eventually rose to become its manager. Once managing the company tidily, he decided to open his own play on his premises — you get to do that if you own the theatre.

Moral: If you can’t act, buy a theatre so you can cast yourself for any rôle you please.


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