Song for Lazaretto

Real Spooks © 2012 cynthiakinkel

Tybee Island Ghosts…

“SONG FOR LAZARETTO” – f# minor (copyright Jan. 2001)

1. It runs to the mouth of South Channel, with the tide, it meanders ’round winding its way through the marsh’s waving grasses and soggy ground. It curves like a rippled gray ribbon, the sash on a satin gown, and touches the back of the island on the side where the sun goes down. Many red sunsets have lingered high above this floating plain, to promise relief from the storms at sea – from the waves, the wind, and the rain.

2. The Uchee walked on Tybee long before the Spanish came; … from the Hitchiti-Maya word for ‘salt,’ the island got its name. Though fearsome pirates ventured here whose deeds became renowned, where Blackbeard buried his treasure dear, has never yet been found. While pirate days were numbered, also, French and Spanish gain, the English anchored at Tybee, determined to remain.

3. The founders envisioned Savannah: ‘No tenured property – a viceless, yeoman’s utopia; no rum, no slavery.’ Then trade in Chatham began to fail, and small farms but survived, while over in South Carolina, the rice plantations thrived. As loss and disenchantment overshadowed past convictions, they offered the land grant titles, and lifted the slave restrictions.

4. For years, when ships reached Tybee Light, they’d stop at South Channel Sound. They’d unload the sick and the dying, both the free, … and the bound. They’d leave them here, where this little creek, still far from Savannah town, touches the back of the island on the side where the sun goes down … at a place called ‘lazaretto,’ where a quarantine would hold all the ones with dreaded diseases, and the ones too sick to be sold.

5. While great blue herons nested out beyond the island’s view, mosquito swarms would buzz and bite ’til evening breezes blew. Windswept cedars, and pines, and palms, and crooked oak trees spread … alms of mercy at ‘lazaretto,’ like a summons to ‘raise the dead.’ Though comforters braved the perils, and full moons waxed and waned, there was no such ‘resurrection,’ for the dying who remained.

Refrain 1: Lazaretto! Here, beyond the stormy sea, was no promise for tomorrow, in your sunset reverie? Why must these things be so? What hope can ever be, as we lie here, Lazaretto, to rise again and be free?

6. Now, the South had known misfortune, but the price was high to pay, when the Union armies marched right in, and took it all away. Though Sherman spared Savannah the flames that others knew, the way of life was ended … and the means of living, too. While great plantations emptied, and the fields were laid so low, the slaves were freed, but many stayed. They’d nowhere else to go.

7. But the worst they’d fear on Tybee now were fevers and hurricanes. The days of the quarantines would close, leaving the last remains of the site where many perished, tide-washed and over-grown, … while rails were laid, then, a road was made, and seeds of progress, sown. Nothing survives to mark the graves of the souls lost in that place, … nothing perhaps, but a secret mark, that time cannot erase.

8. Today, the bridge that spans the creek affords a scenic view of the waters off Cockspur Light, as they rush to the ocean blue. Here, the island ‘shrimpers’ dock, and nearby, dolphins play, while hungry seabirds circle low to scavenge what they may … and out on the west horizon, where the miles of marshes grow, the sunsets still do linger as they did so long ago.

9. Many tales are told of those who’ve walked these timeless beaches, and the ways of former slaves live on where the GeeChee culture reaches. The creek still curves like a ribbon, as it winds along with the tide, though it cannot tell a single word how any have lived or died, but at times out here, there’s a sound on the wind, the voice of a memory, that fills the heart of these marshes, like the tide that’s up from the sea,

Refrain 2: “Lazaretto, … many things should never be as the deeds and reasons sleeping fill the pages of history. Yet, there is no doubt as the years rush out to meet eternity, they who lie here in the depths below, … asleep in mystery ….

10. … May also hear that trumpet blow beyond the stormy sea – down … where your waters flow the day you set them free … down, …where your waters flow on the sundown side of Tybee, … like a witness, Lazaretto, you wait so patiently – a witness, Lazaretto, wait and see…”

* * * * * *

Copyright 2012 – 2021, Real Spooks – Cynthia Farr Kinkel

A Chill in the Basement… and a history lesson.

Palm-sunset

“SONG FOR LAZARETTO” (copyright 2001)

Tybee Island Ghosts…

After researching the history of Tybee’s Lazaretto Creek some years ago, I wrote an article for The Tybee Times called,  “A Lazaretto Primer,”  … also wrote a poem that later became a song which incorporates an interpretation of that history. 

I don’t presume to know any particulars besides what’s written here, and of course there may be others on Tybee and elsewhere who can add more accurate details.

Some have labeled the following tale a “ghost story.” I agree, for as the bitter cold of Ohio’s winter in 2001 piled snow high outside our basement windows, I had what some might describe as a ‘visitation.’ The encounter caught me off guard, and whatever happened, it cured my writer’s block once and for all. Never again will I put off writing when such inspiration calls.

This story has been revised twice and appears on other sites with updates. The events are true, but since feelings are subjective, I’ll let the reader decide between fact and fiction.

It was January 2001, on the eve of the death of my family friend and mentor, Emma Kelly, Johnny Mercer’s “Lady of 6000 Songs.” John Berendt’s novel, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil devotes an entire chapter to this beloved local character. I was in the basement of our Silver Lake home carrying out a New Year’s resolution to clean out my desk. While sorting through junk mail that had accumulated in the middle drawer, I noticed a small blue pamphlet brought back from Tybee Island the summer before. It was a folksy promotional piece picked up at the Tybee Lighthouse gift shop, and it provided a pleasant diversion from the howling blizzard outside. To my surprise, it mentioned a ‘quarantine’ that had once operated on the far west side of the island. Though I’d grown up in the region, and paid many visits to Tybee, this was news to me. Of course, it wasn’t the most documented of local attractions.

It hardly takes a snowstorm — I’d choose research over cleaning any day — to get out my southern history books, and begin an online search. I ended up spending the rest of the evening, and much of the next day at the local library, delving into the fascinating history of Georgia: Savannah and Tybee Island, in particular, including the presence of the Spanish, the native Americans, the pirates, and events surrounding the Civil War between the states.

The pamphlet had specifically mentioned the ‘Uchee’ Indians (Euchee/Yuchi). I’ve since learned that while it’s true that the word “Tybee” is derived from the word Taube, which means ‘salt,’ the word is actually Itza Maya, Apalache Creek/Itzate (Hitchiti)

The Euchee lived along the banks of the Oconee, and at the headwaters of the Ogeechee, Chatanooga, and Savannah Rivers, and while being associated for a time with the islands of Wahale (or Guale) including Tybee, they seem to have merely adopted the word as their own. The native American hunters who initially inhabited the mouth of the Savannah River were, in fact, “Chicora,” but that’s another story altogether…

Twenty miles east of Savannah, Tybee is the most northerly of Georgia’s Golden Isles. A small strip of land juts westward from the island into a vast area of coastal marshlands. This strip with immediate access to the Savannah River shipping channel became the location for two consecutive quarantines that operated during the late 1700s into the early 1800s.

The first, located on the tidal creek that now bears its name, was simply called a ‘lazaretto.’ At the end of the eighteenth century, it housed unfortunate European immigrants who contracted contagious diseases on board ship during the transatlantic voyage to America. It also served as the ‘welcoming station’ for a host of African slaves who emerged from the cargo holds after the treacherous middle passage.

Like all seaports, Savannah could ill afford contamination of the mainland, so incoming vessels experiencing outbreaks of deadly scourges like yellow fever and cholera were required to unload the sick and cleanse the decks before continuing up river to port. Sometimes they were forced to remain at the mouth of the Savannah River for months before given clearance to proceed.

The present-day Italian term lazaretto, or lazaret simply translated means ‘hospital,’ but in the Middle Ages it literally meant ‘pest house’ – a place for those dying from the plague or leprosy. Derived from the Hebrew word lazar, or leper, it also refers to the biblical figure, Lazarus, the one whom Christ raised from the dead. Research indicates that remote portions of the first quarantine, a 104-acre tract purchased in 1767 from Josiah Tattnall, served as a leper’s colony.

After continuous use throughout the Revolution, in 1785 the Savannah Grand Jury reported the first site in “ruinous condition,” and it was abandoned. A new site was opened across the way on nearby Cockspur Island. I also discovered that in 1954, the Georgia Historical Society placed a marker (pictured below), at the original site’s general vicinity along U.S. Highway 80 East.

That next evening around 9:30 p.m., after everyone else had gone to bed, I returned to the basement and sat down to write. I’d already organized my thoughts into what I decided would be a poem about the history of Savannah, Tybee, and the quarantines. Since I’d never done enough boating around the island or through the marsh to be familiar with specific spots, I set out to describe the place using my imagination as best I could. I’d barely gotten first two lines down, when a strange thing happened. It began as a slight tingle. Then, as if someone had slipped up beside me, and touched me on the shoulder, there was whispering in my ear.

The words were gibberish, but suddenly, I could feel myself standing shoulder-deep, in cold, rushing water. Tall green grasses were all around, and the banks smelled of salt, and much to my horror, I was being sucked down by the undertow. For several anxious seconds, I felt I was drowning. Then, as quickly as the sensation came, it was gone.

I sat there wondering if I were coming down with something, or maybe, I’d had a heart attack, a stroke — whatever it was, it was real. I left the computer to get a drink of water, and a few minutes later, feeling okay, I resumed my seat to read over the words I’d typed:

“It runs from the mouth of South Channel, with the tide it meanders round…”

It wasn’t late, and I was anything but sleepy. I decided to keep writing. In the back of my mind, I’m sure I was also waiting to see what else might happen. Except for the fact that I couldn’t stop before a ten-versed poem emerged, the rest of the night was uneventful.

Next morning, my mom called from Georgia to tell me that Emma Kelly had died yesterday. Now, I don’t believe for a minute this rather clairvoyant experience had anything to do with Emma, other than the occurrence served to mark her passing for me.

Emma Thompson Kelly (Dec. 17th, 1918 – Jan. 17th, 2001)

The strangest thing was that exactly one year later to the day, January 17th, I was crossing the Lazaretto, coming to live on Tybee Island. In the months that followed, I thought about “Miss Emma” every time I passed the Pirate’s House where she’d played at Hannah’s East in downtown Savannah. I also flashed upon that night in the basement each time I passed over the bridge onto the island. I still think about it sometimes.

It wasn’t until 2005, however, while I was working on an entertainment article for a local publication that I learned the spot on the western side of the island where the fishing fleet now docks was definitely considered to be haunted by some of the locals. I’d hoped to start off with the Marshall  house on Officer’s Row for my series on Tybee ghosts, but it was the holidays and the owners weren’t in town, so I ended up visiting Lazaretto Creek.

When folks at the marina claimed to have seen figures with tattered clothing walking out on the docks in the wee hours, I wasn’t surprised. I was told that on two occasions, one such figure walked right into a room, stood and stared in silence, then disappeared. It’s still a mystery, but it definitely qualified as one of “Lazaretto’s Lost Souls.”

If ever a place had reason to be haunted, this might be one. Granted, it isn’t Gettysburg, Hiroshima, or Dauchau, or a place where millions have suffered, and I don’t wish to labor the point, but eighteenth century necessity paid a brief, costly visit to Lazaretto Creek, another lonely little corner of the world, where outcasts perished. For those dying on the outskirts of the New World after traveling across the vast ocean in hopes of finding a better life, it was a terrible fate. Or imagine being torn away from loved ones and homeland, and thrown into the pain and horror of slavery. After languishing in chains in the stench and filth below deck with the rest of your unfortunate comrades, you’d probably have welcomed death, especially if there was no hope of freedom.

Mercifully, the passage of time has restored the natural tranquility of places like Lazaretto, and when it comes to pinning down real apparitions, some might say there’s more evidence of ‘non-human’ activity in the world, than of human ghosts. Still, our common ground holds many secrets as layer upon layer, generation upon generation lays down in the dust of the earth. There are those who believe the earth has a collective consciousness, a recorded memory of everything that’s ever happened here. Maybe some places hold memories that can ‘speak’ to us beyond the obvious. Maybe some ‘hauntings’ are like video recordings. Something triggers the ‘playback,’ … and the memory plays.

The poem I wrote that snowy night in 2001 is an historical tale influenced by what I felt and sensed, and of course, by what I believe. You’ll find it linked to the photo of the sunset above. Try reading it on the docks at the marina some night, and let me know what you think.

* * * * * *

Copyright 2011, The Tybee Times

Copyright 2012-2021, Real Spooks – Cynthia Farr Kinkel

Allusive, Aloof…

Real Spooks, © 2012 cynthiakinkel

Real Spooks & Specters…

* * * * * *

They ‘travel’ along side us, and haunt the primal recesses of our thoughts and memories.

Often they seem to be mere figments of our imaginations, but only the fact that they make an occasional appearance when we least expect them allows us to relegate them to the land of the ‘supernatural,’ or the ‘supernormal,’…  and there is a difference. 

The reason for that difference and where to draw the line, is the real question, rather than the reality of the existence of the invisible verses the veracity of the observable. In the world of human experience, these perceptions most certainly overlap – the spiritual with the physical, the physiological with the psychological, and so forth. 

The fact that such entities exist and we detect them does not necessarily mean they’ve appeared just for us, any more than a passing bird flies overhead just for us,… unless, of course,… it does. 

Thanks for reading.

* * * * * *

Real Spooks, Copyright 2012 – Cynthia Kinkel & Tom McElheny

* * * * * *

“The Woodticks” by Benjamin Franklin King

(A Poem Often Recited by Ruth Bond Randolph)

* * * * *

Whoooooooo!There’s things out in the forest
That’s worser an’ ‘n owl,
‘At gets on naughty boys ‘n girls
‘At allers wears a scowl.
There’s things out in the forest ‘
At’s worser ‘n a lion,
‘At gets on wicked boys ‘n girls
‘At’s quarrelin’ an’ a-cryin’.
There’s things out in the forest, mind,
An’ if you don’t take care,
The woodticks—-the woodticks—-
Will be crawlin’ thro’ yer hair.

An’ they say as boys is naughty,
An’ their hearts is full o’ sin,
They’ll crawl out in the night time
An’ get underneath yer skin,
An’ the doctor’ll have to take a knife
An’ cut ’em off jes’ so,
An’ if a bit of ’em is left
Another one’ll grow.
An’ mebbe you won’t feel ’em, too,
Er even know they’re there,
But by and by they’ll multiply
And crawl up in yer hair.Wood Tick, too

The devil’s darnin’ needle too,
‘Ill come and sew yer ear.
An’ make a nest inside like that,
An’ then you’ll never hear;
An’ the jigger bugs gets on you,
An the thousand-legged worm
‘Ill make you writhe, an’ twist, and’ groan,
An’ cry, an’ yell, an’ squirm;
But the worst things ‘at’ll git you
If you lie, or steal, or swear,
Is the woodticks—-the woodticks—-
A-crawlin’ thro’ yer hair.

* * * * *

Wood Tick

Benjamin Franklin  King, Jr. (1857–1894) was an American humorist and poet whose work published under the names Ben King or the pseudonym Bow Hackley. He achieved notability in his lifetime and afterwards. King was born in St. Joseph, Michigan, March 1857, and died while on a speaking tour at Bowling Green, Kentucky in April 1894. (Wikipedia)

* * * * *

“Little Orphant Annie” by James Whitcomb Riley

“One of our favorite children’s poems, most certainly meant to be read aloud.”                                                        

Little_Orfant_Annie* * * * * 

Little Orphant Annie’s come to our house to stay, an’ wash the cups an’ saucers up, an’ brush the crumbs away, an’ shoo the chickens off the porch, an’ dust the hearth, an’ sweep, an’ make the fire, an’ bake the bread, an’ earn her board-an’-keep; an’ all us other children, when the supper-things is done, we set around the kitchen fire an’ has the mostest fun a-list’nin’ to the witch-tales ‘at Annie tells about,  An’ the Gobble-uns ‘at gits you Ef you Don’t Watch Out!

Wunst they wuz a little boy wouldn’t say his prayers, –an’ when he went to bed at night, away up-stairs, his Mammy heerd him holler, an’his Daddy heerd him bawl, an’ when they turn’t the kivvers down, he wuzn’t there at all! An’ they seeked him in the rafter-room, an’ cubby-hole, an’ press, an’ seeked him up the chimbly-flue, an’ ever’-wheres, I guess; but all they ever found wuz thist his pants an’ roundabout: –An’ the Gobble-uns ‘ll git you Ef you Don’t Watch Out!

Upstairs_blue_flame_Little_Orphant_Annie copy

 
An’ one time a little girl ‘ud allus laugh an’ grin, an’ make fun of ever’ one, an’ all her blood-an’-kin; an’ wunst, when they was “company,” an’ ole folks wuz there, she mocked ’em an’ shocked ’em, an’ said she didn’t care! An’ thist as she kicked her heels, an’ turn’t to run an’ hide, they wuz two great big Black Things a-standin’ by her side, an’ they snatched her through the ceilin’ ‘fore she knowed what she’s about!  An’ the Gobble-uns ‘ll git you
Ef you Don’t Watch Out!

  

An’ little Orphant Annie says, when the blaze is blue, an’ the lamp-wick sputters, an’ the wind goes woo-oo! an’ you hear the crickets quit, an’ the moon is gray, an’ the lightnin’-bugs in dew is all squenched away, –you better mind yer parunts an’ yer teachurs fond an’ dear, an’ churish them ‘at loves you, an’ dry the orphant’s tear, an’ he’p the pore an’ needy ones ‘at clusters all about, er the Gobble-uns ‘ll git you
Ef you Don’t Watch Out!
 

* * * * * 

 

386623_2600392648098_1755221720_n

Mary Alice “Allie” Smith was James Whitcomb Riley’s inspiration for the above poem originally titled ‘The Elf Child,’ first published in the Indianapolis Journal in November of 1885. Riley was an American writer, poet, and best selling author born in Greenfield, Indiana in 1849. He died in Indianapolis in 1916.  He was known as the “Hoosier Poet” and “Children’s Poet” for his dialect works and his children’s poetry respectively. (Wikipedia)