One of my favorite monuments downtown, right near the center of the Historic District, is the Oglethorpe Monument, dedicated to the memory of James Edward Oglethorpe, founder of the colony of Georgia. As an M.P. in Britain, Oglethorpe was a dedicated reformer, who challenged the system of debtors' prisons then in place. He saw Georgia as an opportunity for England's "worthy poor" to start anew as farmers, merchants, or in other professional class occupations. Oglethorpe also steadfastly opposed slavery in the new colony, although probably more for pragmatic reasons, that moral ones.
His monument, designed by Daniel Chester French and Henry Bacon, was unveiled in Chippewa Square in 1910 (you better know Chippewa Square as the place where Forest Gump waited for the bus; you better know French as the man who who designed the iconic seated Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial). The monument features a warlike Oglethorpe in the midst of four ferocious, shield-bearing lions, each one displaying a different coat of arms on his shield: that of (1) the Colony of Georgia, (2) the State of Georgia, and (3) the City of Savannah, and (4) Oglethorpe, himself. These lions are proud defenders to Oglethorpe as he faces south, the direction of his enemies, the Spanish, who then occupied Florida as colonists. It's a stirring scene, and a perfect example of animals as representations of our traditionally more noble traits.
|Lion with Oglethorpe's coat of arms|
|Lion with the Seal of the Colony of Georgia|
For a perfect contrast, look no farther than the Andrew Low House on Lafayette Square. Andrew Low was a wealthy Scottish merchant who made his fortune in cotton in Savannah before the Civil War. His home was built by architect John Norris and completed in 1848, eventually hosting such notable guests as General Robert E. Lee and William Makepeace Thackeray. Juliet Gordon Low, founder of the Girl Scouts, was Low's daughter-in-law, and died here in 1927.
|Andrew Low House|
With such a storied history, you'd think that the entrance to the Low residence would project all of the glory and dignity of its owner and tenants. Or maybe you'd expect a couple of formidable guardians for intimidating ne'er-do-wells. What you get instead is a pair of defeated and emaciated felines who look more like rescues than noble beasts. Where they sit, eternally, outside the front door, they can hardly be said to be defending anything, too distracted to take the slightest notice of intruders. While I can't seem to find a direct explanation for why they're portrayed this way, it seems that Low's wife and son died before the house was completed. Perhaps, then, the lions are sharing Low's grief, as they collectively mourn the complete household they were never able to experience. The lions, forever mournful, evoke the same gloom today as they did then; the loss just as painful to them now as it was 160 years ago.
These two examples mark opposite extremes (the highs and the lows) of the many animal representations all around the city. When done masterfully, they capture and express human emotion more eloquently than can be done even with human form. As I continue to learn more about our adopted home, expect to find similar posts here in the future, showcasing and celebrating the large variety of our Savannimals.