Have you heard of the Waving Girl? The statue of Florence Martus gilded in bronze off River Street depicts the young woman waving her handkerchief at ships passing by on the Savannah River.
Maybe you’ve heard someone tell you that Martus was waving to a lover who she hoped would return soon. After all, that was the romantic local legend published as early as 1904.
In fact, there were several stories about why Martus was waving. Albeit, most recently, in an article published in 2009, Savannahian and Athens Banner-Herald reporter Erin Rossiter dug up the real reason Martus was waving.
Rossiter found a quote in her research where Martus explained before her death: “That’s a nice story. But what got me started — I was young and it was sort of lonely on the island for a girl. At first I would run out to wave at my friends passing, and I was tickled when they blew the whistle back at me.”
Martus waved her handkerchief to ships passing by for 44 years. Her story is one that traces the roots of our heritage of being the “Hostess City of the South.” It may not be the most important story to tell of our history, but it is a regular story told by tour guides.
With a city as full of rich history as Savannah, it’s no wonder that there are quite a few who make their living off sharing Savannah’s stories.
The tour guides in Savannah have recently undergone several changes. The City of Savannah changed the ordinance that regulates who, how, when and where tour guides can do business.
Back in September, Savannah Morning News reported some of those changes, in particular the elimination of guides to pass a written history test.
After the city stopped certifying tour guides based on a test, industry stakeholders and tour guides approached the Tourism Leadership Council (TLC) about taking up the charge. The consensus was that those who recommend tours to the guest, want tour guides to have proved their basic knowledge of history for our community. They wanted to have a certification process to help maintain the quality of the tour product.
The TLC assembled a committee made up of expert historians and stakeholders including Georgia Historical Society, Armstrong State University, tour guides from large companies and tour guides with no employees. This committee reviewed and revamped the official tour guide manual to include the updated quote from Martus that was published in 2009. Just recently they made the tour guide manual available online at www.SavannahTourGuides.com.
They made other corrections as well, like adding the history of the “Weeping Time.” This was the largest single sale of slaves in the United States, which occurred about 3 miles west of town, at the Ten Broeck Race Course in 1859. The event was reported widely throughout the North, the most notable coverage coming from an undercover journalist, Mortimer Thomson.
It’s important to have a committee that is able to correct and amend our tour guide manual.
Tourism must also be fluid in being able to offer the guests what they want. And the buzz word right now is that guests want an authentic experience. As Daniel Carey with Historic Savannah Foundation recently said, “Tourists want history, warts and all.”
While history doesn’t change, the information that we have does. Experts are uncovering new information all of the time, and that shapes what and how we regale our past. The last time the tour guide manual had been updated was 2007.
While the TLC takes on the certification charge, it’s important to remember that it is voluntary. Tour guides have every right to share whatever stories they wish. We just hope to provide the material that is historically accurate and relevant.
If you’re a tour guide, we encourage you to check out the manual and use it as a resource to provide history to your guests, and when you’re ready to get certified, check out the certification process at www.SavannahTourGuides.com.
Before Florence Martus ever waved her handkerchief to ships passing by, an ironclad confederate ship, the CSS Georgia was scuttled. Just last year, researchers began salvaging the ship and who knows what they’ll unearth. We know that it will be something we can add to the tour guide manual and to the story of Savannah’s history.
Michael Owens is president/CEO of the Tourism Leadership Council, the largest nonprofit trade organization that supports and represents the tourism community. Contact Owens at email@example.com or by calling 912-232-1223.