Sunday, December 2, 2007

Happy Anniversary, You Turkey

Sapelo Island, GA - One of the many joys of relocating across the continent is the discovery of new places, new people, and new local lore. Sapelo Island, pronounced SAP-uh-low by the black descendants - still in residence - of Thomas (Father of Georgia's sugar industry) Spalding's slaves, is a beautiful Island 11 miles long by 2 to 3 miles wide, and reached only by a passenger ferry. A succession of White ownership after the great 'Late Unpleasantness' (my favorite local term for the "War of Attempted Secession") eventually lead to the island being sold in 1934 to tobacco magnate RJ Reynolds, Jr. Among the many tasks Mr. Reynolds undertook on Sapelo was to "consolidate" the existing Black communities of Hog Hammock, Raccoon Bluff and Shell Hammock into a single settlement at HH. But there was a whimsy to this chain-smoker. He added to the existing mansion and farm, but also built a movie theater on the second floor of the main dairy barn. (Forget about any smell of freshly-popped corn.) He hired Athos Menaboni to paint murals in his 'Circus Room' and pirate scenes in his basement. But it is a special commission for a special spouse that catches most visitor's eyes and fancies. By all accounts, there was precious little love lost between RJ Reynolds, Jr., and his third wife Muriel Marston Reynolds. RJ Jr., who died of emphysema in 1964 - he loved his Winstons, if not Muriel - presented his tertiary spouse one anniversary day with a specially designed commission by Fritz Zimmer: A Real Turkey of a Fountain. Little wonder then, that the divorce proceedings between the two were described as "bitter." When the divorce was finalized, Reynolds married a fourth wife, Annemarie Schmidt, and died before the end of the year. Muriel - that anniversary gift (and probably other insults) still in mind - continued to fight the divorce even with Jr's. remarriage and death. She lost, but the fountain - albeit dry - still stands today: a monument to traditional marriage and family values.