October 2014 – Dreadful Pestilence: Savannah’s Yellow Fever in 1820
As the world turns its attention today to the plight of a mysterious and incurable sickness an ocean away, the Davenport House Museum is gearing up to portray a devastating and mystifying fever from 194 years ago. For years, the Davenport House has presented its Dreadful Pestilence living history program in October, offering the public a dramatic presentation on Savannah history. “There is relevance to seeing how people heard about and handled the 1820 yellow fever epidemic when a tenth of the population of the city – over 600 people – succumbed,” offers Jamie Credle, director of the House Museum. While the program’s intention is to entertain, it is also an opportunity for perspective-taking on how Savannahians handled the turmoil.
The award-winning program has been revised to include new components and examples of specific aspects of the epidemic. “1820 was a terrible year. It is not an exaggeration to call it a year of disasters,” says program creator Raleigh Marcell. This year’s presentation will take into account the fire that leveled 400 buildings – most of the center of the city. Eyewitness accounts of the January fire will begin the program followed by a town hall meeting which airs the public debate between the town’s competing newspapers over the nature of the illness and whether there was really an epidemic or just mass hysteria. While couched in 19th century languages the concerns being dealt with, particularly the community’s handling of a catastrophe, have a contemporary feel.
Small groups will visit the Historic House by candlelight seeing – vignettes depicting facets of daily life during the time of crisis. Local ladies will mourn the passing of a loved one, providing contemporary insights into the nature of death and the spirit world. A doctor will share his new treatment devised to combat the fever. A free-man-of-color will convey the transitory nature of life in the Yamacraw section of Savannah and how society dealt with panic and loss.
Offered on Friday and Saturday evenings throughout October, the Museum produces this program to give visitors an opportunity to see the house at night and to experience the way it was “back then.” “There are very few opportunities for people to see Savannah historic houses at night and we know that, particularly in October, people will be searching for ghostly and weird things to do in `America’s Most Haunted City,’’’ says Credle. “The DH’s show provides patrons a realistic counterpoint to the everyday ghost story. It’s truly a Savannah story. ”
The 2014 production will be the final season for the Dreadful Pestilence program, and those interested in attending are encouraged to purchase advance tickets. The cast of volunteer performers includes Kate Bosen, Jamie Credle, Pat Fraker, Jeff Freeman, Anne Hagan, Sage Hooten, Sherene LaMarche, Jody Leyva, John Leonti, Raleigh Marcell, Mary Allison McCarthy, Cathie Morris, Jarrod Smith, Jan Vach and Iain Woodside. The exceptional interpreter Jamal Touré will return to perform as Mingo Bwa. Raleigh Marcell and Touré create the program for the Davenport House.
For information or to reserve tickets, please contact the Davenport House Museum at 912-236-8097 or info@davenporthousemuseum. Tickets may also be purchased in person at the Museum. Please note there is limited seating.