As you approach the park, don’t miss the ornate ironwork on the west side of Bull street marking the Armstrong House, designed by Henrik Wallin. Featured in the 1962 film Cape Fear as well as 1997’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, this Italianate mansion was once home to Armstrong Junior College before its move to the south side. When he’s not practicing law in this building, Sonny Seiler, one of the characters in “The Book,” still raises the University of Georgia’s signature bulldog mascots. Directly across Bull Street is another site of Midnight fame, the Oglethorpe Club, one of the many brick and terra-cotta designs by local architect Alfred Eichberg.
It’s easy to miss, but as you enter the park’s north side, you encounter the Marine Memorial, erected in 1947 to honor the 24 Chatham County Marines killed in World War II. Subsequently, the names of Marines killed in Korea and Vietnam were added.
Look west at the corner of Whitaker and Gaston Streets. That’s Hodgson Hall, home of the Georgia Historical Society. This 1876 building was commissioned by Margaret Telfair to honor her late husband William Hodgson, chief benefactor of the park the house overlooks. The Georgia Historical Society (912/651-2125, www.georgiahistory.com ) administers a treasure of books, documents, maps, photos, and prints that has been a boon to writers and researchers since it was chartered by the state legislature in 1839.
Looking east at the corner of Drayton and Gaston Streets, you’ll see the old Poor House and Hospital, in use until 1854 when it was converted to serve as the headquarters for the Medical College of Georgia. During the Civil War, General Sherman used the hospital to treat Federal soldiers. From 1930 to 1980 the building was the site of Candler Hospital.
Behind Candler Hospital’s cast-iron fence you can soak in the venerable beauty of Savannah ’s most famous tree, the 300-year-old Candler Oak. During Sherman’s occupation, wounded Confederate prisoners were treated within a barricade around the oak. The tree is on the National Register of Historic Trees and was the maiden preservation project of the Savannah Tree Foundation, which secured America’s first-ever conservation easement on a single tree.
Walking south into the park proper you can’t miss the world-famous Forsyth Fountain, an iconic Savannah sight if there ever was one. Cast in iron on a French model, the fountain was dedicated in 1858. Its water is typically dyed green a few days before St. Patrick’s Day. Interestingly, two other versions of this fountain exist — one in Poughkeepsie, New York, and the other in, of all places, the central plaza in Cusco, Peru. Various acts of vandalism and natural disaster took its toll on the fountain until a major restoration in 1988 brought it to its present level of beauty.
Continuing south, you’ll encounter two low buildings in the center of the park. The one on the east side is the so-called “Dummy Fort,” circa 1909, formerly a training ground for local militia. Now it’s the Forsyth Park Café (daily 7 a.m.–dusk, later on festival evenings) managed by the hotel Mansion on Forsyth Park just across Drayton Street.
To the west is the charming Fragrant Garden for the Blind. One of those precious little Savannah gems that is too often overlooked in favor of other attractions, the Fragrant Garden was sponsored by the local Garden Club and based on others of its type throughout the United States.
The tall monument dominating Forsyth Park’s central mall area is the Confederate Memorial, which recently received a major facelift. Dedicated in 1875, it wasn’t finished in its final form until several years later. A New York sculptor carved the Confederate soldier atop the monument. A copy of it is in Poughkeepsie, New York, as a memorial to Federal dead — with the “C.S.A.” on the soldier’s rucksack changed to “U.S.A.” The Bartow and McLaws monuments surrounding the Confederate Memorial were originally in Chippewa Square.
We’ll close the walking tour with my favorite Forsyth Park landmark, at the extreme southern end. It’s the Memorial to Georgia Veterans of the Spanish-American War, more commonly known as “The Hiker” because of the subject’s almost casual demeanor and confident stride. Savannah was a major staging area for that conflict, and many troops were bivouacked in the park. Sculpted in 1902 by Alice Ruggles Kitson, more than 50 replicas of “The Hiker” were made and put up all over the United States; because the same bronze formula was used for all 50 of them, the statues are used by scientists today to gauge the effects of acid rain across the nation.