In October, the historic Davenport House Museum will transport visitors back in time with their live performance, “Sickness in the City – Yellow Fever 1820.”
As in previous years, the iconic home and garden that spurred Savannah’s historic development movement will become a live stage for an immersive theatrical production. Under the guise of nightfall and set in the spooky season of the Deep South, the show aims to give guests a look back at one of Savannah’s darkest times as a deadly disease spread. in all the city.
Davenport House was built in 1820 and is one of Savannah’s oldest restored buildings as the brick structure has stood the test of time. Now preserved as a museum, the staff has always aimed to educate guests about Savannah’s rich history, and this effort is no different.
The event, described as “a living history performance”, will take place on Fridays and Saturdays in October at 7:00 p.m. and 7:15 p.m. and will last 50 minutes for a small audience.
According to organizers, “The show will examine interesting medical treatments from 1820, and attendees will meet ordinary citizens with complaints about government, home remedies, mosquito control, and the real cause of fever.”
The show will function as a recreation of history and seek to humanize events of the past by examining how the yellow fever pandemic has affected residents of Savannah both physically and psychologically.
Jamie Credle, director of the Davenport House Museum, says the idea came to museum staff as they watched a massive crowd gather around the house one evening in October for one of Savannah’s popular ghost tours. Interest in the 19th century house sparked the creation of the show.
While ghost stories often swirl around the house, museum staff wanted to avoid unconfirmed and fictional stories and focus on the true history of the house.
“We wanted to stick to the history that we know. The story of 1820 Savannah, and we couldn’t think of anything as scary as yellow fever. We knew we had an audience in October that would be interested in scary things,” she says.
From this idea, internationally published playwright Raleigh Marcell set to work. Huge amounts of research went into the project which required a deep dive into historical sources of the time, as well as editing vignettes of legendary authors of the time, including Washington Irving and Conrad Aiken of Savannah.
“Everything the characters say is based on the documentation,” Credle explained.
In addition to the yellow fever epidemic, Credle said Savannah faced another problem in the 1820s: housing shortages.
“1820 was a difficult year for Savannah. In January there was a terrible fire that burned about 463 buildings in the city,” she said. “So this disaster brought in new people from all over who were looking to help rebuild the city and earn a living at the same time.”
Credle also noted that as the city became more crowded, more people began to get sick and offered various reasons as to what caused the outbreak.
“There were actually two community newspapers at the time and each had different views on what was really going on in the city regarding yellow fever. But Savannah brought all these new people to town, and they all got sick because the mosquitoes had people not exposed to bite. Theories started to emerge and people started blaming anything and everything, including each other.
Besides not knowing the cause of the outbreak, Credle said the medical community had no idea how to treat the symptoms and the victims were receiving ruthless medical treatment.
“One of our doctors in our program will be discussing the medical treatment of yellow fever and what we would now consider a bit crazy…vomiting and purging, bleeding and blistering,” she said.
As for symptoms, Credle said victims infected with yellow fever would develop a high fever accompanied by chills, headaches, muscle aches and vomiting. Often becoming severe enough to kill, many victims appeared to be on the mend when the infection resulted in shock, bleeding, and kidney and liver failure, killing them.
“That year the city lost about 900 people and most of the victims were buried in Colonial Park Cemetery in unmarked mass graves. It was a devastating year.
While creating a show of this magnitude was no small task, Credle highlighted the collective effort to put on this type of event.
“Everyone who performs in the show is from our community. They are not professional actors. These are people who come together in October to produce a show. Many of them have worked with us before, but we also have new ones, including students from the Savannah area. »
In her eyes, this makes the event even more special, as she feels it is truly a local labor of love. While the story itself is unique to Savannah, in reality every facet of the production was locally produced and infused with the vitality of the townspeople.
Viewers of the show will begin their historic journey at Columbia Square, directly across from Davenport House. From there, they will be guided through the historic red-brick mansion by candlelight in the traditions of a bygone era. Most of the year, the museum closes at 4 p.m., so production attendees will have the rare opportunity to enter the house at night, adding to the ambiance of the experience.
Credle believes that with the recent release of Savannah on the other side of a modern day pandemic shutdown, viewers will connect with the story being told.
“Our goal is to bring history to life and remind people that we’re living history now,” she continues, “story is something that expands your view of the world. It’s something whose people need to understand who they are.
Credle hopes the show will provide Savannah residents with perspective on the benefits of modern life.
“History is all around us,” she said. “We use it to remind people that life would be very different without things like modern sanitation and mosquito control that we have now.”
History experts admit it can become easy for Savannah residents to take the overwhelming amount of history that surrounds them for granted, but the Davenport House, through its mission, aims to promote historical appreciation in the local community. and produce unforgettable experiences of bygone eras.
Viewers are encouraged to purchase their tickets in advance as availability will be limited. This will ensure that viewers can experience the show up close and personal, as audience members will have the special opportunity to enter the quaint 19th century home after the sun has set.
For more information, visit davenporthousemuseum.org