"If you ever wanted to pay money in advance to go someplace overnight that you had no idea where you are going, this is your opportunity." So began the announcement of the Landings Automobile Society's First Overnight Mystery Rallye. We love a good mystery, are always up for a road trip, and can't pass up a bargain, which is what this seemed to be, at $148 per couple, including "unique historic accommodations," dinner and breakfast. We were hooked.
We joined the other 39 rallying cars at our usual Baptist Church parking lot gathering spot, picked up the envelopes with our instructions, and used them to frenetically fan and swat at gnats, which had voracious appetites after being awakened from their winter hibernation by the clear skies and warm temperatures that have finally arrived on our island. Their enjoyment of the moment detracted from ours, and we retreated to our cars a bit prematurely, with hopes that our final destination would be gnat-free.
Our route took us west on rolling rural roads past pine plantations, cotton fields, pecan groves, and small towns that were behind us in minutes, each with a 25 mph speed limit posted at the city limits and a single blinking red signal light in the central business district. We barely missed hitting the biggest tom turkey we have ever seen crossing the road in a wooded area between Claxton, the self proclaimed "Fruitcake Capital of the World," and
We lunched at the only non-chain eatery in McRae, La Fiesta Mexican Restaurant, located just across the street from the town's Liberty Square, featuring reproductions of both the Liberty Bell and the Statue of Liberty which, to put it kindly, were not aging particularly well. Hence, they were our favorite kind of roadside attraction, inspiring Dick to risk being run over by a fully loaded logging truck while he stood in the middle of the main intersection of town getting the best possible angle to photograph Lady Liberty.
Further down the road in Abbeville, Jefferson Davis standing high overhead on a soaring pedestal flanked by two historic markers beckoned us to pull over across the street from a stately county court house.
When we read the words etched on monuments like this one placed by the Daughters of the Confederacy, we often get a different perspective on history than the one we learned in school. In this case, we were particularly struck by the story told on the historic markers, placed by the Georgia Historical Commission in 1957. They told us that Jefferson Davis camped here with his family and soldiers on May 8, 1865, on his way to negotiate "a just peace." Instead, two days later, further down the road, his camp was surrounded by northern regiments, and "he became a state prisoner, his hopes for a new nation in which each state would exercise without interference its cherished constitutional rights, forever dead." Clearly, the wounds of war were still raw with the Georgia Historical Commission over ninety years later.
Our mystery destination turned out to be
With Plains, Georgia less than a dozen miles away and the world headquarters of Habitat for Humanity just down the street, the Windsor boasts of hosting Jimmy and Roslyn Carter often, although we didn't see them there.
The owners of the hotel bear the familiar name of Patel, and we had heard that many in their extended family live on the top two floors, but we were amazed when we peeked into a meeting room with about 100 pairs of shoes lined up outside its door—inside was a huge gathering of women in colorful saris seated on the floor. We would never have guessed there were so many women of Indian heritage in this sparsely populated area of the state.
We had a couple hours before our scheduled cocktail gathering to browse about the town, which seemed to have an extraordinary number of barber shops (at least eight we counted, including one that was a combination produce stand and barber shop) and a small number of shops that sold anything of interest to us (about two).
Cocktail hour out on Windsor's second floor patio, a pasta buffet dinner in a private dining room, a little walk about town (nothing open after 8, except a couple extremely uninviting bars), and a night cap with friends back at the Windsor completed our perfect day.
The next morning we were up early and to breakfast by 8, so that we could tour nearby
We began our visit with a movie in the visitor center that dramatized the dreadful history of this site. Then we visited the National Prisoner of War Museum, dedicated to all Americans who suffered captivity, including both those who were incarcerated by our enemies, as well as those whom we have incarcerated on our own soil. The museum takes a broad and shallow view, glossing over our country's use of torture and violation of civil rights of citizens in wartime in a brightly lit hall, while highlighting inhumane conditions in enemy prisons in darkened exhibit galleries. The story here is more about the human spirit overcoming the loss of freedom than the prison's function to break the spirit.
We borrowed a car tour CD from the gift shop, and followed its narration around the grounds. Not much of the original prison is left. The most sobering evidence of its existence is
Another part of the lesson is that the victor gets to write history. So, we may forget that the Andersonville camp was so crowded because the
We had plenty to talk about on our drive home.