The Strange Story of Savannah’s Ancient Roman Statuary: Part TWO
Last week we explored the labyrinthine and largely forgotten history of the ancient Roman statuary that once stood on the grounds of Greenwich Cemetery, and how it came to be owned by the City of Savannah. But, like almost everything around here, there’s still more to the story—as our man William Faulkner reminds, “the past is never dead, it’s not even past.”
In the last two years since the city’s vote to sell the statuary, I’ve spent many misty mornings clambering around Greenwich Cemetery, indulging in a little schadenfreude for Spencer Shotter’s rise and fall as well as marveling in the relics’ connection to so many other spokes of Savannah history haunting me more than any ol’ ghost ever could.
I visited the Telfair several times to see the rest of the collection: The mesmerizing double-headed Hermes columns from the first century, the precisely sculpted river gods and marble busts of Roman emperors, my attachment growing for the surplus pieces crumbling in the dark in storage somewhere. I felt certain that these hidden treasures should remain in the city, that their value was so much more than the few hundred thousand dollars they might bring at an auction.
Purchased at a time when most Americans lived in poverty or subsisted as labor in unsafe conditions in factories and fields, the statue collection represents the astronomical wealth of the era’s robber barons and how it was built upon the backs of others — the same way today’s billionaires amass their fortunes. Keeping the collection intact, and perhaps giving the surplus pieces an accessible and contextual public platform, seemed far more just than allowing them to be pieced off to the next generation of rich private collectors.
I also just love a good mystery, and there were still items missing that had been documented in the past.
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