The Gilded Age
~Thursday, November 4, 2021~
Another pleasant morning chatting with Leon. We must have been out there an hour or so, which ran the gamut from chatting about the island, to making a mean vegetable soup, to learning about the walking sticks he started making back in 2012 when he retired. And by the numerous American flags and football banners, you can tell he is one patriotic guy and seriously devoted to his college sports teams…...the Georgia Bulldogs and Tennessee Volunteers. I learned that the campground used to hold potluck gatherings every Friday night, always with a great turnout. Of course that all went out the window when COVID hit. But what really blew me away was a story about the “regulars” of the campground, coming together to raise money to buy a replacement trailer for their devoted camp host who lost his trailer due to Hurricane Irma. Evidently most everyone, along with their rigs had evacuated in time, except one. He got out, but his rig didn’t. He returned to his trail in shambles…...unusable and unsalvageable. Sad as this story is, I just love hearing about people coming together to make someone else’s life better.
“Oh, just one more story. Did you hear about the ship that capsized with 4,000 cars in it right off the island?” Leon asked. I vaguely remembered hearing this story a few years back. Enthralled, I wanted to find out more about it. If you’re interested in a few details, read on. If not, you can skip to the next paragraph. It’s truly remarkable to read about the means in which they salvaged the ship, but also that something like this could even happen at all. The cargo ship Golden Ray, had been piloted through the St. Simon Channel many times before. This particular time, the ship was bound for the Middle East carrying 4,200 cars...Dodge Rams, GM Crossovers and Mercedes SUV’s. But that September in 2019, it had flipped, beaching itself on the St. Simon’s Island shoreline. Thankfully, there were no fatalities. How did 38,000 tons lose its balance? Though there is no concrete cause of the ship’s demise, the theory is that it was loaded incorrectly with a weight distribution problem. This would make sense since the same steering had been done hundreds of times before. One of the contributing factors was not factoring in a weight difference from the previous load coming into the channel which were lightweight Kias and Hyundais in exchange for heavier SUV’s (411 tons heavier). Another possible contributor was the release of 1,645 tons of ballast water before it departed which would have dangerously raised the ship’s center of gravity. You’d think there would have been sensors for all of this stuff. But what do I know? In addition to figuring out the cause, the first thing to address were the environmental concerns. An oil containment boom was placed around the perimeter of the ship. Then 320,000 gallons of fuel and water had to be siphoned. Then there was the insurmountable task of salvaging the ship and all its cargo. Never had there been anything like it. In fact, they had to design and manufacture equipment to do the job. They cut the ship I believe into 5 sections, with each section placed on a barge to where it would be disassembled and recycled. In fact, just days before our arrival to Jekyll Island, they had removed the final section on October 25th. So we’re disappointed we didn’t get to see it. If you’d like to check out photos of the disaster and salvage efforts, check out https://www.caranddriver.com/features/a35877638/golden-ray-final-voyage/.
Now onto more news about the island itself. One of my burning questions was ‘How did Jekyll Island get its name?’ With a few sightseeing stops, the answer revealed itself. It was named in honor of Sir Joseph Jekyll who was a financial backer for the young British colony, founded by James Edward Oglethorpe in 1733. O.k. one down, many more questions to go. To ensure we had enough energy for the afternoon’s bike trip, we took up our new friend Leon’s suggestion and headed to the “sandwich shop” in the Jekyll Island Club Resort called The Pantry. A very simple menu of sandwiches and salads, but all sounded delicious. I chose the Salmon Club Sandwich and Jeff, the Cubano. Just outside the shop was a large wrap-around porch
and garden to enjoy our lunch. It was the perfect setting. They even piped in some old-time radio for added ambiance.
Next….a tour of the resort itself. This once exclusive lodge opened its doors in 1888 and became a retreat (the Jekyll Island Club-’the richest, the most exclusive, the most inaccessible club in the world”) for families who represented the wealth of one-sixth of the world’s population. Amazing!!
Members included J.P. Morgan, Joseph Pulitzer, William Vanderbilt and Marshall Field to name a few. We could just imagine the opulence of this place during that gilded age.
We left the car at the lodge parking lot and got on our bikes from there. Our first stop was Faith Chapel, located right behind the hotel. We weren’t able to go in but had an interpretive sign at the entrance as our guide.
When the chapel was first built in 1804, a simple window was installed next to the entrance. It wasn’t until 1921 that Louis Comfort Tiffany (yes, the Tiffany lamp artist) was commissioned to create a new window as a gift to the chapel, dedicated on Easter Sunday in 1921. It was hard to see the stained glass clearly due to the plexiglass covering over it. But from the inside, it must be stunning.
Following the construction of the Jekyll Island Club Resort, and the wealthy patrons that came to the island, many magnificent “cottages” were constructed nearby, basically surrounding the resort. This area is known as “Millionaire’s Row”. Many of these
structures were second homes (winter homes) for their wealthy owners. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to go in any of them due to the time of year, but enjoyed bicycling up to each and every one, walking their porches, and peeking in their windows
.Biking this section of the island was definitely the way to go. Because of the many distinguished, wealthy homeowners on Jekyll Island, it became the epicenter for a few significant events as well. One was the first transcontinental telephone call by AT&T President Theodore Vail and another was the formation of the outline of the Aldrich Plan; the basis for today’s Federal Reserve. Eventually, the Club Era dissolved into obscurity, mainly due to WWII, and in 1947 was purchased by the state of Georgia for a bargain price of $675,000. We are grateful they did, so that everyone, not just a select few, can enjoy it for years to come.
The Wharf, just steps away from the Club Resort and the island’s only waterfront restaurant, was a worthwhile stop for a late afternoon glass of wine on their outside patio. The sunsets must be stunning there with views of the East River and Jekyll Sound. We were a bit early for that, but still enjoyed it nonetheless. That is until the biting gnats showed up. Ugh!! Mosquitos, gnats and no-see-ums oh my!! 🦟