16 October 2021
The Jekyll Island Club, courtesy of jekyllisland.com
On the final afternoon of our trip the opportunity was finally mine to lead our group on my student facilitated activity, taking us through a comparative tour of Millionaire’s Row at the Jekyll Island Club and The Wanderer Memory Trail on the southern end of Jekyll Island. This walking tour of the northernmost and southernmost ends of Jekyll was planned with the intent of illustrating sharp contrasts of different lived histories in the same landscape, while considering how these mixed histories shape the larger area’s sense of place.
To begin the walking tour, I ushered our group to the northern end of the island, where we saw the Jekyll Island Club (pictured left) and it’s vast array of cottages. Here I explained the history of this Island Club, telling our group stories of the astronomical wealth that once inhabited this island, making it one of the densest concentrations of personal wealth on the globe. Many of these cottages, owned by the likes of the Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, and Pulitzers, were extravagant illustrations of the wealth produced on the backs of pre-FDA laborers, often exploited in favor of incredible profit margins in the early 1900’s. Admiring the beautiful homes, scenic views, and sprawling tourist activities on the northern end of Jekyll, I continuously reminded the group to soak in the grandeur to prepare for the contrast of the second leg of my Jekyll Island tour: The Wanderer at the southern end.
Heading south, the tumultuous mission of simply locating The Wanderer Memory Trail made our group immediately aware of the spotlight shone on the Island Club, and the lack of attention shown to an arguably more significant history in The Wanderer Memory Trail. There on the south side we made our way towards the beach and the trail that now stands to preserve the living memory of that very shore in the 1800’s. Before embarking on the trail, I told our group the dark but mind boggling history of the sand we stood on and the journey of The Wanderer. The Wanderer was the last slave ship to illegally arrive on United States soil 50 years after the foreign importation of enslaved people was outlawed. The ship was originally commissioned as a personal luxury yacht known for its globally notorious speed, said to be the fastest vessel on water in 1858. When it was purchased by SC Congressmen Corrie and Savannah “businessman” Charles Lamar, the two decided to convert the inside to storage for the enslaved; the same year they set sail to west Africa, and within three months the ship illegally landed on the same shore we stood on just on the southern end of Jekyll. The arrival of the ship made international headlines in the late 1850’s, and its preposterousness did not escape our group either.
Leading discussion along the trail, many of my classmates were utterly perplexed as to how such a high crime could not only occur but more so how the pair of men could’ve been acquitted. Our discussion quickly evolved into the sharp contrast of the two island sites: Jekyll Island Club was obviously the favorite child of the Island’s tourism department, with mini outlets, and a handful of organizations running tour trolleys through the cottages; while the history of 450+ stolen Africans is largely over-shadowed, if not suppressed, by the narrow focus on the island club. All of these things considered, there was heightened ambiguity in which lived history dominates this island's sense of place.