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Countdown to Savannah: The Bird Girl

Kathy Wood (kaydee)

In early 2007, we started our official Countdown to Savannah. Each Sunday, we posted a different topic about this special city where we met for our first Great Slow Travel Gathering in Spring 2008.

With 63 posts over 14+ months, we learned a lot about the many facets of this historic, hospitable and intriguing American city. Our weekly posts touched on Savannah's history, famous people, architecture, food, culture, surrounding area and much more. We hope this information acquaints you with Savannah, entices you to visit this historic city, and prepares you for a very memorable trip.

A Top Ten Statue

What image best represents Savannah? For many people it's “The Bird Girl” who became famous with the publication of John Berendt’s bestseller about Savannah, “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” (See this list of the Top 10 most famous statues of all times-- and The Bird Girl is number 10! Eek)

The book's cover photograph—by Jack Leigh, a well known Savannah photographer—was an image of a statue in Savannah’s Bonaventure Cemetery called “Little Wendy.” The 50 inch bronze statue is of a young girl in a simple long dress, her head tilted to the side, with a sad expression. She holds up two bowls, seem to be bird feeders, thus giving the statue its now popular name of The Bird Girl.

Photo of the Cover of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil/Bird Girl

The Bird Girl Book Cover

The statue was one of four cast in 1938 by Sylvia Shaw Judson (1897 – 1978), a Quaker sculptress from Illinois. This statue was purchased by Lucy Boyd Trosdal of Savannah who named it "Little Wendy" and placed it at a family gravesite in Bonaventure Cemetery, where it sat anonymously among many other beautiful sculptures and statues for over 50 years.

Jack Leigh (1948 – 2004) was contracted by Random House to provide an image for Midnight’s cover. John Berendt suggested he might find an appropriate image in the cemetery, and Leigh spent two days searching the cemetery and taking pictures. “He found the Bird Girl at the last moment on the second day of his search. Leigh sent just the one image to Random House… and the editors there were ecstatic.” Berendt had approval rights for the cover and later said it was one of the strongest book covers he had ever seen.

After the success of “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” tourists flocked to Bonaventure Cemetery to see the statue and have their picture made with The Bird Girl, trampling the nearby graves and risking damage to the statue. The statue was then moved to Savannah’s Telfair Museum, where it is on long-term loan from the descendants of Lucy Boyd Trosdal and can be shared with the public in a protected environment. (Unfortunately, no photos are allowed in the museum!)

Controversy

The use of the statue’s image has been the subject of controvery since Midnight’s publication. A replica of the statue was made by Warner Brothers with the approval of Sylvia Shaw Judson’s daughter and used in the movie of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Jack Leigh sued Warner Brothers for using his artistic concept, and the case was settled out of court. Bird Girl statues (approved and unapproved versions) are widely available in Savannah and on the internet. And yes, you can find all sorts of Bird Girl trinkets and memorabilia in Savannah.

Learn more about The Bird Girl here:

The Land He's Bound To - article about Jack Leigh
Good and Evil Image Maker Dies - article about Jack Leigh
The True Story of the Bird Girl - from the daughter of Sylvia Shaw Judson

Resources

All About Savannah: Links to many information pages about Savannah (where to eat, where to stay, places of interest, getting around town, and more)

Woods Family Grand Tour of Europe: List of articles and photo albums by Kathy Wood


Kathy is a former Human Resources executive who now works as a consultant and part-time college professor. She and Charley also lead The Luberon Experience (www.luberonexperience.com), a week-long, small-group trip based in Provence.

© Kathy Wood, 2007


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