Davenport House reboots popular Yellow Fever living history program

THE Davenport House Museum’s Yellow Fever program will return this October for its 16th year to fulfill all of your historical-spooky needs. 

The play accounts the aspects of early 19th century Savannahian life when yellow fever ravaged the city, claiming a significant amount of the Savannah population.  It does so with a tour of 5 vignettes, or small scenes, each located in different rooms in the house. 

Each vignette features a different perspective from natives of the area during this tumultuous time, providing the audience with a hair-raising experience that is concurrently historically accurate. 

The idea is to provide an evening experience that details a credibly-documented account of what happened, which might be more frightful than graveyard walks and jumpscares.

“We started this because we love our ghost tour partners and all of that, and we knew that there were people in town that want to hear about creepy things in October,” explains Jamie Credle, director of the Davenport House Museum. 

“We felt like we could add into the mix something we know for sure happened. I know that there’s often a leap of faith with regard to ghosts, and all of that, but we know that this is real history, so we felt we could add something to that conversation in October,” she says.

“There’s a creepy factor mainly because it talks about things that aren’t done anymore that would’ve been very common in the 1820s,” program director Raleigh Marcell adds.

The horrors that the play references all took place in 1820, when an estimate of 460 buildings burned down in a mass fire, leaving people vulnerable to the mild winter and wet spring that followed. 

“The locals had been here for years and years, but we had all these new people who came to help rebuild living in flophouses over in Washington Square who were dying left and right,” says Credle about the origin of the yellow fever epidemic.

Those who came to rebuild the city following the fire did not have the seasoned immune systems to prevent the fever, making them helpless to the rampant spread of disease.

“It just mushroomed and moved from Washington ward all throughout the city.”  

When things got bad, people that couldn’t leave were left to deal with the sick and dying.

This concept is focused on in a new addition to the play, where a sequence centers around the household duties of the family when one dies in the house.

“It’s one of the things people don’t think about- it was the woman’s job in the household,” Credle adds.

Returning vignettes include the exploration of the unrecorded lives of African Americans at the time in the Yamacraw section of town, and two seperate vignettes offering opposing opinions on the remedy for the disease- one of which centering around Mary Lavinder, Georgia’s first female physician.

“We talk about puking and purging and bleeding and blistering, and how you get all of those things to make you better. That kind of thing would creep anybody out, adult or kid,” Credle says, referencing the early 19th century medical treatments reenacted in a scene.

In a second new addition, a vignette references a Conrad Aiken story, exploring the question ``’’What is it like to be dead?’’

Ultimately, the show intends to give an experience people will remember. 

“We don’t expect people to take a test after they’ve come here, but we really hope it’s evocative, and that they might want to go and learn more about it. They’re learning something authentically Savannah- this is our signature program. Every year, we just feel like we have something new to say.”

The play starts at 7 sharp on Friday and Saturday nights this October. Program director Raleigh Marcell advises to purchase tickets in advance, because the space is limited to 50 people per night. The production is 45-60 minutes long, and is not intended for those under eight.


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