While redeeming the souls of over 13,000 of his fellow soldiers at the Civil War prison in Andersonville, a Connecticut man became one of the biggest whistle-blowers of his era. For his efforts he was hounded by the Army, court-martialed and sentenced to hard labor for allegedly stealing a government document. Read more
Leopold’s has been scooping up their fresh house-made ice cream in Savannah since 1919. Making a stop here is one of the “must” things to do in Savannah, GA. The store was founded by three Greek immigrant brothers and their legacy continues with one of their sons, movie impresario and sometime busboy Stratton Leopold. He’s joined behind the counter by his wife Mary.
When we showed up a line of customers snaked its way into the street. Fortunately it moved quickly and Mary handed out cups of water to those standing in the sweltering sun of a Savannah summer. (It might be hot in summer, but Savannah is a great warm place in the US to visit in December 🙂
The ice cream was worth the wait; rich and creamy as it softened a bit from the summer heat which allowed the intense flavors to shine through. The sundaes are served in old-fashioned bowls which adds to the experience.
Stratton Leopold surveys his famous ice cream shop in Savannah, Georgia.
When he’s not wiping down tables or greeting customers, Leopold has produced Hollywood blockbusters from The Big Chill to Mission Impossible: III. Movie memorabilia provides the shop’s vintage décor.
Just like we travel with a Rocky statue as a trip mascot, Stratton doesn’t go anywhere without a movie prop ice cream cone he’s named “Scoop.” The walls of the café are lined with Scoop posing with actors from Tom Cruise to Helen Mirren to Anthony Hopkins and more.
Songwriter Johnny Mercer, who penned Moon River, grew up eating at Leopold’s and even said he’d someday wrote a song about their signature flavor, tutti frutti. It’s a rum-based concoction that’s studded with fruits; the name means “all fruits” in Italian. But fellow Georgia native Little Richard beat him to the punch, releasing his signature song, “Tutti Frutti,” in 1955. The song was controversial due to its lyrics which were considered a bit racy at the time.
Even statues like ice cream.
The ice cream has whipped up a bit of controversy of its own. Roy Motherhead claims to have invented tutti frutti in Kentucky in the 1950s. But the current Leopold in charge says, “We’ve been serving it since we opened almost 100 years ago.”
Despite its popularity in Savannah, the flavor is still hard to find elsewhere. Recently, Leopold ‘s filled an order for someone who was dying, one of their final wishes was to savor a dish of tutti frutti ice cream, a request that with the use of dry ice and overnight shipping, Leopold’s was able to fulfill. It sounds like something right out of a movie.
Mary and Stratton Leopold hoist our trip mascot Little Rocky and their mascot “Scoop.”
212 East Broughton Street
Savannah, Georgia 31401
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The piercing blue eyes which compelled Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat to sign the Camp David Accords were only five feet away from me and staring keenly into mine. Their owner had just asked me where I was from and, for a moment, I was speechless answering this simple request. Such is life when meeting former president Jimmy Carter. At 88-years-old he’s a bit more slight than I remember but still boasts the commanding presence of a world leader and Annapolis graduate.
Despite once being the most powerful person in the world, he and First Lady Rosalynn are down-to-earth globetrotters building homes for Habitat for Humanity, monitoring elections and fighting disease in developing nations through the Carter Center and winning the Nobel Peace Prize. Yet he still keeps a regular appointment teaching Bible studies at the Marantha Baptist Church in his boyhood home of Plains, Georgia.
Jimmy Carter teaches Sunday school prior to the main service. Afterwards, under the vigilant watch of a Secret Service detail, he and Rosalynn pose for photos with churchgoers basking in the glow of history. No tickets are required for this unique opportunity to witness and hear the thoughts of an American president up close.
The Carters were kind enough to pose with the Rocky statue after the service.
While the lesson is a highlight of a trip to Plains, it is not the only activity. The town now hosts the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site which encompasses the turn-of-the-last-century Main Street, Carter’s boyhood home and farm, the model railroad-sized wooden train depot he used as his campaign headquarters for both presidential runs, and a museum dedicated to his life in the old Plains High School which he, Rosalynn and their three sons attended.
For the full Plains experience it’s best to stay right on Main Street at the Plains Historic Inn. The seven rooms are each decorated to match a decade of Carter’s life; from the room filled with furnishings from the 1920s to mark the decade of his birth to the 1980s room marking his return to Plains. Mrs. Carter helped select the antiques for each room while her occasional carpenter husband pitched in building walls and refinishing the wooden stairs.
With its 7-inch black-and-white screen nestled in a large slab of blonde-wood furniture, it wouldn’t have been surprising if the authentic TV in the 1950s room blared an episode of I Love Lucy out of the tweed-covered speaker. For those with higher aspirations, the 1970s room with its formal furniture and vibe could have been cribbed right from the private quarters of the White House.
“Miss Jan” the innkeeper is a friend of the Carters. She revealed, “My husband’s known him his whole life.” Just about everyone in this close-knit farming town of 685 people claims such a connection.
Only a block long, the well-preserved Main Street resembles a movie set. Most of the businesses, including a well-stocked antiques mall, political memorabilia shop and snack bar, cater to tourists. Since Carter was the country’s most famous peanut farmer before his 1976 victory, the shops continue with that nutty flavor.
Try Plain Peanuts at 128 Main Street for all things peanut including homemade peanut ice cream, peanut fudge and boiled peanuts, a Southern delicacy that you must try at least once; but make sure they’re served warm. You can’t miss the shop since it’s located in the former Carter peanut warehouse that is now emblazoned with the famous 10-foot-high red-white-and-blue striped sign that proudly proclaims Plains, Georgia as the home of “Our 39th President.”
Carter’s boyhood home and farm is a 2.5 mile drive out of town. It’s been restored by the National Park Service to its appearance when the future president lived there. A park ranger at the entrance was boiling up some peanuts in a crusty iron pot suspended over burning wood to prepare boiled peanuts for visitors. We each accepted a bag and sat on old wooden rockers in the screened-in front porch to munch on our snack.
The view from the porch is unchanged since the 1920s so this brief respite from the heat felt like a ride in a time capsule to a simpler era. The bright orange clay that nourishes the peanuts blends land and sky at sunset into a fiery tableau. Mr. Carter lives just up the road and occasionally rides his bike over to the sight, surprising visitors whom he regales with stories of his upbringing, while underscoring the unique opportunity to visit a National Park devoted to a living president who still resides in the area.
Back at the church I finally managed to blurt out “Pennsylvania” in response to Mr. Carter’s request for my home state as he continued to work the room. Satisfied that he knew where everyone in attendance was from, Mr. Carter began his lesson on the day’s theme, which was discovering how to pray. He interspersed passages from the Bible with side trips visiting topics ranging from the Iranian hostage crisis to the current kerfuffle about the NSA monitoring the phone calls of ordinary Americans. Somehow he managed to seamlessly weave a theology lesson with his thoughts about world events and political history.
Mr. Carter also tied in stories from his youth recalling, “the two or three sweethearts I had, well, you don’t need to hear about that. That was before I met the love of my life, Rosalynn” he chuckled, while flashing his famous toothy grin. It is clear that faith has always been very important to Jimmy Carter. So important that a man with one of the busiest schedules on Earth still takes time to teach Sunday school at his local church. Just make sure you remember where you’re from when he asks you.
President Carter’s speaking schedule is available on the Marantha Baptist Church web site.
If you’d like to stay in town when President Carter is speaking, book a room at least a month in advance at the Plains Historic Inn & Antiques: http://www.plainsinn.net/ Other options for lodging are in nearby Americus.
Larissa and Michael are your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive our free quarterly newsletter with updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.
The turquoise Princess phone in the corner was the first clue that the Plains Historic Inn in Plains, Georgia was going to be different from any other place we’d ever stayed. The second was the note from former President Jimmy Carter welcoming guests to the inn.
The Plains Historic Inn is located right on Main Street, the quaint block-long avenue that became famous to millions of Americans in 1976 when Jimmy Carter ran for president. The town is the anchor for the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site which is run by the National Park Service. Despite traveling all over the world, Mr. Carter and former First Lady Rosalynn still live in town, just a few blocks away.
The Inn’s seven rooms are decorated in the style of different decades of Jimmy Carter’s life; from his birth in the 1920s to his return to Plains in 1980. Rosalynn Carter helped select and find the antiques for each room while her part-time carpenter husband built out walls and refinished the wooden stairs.
We stayed in the 1950s room in all its retro glory. Besides the Princess phone there was an old-fashioned TV, the type with a 7″ black-and-white monitor nestled in a large piece of wood furniture. (For those who want to watch current shows, a modern flat-screen TV sits above it.)
Each room is also decorated with magazines of the period which are fun to flip through to see the old ads. Speaking of advertising, the 1960s room feels very Mad Men, making it a perfect spot to watch the show on Sunday evenings.
Guests can soak in a claw foot tub in the 1920s room while those feeling particularly presidential should book the 1980s room; with its formal décor it appears as if it just popped out of the White House.
Most of the weekend guests at the Plains Historic Inn are there to watch Mr. Carter teach Sunday School at the Marantha Baptist Church, where he teaches two or three days a month. Innkeeper Miss Jan is able to get front row seats for her guests to witness history in action.
Even without the Jimmy Carter connection, the Inn is one of the coolest places we’ve stayed anywhere. If you can visit when Mr. Carter is preaching, so much the better.
The Carters were incredibly gracious to pose with us and Little Rocky afterwards.
For information on the Inn go to: Plains Historic Inn
For President Carter’s Sunday School teaching schedule go to: Marantha Baptist Church
Click here for the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site.