This past weekend I visited Chippewa Square in Savannah for the second time. Many people know it as Forrest Gump Park. The first time I visited was almost fifteen years ago.
Here is what I learned about myself in those fifteen years: The journey is more important than the destination.
Chippewa Square is where the park bench / bus stop scene from the movie Forrest Gump was filmed. The premise for why Forrest was sitting on the bench in Savannah is Jenny is living there; she invites Forrest to visit; she needs to tell him about Little Forrest and her illness. While Forrest is sitting on the bench waiting for the bus, he tells his life story to the various people he meets.
My first visit was about fifteen years ago when I was still working regularly for Bubba Gump. That first trip was taken as a pilgrimage. I was still in the early chapters of my Gump career. I sensed visiting Forrest Gump Park would give me insight into the character. I went there the first time believing I’d grow in my ability to play the role. In retrospect, that first visit was made primarily for the benefit of my psyche.
My second visit to Chippewa Square, or Forrest Gump Park, this past weekend felt very different.
My first visit was a left-brain endeavor.
Fifteen years ago I went there to see. Learn. Understand. I remember driving to the Square. Parking the car. Getting out. Walking from spot to spot. Visualizing camera angles. Imagining a film crew and cameras and actors. I saw a Hollywood production on that first visit. I only stayed for 10 or 15-minutes. I jumped back in the rental car and was on my way. Been there. Check. Done that. Check.
My visit this weekend was a right-brain experience.
I was in Savannah to work with my client on Saturday night. The event was a meet-n-greet for the opening dinner/reception of the multi-day SNAXPO Exhibition & Conference. A park bench was set up at the party with green screen backdrop. The green screen allowed the photographer to insert one of Savannah’s 22 iconic squares in the backdrop. The photo used for the backdrop was actually Forsyth Park.
Anyway, I had most of Saturday morning and early afternoon free so I went for a walk. When I left the hotel, I wasn’t even certain that I’d make the 10 to 12 block walk to Chippewa Square. But after eating lunch, I decided the walk would do me good. AND… I was also once again so close to Forrest Gump Park that I could not not go.
It was a beautiful, Saturday afternoon with temperatures in the low 70s and a gentle, airy breeze – the weather was perfect. Warm, almost hot in the sun, and very comfortable in the shade.
Unlike my trip fifteen years prior when I drove to the square, this time I snuck up on Chippewa in a leisurely, roundabout walk. My first visit to the Square was mid-week and earlier in the morning. I remember feeling like I had the park to myself. This time, there were many, many people present. I saw a park bench occupied by a millennial – I asked him if I could share the bench. The view from that spot showed the statue of General James Oglethorpe who is the founder of Georgia. I could see the cement wall where the Forrest Gump bench was located. There was both the First Baptist Church and the Independent Presbyterian Church with it’s pointed steeple peaking through the trees. That steeple was made famous as the feather floats past it during the movie’s opening moments. I noticed Savannah moss hanging from the majestic trees.
There must have been more than a hundred people in the square. Tourists walking, locals sitting on the benches, artists displaying their work. Every one of the 20+ park benches were filled with people enjoying the warm spring afternoon.
This visit to Forrest Gump Park was relaxing – my first visit was hectic.
This time I was experiencing the square – the first time I only saw it. My first visit was an exploration – this visit was an immersion. Back then, I was hurried, trying to see everything. Learn. Discover some great insight. This visit was different. Relaxed. My agenda was simply to be there. Experience it. Take in whatever the Square had to offer.
I struck up a conversation with the young man with whom I was sharing the bench. He was new to Savannah for only a few months working at Gulfstream. He had spent the previous two years at Boeing in Seattle. Prior to that engineering school in Michigan. He noted that Savannah has no mountains. The pace of life is much slower. It’s a tourist mecca on the weekends.
A volunteer guide strolled by and asked us if she could answer any questions. She confirmed the exact location of the Forrest Gump bench. She explained that none of the park benches in Savannah’s squares face the street so that setup was strictly installed for the movie. The original bench from the movie now resides in the Savannah Historical Museum. We discussed the buildings and camera angles that were visible in the movie. I also noticed several buildings clearly visible while sitting in the park, but were not seen in the movie.
Here is what I noticed about Savannah since I visited fifteen years ago.
An effort to bring tourists into the city has been successful. There is an energy and freshness. Showing off it’s history and beauty mixed with the world of 2017 is a winning combination. The ‘Squares’ of Savannah are an important part of it’s history and what makes America’s Most Haunted City such a special place.
Here is what I noticed about myself since I visited fifteen years ago.
I’m less focused on going somewhere and more interested in being present where I am. It’s the journey of life that matters most. Experiencing Chippewa Square is equally – if not more – rewarding than seeing Forrest Gump Park.