Do you remember David Letterman’s “Stupid Pet Tricks”? The greatest writer Savannah has ever produced would fit right into Letterman’s wacky segment.
Flannery O’Connor is one of the South’s most beloved authors. The deeply sardonic writer, whose work is described as “Southern Gothic”, wrote the novels “Wise Blood” and “The Violent Bear It Away”, as well as the short stories “A Good Man is Hard to Find” and “Everything That Rises Must Converge.”
Over the course of his career, O’Connor has won the O. Henry Award for Best Short Story three times and was posthumously awarded the National Book Award for The Complete Stories.
Flannery O’Connor’s historic childhood home in Savannah, where she lived from her birth in 1925 until 1938, is a modest home on Lafayette Square. With a view of St. John’s Cathedral across the plaza, it’s no wonder O’Connor has an extremely complex interest in Catholicism. The house now functions as a museum dedicated to his life.
Visitors can see O’Connor’s bedroom and some of his childhood belongings, experience what life was like during the Great Depression, or attend one of the many literary events that are held there regularly. Local writers and artists host an unusual annual parade at O’Connor’s house on his birthday. The house also contains the Bruckheimer Library, a collection of rare books.
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However, O’Connor’s legacy is not limited to his literary achievements. Throughout her life, O’Connor’s passion was raising chickens (and later peacocks) and she kept several of them in the backyard of her Savannah home. One chicken in particular, “a buff cochin cochin”, was so remarkable that in 1932 Pathé News sent a team from New York to report on it.
Of course, you can still watch the old YouTube news reel titled “Do you Reverse? From “young Mary O’Connor” placing her chicken on the floor and pushing it back as a narrator makes silly jokes about it. There is some debate as to whether O’Connor was actually able to force his chicken to walk backwards that day. As seen in the news, Pathé’s cameraman managed to roll back all the animals on the family farm, including ducks, cows and horses, using simple camera tricks, thus casting doubt on the capabilities of the chicken.
The experience was so exciting for O’Connor that she became obsessed with raising unusual chickens. She dreamed of owning a three-legged chicken or something like the rooster that lived 30 days without a head that she read in Ripley’s book “Believe it or Not”, but she never found one so interesting. .
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In his 1961 essay, “Living with a Peacock,” writes O’Connor, “I knew how to sew a certain way and started making clothes for chickens. A gray rooster named Colonel Eggbert wore a white pique coat with a lace collar and two buttons on the back. Apparently, Pathé News has never heard of any of my other chickens; he never sent another photographer.
Later in life, O’Connor recalled the event with his typical sarcastic wit. “When I was six, I had a chicken that walked backwards and was in the Pathé News,” O’Connor said. “I was in it with the chicken too. I was just there to help the chicken but it was the highlight of my life. Everything has been a stall ever since.
If you visit Flannery O’Connor’s childhood home, be sure to remember and appreciate where O’Connor’s greatest achievement happened.
Christopher Berinato is the author of Secret Savannah: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure