The Waving Girl
She was always there. It made no
difference if it were day or night, rain or shine, blistering hot or freezing
cold. The cheerful lady would be seen by all the sea captains, sailors and
passengers of all the vessels that passed Elba Island on their way to or from
Savannah. Although many never learned her name, all could count on her gesture
of "welcome" or "farewell". She waved a white cloth by day and a bright lantern
by night. Ship captains returned her greeting with three short blasts. They came
to call her "The Waving Girl."
Many rumours and old wives tales abound about Florence Martus but the
favourite is that in 1887 she fell in love and became engaged to a sailor from
Boston, Massachusetts, who promised that they would marry upon his return. She
promised that she would greet every ship that came and went, hoping it would be
his ship returning. Florence kept her promise and waved at every ship for forty
four years. In fact she only stopped when her brother retired. During all those
years she became known in nearly every maritime country in the world. One sailor
said he saw a picture of the "Waving Girl" in a hardware store window in
Germany. Nothing is known of her fiance, whether he was lost at sea or met
Many sailors, grateful for her kindness, sent her small gifts and strange animals. She had numerous pets and loved animals. Florence and George gained many friends, some would come to their modest cottage on the island and spend the day. Despite her guests, Florence would spring up from the table and dash out to the porch to wave at any passing ship. Some visitors would exclaim how uncanny it was that she had such acute hearing, she would even wake in the middle of the night and rush out to greet a ship. Others knew she had two large dogs who learned to wake her when a ship approached. Although they were strangers, there was a feeling of friendship - a friendship they took back with them to all points of the globe.
George's only transportation was a large dory, a flat-bottomed motor
boat. Florence would steer and George would tend to the engine. Once a month
they went to Savannah for supplies. They were both avid readers and spent much
of their wages on books at the local bookstore. They were also devout Catholics
and tried to attend church every Sunday. Their mail and incidental supplies were
delivered to Elba Island by passing vessels.
Life was not always without adventure on the island of Elba. Several times, Florence and George performed acts of heroism they felt had become their duty and somehow expected of them. During a hurricane in 1893, they rescued several men from a sinking boat. Shortly after World War I, whilst waving her lantern (at three in the morning), she noticed a fire on the river on a working barge used to keep the channel open. She and George made several trips back and forth to the barge rescuing the trapped men, in all they rescued thirty men, (although one died later from his burns), many of those men sent her gifts. On other occasions, they assisted in saving lives and property near their home.
George was forced to retire on the 1st of June 1931, Florence made her last “Waving Girl” greeting that day. They made their home in Bona Bella, outside Savannah. A group of officials performed a small, informal "Welcome to Savannah" ceremony of recognition of Florence. Attendees included: Mayor Hoynes, E.R. Richardson, President of Ocean Steamship Co. and Captain Frank W. Spencer, Master pilot, Savannah Pilots Association, (he was also General Manager of Atlantic Towing Co.). Florence was presented with a $500 certificate. After the Welcome to Savannah meeting, Florence wrote a note:
642 Liberty Street
8th of July 1931
Just a line to thank you for your kindness to me.
I surely appreciate it and thank you very much.
My brother and I are feeling fine at the present time. Hope you and your family are the same.
Our best regards to you and all my friends.
Little did she know this was not to be the only donation she would receive, there was a fund raising campaign which Captain Frank Spencer was chairman.
A letter from a retired Master Mariner, A.G. Cole from the Isle of
Wight said in part:
News spread of her retirement, several
poems were written about the Waving Girl. One was written by Captain Thomas P.
Pratt, Master, s/s Chatham and was published in the Savannah Evening Press.
In 1915, the crew of the Somerset, on behalf of the M. & M.T. Company, gave Florence a silver tea service. Their poet laureate penned the following poem:
There’s just one queen in all the world
That mariners adore.
She dwells upon a lonely isle,
Close by its marshy shore.
If ever you are passing
In storm, or rain, or shine,
You’re bound to get a welcome
From the queen of Elba’s Isle.
For if on ships you travel,
And on the sea you roam,
From Greenland’s icy mountains
To India’s sunny zones
Mention Old Savannah, in Georgia by the sea,
For the Queen who thinks of me.
The parade ground was surrounded by flags of all nations, Florence was presented with a huge birthday cake shaped like her cottage on Elba Island and she was given numerous gifts. The "sprightly" lady of 70" (as one writer described her), was called on to make a speech, but viewing the massive throng of devotees, she was too emotionally moved to utter a word.
Later, however, she wrote a note to the chairman, George Dutton, stating her pride in being a Georgian and that "This is the grandest day of my life."
It is estimated that the Waving Girl greeted at least one hundred thousand passing ships in her forty four years of friendly waving. Savannah's Waving Girl died on the 8th of February 1943 of bronchial pneumonia. "Put out to sea" (As another writer so gently phrased it). Services were held at Albert Goette Funeral Home and two days later another service was held at St. Johns Cathedral with her nephew, Reverend Thomas A. Brennan conducting the service. She was buried in Laurel Grove Cemetery.
Tugboats of the Atlantic Towing Company and other vessels in port lowered the flags to half-mast in respect. The people of Savannah still appreciate Florence Martus. In 1971, Felix De Weldon, sculptor of the famous U.S. Marine Corps Iwo Jima Monument was commissioned to create the $60,000 Waving Girl statue along Savannah's River Street. The inscription appropriately reads:
"Her immortality stems from her friendly greeting to passing ships, a welcome to strangers entering the port and a farewell to wave them safely onward."
ALL IN ALL QUITE A SAD STORY WITH A FEEL GOOD FACTOR
VERY MOVING, BUT I DON’T THINK SAD