While the desire to see tourism in Effingham County grow may be on many people’s minds these days, one tour group appears to have gotten off on the wrong foot — and angered some local citizens in the process.
Shannon Scott and Angela Lynn, partners in the 6th Sense World tour business, held an initial free gathering at the Terry Nesmith property on Eugene Gnann Road on Feb. 27 where they ran into some opposition from some local residents.
According to Scott, the residents had some “strong words” for them and then called the sheriff’s department. Even though they believed they had obtained all the necessary approvals from the county and local property owners, they left the area, cutting the gathering short.
The incident escalated when the tour operators said they received angry phone calls. According to Scott, the calls were abusive and even contained threats to their safety.
Susan Exley responded that the group’s actions did upset her, but that she never made any threats to anyone.
“I invited the tour company to Historic Effingham Society for a tour and provided phone numbers for the HES and also recommended they visit Ebenezer, the oldest cemetery in the county,” Exley said, “and suggested that they arrange tours by appointment there also in an e-mail.”
Exley, a member of the HES, said she expressed her concerns to the tour company about its night visits to Gnann and Dasher cemeteries. She also denied using the wording written in the sheriff’s department incident report.
“I am very passionate about history,” Exley said. “I hope the tour company will bring their business to Effingham Museum and Living History Site and Ebenezer during their regular business hours arranged by appointment.
Scott has filed a sheriff’s complaint against and Exley and Norman Turner.
Turner said he and several other neighbors were not happy at all with what the tour group was doing. He said that with many of his relatives buried in the small cemetery, he has taken up the task of caring for it and doesn’t think “anyone has any business being in this cemetery or any other cemetery after dark.”
He also said he doesn’t think the company is being truthful in the information its giving out about the area and its past. Turner added his parents and grandparents have talked about buildings that no longer exist on the property and that the cabins being portrayed as slave cabins actually date only from the 1930s or so.
Scott said their curiosity about this particular site was piqued by a graveyard and a small group of cabins their research showed would have served as slave cabins. He said the Nesmiths wanted to either burn them or tear them down but were persuaded to preserve them because of their rarity and historic value.
At the first event, Scott said there were 25 people present for the tour, along with the Nesmiths and their children, and six docents. He said the gathering came together through the social networking site, meetup.com, that brought together people interested in history and ghost stories. The event lasted about two hours.
Scott, who has run his own tour company for several years out of Savannah, said he has been looking at expanding into Effingham County, as the area is only second to Savannah in its rich history.
“We are one of the first tour businesses to actively pursue doing tours and events here on a regular basis and possibly even daily, if all goes according to plan,” he said. “There’s certainly enough history to keep tourists and locals continually interested in the area. There’s a traveler economy that can be expedited here and there’s a whole lot of stuff, clearly that people want to learn about, so we hope to facilitate some of that and maybe along the way save a couple of buildings.”
Complaints were lodged with the county against the tour company. County officials determined the tour group had a valid business tax certificate. Since the county does not regulate business hours and operations and as long as the group did not violate private property, the company could conduct its tours. There is, however, a search being conducted to determine who, if anybody, owns the cemetery property.
Tour planned for Saturday
Currently, the group is planning to go forward with its first paid tour Saturday night. Their group will form at the Effingham County Visitors Center in Springfield at 6 p.m. and caravan to the Nesmith property, where they would break into smaller tour groups. They have told county officials they do not plan to visit the cemetery on that trip and are sorry they have made some of the neighbors angry.
Scott said each participant would be given a handheld EMF meter, an infrared thermometer, flashlight, digital recorder and camera. He said that sometimes it helps to use something such as ghosts and ghost stories to interest people in the history of an area. At that point they would highlight the history of the area before walking to the sites on the Nesmith property. Scott said the tour costs $75. The tour is limited to 25 people and should last approximately three hours.
“We have the utmost respect for historical sites,” Scott said, “especially graveyards and anywhere that there’s a delicacy or fragility with people’s sensitivities about those places personally, or at the same time, how those places might be fragile physically. We basically would do all in our power to ensure that nobody feels we’ve mistreated anything or stepped on anybody’s toes. We’re here to be a friend to the history of the place and the community.”