History of the ‘Waving Girl’

The Waving Girl Statue sits along the Savannah River.
The Waving Girl Statue sits along the Savannah River.(WTOC (custom credit))
Published: Dec. 13, 2019 at 12:45 PM EST
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - The Waving Girl has suddenly become another big topic of discussion, even 76 years after her death.

We know a lot now about the possible moving of the statue, but we thought it would be a good time to go back and revisit the woman behind the statue and the legend that made her.

The Waving Girl statue has been talked about a lot lately, and now, that talk has led to a resurgence of the woman that led to the legend, Florence Martus.

She is kind of getting her due now.

“She is, and sometimes it takes this kind of thing, it’s not really about a statue is it, it’s about who is the person behind it, and we always hope as historians, that people will dig a little deeper and find out more about the person behind the story, and the statue,” said Stan Deaton, Senior Historian, Georgia Historical Society.

She is a local, as her father was assigned to help rebuild Fort Pulaski after the Civil War. Florence was born here in 1869. Her father later became a lighthouse keeper, then passed that job down to his son. In 1887, when she was in her late teens, she started waving at incoming and outgoing ships, a handkerchief by day and a lantern by night. Legend has it she was looking for a lost love.

“I think that’s probably a lot of fluff, I think the truth is she enjoyed being the hostess of the Hostess City. I think she enjoyed welcoming those ships, and it took on a life of its own,” Deaton said. “She loved doing it, I think she enjoyed it, it made her probably feel like part of a larger part of the world. I’m sure living on an island with a lighthouse could be very isolating in that time, and I think that this made her feel a part of something that was bigger. I think she did it because it was a passion for her, and she loved it.”

Her brother was a keeper of a couple of lighthouses. One on Cockspur Island and another on Elba Island where they lived. Florence was consistent, waving at ships up until 1931 when her brother retired. That’s more than four decades of work, becoming a legend.

“Before we were probably called the Hostess City, I think she was the first person that a lot of people saw. I think a lot of sailors and a lot of people on these ships, they looked forward to coming up the Savannah River, and they would see here and arrived and felt like we are here, everything is going to be OK,” said Deaton.

Florence lived another 12 years, but not much is known about that time. She died on February 8, 1943, and is buried beneath the Spanish Moss in Lauren Grove Cemetery with her mother and father.

Deaton said she is difficult to research because not a lot was written about her during her lifetime. He said it’s very possible that she was an “international star,” well known by sailors from around the world while those living just upstream in Savannah had no idea who she was or what she was doing.

(The statue that sits in Savannah Harbor today was created by renowned sculptor Felix De Weldon, the sculptor of the United States Marine Corps Memorial in Arlington, Virginia, also known as the Iwo Jima Memorial.)

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