As New Orleans is my home away from home, particularly its cemeteries, I was honored to be invited by talk show host, Jeff Crouere of Ringside Politics on WSGO 990AM to discuss a lawsuit against the Archdiocese of New Orleans respective of cemetery accessibility and what the motivations of closing, limiting them may actually be along with other cemetery challenges. I join a distinguished company here with Mindy Shea Frazier of Visit Savannah and Jane Batty, Director of Louisiana Good Life.
I first heard of self-professed, “modern day pirate,” Michael Torres, through a casual acquaintance on Instagram. We were discussing the world importance, even UNESCO level, of the mass grave containing over half of France’s Royal Navy who were killed during The Siege of Savannah Battle hours of late 1779 and their burial on Greenwich Plantation. And obviously, how such a Normandy-in-reverse-like site should be fully discovered and vetted in some joint venture of our country and that of France. During our conversation, they offered, “You should meet my friend, Michael Torres.He’s found an iron casket, a sword and bones of a soldier.” Naturally, my ears pricked up at the mention. Even a twinge of envy to think a lucky finder had stumbled upon such ideas in an explored wood-line area or low water’s edge of the cemeteries. Not impossible. Many things here await discovery. I, myself, have found remarkable things, although often randomly. Coins and the like. It’s perhaps the one upside of hurricanes that blow through. Upon the recommend of my new associate, I took to Instagram and peeked at Michael Torres’ page, The Black Dive. As I perused over the many random titles about “Lost Colonial Towns” and “undiscovered” this or that pertaining to Georgia, I came across a video Torres shot in Bonaventure
As I watched, I admit I was amused to see Torres use a grappling rope or rock climber gear and go Batman style down what is, in most places, a very non-challenging river bluff descent. And then I realized what he was up to. Having worked in television myself, for years, producing my own documentary and other pitch work, I understood he was essentially trying to grab the eye of potential production companies or investors. No foul on the surface to the uninformed eye, — not bad TV, really. Even if you can’t just run around Bonaventure in any old manner, without permission for such adventures. So, as I watched further and saw him attempting to make broken headstone debris from rubble piles into proverbial historical mountains or as he would later alarm, a “possible hate crime” associated with “mass Jewish graves,” — this was more than pushing the limits of making himself audience worthy. It was just bad research or lack thereof and worse, already published on social media and uneccessarily in the ears of concerned locals.
Delving a little further to get more of an understanding of what a person like Torres was invested in, and if just because he might have something to truly offer up, a special nerve was hit with myself, which raised some sanguine flags. And this is where, I too, became skeptical of Torres’ path or claims. One interview showing Torres looking out across some beautiful ocean, and very much over playing to the camera, mentions being in possession of perhaps the only copy of a “lost” map of Savannah had been commissioned by King George III and was declared by many who knew it to be the most accurate map ever made of the area or Savannah parts and nearby coastline, and it was the true key to the exact locations of “lost settlements.” According to Torres, the map had been thought lost during The Revolutionary War but that he’d found the only known copy in a collection, and the owner allowed him to make a copy of it. That last part is highly unlikely but like all things “Torres,” the jury is out, and rumor has it, because they may be phantom jurors.
What Michael Torres doesn’t know (and has no reason to know really), is that when you become obsessed with Savannah and the journey of understanding her history, you become an accidental expert on the maps associated. Savannah Map Lesson No 1 is that the city was America’s first planned city laid out on a grid design. Famous map makers would travel here just to add their own depiction or version of Savannah to their own resume collection for history’s sake. Maps are taken quite seriously by The Who’s Who of local historians. When I published my first map in 1995 under my company, Jones Street Productions, “The Savannah & Tybee Map,” I handed off a pre-press copy to noted preservationist and antiquarian, Mills Lane IV. He looked over it more seriously than I imagined, made invaluable corrections and I published it with much greater pride having a very tough critic’s approval. I should also add that before the greater internet, I made my maps over the years working from the satelite maps made for The Army Corp of Engineers and were more than just mere copies of previous tourist maps. Maps were my literal business. Even earlier in my young historian ambitions, I spent hours scouring over The Sanborn Maps in The Georgia Historical Society, which are the equivalent of Biblical scripture in so far as understanding how things came and went and shifted in The Colony of Georgia. So, if my name were Bo, I’d then say “Bo knows maps.” And not to say I know everything as I don’t. I’m not that vain and love learning of the unexpected gems and even being corrected on historical points. I even relate to an outsider who comes to Savannah and shocks, educates and offends. I’ve been that guy. I’ve just done it over three decades now, and after being afforded much good grace same time, and never under the open guise of being a pirate. All the same, I’d never heard of a King George III Map gone “lost” during The Revolution. I have known all of the map guys like historian Paul Blatner (RIP), Professor John Duncan, Jefferson Hall and, trust me, no one had ever mentioned it as an object of mystery or wonder. Was this something else Michael Torres was going to thrill and surprise us with? I mean after all, at the close of the earlier mentioned Instagram episode, he looks at the camera wide-eyed and boasts, “The maps are wrong y’all.”
Any hopes of Torres bearing out more genuine was dashed when speaking to a local archeaologist that has worked the important sites relevant to The Savannah River and Low Country interiors. While watching Torres’ videos, he debunked the areas where Torres was shooting as claims of “discovery,” to simply being random interesting looking scenes near Bonaventure and downtown Savannah. They were not connected to anything Torres claimed in the narration was tied to the fabled lost map. In my mind, more “B-Roll” to tease an interested producer with or prospective investor. Which again, is one way of going about it, but maybe a little too Vegas style for Savannah in my view, and who and what are you selling short and selling out as it’s done? I can’t knock him for being a showman, as it takes a Ringmaster to sell a circus, but the risk of failure is high, if while stirring hearts, imaginations you come up tragically short, shown to be a confidence man with nothing but fool’s gold. I would just advise him to better have a map showing the fastest backroad out of town if the latter!
As fate seems to have a sense of timing, it only took a week for Michael Torres to re-enter my life with a phone call from a rather congenial, well humored host of a true crime podcast called PRETEND – Stories of People Pretending To Be Someone Else. Apparently, Torres had been making waves with the wrong people for a long time, and his past is now catching up to him or because he’s an interesting character or both. Essentially, I conveyed all of the above to the interviewer and gave him my permission to use whatever he liked of our conversation. What did not make the interview was my summation that Michael Torres has real skills and probably is genuine in his wants to share his passions with the world. However, in the rush to succeed in these ways or have a name, the sincere things have been belied or have become confused by his fantasy of his role as the pirate. Granted, academia in many ways has hijacked processes. Frozen them and made access near impossible for those with a genuine love of exploring. Time’s understanding truly does sit too still because of those controls and more private companies and individuals need to lead the way to liberate the information and enlighten us all. And in that notion, we need real rebels. Just not so sure of the role of pirates in that equation or those merely playing the role of one.
LISTEN to Shannon Scott giving his thoughts by CLICKING LINK BELOW