Hostess City History: The Waving Girl

Overlooking the Savannah River at  River Street’s east end in Morell Park, you’ll find the Waving Girl Statue. Lauded sculptor Felix de Weldon created the statue, which was erected in 1972 to celebrate the life and tradition of Florence Martus. 

Born to a soldier in 1869 on Cockspur Island, Florence grew up between the lighthouses of Cockspur and Elba Islands. As a teenager, she settled in a secluded cottage on the Savannah River bank with her brother, who was a lighthouse keeper. 

Growing up, Florence would wave to ships as they entered Savannah Harbor. It was a routine that she was committed to on a daily basis. Joined by her loyal collie, Florence would wave a handkerchief or tablecloth to greet every passing ship during the day. At night, she would hail ships with a lantern in hand. 

Ships noticed Florence’s friendly salutes, and they’d respond with a jovial blast of their horn. Soon, her reputation spread among sailors from all over the world. She continued to greet ships for 44 years until retiring the routine in 1931. Estimates suggest that Florence greeted more than 50,000 ships during her time on the river bank. 

If you’ve heard of the Waving Girl, you might be familiar with the local lore, which holds that she greeted ships in hopes of the return of her long-lost lover, a Yankee sailor. Ghost stories often claim that her spirit still wanders Elba Island waving a tattered cloth and awaiting her lover. As romantic as the fable is, it’s likely untrue. Florence probably waved to the ships to stave off boredom, and she likely took a liking to the gifts and attention she received from the sailors. 

The next time you’re on River Street, snag a pic of the Waving Girl. She will forever be remembered for doing what she loved most.