Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Legend of Rene Rondolia- Disappointing Myth

I remember watching a program called Scariest Places on Earth on the Fox Family Channel. One episode was totally about Savannah and the many hauntings that supposedly take place there. One story that was told was about a huge man who lived in the early 1800s named Rene Rondolia. It was rather disturbing to hear about this supposed gigantic killer of children, who, at his birth, weighed in at 16 pounds. According to the legend, Rene would roam the alleys of Savannah at night. Having grown in to a big child with abnormal strength, Rene could harm things without intent. Small animals would often fall prey to Rene when he would inadvertantly hurt them on account of his strength. To add to the depth of this legend, it was reported that Rene did not speak English, only broken French that he learned from his mother, a French Huguenot. According to the program, Rene was the inspiration for Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. But as James Caskey, author of Haunted Savannah points out, there is absolutely no evidence to support such a claim, and furthermore, Joseph Bevan, the Savannah socialite who was a friend of Mary Shelley's father, visited with Shelley's father during a time when he and his daughter were estranged, so a meeting between Bevan and Mary Shelley would be very improbable. No credible scholar has produced any evidence that Shelley used Savannah or Rene Rondolia as an inspiration for her story. But there are still those who tell this story as if it were fact.
Moving on to Rene Rondolia, stories are told that the death of a young girl near Foley's Alley in Savannah was attributed to him. Her neck was broken, and as that was the same thing that was known to happen to the small animals with which Rene played, locals naturally assumed that this was the work of Rene Rondolia. They lynched him, hanging him from a tree in the southwest corner of Warren Square. Although it took a while, his neck broke and he died. However, it was said that the killings continued after his lynching into 1821. Others say that the ghost of Rene Rondolia can be seen near Warren Square. The story is known to scare thrill seekers and young children alike. According to Caskey, one can "Credit this tale with inspiring more sleepless nights on camping trips than any other story in Savannah."
It is good story, but sadly, it is just that-a story. There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that there ever was a Rene Rondolia, and he was never buried in Colonial Park Cemetery as the show Scariest Places on Earth suggests. I noticed it was quite peculiar when on a trip to the cemetery a few years ago, I could not locate the grave in the plot where the show said it would be. Like many other legends and tales that circulate on tours and in discussions, this one was and is a total wash.


Caprice said...

Maybe the proof just hasn't surfaced yet. I think it's your job to go GET that proof!
It's such a good story! ... a maturity-challenged guy accidentally killing helpless girls... sounds like Frankenstein to me!
Come on, Prof, I think we need to go to Savannah and do some reconnaissance and some ghost hunting.
Do they call it "the ghost of Frankenstein"?
Although, it IS a little difficult to believe a 16lbs baby! OUCH!

FreshFish said...

It was Rondo Rondolia as told by the senior Boy Scout leaders, around the campfire @ Pipsico Scout Reservation, along the James River in Surry Virginia...He was credited of cutting off the heads of wayward scouts along the riverbank...Towards the end of the story telling, a senior scout would jump out from the darkness and scare the hell out of everyone...Still remember 40 some years ago,
IMFISH (Trp 302)

J. Lyon Layden's The Looters Revue Show said...

I've never heard anyone here in Savannah say he was buried in Colonial Park. Were accurate records of every citizen in Savannah kept in 1977? I hadn't thought so...

Anonymous said...

Perhaps spelling the name correctly might help? Rene Asche Rondolier B.1777? I can't say he existed because I haven't personally done the research but you won't get far by spelling it incorrectly.

The Professor said...

I wouldn't argue with the logic of your statement, only the facts. While your spelling isn't incorrect, his name has been spelled both ways. Here is one of the several articles where I have run across it spelled both ways.

Since he is suspected of having not existed, the technical, correct spelling of his name hasn't been pinned down either. I used the above spelling based on a succession of articles I found with that spelling. Not incorrect either, especially given we think this person is a legend and his name was passed down orally rather than in true, written form.

The Professor said...

Here is a web article from Historic Savannah on Colonial Park Cemetery. The name is mentioned as being spelled both ways, albeit in this article the name Asch is affixed.
Rondolia, Rondolier...same legend.

Also, James Caskey, in his books and writings spells it Rondolia. Again, same legend.