2010-09-10 / Travel

In Search of a Slave Trader

Part 12: Lunch with the rich and famous
By Warner M. Montgomery Warner@TheColumbiaStar.com

Linda enters Graycliff, the first and only Five Star hotel in the Bahamas. Linda enters Graycliff, the first and only Five Star hotel in the Bahamas. It was a bright sunny day in Nassau Town, 80 degrees with a slight breeze, perfect. Linda and I made a beeline for the Bahamas Historical Society Museum to continue our search for Captain Lightburn, the slave trader who owned a rice plantation on Wadmalaw Island in S.C. from 1800 to 1833. Just our luck, the museum was closed for renovation. The Pompey Museum, our next stop, was also closed as a result of a fire on September 11, 2001. The Balcony House, supposedly a museum, turned out to be a beautiful cedar house once owned by an A&P heiress and often visited by Ian Fleming of 007 fame.

We dodged the Pirates of Nassau “interactive museum” because it was just a tourist trap. However, there were other worthwhile historical sites in town:

• Parliament Square was surrounded by all the government buildings – House of Assembly, the Senate, Opposition Headquarters, Clerk of Court, Supreme Court—built between 1805 and 1813. They all face a statue of Queen Victoria unveiled in 1905.

The Graycl if f Cigar Company, under the supervision of Castro’s former cigar roller, makes Cuban cigars for shipment around the world. The Graycl if f Cigar Company, under the supervision of Castro’s former cigar roller, makes Cuban cigars for shipment around the world. • Christ Church Anglican Cathedral was originally built in 1753 and contained a remarkable wooden roof, stained glass, and huge chandeliers.

• St. Francis Xavier Cathedral was established in 1885. Inside were many antique icons.

• St. Andrews Presbyterian Kirk was established by a loyalist refugee from the American Revolution and 55 Scots in 1798.

• The Nassau Library, once a dungeon, housed many books and stacks of newspapers, but not a usable index.

At lunchtime, we came upon Graycliff. The sign said privateer John Howard Graysmith built a home on the site of the ruins of a church built in 1694 and sacked by the Spaniards in 1703. I thought Graysmith might have been in cahoots with Lightburn, so we ventured innocently inside.

Linda and Warner enjoy drinks while surrounded by the rich and famous. Linda and Warner enjoy drinks while surrounded by the rich and famous. A handsome young black man in a tuxedo met us at the door, “Are you here for lunch, sir?” he asked in a strong British accent. Very quickly we discovered we were in Graycliff Hotel and Restaurant, The Home of Relaxed Elegance, the only Five Star hotel in the Bahamas.

Our host explained the main house was 250 years old and had been a popular meeting place for royalty. Sir Winston Churchill, Princess Marie and Prince Paul of Greece, the Duke of Kent, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Lord Beaverbrook, Lord Mountbatten, and Aristotle Onassis had been regular visitors. The Earl and Countess Dudley of Staffordshire bought it for their winter home in 1966. When they sold it in 1974, it became a hotel once again. Today it is owned by Anna and Enrico Garzaroli, Italian investors.

Our host gave us a tour of the restaurant, bar, and lounge, three swimming pools, gym and sauna, and boutique. The 20 rooms ranged in price from $150 to $400 and in style from Chinese to pirate. “After your meal, you might like to visit our cigar factory run by the former personal roller for Fidel Castro,” he graciously offered.

When we saw that the price of lunches almost equaled the price of a room, my wife and I opted for drinks. “I’ll have your best house drink,” she said. I ordered a Bloody Mary. We sat in the Five Star restaurant, flush with antiques and servants, and enjoyed our $28 drinks.

Continued next week

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