Callimachus’ Contribution

The Acanthus Mollis is a common sight in #Charleston #gardens in the Summer. This non-native perennial comes from the Middle East, and the name comes from Greek, meaning “soft thorns” referring to the tiny thorns in its sepals. The most interesting visual aspect of the acanthus is its drooping flowers in combinations of purple and white on vertical stalks. According to the ancient architectural historian Vitruvius, it was the beauty of these flowers rising around a woman’s grave that inspired Greek sculptor Callimachus (circa 5th century BC) to create what is now considered the highest order of column capitals – the Corinthian Order. <img.src=”Charleston Gardens” alt=”Acanthus Mollis

Spectacular Spectrum

Historic #Charleston is a photographer’s delight, with an abundance of classic architectural shapes, statuesque trees, glistening iron gates, manicured gardens and everywhere, dazzling colors made by man and nature. The exotic plants that have been introduced to Charleston over the centuries from around the world offer rich hues of brilliant blooms. The storied buildings are a visual marvel as well, with exterior walls splashed in shades of orange, raspberry, lime, indigo, canary, mustard and plum. In the city;s heyday after the American Revolution, pigmentation of buildings became a source of pride and an indication of wealth, with vivid colors created from minerals and compounds that were initially added to layers of wet stucco and brushed over bricks. Today, many of those historic colors have been reproduced in latex, making the application a much easier and lasting process and a look that visitors will not soon forget. <img.src=”Charleston SC” alt=”Colors

Unconventional Unitarians

The Unitarian Church on Archdale Street in historic #Charleston is the 3rd oldest in the city, completed in 1787 and remodeled in the 1850’s by noted Charleston architect Francis Lee, incorporating English Renaissance and Gothic Revival styles. The Unitarians were always considered to be unconventional, and one of their intrinsic beliefs is that the son of God was not as divine as God himself, and therefore were not considered by some to be Christians. The Unitarians were very progressive in many respects, and were sympathetic to abolition and to women’s rights. One of the famous legends of the church graveyard is that the congregation was the only one in Charleston willing to accept the body of the notorious Lavinia Fisher, hanged for highway robbery in 1882, and whose body lies here in an unmarked grave. <img.src=”Charleston Architecture” alt=”Unitarian Church”

Mystical Mimosas

The stunning flower of this summer-blooming tree was    first introduced to #Charleston in 1785, with the arrival of French botanist Andre Michaux, who brought a number of exotic species to America, including the Crepe Myrtle and Camellia. Although not a true Mimosa, the name adds flair to a tree which is actually related to soybeans, chickpeas, and peanuts, and who scientific name is a mouthful – Albizia Julibrissin. Michaux was royal gardener under Louis XVI, but instead of losing his head to the guillotine as did his former employer, he was sent by the French Revolutionary government to America as an naturalist emissary, and would find a home in Charleston for more than ten years, exploring the Southeast for other species, such as the one from the mountains he named the Rhododendron. <img.src=”Charleston Gardens” alt=”Mimosa Tree”

Gothic Grandeur

The interior of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, circa 1862, is one of the most dramatic displays in #historicCharlestonSC. It was designed by architect Francis D. Lee, who was an incredibly talented Charleston native. Lee, who became a Confederate office in the defense of Charleston during the #CivilWar, was so creative that he designed a torpedo boat, The Torch, planned for use against the Federal blockading squadron that tried to cut the maritime supply lines to the South. Lee’s various building designs included Moorish Revival, Italianate and Gothic Revival, and all of the work he did that still exists is very eye-catching today. <img.src=”Charleston Architecture” alt=”St. Luke’s Episcopal Church”

Singular Seal

This version of the state seal of South Carolina is at the #WashingtonLightInfantry monument in Washington Square. The seal was created in 1776 with the declaration of South Carolina’s independence from England, and this version shows mythical figures representing the citizenry beside the two ovals with Latin versions of the state motto. On the left, the Palmetto tree with the inscription “Animis Opibusque Parati”, meaning “prepared in mind and resources” and on the right, the Greek goddess Spes, meaning hope, and the inscription “Dum Spiro Spero”, while I breathe I hope. <img.src=”South Carolina History” alt=”State Seal”

Calhoun Crypt

One of the most famous graves in #Charleston is that of #JohnCCalhoun. Calhoun was not a Charlestonian, actually born in Abbeville, SC in 1782, but when he died in 1850, he had become such a notable Southern figure, that it was decided he would be buried in the city from which South Carolina was born. The funeral was done with tremendous fanfare, as thousands of participants marched in honor of Calhoun, who had served under four presidents – twice Vice-President (John Q. Adams and Andrew Jackson) Secretary of War (James Monroe) and Secretary of State (John Tyler) and was US Senator and Congressman. But the Charleston burial did not suit everyone, and there were demands from the upstate that he be buried there. In the early 20th century, a group called STORCH (Society to return Calhoun home) allegedly tried to exhume his body, and the sarcophagus was opened to make sure he was still there – and indeed he was. <img.src=”Famous Charlestonians” alt=”John C. Calhoun”

Bondage Badges

One of the most unusual artifacts from the slavery era are the copper badges that slaves would wear like a necklace when being hired out to work for someone else. The slave hire system began early in the history of #Charleston, as a brisk slave trade from West Africa increased population of those in servitude from just a few hundred in 1700 to more than 12,000 by 1720. Because some slaveowners eventually had more slaves than there was work for them to do, the hiring system became a common method of earning revenue from someone else who needed slave labor. The city of Charleston regulated the hiring system by at first issuing paper tickets that owners would purchase and slaves would carry, but the more durable copper badge became the accepted method by the 19th century. Each badge was stamped with an identification number, a date, and the skill for which the slave was hired. The more common badges were for unskilled positions such as servants and porters, but many slaves were also hired as apprentices in carpentry, ironwork and other trades, and because those badges were less common, today they are much more coveted as collectors items. <img.src=”Slave Trade” alt=”Slave Badges”

Curious Caps

The chimneys of historic #Charleston #SC are among the most notable features in the #architecture, typically built with rounded “caps” or funnel-like “pots”. These are more than just decorations, and in the past, provided a function crucial to the buildings. aIn the days before electric and gas furnaces, homes were heated by fireplaces, in which wood or coal was burned. The mass of smoke rising through the narrow chimney passage must rise rapidly to make burning of fuel more efficient and to prevent it from backdrafting into the house. Chimneys often had cracks  inside the shaft as well as build up of carbon deposits that would reduce the lift of the smoke column, and by adding a cap or pot that funneled the column into a smaller outlet, this would create a vacuum effect that induced a better upward flow. A second advantage of the cap or pot was that it made more difficult the chance of flaming embers from other fires dropping into the chimney. Historically, many of Charleston’s disastrous fires were characterized by the hazards of airborne embers landing on roofs and in chimneys. <img src=”Charleston Architecture” alt=”Chimney Caps“>

Twisted Tale

As in any historic city, #CharlestonSC has its share of commonly-told legends and stories that are completely erroneous. One historic architectural detail that is consistently misrepresented is the twisted rope motif carved in wood around historic doorways. The most persistent tale is that the rope image represented the fact that the house was owned by a merchant, who presumably dealt in goods such as ropes. In truth, there is no symbolism in the rope motif at all, it is simply an exquisite detail that was very coveted in historic times before powered lathes and saws, when the skill of the artisan was on display. This detail has been used since the ancient Greeks to decorate doorways and the same helix shape was used throughout ancient Europe in columns as well, what is called a Solomonic Column. The rope motif is typically cut from a single piece of wood that, in historic times, was worked with rasp and chisel as the piece was slowly turned. Some helixes are more tightly-spaced than others and can be either left-handed or right-handed in spiral. Expertly done, the wooden spiral motif is a thing of beauty, and that is the only meaning it really has. <img src=”Charleston Architecture” alt=”Rope Spiral Doorways”>