One of the favorite things to do in the Summer for tourists with families in #Charleston is one of the many ghost tours. There are many tours that offer creepy stories about ghostly activities in the city’s history, and much of what is told takes some willingness to believe what others have never seen. Yet one of the most chilling tales of the past is based largely on factual evidence and in the case of the notorious Lavinia Fisher, the real person was as haunting as any ghost. Lavinia was arrested in 1820, along with her husband and several accomplices, charged with the disappearance and robbery of patrons at the tavern the Fishers owned. Murdered bodies were never found, presumably buried by the Fisher gang, but stolen horses and goods of transient persons were, and in the 1820’s, this was “highway robbery”, punishable by death. For two years, lawyers argued over the case until Lavinia and her husband were taken to public gallows, where she shrieked and went into convulsions, terrifying onlookers before she was hanged. Before her death, the alluring Lavinia had used seductive powers to convince certain clergymen of her innocence, and at the Unitarian Church, where the tenets of the religion emphasize the value of every life, a gravesite was made available so that she did have to be cast into the pauper’s cemetery. Because of her reputation, which only grew more after her violent death, she was buried in an unmarked grave. Somewhere in this churchyard this murderous woman lies, adding a haunted aspect to the old stones of the Unitarian Churchyard.
We pride ourselves in scenic #Charleston for being a genuinely historic city, and on my walking tours, I want visitors to see and hear the factual aspects about the “Holy City”. We do however, have some instances in which history has been faked, and illusion has been substituted for fact that even though creating a good story, just isn’t true. Such is the case of the infamous cannon barrel now found at White Point Garden. Many years ago, Longitude Lane’s narrow west entrance was blocked by a Revolutionary War cannon barrel buried muzzle down in the ground. Because it was city property, the city eventually decided to remove the cannon and display it in a more historically-accurate setting. Residents of Longitude Lane were upset and within a short period of time, a man came knocking on their doors offering to sell them another Revolutionary cannon to replace the original. Little did this man realize that many Charlestonians know their military history, and inspecting the cannon quickly noticed the piece of pipe protruding from the muzzle. Casting a cannon around pipe was a method once used, but not until long after the Revolution had ended, so the cannon is not what was claimed and the residents passed on purchase, but the city took it and displays the faked cannon today. <img.src=”Charleston Curiosities” alt=”The Fake Cannon”
One of the interesting buildings that we walk past on my tours of #Charleston is the Chalmers Street home of the Deutsche Freundliche Gesellschaft – the German Friendly Society. Although founded in 1766, this is not the oldest society in the fabled city, as that honor goes to the St. Andrews Society, formed in 1729, but the German Friendly is the most attended by far. Since the organization was founded by 16 German immigrants as a means of providing assistance for needy German residents of the colonial city, the group has met almost every Wednesday for 253 years, and count nearly 14,000 meetings of the society. The old joke in Charleston is that, if you have lots of Germans in your city, that it’s good that they are friendly, and all meetings are very friendly and convivial with a full dinner, cocktails, and rousing German folk songs. One great irony is that the 1820’s building that has served as the society’s home for more than a century was originally used by temperance organizations dedicated to stop the drinking of alcohol in Charleston. The German Friendly meetings have a tradition of singing old German drinking songs with cheers and salutes made with mugs of beer. <img.src=”Charleston History” alt=”German Friendly Society”
One of the most storied areas in historic #Charleston is White Point Garden at the southern tip of the peninsular city. This former sand bar was filled and converted to a public park in 1834. The pleasant surroundings were interrupted by the Civil War, when the Confederate defenders built the area into huge earthworks with big cannon. But after the war, the park was restored and oak trees planted that now give the area the feel of a grand outdoor cathedral. Summertime swimming in the 1870’s was done in the adjacent Ashley and Cooper rivers, and the bath house pictured was one of two such structures added before 1880. These were built on piles driven into the river bottom, and accessed by ramps from the garden area, offered changing rooms, smoking rooms, open-air verandas and refreshments to beat the Summer heat. It was a popular recreation until 1911, when a big hurricane destroyed the bath houses, and by then there were regular ferries and trolleys taking Charlestonians to the nearby beaches at Sullivan’s Island and the Isle of Palms, so the bath houses were never rebuilt. <img.src=”Charleston History” alt=”White Point Garden Bath Houses”
On my tours of historic #Charleston, I am often asked about plaques that adorn so many walls and houses around the scenic city. One of the most noteworthy is the symbol of the Society of the Cincinnati, a philanthropic organization begun after the Revolutionary War in 1783. The feeling among many of those who led America to independence was that they had done their duty for the country, not for their own personal gain, and that when their duty was done, that they become ordinary citizens again. The society name is based on Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, a general in the army of ancient Rome, who had retired from his military career to his farm, but was called out of retirement by the Roman government to lead the army against invading hordes. Cincinnatus defeated the enemy and then went back to his farm, and this selfless devotion is in the society motto, “Reliquit Servare Republicam” meaning “He left everything to save the Republic”. There are fourteen chapters of the society in each of the original thirteen states and in France because of the help that country gave in winning US independence, and the society is often referred to as “The Fourteen”. <img.src=”Charleston Curiosities” alt=”Society of the Cincinnati”
One of the beautiful Summer sights along the historic sidewalks of scenic #Charleston is that of the blooming crepe myrtles. We see them in abundance on my walking tours, and many guests ask if they are related to lilacs, which have a similar lacer-looking flower. But the crepe myrtle is in the Lythraceae family of trees, more closely related to the pomegranate, while Lilacs are in the Olive family. Up close the pink and white flowers resemble crepe paper, thus the name, and the bark is very distinctive as well, peeling off in the hot weather as an exfoliation to prevent fungus. The crepe myrtle was introduced to America by French botanist Andre Michaux, who moved to Charleston in 1786 after escaping the French Revolution. This widely-traveled man brought with him three plants native to southern Asia that have become common favorites in our coastal city today – the crepe myrtle, the mimosa and the camellia. <img.src=”Charleston Gardens” alt=”Crepe Myrtle Tree”
The grand Regency style house at 172 Rutledge Avenue in historic #Charleston has been home to Ashley Hall School for 110 years. This girls’ preparatory school was created by Mary Vardrine McBee in 1909 for the purpose of giving young women a chance to excel in academics at a time when womens’ educational opportunities were limited. The devotion to its purpose by faculty and students one the years has made Ashely Hall one of the most prestigious schools in the South, and for years had a boarding facility that allowed young women to attend from other cities and states. Among those was New Yorker Barbara Pierce, class of 1943, who would go on to become First Lady Barbara Bush. Ashley Hall has turned out a wealth of authors, doctors, and high-level administrators in its 110 years, and also has a very competitive athletic program with one of the finest volleyball teams in the state each year. A grand old house with a grand legacy. <img.src=”Charleston Landmarks” alt=”Ashley Hall”
The loggerhead sea turtle is South Carolina’s state reptile, an air-breathing sea creature which has a natural connection to the land. On my tour, we sometimes sea turtles popping up for air in #Charleston Harbor, but typically, they are most active in the area this time of year after dark. During the summer, huge female loggerheads, weighing as much as 300 pounds, drag themselves out of the surf on remote beaches and lay eggs by digging shallow holes in the sand near dunes at night. Usually the mother lays about 40 golf-ball sized eggs, then covers them up with sand and drags herself back into the sea. About 60 days later, the eggs will hatch, and tiny turtles like the one pictured emerge from the sand no larger than the palm of your hand. They instinctively waddle into the nearby ocean and amazingly, many survive to become massive turtles years later, and repeat the process on another dark Summer night along the South Carolina coastline. <img.src=”Charleston Wildlife” alt=”Loggerhead Sea Turtles”