Illuminated Illusion

In December 1901, #Charleston held its own version of the World’s Fair with the Interstate and West Indian Exposition. The event was held on the old Washington Race courses grounds near the Ashley River, and was to hoped to generate interest in the Southeastern and West Indian trade and drag Charleston out of its post-Civil War economic hardships. The 250-acre tract was adorned with a hastily-built “Ivory City”, consisting of large cheaply-made wooden buildings that were painted white and gave the appearance of great palaces. Tracks were laid for a trolley that would take customers to various exhibits inside the palaces, as well as canals, pedestrian bridges and statues. The bright light of the exposition was exactly that, Thomas Edison’s incandescent light bulb, which was strung by the tens of thousands on structures like the 50,000 square foot Cotton Palace in the picture, to enhance the enjoyment and scope of the fair. Yet with all its exhibits, and an impressive midway that featured camels, elephants and oddities from around the world, the exposition was a colossal financial failure because of lack of attendance. Among the visitors besides Edison was President Theodore Roosevelt, as well as Mark Twain, who famously quipped, “no one was there”.  Within a few years, all the palaces had been pulled down. Today, part of the expo location is Hampton Park, where the only reminder of the great Ivory City is the sunken garden lake that stood in front of the Cotton Palace. Hampton Park is more than a mile from the place I begin my tour, but it is worth a drive or Uber to wander the garden there and visit The Citadel next door.<img.src=”Charleston History” alt=”Interstate and West Indian Exposition

Gorgeous Greens

The Village of Harleston was created asa suburb of #Charleston in the 1770’s, the name coming from the large tract of high land that bordered the Ashley River, known as Harleston Green. A handful of homes were erected in the late 18th century by planters who wanted to escape the summer sizzle, but the open breezy meadows were largely used for recreation by a large contingent of Scottish merchant immigrants, who brought with them the new game called golf. Whacking away with odd-shaped clubs with names like the niblick, they swatted balls made of sheep and goat skin into appointed holes. And thus the first golf association in America was formed by 1786 as the Harleston Green Golf Club. Today, the green spaces in what’s now called Harleston Village are as beckoning, but the only thing that swings these days are the gates to the garden areas that replaced former fairway. <img.src=”Charleston Curiosities” alt=”Harleston Green”

Revolution Remembrances

The John Stuart House on Tradd Street is one of the most storied houses in #Historic Charleston. Built in the 1760’s by Stuart, a Scottish immigrant who played a huge role in resolving conflicts with native Cherokees and whose house features a combination of historic wooden siding – beaded weatherboard on the sides and rear as well as shiplap on the front. But the most famous story involving the house occurred in the Spring of 1780, during the Revolution, when British forces were besieging Charleston. According to this legendary tale, officers of the 2nd South Carolina regiment defending the city met in the house to discuss strategy, finishing the meeting with heavy drinking, when one officer Francis Marion, a Calvinist who did not drink alcohol, refused to participate and when reverted from leaving, leapt from a window to escape, breaking his ankle. Retiring to his rural plantation to recuperate, Marion also escaped capture when the British took the city in May, 1780. He would recover and lead forces against the British from the swamps of coastal South Carolina, and famously became known as the “Swamp Fox”, eventually helping drive the English from South Carolina.<img src=”famous houses” alt=”Swamp Fox”>

Historic Engines

The #Charleston, SC Fire Department was not created until 1881, and fire fighting in the city prior to that was done by individual private fire companies, called “fire brigades” who were located in small buildings around the town, such as this location pictured on Hayne Street. From the 1850’s to the early 1900’s, most fire engines were little more than water pumps on wheels pulled by horses, that used the pressure of steam boilers to create both vacuum and positive pressure to force water out of wells and hydrants on to burning buildings. A few of the old boilers still exist and are on display at the Main Fire Station at 262 Meeting Street.<img src=”fire engines” alt=”Charleston Fires”>

Landmarks Charleston

The towering 182-foot spire of the Circular Congregational Church is shown in this pre-Civil War photograph. The church,  designed by famed Charleston architect Robert Mills, was a domed structure when finished in 1804, and the steeple was eventually added in the 1830’s. It was the second largest domed structure in America behind the US Capitol, and a marvel of engineering with a truss-supported roof. The church stood majestically next to South Carolina Institute Hall to its right in the picture. Institute Hall, designed by Charleston architects Edward Jones and Francis Lee, and was the largest public hall in the state when finished in 1854 where South Carolina delegates were the first to sign articles of Secession breaking from the Union in December 1860. A year later, both would be in ashes after a devastating fire swept through the city in 1861. Despite such irreparable losses in historic architecture, Charleston still displays the most compelling contiguous area of colonial and antebellum architecture in America.<img src=”Circular Congregational Church” alt=”Charleston Architecture”>

We Worship Washington

IMG_2485The shadow of George Washington still looms in grand fashion over historic   Charleston. The first Washington presence in the city was actually George’s cousin William, who came to South Carolina to fight the British during the Revolution. William was crucial to the victory here, and fell in love with Charlestonian Jane Elliott, whom he married and lived here happily after the war. George made his visit here in May of 1791, on his tour of Southern states after his election. Charleston adored George, but George was less impressed with Charleston’s streets, and mentioned in his diary that the thoroughfares here were “like sand”. Washington was feted at the Old Exchange, where he was seated between local ladies known for their whit and good looks, and apparently the father of our country held his own with charm and intelligence to match his military record.

Today, we have #Washington Square, aka Washington Park, which the statue in the picture dominates, and which we see each day on the Charleston Footprints Tour. We also have a Washington Street near the waterfront, and the Village of Washington, a post-Revolutionary suburb near Hampton Park. One of Charleston’s most fabled organizations is the Washington Light Infantry, a military unit established in 1807, which has fought with distinction both for and against the United States, and whose towering obelisk is the central focus of Washington Square.

On President’s day here in Charleston, we tend to favor the great George, a fellow-Southerner who won our respect and our hearts, as well as helping win our liberty. <img src=”Statue George Washington” alt=” Charleston SC”>

Cannonball Showcase

IMG_2472It’s not unusual to see cannonballs and other ordnance decorating Charleston locations, because there is certainly more where that came from. The city has twice been subjected to bombardment from besieging troops – in 1780 by the British, and from 1863-65 by Federal troops in the #Civil War. Contrary to the popular conception that these balls, shot and shells were fired into the city by ships, by far the largest amount came from land-based guns. Ship cannons in historic times rarely had the ability to be angled high enough to fired great distances, whereas land guns could easily be set at a trajectory that allowed great range. The British did fire into the city from ships that came very close to the peninsula, but they also used guns placed at land approaches to a city they had surrounded by 1780. Some of the British guns were placed West of the Ashley River, about were the neighborhood of Moreland is today, and launched both explosive balls and solid shot at patriot fortifications. Just last year, a 22-pound solid ball was unearthed on Savage Street, which would have been the western line of American defenses during the Revolution.

More common and plentiful were the bullet-shaped explosive shells of the Federal guns mounted on and around Morris Island. These huge rifled cannons, called Parrott Rifles,  could fire 200-pound projectiles in excess of 4 miles, and also included rounds mixed with pitch and tar to ignite fires. One single gun near Cummings Point fired 4606 shells into Charleston in the Fall of 1863 before its muzzle exploded, and estimated are as high as 22,000 rounds fired by Northern troops at Charleston. Some folks have dug these projectiles up, and the proper procedure is to call in the Air Force Base Bomb Squad, as the black powder inside still may be dangerous. However, as much as Charlesonians like their artifacts, many are willing to disarm the shells themselves, and a certain prominent attorney who lives on Tradd Street still displays a 200-pound Parrott shell in his hallway that was dug up by a contractor, who simply sat the shell in a garbage can full of water for several days to assure it was defused. <img src=”Civil War” alt=”Historic Charleston”>

Jenkins Orphanage Band

IMG_1887The Jenkins Orphanage Band became such an international sensation by the early 20th century, that the group was invited to play for King George of England. The jazzy genesis of the band came from orphanage director, Rev. Daniel Jenkins, who wanted to give the poor young boys some enthusiastic distraction from the tedium of life in the old building on Franklin Street. In the aftermath of the Civil War, most of Charleston was poor, and poor black children from broken homes faced little hope were it not for learning skills at the orphanage as cobblers and tailors, which were menial jobs nonetheless.
Re. Jenkins added a new inspiring spirit by asking Charlestonians to contribute used musical instruments, and getting former Citadel cadets to donate old uniforms. With bent horns and faded tunics, the little boys lit up Charleston with impromptu concerts on street corners – a fast-paced, brassy sound whose fame spread far and wide.
Several band members went on to fame playing for such orchestras as Count Basie and Duke Ellington.


Michael Feeding Feline Friend

One of the Charleston’s most anticipated events is the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition each February, featuring world-class wildlife art, exciting live animal displays and exhibits, and some of the best parties on the planet.
Charleston is a natural for nature’s beauty, as our climate attracts an incredible array of wild indigenous and migratory species, and we have always had a kindred relationship with animals in the field.
Starting up above, we are blessed with winged creatures of every size, shape and color. Our official state bird, the Carolina Wren, is tiny, but emits a powerful whistling message that is distinctive and delightful on golden Spring mornings. Swamps and woodlands echo with the uplifting tomes of the Prothonotary Warbler, while marshes reverberate with the staccato sounds of the Clapper Rail.
Drifting high on warming thermals are a variety of birds of prey, from the imposing horizontal wing span of the Great Bald Eagle to the tilting V-shape of circling Vultures. Along the coast, great Blue Herons and Egrets stand statuesquely near tidal creeks, Eastern Brown Pelicans wing over for sensational dives into the sea, and lone Black Skimmers create long streaks in still waters with beaks that drag delicately inches above the surface.
Migratory and game birds abound aplenty in Charleston winters, from floating flocks of Trumpeter Swans and Canada Geese to formation flights of Mallard and Mottled ducks. Cold rivers swarm with American Coots that seem to walk on water as they dash in monstrous melees when startled, and woodlands come alive with gobbling Wild Turkeys, the state game bird, which is surprisingly swift for an animal better known as a dining centerpiece.

Formidable creatures linger in protected habitats, from massive American Alligators, our state reptile, that send shuddering calls during mating periods in the Summer, to graceful White-Tailed Deer, our state animal, that dart effortlessly through mazes of dwarf palmettos. Sightings have been frequently reported of Golden Panthers and Black Bears deep in area forests, and other less-frequently-seen species in the Lowcountry include the Fox Squirrel, the Grey Fox, and the Beaver.
A major star at SEWE has always been the retriever, whether it was a Labrador, a Golden, or a Boykin, which is our state dog, and some of the best athletes in town are the leaping four-leggers chasing Frisbees.