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 financial failure, and 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. <img.src=”Charleston History” alt=”Interstate and West Indian Exposition

Minimally Moorish

The distinctive Farmers and Merchants Bank in historic #Charleston features a very unusual facade style that is typically described as “Moorish”, and details such as its   horseshoe arches are commonly assumed to be an Islamic creation spread into southern Europe by the conquering Moors. This is demonstrably untrue. There are numerous existing examples of horseshoe arches in ancient Catalonian and Byzantine structures that were built long before those areas were conquered and influenced by Islam. The Islamic conquest that speed from Arabia in the 7th century would eventually engulf the Middle East, North Africa, much of Southeastern Europe, and most of Spain. The conquerors borrowed extensively from earlier architectural designs, most notably Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, which was built a century before Islam began as a Greek Orthodox Church. Not that borrowing others’ ideas is a bad thing, and in fact, it was America’s extensive borrowing of styles that were popular in Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries that gives Charleston its grand look today. But although brought to us largely by English and Scottish Christians, Charleston’s historic architecture is based neither on European or Christian concepts, but largely the multi-theistic ancient Romans and Greeks. <img.src=”Charleston Architecture” alt=”Farmers and Merchants Bank

Puzzling Portico

The St. Julian Ravenel House on East Battery Street has one of the most unusual looks and stories in historic #Charleston #SC. The 1840’s structure was built with a two-story colonnaded portico which came crashing down in the 1886 earthquake, and one of the building’s parts, a Corinthian capital, seemed to have been lost. Years later in the 1950’s a hurricane hit Charleston uprooting one of the trees in front of the house, and up through the tree roots came the missing capital, which had hit the ground with such force that in buried underneath. Apparently all the original parts still exist and there has been speculation that the grand old house may one day be put back together again. <img.src=”Charleston Curiosities” alt=”Missing Portico

Ringing Relic

In 1882, shortly after the first public fire service was created in #Charleston, three alarm towers were built, at 112 Meeting Street, 262 Meeting Street and 5 Cannon Street, where new fire stations were soon to follow. The stations at 262 Meeting and 5 Cannon are still active fire houses, but there is no bell at Cannon Street, and the only existing bell is at the 112 Meeting Street location, now a city office building. The tower at 262 Meeting has long since disappeared, but the bell is still there in excellent condition. Last used in the 1950’s, they were rung for fires and for hurricane alarms, and gave a sound that helped protect Charlestonians for decades. <img.src=”Charleston Curiosities” alt=”Fire Bell Meeting Street

Corinthian Confusion

A popular detail from the mid-19th century in historic #Charleston was the addition of colonnades topped by the Corinthian Order, considered the highest level  and most spectacular design. Based on the elaborate Greek details from ancient buildings, the Corinthian capital -the top section of the column – was typically in the pattern of drooping Acanthus leaves. But a more intricate version, as pictured here at the 1850-era John Hume Lucas House on Rutledge Avenue, was the capital featuring both Acanthus and water leaves known as the Tower of the Winds capital in architecture. What is interesting is that the real Tower of the Winds, standing in Athens, Greece since around 50 BC, does not feature this type of capital. Instead, it came from the monument of Lysicrates, built some 300 years earlier, and also still standing. Drawings of its details were first published in England in 1762, and because the earlier building resembled the more famously known Tower of the Winds, an understandable misidentification was made. Admittedly, Tower of the Winds sounds more catchy than Lysicrates, so presumably none of the ancient Greeks would be offended.  <img.src=”Charleston Architecture” alt=”Tower of the Winds capitals”

Illustrative Iron

Among the most charming details in historic #Charleston are its wonderful wrought iron gates. There are gates dating as early as the 1720’s done in the fashion of working iron by hammer and anvil into delicately decorative shapes. Wrought is a metal that is made up of iron, iron silicates and carbon. The carbon content of wrought iron is much lower than in other forms of iron and steel and the silicates are higher, which allows for a combination of elasticity and strength. All wrought iron in Charleston was imported, and the most sought-after form in the 19th century ws Swedish bar iron, forged in Swedish mills with a process that gave the iron considerable durability. Wrought iron was so strong, in fact, that during the Civil War, cannon barrels made of cast iron were strengthened by heating wrought iron rings that were placed over the cannon barrel and cooled to seal a powerful layer to keep the cannon from bursting during   firing.  <img.src=”Charleston History” alt=”Wrought Iron

Symbolic Certainty

There are still those who insist the crescent in the #SouthCarolina flag is based on the moon. There is simply no evidence of any kind to back that up. On the other hand, I have found considerable evidence that the crescent comes from the Gorget, the crescent-shaped throat piece from the old knights’ armor that became a symbol of military rank throughout Europe. It is a fact that King George II was very fond of the gorget and presented replications in gold and silver to military officers, and many a historic painting shows this symbol worn like a necklace by military officers. One of the biggest admirers of King George II was William Bull II of Charleston, who was appointed Lt. Governor four times while South Carolina was a Royal colony. Bull’s own family crest includes the Gorget and the Gauntlet, both symbols of protection and power in the world of heraldry. Bull created the uniforms of the 2nd South Carolina Regiment militia in the 1760’s, and the caps worn by the soldiers had the crescent shape like a smile with points turned upward. Bull also commissioned William Moultrie as an officer in the 2nd South Carolina, and in Moultrie’s memoirs, he points out that a flag was created in 1775 for the Regiment, and that the crescent was based on the uniform. That flag became the basis for the state flag officially created in 1861, whose original design had the points of the crescent pointing up, and was changed in the late 1800’s to the current design. So by sheer linear logic, there is an almost undeniable case that the crescent is the Gorget. <img.src=”Charleston Military History” alt=”The Flag Crescent”

Lycoris Lore

One of the more stunning plants that graces historic #Charleston each year is the Lycoris Radiata. This perennial is native to Japan, and was introduced to America in the 1850’s and thrives in warm Southern climates. The flower contains toxins that are potentially harmful and to the Japanese, it became a symbol of death, which is especially ironic considering that the blooms are prevalent in Charleston graveyards. Another irony is that because it re-emerges from bulbs year after year, that among its notable nicknames is Resurrection Lily. Most Charlestonians call it Red Spider Lily because of its dramatically protruding stamens, but because it also comes up typically in September, it is also known as Hurricane Lily. Like many plants in the Amaryllis family, the Lycoris Radiata blooms on top of an empty stalk after foliage has died away to expose its radiant color, and for that, the flowers are also known as Naked Ladies. <img.src=”Charleston Gardens” alt=”Hurricane Lilies

Inventive Iusti

Johann August Wilhelm Iusti was a German-born immigrant to #Charleston in the 1830’s. He went by his second name, August, which is literally translated as “venerable”, appropriate considering one of his works is still among the most admired sights in the historic city. Iusti’s wrought iron gates at St. Michael’s Church are incredibly well-detailed and made exquisitely in  slender fashion that shows the artistic touch that he obviously had with hammer  on anvil. Done around 1840, the gates still bear Iusti’s name in the iron overthrow. But sadly, there are no records of other gates that he did, living in Charleston until 1895. Perhaps the answer lies in an invention he was credited with  by the U.S. Patent office for a mechanical rain conductor, which in that day were made out of decorative iron. Many of these still exist on historic houses today, and maybe they are part of Iusti’s legacy.

 

   

English Evidence

Two of the most intriguing stories about St. Michael’s Church in historic #CharlestonSC are those of its chandelier and pipe organ. Both came from London, the organ in 1768, and the chandelier in 1803, and both were originally much different than they are today. The tracker organ, created by John Snetzler, originally featured about 900 pipes. It was damaged in the Civil War and again in the earthquake of 1886, and after years of minor repairs, was completely refurbished in the 1990’s, with new ranks and stops added to what was left of the original, and now features 2519 pipes. The chandelier was originally lowered by a winching mechanism that still exists in the church attic, and was brought low enough for lighting candles on the chandelier in its early years. Eventually, gas lamps replaced the candles, and today, electric bulbs. So the sight and sound may be a bit more powerful today than in the church when these implements were installed.<img.src=”Charleston Curiosities” alt=”St. Michael’s Church organ and chandelier