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”

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. We walk past version of the state seal on my tour. <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. We often visit the Calhoun gravesite on the walking tour. <img.src=”Famous Charlestonians” alt=”John C. Calhoun”

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”>

Quintessential Queen

The eye-catching look of #Two Meeting Street Inn is very unique to Charleston in its very distinctive Queen Anne Style. This type of Victorian-era architecture was based on details that had become popular in the early 1700’s when Anne was Queen of England. What is notable are the asymmetrical shapes and bulging windows with rounded glass and extended spandrels, as well as gable roofing and wooden fish-scale cladding. The circa 1902 house was built as the honeymoon home of Waring Carrington and Martha Williams Carrington. According to legend the money came from a  cash wedding gift of $75,000 given by Martha’s father George Walton Williams, a local banker who had built the Williams (now Calhoun) Mansion farther up Meeting Street, who reportedly left the money under Martha’s pillow. The house is now a popular  inn, and surely guests must hope they’ll find a gift from the ghost of Mr. Williams under their pillows.<img src=”Charleston Architecture” alt=”Two Meeting Street Inn ”>

Buccaneers Backinhere

The Pirates Courtyard on #Church Street has a wealth of legends concerning pirates who once made this a destination, and like so many stories handed down verbally from the past, it is hard to say which may be true. Certainly pirates did roam the seas offshore in the early days of the colonial city. They raided ships that brought goods in and out of Charleston Harbor, so were considered outlaws and dozens were hanged in 1718. The legend is that they continued to visit the city, secretly entering through tunnels under the cover of darkness and wandering to taverns, such as this site, and were served in back courtyards to avoid detection. This building dates to that era and was used as a tavern, and it does have a substantial underground cellar that extends into the street, which may well have been a secret passage. <img src=”Charleston Legends” alt=”Pirates Courtyard ”>

Longitude Landmark

Of the many old alleys that still grace historic #Charleston today, Longitude Lane certainly has the most interesting stories. Named for its east-west direction as longitude is measured, it once led to a massive cotton press factory built along the lane in 1853, where cotton bales were compressed to fit them in greater numbers on ships for export. And because the   old cotton wagons would sometimes try t squeeze through the narrow west entrance, a bollard was placed there to prevent it. For many years, the bollard was an old Revolutionary War cannon planted muzzle down. But the city of Charleston announced plans to remove the gun to a public display, starting a battle with residents that infamously became known as the “War of Longitude Lane”. <img src=”Famous Charleston Streets” alt=”Historic Alley ”>

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”>

Poinsettia A Charleston Name

IMG_2330The #Poinsettia that is such a Christmas tradition gets its name from a Charlestonian – Joel Robert Poinsett. He was a Charleston attorney who was very fond of plants and trees, and created a massive garden in the upper peninsula that became known as Poinsett’s Grove. He was apparently a brilliant man who enjoyed the company of great thinkers, and was known for hosting breakfasts, at which ideas were offered and discussed with great scholarly detail. With a reputation as a scholar, a jurist, an elected congressman, and fluent in various languages, Poinsett became a trusted diplomat, and was appointed by President John Quicy Adams as ambassador to the newly-independent Mexico in 1825.

Poinsett was as interested in Mexican plants as politics, and became enamored of the fiery-red blooming shrub known Flor de Fuego, or Fire Flower, as well as Flor de Noche Buena, or the Christmas Eve Flower. He brought the plant back to his grove and cultivated it as a Christmas ornamental flower, and by the 1840’s, it became known as the Poinsettia. It is pronounced “poyn-Setta” for the benefit those TV football commentators who pronounce the Poinsettia Bowl game with an “eeah”.<img src=”Charleston Gardens” 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.