We pride ourselves in scenic #Charleston for being a genuine 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 . 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 convivial with a full dinner and cocktails. 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”
Many visitors to historic #Charleston are impressed with the wealth of classic architecture that makes our city so special and scenic. The styles of ancient Romans and Greeks had become all the rage in Europe in the 17 and 1800’s, and those styles also became very popular in America. What tourists are seeing in abundance with the columns, arches domes and elaborate details is what the Greek and Romans treasured. As I often explain on my walking tours, the architectural concepts of the ancients can provide some interesting optical illusions, and one is called “entasis”, which comes from the Greek for “stretching”. The towering fluted Corinthian columns pictured here at Charleston’s Trinity Methodist Church appear to be uniform in circumference from top to bottom, but in fact are slightly larger at the base, tapering almost imperceptibly to the top. The concept is classical displayed in the 451BC Parthenon in Athens, Greece, where the symmetrical look of the columns is actually created by the asymmetry of entasis. Because the base is closer to the eye, a perfectly uniform column shape would appear to be concave and unstable, but the entasis corrects the visual illusion with its own. Come join me on the tour, and I’ll show you. <img.src=”Charleston Architecture” alt=”Classic Columns”
When asked what makes historic #Charleston, SC such a captivating scenic experience for those touring the city, I say it’s all in the details. Most of the buildings from the 18th and 19th centuries are basically no different in concept than modern structures – all typically built in box-like symmetrical fashion. But what greatly separates the charm of the classic buildings from the bland of the modern is exquisite detail on the exteriors. Pictures here is the Blacklocke House on Bull Street built around 1800. What attracts the sightseeing eyes is evident in its grand entrance. The side-to-side steps are what’s known as an Imperial Staircase to replicate European grandeur; The doorway is embellished with attached columns and fanlight tracery; and the stair rail is beautifully hand-forged in the style of the ancient musical instrument, the lyre. These details are expensive and demanding of super architectural skill. This was very important to buildings owners and craftspeople long ago, but sadly not so much today.
The 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion in World War II coincides with the “class that never was” at the South Carolina Military Academy – The Citadel. The Citadel was created in Charleston in 1842 as a college for military cadets, and Citadel graduates have served in every war going back to the Mexican War. The campus is located along the Ashley River, with distinctive crenelated barracks and parade ground that thrills visitors to Charleston year after year with military parades and a wealth of military hardware from various wars, including tanks, aircraft and cannon. The Citadel has produced more soldiers in American wars than any other colleges with the exception of the military colleges at West Point and Annapolis, and 6,000 cadets served during World War II, including a group of seniors who never had a graduation ceremony, thus the “class that never was”. With the Allies badly in need of manpower in the Spring of 1944, the senior cadets were asked to enlist in the war effort before the academic year was completed. They all did, and served admirably in the latter stages of the war. Surviving members of the class did return to get their senior rings, which is a great tradition at The Citadel, but never a graduation ceremony.
<img.src=”Charleston Military History” alt=”The Citadel Class of 1944”