Walking Charleston In The Light And Dark / A Few Tales To Tell

MeetingStreetCharleston

Midnight in the Laundry Room.

I’m writing this in a laundry room.  Four washing machines are on my right and four dryers to my left.  I’m here because the promised WiFi signal is very weak in the R-pod.

Here the signal really smokes.

Yes, it’s midnight in the laundry room, a spooky place where a sock can vanish before your eyes.

The fluorescent lights bring out all the blemishes of the white formica table top.  Above my head is a full moon.  I can’t see it because the remnants of a major storm passed through Georgia today.  The sky was left overcast, but, the weather is slowly moving eastward, out to the Great Atlantic Ocean.  If I step outside right now, I may see a brightness that reveals the moon’s location.

This post is about Charleston but I’m not even in that city anymore.  The day before yesterday (its past midnight now) is when we stayed just outside Charleston, SC.  Today, we’re in Brunswick, home to the fabled Golden Islands.

But, let’s go back to Monday.  It seems like I’m a day or two behind in my posts.  So, if your curious about Brunswick, wait a day or so.  For two tired travelers, we packed quite a lot into a single day in that most interesting and beautiful city.

We spent the daylight hours seeing the sights that all the tourists come here to see.  However, this city has two separate personalities.  There are the magnificent homes, with the flowered gardens, ivy and palm trees.  At night, there is the melancholic Spanish moss, greenish-gray and drooping from the Live Oaks.  We strolled under the overcast sky during the day and we spent the evening, the dark time, lurking around haunted buildings and spine-chilling churchyards.  You will have to pony up $20.00 a person for one of the four or five Ghost Tours.

Daylight Walks

The main thoroughfare through town is Meeting Street.  It’s a restaurant-lined avenue that acts like a reference to walkers and shoppers and diners.  We decided to take it easy on ourselves and take a 90 minute Grey Line tour.  My neck is sore from trying to see the tops of the houses.  I felt like Linda Blair trying to keep up with what the driver/guide was telling us.  (He’s a former teacher, so that explains a lot.)  The buildings are some of the most beautiful and interesting I’ve ever seen.  Pastel colors are common choices.  The heat and humidity of the summer days forced the designers to come up with inventive ways to maximize the sea breezes.  The great porches wrap 3/4 of the way around a building.  The porches are large enough to earn the title ‘piazza’ style.

That’s where you would find me, if were a wealthy planter, sitting in a wicker chair and sipping a mint julep on lazy afternoons.

Here is an example of one such house.  I can’t say it’s typical, the styles are highly variable:

CharlestonHouse

I walked the streets.  I turned corners and peaked into secret gardens.  I stopped to smell the flowers.  I rested on park benches and bought post cards.

And, I looked down at just the right time to notice something interesting.  We’re outside a locksmith shop.  The owner, in a raging fit of creativity, had placed dozens of keys in the wet cement when the sidewalk was being poured.  An easy to miss, but interesting approach to advertising.

KeysInSidewalk

We continued our stroll along Meeting Street, or was it King Street?  As we approached a fire station, I was amused by the statue of the Dalmatian that appeared to be sleeping on the sidewalk.  I hesitated.  I was curious if they had one of those brass poles that you see the fireman slide down (in the cartoons and movies).  I went in and asked a fireman if they had one.  This led to a tour of what he said was the oldest continuously operating fire house in the U.S.  He took us up to a building in the rear and there were three antique fire engines.  One was of special interest.  The story goes that the company that made those particular trucks was once on the verge of bankruptcy.  Along comes The Three Stooges.  They filmed a skit on one of those trucks that was very similar to the one we were looking upon.  After the film came out, the company was besieged by fire companies all across America.  They couldn’t make them fast enough.

3StoogesFireTruck

[A true classic isn’t it?]

He also showed us a very interesting display in one of the side rooms.  There, on the wall, was a typical red ‘fire-box’ that would be found along any city street.  He flipped the switch to demonstrate.  The signal would come into the fire station and trigger a teletype machine which would punch out a code.  The code was then referenced to a chart which gave the street where the fire was burning happily away.

FireHouseAlarm

The daylight was fading.  We had dinner in the one restaurant that had the widest reputation.  My friend, the poet, Dara Reidyr, who grew up in South Carolina,  said we simply must have dinner at Hyman’s–and be sure to include grits and hushpuppies.  This we did.  It was a four-star establishment in my book.  Thanks, Dara!

Hyman'sDinner

After sun sets

And, now for something completely different.  Night has fallen on the city.  We had booked a “Ghosts of Charleston” tour at 7:30 pm.  We met our guide by a circular fountain at Waterfront Park alongside the Cooper River.  Off we went to see the places that the TV “Ghost Busters” crew had claimed were “really hot” in terms of paranormal activity.

Our first stop is outside the Southend Brewery & Smokehouse on the corner of East Bay and Queen Streets.  Back in the day, the day of King Cotton and Indigo plantations, it was a three story cotton mill.  The rough work with the freshly picked white fluffy stuff was the first floor.  The finishing work was on the second floor.  One more flight up was a gentleman’s club where a planter or merchant could enjoy a whiskey and a cigar and talk the talk of men who made their fortunes from the labors of West African slaves.  Real gentleman, these.  One planter was celebrating a recent transaction of ‘selling’ his cotton to the merchant.  The goods were aboard a ship that had just set sail for England, where the quality of the South Carolina cotton was highly prized.  As this guy (forgot his name) gazed out of the window overlooking the harbor, he saw what he believed was the ship carrying his precious cargo, catch fire and then explode.

He stared in mute horror.  He was now a broken man, financially and otherwise.  He downed a few more fingers of whiskey before he realized he couldn’t go home and admit to his wife that all had been lost in the ship’s fire.  So, he did what every broken-spirited man with no future had done from time immemorial.  He fashioned a noose of twine and stepped off a chair into eternity.  The twine, of course, acted like razor wire and he essentially bled to death…his life’s blood dripping down three floors.  Clearly that wasn’t the end of the story.  You see, he still wanders the building to this day.  Was there anything good that came out of this tragedy?  Well, his widow got a very large check from the sale of the cotton and went from mourning black to bridal white in a very short time.

You may reasonably ask why she got the money.  Here’s the punch line to this sad tale:  The poor fellow had witnessed the wrong ship explode.  By the time he finished the last whiskey of his life, his cargo was already out of the harbor having departed on the outgoing tide.

Here is a dark and rather spooky cemetery.  Often, a kneeling woman is seen at the grave of her daughter who had died of a childhood disease in the 19th century.  I saw nothing.  Do you?

DarkCemeteryCharleston

A short distance away was the infamous “Dueling Alley”.  I can’t go into the fifteen stories of duels that took place there.  I’ll only mention that a prominent physician was killed in this alley sometime in the 19th century.  He used to walk the path and whistle on his way to work.

People have reported hearing the whistle and seeing a man in period clothes stroll the walkway.  Again, I saw nothing.

DuelAlley

It’s a long distance from the alley to this laundry room.  The alley was dark and forbidding.  The laundry room is blinding bright and a persistent noise is coming from behind the washers.

I can say one thing–it’s not a whistle.

[Next up: The Scary Halloween Blog.  Don’t say you weren’t warned!]

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One comment on “Walking Charleston In The Light And Dark / A Few Tales To Tell

  1. Dara Reidyr says:

    Yes, the frilly dressed up city by day, eerie by night but cozy I might add. Thanks for the mention. Glad you liked Hymans. Yes, grits and hushpuppies are a must!

    Like

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