Charleston walk around historic downtown, pretty as a postcard. And freaking humid. There were crazy tropical storm warnings starting a few hours after I arrived. I did not feel one bit guilty about holing up in my hotel room after 8:00 pm with some Southern BBQ take-out, AC cranked up, and a book on my knees. Humidity is not my jam, walking around outside in heat and humidity makes me pretty cranky pretty fast. (Seriously, is it ever NOT humid in the south!? Inquiring minds would like to know.)
Rainbow Row, a delightful block in the old historic district that looks like a sorbet buffet. Pink and mint and lavender and sky blue houses, one after another, with gorgeous flower boxes, charming front doors, and enviable iron scroll-work. And no less than three photographers using them as a backdrop for bridal shots.
Wandering around the water front, watching dolphins and turtles play in the harbor, enjoying some gelato and people watching…it was such a wonderful evening. The Palmetto trees (palm trees for us plebian Westerners) lining the walks were swaying, there were fountains everywhere and moss growing on bricks and tree trunks. And, DOLPHINS in the water. I mean, take away the humidity, add my sweetheart and another scoop of gelato and it would have been down right perfect. (Yes, I realize the humidity is essential for the moss to grow everywhere, but man, can the dang weather stay out of my armpits and off my neck!?)
Most people rave about all the delicious things they ate in Charleston, and I had an amazing burrito-thing, some decent gelato, and some pretty great BBQ, but overall I wasn’t there to eat, but to wander. I wandered into restaurants when I got hungry and wandered back out again when I got antsy. I would go back to Charleston, but maybe in February or something when the weather is a little less soggy. I didn’t have enough time in two days to see all the things I wanted to see and photograph.
Fort Sumter, a tiny island fortress in Charleston Harbor, is the site where the Civil War began. The first shots fired in 1861 were by the Confederate army, they blasted Fort Sumter until it surrendered a day-and-a-half later. Over the next four years the fortress was reduced to rubble in battles and was not abandoned until Sherman marched his army through the South on his way to Atlanta in 1865.
I’ve read quite a bit about the South and the Civil War, but most of my knowledge is about the war in and around Virginia and Pennsylvania, what I know about the South is mostly gleaned Gone With the Wind. I loved being able to wander around the island, see the massive canon that were used to fire on ships, other islands, and the city of Charleston. I am still amazed at how large those guns are and their range is impressive.
After Fort Sumter was blown to bits, it was never rebuilt. What remains is the foundations of what used to be a several-stories high building that housed troops and supplies for weeks on end. It makes the broken walls and shattered bricks all the more eerie, imagining hundreds of men living and fighting in layers on top of you.
My visit at Fort Sumter was fairly short, but as there is very little to see–the whole island is really covered by the ruins of this fort and a small museum–I didn’t mind. A massive rain storm was rolling in and I was more than happy to get back on the ferry and back to (below sea-level) land before that tropical storm hit in full force. If you go, you have to buy your ferry tickets separately and probably in advance, they tend to fill up quickly via online sales, especially in peak tourist seasons.
Also, I think it’s time I refocus some of my Civil War reading on areas and battles farther south, I was embarrassed at how little I knew. (I’m a nerd. I know. It’s part of my charm.)
Earlier this fall I had a conference on the east coast and as a treat to myself I decided to go a little early and spend a few days in Charleston, South Carolina. Charleston has been on my list for ages, I’ve only heard wonderful things about the charm, the weather, the food, and the ambiance. I was only in town for two and a half days, but I managed to squeeze in plenty of mini adventures. I knew I wanted to tour an old plantation; there are a couple of large ones operating as farms and historical tourist destinations in and around Charleston. I read reviews from other bloggers (Janssen, Holly, and Kristin), and looked up where they were in relation to my hotel, but the deciding factor that made me choose Boone Hall was this gorgeous avenue of ancient oak trees leading up to the main house; three-quarters of a mile, lined with 100 trees.
I mean….come on. This isn’t real, right?!
The house is kind of your typical Georgian-columned antebellum affair, no photos allowed inside, minimal opportunity for touring the inside. But again, I did not come to see the house. (Actually, that’s only partially true. Once upon a time I was an architecture major and this is the exact kind of building that I would have gone ga-ga over. In fact, I think I designed an antebellum plantation house for a class project once. That being said, we were only allowed in the formal dining room, the library, and a screened in side-porch. The rest of the house was strictly off limits. I would have loved to see the kitchen and some of the upstairs bedrooms.)
One of probably 15 remaining slave cabins on the property. Most slaves did not live in such structures, they lived in huts that were easily–and frequently–destroyed by tropical storms hitting the South Carolina coast. These brick cabins were reserved for the most high-ranking slaves (if that is even a thing) who worked in the house or did labor most essential to the immediate comfort and prestige of the Master. Field slaves lived in shacks and huts closer to the fields.
I took a ride around the plantation farm lands, they have a thriving local produce business in a number of different crops. The plantation also employs many local people to farm, give tours, and help maintain the property. My tour guide’s grandfather was a slave at Boone Hall and he said a number of the other plantation employees had ancestors who were slaves on this property. I am still thinking about that concept. As a white person from the Wild Wild West I certainly have very little perspective or right to an opinion about the moral ethics of this, but it struck me as something that should require additional thought. And I’ve been thinking about it for almost a month now, more so as I continued to read a number of first-person slave narratives.
In addition to the historical aspects, Boone Hall hosts a small cafe (meh), gift shop (hrmph), and number of festivals, carnivals, fairs, and other events throughout the year to celebrate various holidays, crop harvests, and other pieces of plantation life.
I enjoyed my little meander around the plantation and the historical lessons from various guides, but what I truly came for were those gorgeous oak trees, huge and stately, dripping in Spanish moss.
If I ever turn up missing, the first place you should probably look is the branches of these trees. Chances are more than likely that I’ve run away from Real Life and am camping out in their arms waiting for the storm to pass. (Seriously, SO swoony!)