Thursday Flotsam

I think I was in the 8th grade when I learned the different between flotsam and jetsam. Mr. Allen’s English class. He was firm in his belief that you should learn things in school. I suppose most teachers feel that way, but he was particularly adamant. Once a wiseacre named Tim asked Mr. Allen why anyone had to learn what he was teaching. “Because if you don’t know it, you’ll be ignorant,” was his answer.

Saw La La Land recently. It was everything it needed to be. Namely, skillfully made and visually appealing light entertainment, with an especial fine use of the Griffith Observatory as a setting, and an ending a bit above the usual formula. A lot else has been written about it, of course. Endless commentary. As far as I’m concerned, that’s overthinking the matter.

My parents’ and grandparents’ generations weren’t right about everything, but I think they had a healthy take on song-and-dance movies. Mostly light entertainment, though there was the song that was just as powerful a weapon as any cannon or battleship in the First World War.

Speaking of war, after posting about the evacuation of Fort Moultrie on December 26, 1860, I found the digital version of The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies to see if Maj. Anderson’s telegram was indeed the first item in that sprawling compendium. It is.

I was amused by the second item, also a telegram, dated December 27.

Major Anderson, Fort Moultrie:
Intelligence has reached here this morning that you have abandoned Fort Moultrie, spiked your guns, burned the carriages, and gone to Fort Sumter. It is not believed, because there is no order for any such movement. Explain the meaning of this report.
— J.B. Floyd, Secretary of War

Or as Sec. Floyd might have said privately, “The deuced you say! He did what?” Three days later, Floyd resigned as Secretary of War, and is remembered — when he’s remembered at all — for suspicious behavior in that office, at least as far as the Union was concerned, and as an incompetent Confederate general.

General Floyd, the commanding officer, who was a man of talent enough for any civil position was no soldier, and possibly, did not possess the elements of one. He was further unfitted for command for the reason that his conscience must have troubled him and made him afraid. As Secretary of War, he had taken a solemn oath to maintain the Constitution of the United States and uphold the same against all enemies. He had betrayed that trust.
— Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant

Recommended eatery in Charleston: Bluerose Cafe.

Bluerose Cafe

I started looking for dinner a bit late on a Friday night, and went to one place I’d found on Google maps. It was jammed, and more importantly, so was its parking lot. I went to my second choice. It too was full. Facing the possibility of fast food, which I didn’t really want, I headed back toward to hotel, when I noticed the Bluerose. Plenty of parking there.

The restaurant wasn’t packed either. In fact, at about a half hour before closing, only one table was occupied, with a fellow eating at a counter, and a hostess/waitress behind the counter. The place was simply decorated, but not drab, and the longer I looked around, the more I started noticing Irish touches, such as the sign that said, Céad Míle Fáilte (a hundred thousand welcomes).

I sat at the counter as well, and the man eating there said, “I’ll get you something as soon as I’m finished. I haven’t had a chance to eat all day.”

He had a distinct Irish brogue. Turned out he was Denis O’Doherty, the proprietor. I told him not to hurry. We talked a bit, and he told me that he’d come to the United States a good many years ago, living in Boston quite a while, but in Charleston for the last 13 years or so, running the Bluerose. People get around.

I ordered the pan fried flounder before too long, and Mr. O’Doherty went back to the kitchen, which is visible from the counter, to prepare it. While he was at work on that, a woman came in and ordered some food to go, and talked a while with Denis as she sat at the counter. A regular customer. I got the feeling that the place had a lot of regular customers.

He didn’t let the talk distract him too much, because when I got my fish, it was superb. Which was the exact word I used when he asked how the fish was. Sometimes, when it comes to finding good food on the road — even in the age of Yelp and Tripadvisor and all that ya-ya — you just have to get lucky.

Magnolia Cemetery, Charleston

Out of idle curiosity, I recently Googled “Magnolia Cemetery” and by the most cursory of investigations, found properties of that name not only in Charleston, SC, but also in Augusta, Ga., Mobile, Beaumont, Norfolk, Va., Baton Rouge, Houston, Orange Park, Fla., and Meridian, Miss., just to name some of the Southern spots.

There are also Magnolia Cemeteries in Philadelphia — Pa. — Harrison County, Iowa, and Stark County, Ohio. That might seem odd, but then again certain kinds of magnolia grow in the North. Saw some in Rockford, Ill. Or maybe the Northern cemetery namers just liked the shady, peaceful associations of the magnolia.

Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston got its start in 1850, during the rural cemetery movement of the 19th century. Rural then, but fully in the city now. Still, it’s a peaceful place, full of the things a park-like cemetery should have: old stones, funerary art, mature trees, bushes, flowers, water features, winding trails, memorials evoking local history.

In the case of Charleston, the War Between the States looms large in such local history memorialization. Here’s the monument at Soldiers Ground, a section for Confederate dead set aside during the war.
Magnolia Cemetery, Charleston Confederate Memorial 2017The tablet on this side of the plinth says:

This Bronze preserves the memory of the Heroic Dead from every part of Carolina and from her sister states of the South who fell in the defense of this city.

In proud and grateful remembrance of their devotion, constancy and valour, who against overwhelming odds by sea and by land kept Charleston virgin and invincible to the last.

Interesting turn of phrase, even for a memorial. It would be snide to claim that Charleston’s “virginity” was kept because Sherman had other things to do (that is, burn down Columbia), so never mind. The four flags are the three national Confederate flags, plus the battle flag.

I don’t ever remember seeing CSA sailors at rest, but Magnolia has some, identities unknown.
Magnolia Cemetery, CharlestonThere’s also a memorial to South Carolinians who fell at Gettysburg.
Magnolia Cemetery, CharlestonElsewhere are reminders not of war death, but plain old death.
Magnolia Cemetery, CharlestonThere are also specialty stones, such as this memorial of one Abram Mead, a member of the Aetna Fire Engine Company. Or rather Ætna, named for the volcano, I suppose. Nice to find a ligature in stone.

Charleston - Magnolia CemeteryIt’s pretty rare to find cause of death on a headstone, but there it is: Departed this life the 15th of September 1852 of Yellow Fever, Aged 21 Years and 6 Months.

Something a little more imposing, near the cemetery’s pond. This Thomas Pinckney isn’t the Pinckney of the Revolution and post-Revolutionary period, but his grandson.

Pinckney grave, Magnolia Cemetery CharlestonA child’s stone the likes of which I’ve never seen.
Magnolia Cemetery CharlestonNote that in more recent times, someone left a rubber duck and toy bear for the girl, Rosalie Raymond White, who lived for a few months in 1882.

Finally, the three crews of the H.L. Hunley are interred at Magnolia Cemetery, each crew with modern memorial stones, and stones for the individuals as well, each with a Stainless Banner.

Hunley Memorial, Magnolia Cemetery CharlestonHunley memorial, Magnolia Cemetery CharlestonThe third crew were entombed in their vessel for about 135 years (their stones are in the row pictured above). The Hunley was raised in 2000 and, presumably after the forensic archaeologists had had a long look at the crew’s bones, they were buried at Magnolia in 2004 with considerable ceremony.

Fort Sumter National Monument

To reach Fort Sumter National Monument, you start at Liberty Square, on Charleston’s waterfront, at this building.
Fort Sumter National MonumentAt the other end of the building is a pier were the tourist boats dock, as is visible in the picture above. The view from there, toward Fort Sumter, looks like this on a clear day.
Fort Sumter National Monument - dockAlso included in the monument is Fort Moultrie, but I didn’t make it there. The Fort Sumter part of the national monument is a little hard to pick out, but it is visible on the horizon.

The ride is about 30 minutes. As you proceed, Fort Sumter gets closer.
Fort Sumter And closer.
Fort SumterPretty soon the boat docks at the former fort for about a hour and a quarter visit, which includes a look at the walls, cannons, the former parade ground, the monument’s large flagpole and flag, and Battery Isaac Huger, a sizable black-painted structure built inside the walls at the time of the Spanish-American War that now houses a small museum and gift shop. Some of the cannons were big. Can you imagine that thing going off near your ears in an age before ear protection?

Fort Sumter

Fort Sumter

A Park Service volunteer demonstrated the loading and firing of a Civil War-era rifle.

Fort Sumter volunteer rifleman

He didn’t load it with a real minié ball, put otherwise the demonstration was authentic. After he showed us all of the steps to load the rifle, and fired it once, he did it again as fast as he could a few times, which was very fast, firing in succession. A true enthusiast.

Behind the battery is a slope up to an open field.

Fort SumterHere are representations the four flags that flew over Sumter during the war: the 33-star U.S. flag like that which flew on April 12, 1861; the first and second Confederate flags; the 35-star U.S. flag after Federal re-occupation of the fort in 1865. Fort SumterThe flag that Major Anderson had lowered when he surrendered the fort, and the one that was raised again symbolically in 1865 — Anderson returned for the occasion — is on display in the national monument’s museum. So is the Palmetto Flag that the South Carolinians flew when the fort was first captured.

The current Stars and Stripes, visible from far away, is atop a large flagpole behind the battery.

Fort Sumter flag

Major Anderson is honored in relief at the base of the large flag pole.

Fort Sumter

From 1861 by Adam Goodheart: “It would be one thing if President Buchanan had simply announced that he was withdrawing the troops from Charleston Harbor and turning the forts over to South Carolina, a decision that Anderson would have certainly obeyed, perhaps even welcomed. But he would be damned if he was to surrender — even worse, perform a shabby pantomime of a surrender — before a rabble of whiskey-soaked militiamen and canting politicians.

“Like so much else about the beginning of the Civil War, Major Anderson’s move from Fort Moultrie to Fort Sumter is largely forgotten today. At the time, however, the little garrison’s mile-long journey was seen not just as a masterstroke of military cunning but as the opening scene of a great and terrible national drama… ‘Major Robert Anderson, thundered the Charleston Courier, ‘has achieved the unenviable distinction of opening civil war between American citizens by a gross breach of faith.’ Northerners, meanwhile, held enormous public banquets in Anderson’s honor; cannons fired salutes in New York, Chicago, Boston, and dozens of other cities and towns.

“And considered in retrospect, Anderson’s move seems freighted with even more symbolism. He lowered his flag on an old fortress, hallowed by the past, yet half ruined — and then raised it upon a new one, still unfinished, yet stronger, bedded in New England granite…

“Twenty years after the war, when officials at the War Department began preparing the Official History of the War of the Rebellion, a massive compilation of documents that would eventually grow to more than two hundred thousand pages, the first of all the uncountable documents that they included was Anderson’s brisk telegram announcing his arrival at Sumter. Nineteenth-century historians knew that without this event, the war might not have happened…”

More Charleston Scenes

The Nathaniel Russell House on Meeting St. in Charleston, SC, completed in 1808, was originally home of one of the wealthiest men in the city at the time, Nathaniel Russell. In our time, it’s an historic property open for tours.

I didn’t have time to take a tour. I did have time to wander around its picturesque garden, which is open to the public. More remarkably, in mid-February this year, the garden looked like spring already.

Nathaniel Russell House gardenNathaniel Russell House gardenLocal sources told me that the weather lately had been unusually warm, even for Charleston. Flowers and other plants responded to the warmth in the only way they know how.
Nathaniel Russell House gardenSignage sometimes has its charms in Charleston.
Tellis Pharmacy, Charleston SC 2017That’s what more drug stores need, mortar-and-pestle symbology. Alas, it’s only a relic now, since the drug store on this site apparently closed a few years ago. Looks like an antique shop occupies the building, which is on King St. At least the new owners decided to keep the sign; or maybe it’s protected.

Unlike St. Philip’s graveyards, which were locked away behind imposing iron fences (though I could see the stone of Vice President Calhoun in the distance), the Circular Congregational Church’s graveyard is open to all during the day.

 Circular Congregational ChurchThe cemetery included some stones, pre-Revolution in vintage, that reminded me very much of the old stones in Boston’s downtown graveyards.
 Circular Congregational Church cemeteryPlus plenty of later 18th- and 19th-century stones.
 Circular Congregational Church cemeteryAnd some nice views of the back of Circular Church.
 Circular Congregational Church cemeteryOne of the best known tourist attractions in Charleston is City Market, which has been the site of a public market for more than two centuries. I’ve never been one to eschew tourist destinations just because they’re popular among tourists, so I popped it for a look. Not bad, but not nearly as interesting as the Pike Place Market in Seattle.
City Market, Charleston 2017One more structure: Charleston City Hall.
Charleston City HallDiscover South Carolina says: “On the site of a Colonial marketplace, this handsomely proportioned 1801 building first housed the Bank of the United States and then became Charleston’s City Hall in 1818. The design is attributed to Charlestonian Gabriel Manigault, a gentleman architect credited with introducing the Adamesque style to the city after studying in Europe.”

Also worth knowing: the building has some of the few public restrooms in downtown Charleston that are open on the weekend.

Charleston Walkabout

Here’s something I learned about the oldest part of Charleston, SC, when I visited recently: good to walk through, not so much to drive through. I could have guessed that anyway. Small streets, many cars, extremely restricted parking.

But early Saturday morning, when the cars roaming the streets were still few, wasn’t a bad time to come to town by car. I arrived and found a parking garage as soon as I could. On foot from there, on Cumberland St., I encountered traces of historic Charleston almost immediately in the form of the city’s most obscure plaque (maybe), fixed to the ground just north of the sidewalk on the north side of that street, between Meeting St. and Church St.

This Oak Was Planted In Celebration Of

ARBOR DAY 1984

It stands above a portion of the fortification wall that once protected the early Charleston settlement. The wall has been destroyed through time as the city spread beyond it’s [sic] original boundaries. The only visibly [sic] portion of the original fortification is the half moon battery, located in the basement of the Exchange Building.

Dedicated by the City of Charleston
Joseph B. Riley Jr., Mayor

Mr. Mayor, you could have ponied up a bit for a proofreader, considering that the text is in bronze. Anyway, the tree isn’t in the most picturesque part of Charleston.

Soon I moved on to better-looking urban core scenes. The city even has aesthetic water meter covers.
Charleston SC water meterThe palmetto is easy enough to figure out, but the cannons? According to one source (which says it’s “probably true”), the cannons refer to Col. William Moultrie’s victory over the British attack on Sullivan’s Island in 1776. Palmetto logs, which had some ability to absorb cannon fire, were used to reinforce the earthenwork defense.

St. Philip’s, an Episcopal church, stands fittingly on Church St. between Cumberland St. and Queen St.
St Philip's Episcopal Church, Charleston SCThe church, the third for this congregation and the second on this site, dates from 1838. The early history of the church, and Charles Towne for that matter, was one damn thing after another. From a short history of St. Philip’s on its web site:

1728-40: Fires, hurricane, epidemics of smallpox, yellow fever, slave uprisings, Indian attacks, threats of war from the Spanish occurred.

Ah, but Charleston flourished. Slave-cultivated rice, indigo and then cotton from the Carolinas did the trick (part of the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil). Highly skilled slaves, I understand, were involved in the wrought iron gates around St. Philip’s, which are a marvel by themselves.
St Philip's Episcopal Church, Charleston, SC iron gateNearby is the light pink Huguenot Church, dating from 1844, at the corner of Church and Queen. It was the first independent Huguenot congregation in America (more-or-less Calvinist, starting in the 1680s) and now the last one.
Huguenot Church, Charleston SCRainbow Row, the nickname for a stretch of East Bay St., features colorful row houses, 13 in all, mostly dating from the late 18th century.
Rainbow Row, Charleston SC 2017They’re in a tightly controlled historic preservation district, except for one thing: the owners get to choose the colors. The pastels were originally put on in the 1920s and occasionally change.
Rainbow Row Charleston SC 2017There are plenty of other handsome houses in that part of Charleston as well. Reminded me a bit of the East End of Galveston.

Charleston, SC 2017Charleston, SCCharleston, SC 2017All in all, a good place to see on foot, provided it isn’t summer.

Char-Tex ’17

Recently, before I went to Texas for a week, I had a day to spend in Charleston, SC, a city I’ve wanted to visit for many years. Just a day, so I packed in the sights. It wasn’t an example of slow travel. Sometimes, you’ve got to hit the ground and go.

I saw the oldest part of Charleston — the site of Charles Towne — on foot for a few hours, took the boat out to Fort Sumter, which took a few more hours, visited Magnolia Cemetery, and saw the H.L. Hunley later in the afternoon.

The old part of Charleston is very handsome, replete with structures surviving from the Antebellum period squeezed into tight city blocks along such streets as Calhoun, Cumberland, Meeting, and at the intersection of King St. and Queen St. A fine thing to do on a February morning that’s warmer than it should be, even in the South: wander past the elegant or curious buildings, admire the churches, take in the details of the streetscapes and sidewalks.

The War Between the States and Reconstruction crushed the local economy. Bad for the people who lived then, good for historic preservation in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, when considerable prosperity has returned to Charleston. Had prosperity continued in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the city might sport handsome Victorian architecture, or might have been Eisenhowered into something less pleasing.

Fort Sumter National Monument is about a 30-minute boat ride away from the city. The fort is as historic as can be, but apparently doesn’t look much like it did in 1861. The war flattened it, the post-war U.S. Army rebuilt and redesigned it until the place was turned over to the Park Service after WWII.

The Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley, whose insufficient design killed more men than the vessel did as a weapon of war, now rests in a tank of water at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center, an industrial structure north of the good-looking parts of town, near other industrial facilities. Eventually, the Hunley will be the star of its own museum, but for now conservation efforts are ongoing.

The Magnolia Cemetery is also north of the old part of town. An old cemetery, it’s rich with old stones, funerary art, monuments to the Lost Cause, and trees festooned with Spanish moss. Also, a warning about not violating South Carolina law.

Magnolia Cemetery, CharlestonWho sees an alligator and thinks, I want to feed it.

July Idles

This year was a stay-close-to-home Fourth of July. That is, metro Chicago. Some are, some aren’t. We returned to our old haunts in the western suburbs on Saturday night to see the Westmont fireworks, from the vantage of Ty Warner Park. It’s always a good show.

That was a high point of the weekend. So was taking my daughters to Half Price Books, at their request, on the evening of the 3rd.

The low point of the weekend was walking the dog on the 4th, not long before we left for the fireworks show. Late afternoon, that is. Part of our usual route takes us along a path between a dense row of bushes and a small patch of land sporting enough trees to block the sky, when they have leaves. Pretty soon I re-discovered its mid-summer nature as Mosquito Alley. The mossies were especially forceful when I was cleaning up after the dog.

Complaining about mosquitoes, though, is just carping. I’d rather look out of my back door and see this (an early July shot).

Schaumburg, July 2015Than this (an early January shot).

Schaumburg, Jan 2015Bugs aside, I spent a fair amount of time over the weekend on the deck reading The H.L. Hunley by Tom Chaffin (2008), a fine book about the submarine of that name, along with its predecessor vessels (the Pioneer and the American Diver). Or, as I learned reading the book, the “submarine boat,” which is a 19th-century usage. The Confederates gave underwater warfare a shot, but it turned out Age of Steam technology — as inventive as it clearly was — wasn’t quite up to the task. Not without killing more submarine boat crew than Union sailors.

Also, it’s another reason to visit Charleston, to see the vessel, now an artifact on display at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center. Not that I’d need any more reasons for a visit.