Sunday, May 29, 2011

Another First for Charleston - Memorial Day 1865

Charleston can boast of many "firsts" - the first theater in North America, the first opera performance in the New World (both events particularly relevant now with Spoleto - but more on that later), the first shot in the war between the states, the first time black U.S. soldiers were deployed in combat - the list goes on and on. Since this is Memorial Day weekend, let's talk about the very first Memorial Day - which occurred (of course) in Charleston. The account is as follows: During the Civil War, many U.S. soldiers died while imprisoned at the city's Washington Race Course (now the site of Hampton Park). When the war ended, freed slaves wanted to pay tribute to the fallen soldiers whose sacrifice had led to their freedom from bondage, so they laid flowers on the unmarked graves there. This is considered by many to be the first "memorial day." Later, other cities held similar acts of remembrance (and also claimed to have been first to commemorate the day). In 1868, when wreaths were laid on graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers in Arlington Cemetery, the observation became officially observed nationally. Today there is a marker at Hampton Park describing the very first memorial day.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

To Cruise or Not to Cruise - That is the Question

I am trying to remain neutral until the details are worked out in the current controversy over the cruise ships visiting the Holy City. But yesterday, during a tour, I stopped at the corner of North Market Street and Meeting and glanced down toward the Cooper River. Lo and behold, there is the tail of the Carnival cruise ship - plain as day - as the focal point at the end of the street. Hmmm. It wasn't particularly attractive. And it was a surprise to see it juxtapositioned with the 19th century buildings all along the street. Our mayor tells us that we must add cruise ships to the history of our city's rich maritime heritage. After all, there were passenger lines coming and going throughout the last 300 years of Charleston's existence. My 90 year old uncle remembers the Clyde Line (steamship) used to run from Jacksonville to Charleston to Norfolk to Philadelphia and finally to NYC. It would stop at each city and spend a day there. People would be on business or pleasure trips when there weren’t many airplanes in the 1930s – and would party the whole time. (Just like the "fun ships" today.) He said that produce (fruit) from Florida would also arrive on the Clyde Line. My uncle worked as a kid at the Automatic Grocery on Broad Street so he knew there would be a shipment coming in to the store when the ship arrived. So I guess cruise ships are nothing new to Charleston after all. But the difference now is that they bring headaches (traffic problems, overcrowding, etc.) rather than fruit! But as my wise old uncle also says, people opposed Charleston Place and Waterfront Park when they were first in the works - and we know how they both turned out!