Thursday, January 12, 2012

Come Quick - Found Heaven

Not my words but certainly my sentiments. New York artist Alfred Hutty telegraphed these words to his wife in the early decades of the 20th century. The period was one of great struggle for most Charlestonians who were "too poor to paint and too proud to whitewash." The city was in disrepair economically and physically. Among other things, a boll weavil infestation had destroyed the cotton crop while much of the country was "roaring" in the 1920s. The Great Depression followed, and in some cases was hardly noticed by many locals because the city had been struggling since the Civil War had ended 50 years earlier. But a number of artists from here as well as "from off," most notably from the Hudson River Valley School in upstate New York, painted a city that time had forgotten - one that still looked for the most part as it had before the Civil War. There were very few modern buildings and not much had been done in the way of upkeep of the old buildings. Subsequently, these artists give us today a glimpse into the Charleston of yesteryear, one that even during my upbringing in the 1960s resembled how it did during this "Charleston Renaissance" of the 1920s and 30s. I am thankful to have seen both the old version of Charleston when I was a kid as well as the new version of today in my middle age years. But either version can be compared to heaven on earth. In fact, one elderly friend of mine who has spent all of his seven decades here, tells people that he believes he died on the day he was born and has been living in heaven ever since. Sitting outside on a recent Monday (in beautiful weather of 70 plus degrees) in the middle of Broad Street watching the mayor and new city councilmen take their oath of office on the steps of City Hall, I felt the same way. And I think everyone there probably did too. Come quick - found heaven.

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