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Day One Of Historic Charleston

Hank – We got a rental car and headed to downtown historic Charleston today. Way back when we entered South, Marsha at the visitor center gave us all kinds of brochures and tips on things to see and where to go. So we made a list and came up with a game plan for the day. In hindsight, driving a rental car downtown isn’t necessarily the best plan. Parking meters max out at two hours, for $4.00, so we would visit one or two places and then go back to the car to feed the meter again. I don’t know of refeeding the meter is illegal like it is in Spokane.

First up was the historic City Market. Kathy needed to pick up some African Shea Butter for her friend, Diane, whom we’re meeting up with in Savannah on Tuesday. The market was established in 1790. We browsed the shops where vendors sold art work, jewelry, hand-woven sweetgrass baskets, wood carvings, and all sorts of stuff. The market is four blocks long and takes a long time to get through once everybody shows up.

We stopped in at Heaven Scent to get the shea butter and met the proprietor, Ausar Vandross. Ausar is a very nice person. We got to talking, as we always do with people we meet, and we told him about our adventure. So we visited with him for a while and enjoyed our time with him. Kathy got some shea butter for herself. Shea butter is supposed to be very good for your skin. Ausar also gifted Kathy a bar of lavender-scented soap that he had made himself.

There was a shop in the market selling White Lily flour and touting it’s use for making excellent biscuits. Apparently, there’s some truth to that as I recently read an article in The Atlantic about why most biscuits not made in the South are terrible. It’s the flour. The flour needs to be made from soft wheat, which is grown mostly in the south. White Lilly is the most famous brand of such flour. Wheat grown elsewhere in North America is hard wheat. I did not buy 10 pounds of soft wheat flour to haul around on my bike.

From the market we headed north to the Charleston City Museum. Along the way we found Pounce, a cat and wine bar. “Live nude cats.” We looked in the windows and saw cats all over the place and people petting them. Kathy was grossed out. She’s a big wine fan but she is not a cat person.

The city museum was great. There are lots of historical artifacts and plenty of things to learn. A replica of the H.L. Hunley sits outside. The Hunley was a submarine that had a long pole on the front with an explosive charge on the end. It sank a US ship that was helping blockade Charleston during the Civil War. What surprised me most were the Egyptian mummies and artifacts. Then I learned that having things Egyptian was all the rage for wealthy people in the early 1800’s. To satisfy my musical interests there were old guitars and violins as well as a homemade canjo from the 1930s. I also saw a 42-star US flag, which was to be adopted on July 4, 1890, but never was because Idaho became a state on July 3 so the 43-star flag was adopted instead. Way to go, Idaho. Another highlight were the stoneware jugs made by David Drake, aka Dave the Potter, a former slave who made some excellent stoneware. I remembered seeing some of his work on The Antiques Roadshow so it was cool to see some in person.

Next we went to the Old Slave Mart Museum. The building was constructed in 1859 and was used as an auction house for slaves until the end of the Civil War. The exhibits chronicle the Charleston slave trade, which turns out to have been quite substantial. It’s sobering to see a pricing chart for a human being.

We returned to the City Market to check out the Confederate Museum. Unfortunately, photography is not allowed inside the museum, which I find frustrating and puzzling. Anyway, the small place is chock full of uniforms, flags, rifles, swords, etc. Nothing is laid out to tell a story but the undertone of the entire place reflects a strong desire to keep the slave mart in operation.

Next we went to the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon, which was constructed in 1771. There is a remarkable amount of history in this building. It’s where the South Carolina convention ratified the Constitution of the United States. George Washington partied here during his tour of the south after he became president. This building, along with Independence Hall in Philadelphia and Faneuil Hall in Boston, which we’ve also visited during our adventure have roots in the creation of the United States of America.

Last of all we visited the Nathaniel Russell House. It has a really cool three-story elliptical staircase. It was built in 1808 and is in the Federal style. I had never heard of the Federal style before so I had to look it up. There’s always something new to learn every day and I got my fair share of it today.

After the sun went down we drove back to the hotel, but first stopping by to get some ribs and pulled pork from a nearby barbecue. Then we called it a night.

Kathy – We really enjoyed seeing all the historical sites in Charleston, South Carolina today.  After hearing so many great things from others about this city, I have always wanted to visit it. Happy today was our day.  We made good use of our time and learned so much. I enjoyed the Charleston City Market and meeting Ausar.  That African Shea butter is amazing on dry hands, and Ausar is just a really great guy!  We invited him to Spokane to ride bikes with us, hopefully he will take us up on this offer sometime in the future.  The Charleston museum was super cool with so much to see. We stopped by to see the Aiken-Rhett House Museum.  The outside of this house was beautiful with all it’s southern charm. We did not tour the inside as our parking meter was calling us across town to insert more money.  The Confederate Museum was packed full of things, however nothing was organized very well.  It was like we went back in time, but not a good time.

The Old Slave Mart Museum was our next destination.  It was really surreal to be standing in the exact spot where slaves were sold.  It is so sad that people were actually bid on and sold to others based on the color of their skin.  To make more money, Traders would “fatten up and clean up” these human-beings after they arrived by boat from Africa. They would give them new clean clothes also.  After a few weeks when they looked healthy then they would auction them off so they could get a a higher price.  It is unbelievable that these injustices happened in our country. The Old Slave Mart Museum was very informative however extremely sad to know our history allowed people to be sold.  Learning from our history prevents these horrible acts from happening again.

Next we walked about the Battery Neighborhood.  This is an area in Charleston near the shoreline with many very large beautiful old southern style homes.  We walked around the waterfront area too.  St. Michael’s Church was built in the 1750’s and is pretty remarkable and St Phillip’s Church was the same.  The Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon was really interesting.  Not only was this building where South Carolina ratified the United States Constitution in was also used to house prominent individuals during the Civil War.  The dungeon is pretty spooky just visiting it. I couldn’t imaging being a prisoner of war living (and dying) in this inhumane dungeon.  The Nathaniel Russell House Museum was a nice end to our day.  This is a spectacular home.  The carpentry that went into the astonishing staircase alone is totally incredible.  The home is truly remarkable.  Another note, who knew the first liquor store in the United States was based in Charleston, South Carolina?  We didn’t buy anything, but we passed by the small store.

We picked Bessinger’s BBQ restaurant for dinner.  It was so yummy!   We have not had any barbecue in a long time.  This place was pretty amazing.  Lots of pics on the walls with the owners and celebrities hanging out.  We are just regular people, so no one asked to take our picture with them.  One thing I was not fond of today was Pounce, a cat & wine bar.  Most of you know I am NOT a cat fan.  This place was packed, rescue cats and people everywhere.  Drinking wine and petting cats, can you believe people pay to do this?  If I liked cats I would open one of these in Spokane.  It looks to be a good business venture.  Maybe dogs and wine…now that I could do!

So, a lot was covered in our first day in Charleston (8 miles of walking).  Seeing and learning as we travel about to different cities is part of our adventures on this journey.  Charleston did not disappoint.  We are looking forward to learning more tomorrow.

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