Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Today In History: Edward Rutledge is a Reluctant Rebel

On this day in 1776, Edward Rutledge, one of South Carolina''s representatives to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, expresses his reluctance to declare independence from Britain in a letter to the like-minded John Jay of New York.

Contrary to the majority of his Congressional colleagues, Rutledge advocated patience with regards to declaring independence. In a letter to Jay, one of New York's representatives who was similarly disinclined to rush a declaration, Rutledge worried whether moderates like himself and Jay could "effectually oppose" a resolution for independence. Jay had urgent business in New York and therefore was not able to be present for the debates. Thus, Rutledge wrote of his concerns.

Rutledge was born in Charleston, to a physician who had emigrated from Ireland. Edward's elder brother John studied law at London's Middle Temple before returning to set up a lucrative practice in Charleston. Edward followed suit and studied first at Oxford University before being admitted to the English bar at the Middle Temple. He too returned to Charleston, where he married and began a family in a house across the street from his brother. As revolutionary politics roiled the colonies, first John, then Edward served as South Carolina's representative to the Continental Congress. Neither Rutledge brother was eager to sever ties with Great Britain, but it fell to Edward to sign the Declaration of Independence and create the appearance of unanimity to strengthen the Patriots' stand. At age 26, Edward Rutledge was the youngest American to literally risk his neck by signing the document.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Today In History,1994: Nicole Brown Simpson & Ron Goldman Murdered by ...?

Nicole Brown Simpson, famous football player O.J. Simpson's ex-wife, and her friend Ron Goldman are brutally stabbed to death outside Nicole's home in Brentwood, California, in what quickly becomes one of the most highly publicized trials of the century. With overwhelming evidence against him, including a prior record of domestic violence towards Brown, O.J. Simpson became the chief suspect.

Although he had agreed to turn himself in, Simpson escaped with friend A.C. Cowlings in his white Ford Bronco on June 17. He was carrying his passport, a disguise, and $8,750 in cash. Simpson's car was spotted that afternoon, but he refused to surrender immediately. Threatening to kill himself, he led police in a low-speed chase through the freeways of Los Angeles as the entire nation watched on television. Eventually, Simpson gave himself up at his home in Brentwood.

The evidence against Simpson was extensive: His blood was found at the murder scene; blood, hair, and fibers from Brown and Goldman were found in Simpson's car and at his home; one of his gloves was also found in Brown's home, the other outside his own house; and bloody shoeprints found at the scene matched those of shoes owned by Simpson.

However, Simpson's so-called "Dream Team" of defense lawyers, including Johnnie Cochran and F. Lee Bailey, claimed before a national television audience that Simpson had been framed by racist police officers such as Detective Mark Fuhrman. After deliberating for three hours, the jury acquitted Simpson. He vowed to find the "real killers," but has yet to turn up any new leads.

In a civil trial brought about by the families of the victims, Simpson was found responsible for causing Goldman's death and committing battery against Brown in February 1997, and was ordered to pay a total of $33.5 million, little of which he has paid.

In 2007, Simpson ran into legal problems once again when he was arrested for breaking into a Las Vegas hotel room and taking sports memorabilia, which he claimed had been stolen from him, at gunpoint. On October 3, 2008, he was found guilty of 12 charges related to the incident, including armed robbery and kidnapping, and sentenced to 33 years in prison.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

TODAY IN HISTORY,1973: Secretariat wins Triple Crown

With a spectacular victory at the Belmont Stakes, Secretariat becomes the first horse since Citation in 1948 to win America's coveted Triple Crown--the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont Stakes. In one of the finest performances in racing history, Secretariat, ridden by Ron Turcotte, completed the 1.5-mile race in 2 minutes and 24 seconds, a dirt-track record for that distance.

Secretariat was born at Meadow Stables in Doswell, Virginia, on March 30, 1970. He was sired by Bold Ruler, the 1957 Preakness winner, and foaled by Somethingroyal, which came from a Thoroughbred line known for its stamina. An attractive chestnut colt, he grew to over 16 hands high and was at two years the size of a three-year-old. He ran his first race as a two-year-old on July 4, 1972, a 5 1/2-furlong race at Aqueduct in New York City. He came from behind to finish fourth; it was the only time in his career that he finished a race and did not place. Eleven days later, he won a six-furlong race at Saratoga in Saratoga Springs, New York, and soon after, another race. His trainer, Lucien Laurin, moved him up to class in August, entering him in the Sanford Stakes at Saratoga, which he won by three lengths. By the end of 1972, he had won seven of nine races. With easy victories in his first two starts of 1973, Secretariat seemed on his way to the Triple Crown. Just two weeks before the Kentucky Derby, however, he stumbled at the Wood Memorial Stakes at Aqueduct, coming in third behindAngle Light and Sham.

The amazing photo of Secretariat's 31 length victory in the Belmont Stakes, 1973. Jockey Ron Turcotte claimed he did nothing during the race but hold on.

On May 5, he met Sham and Angle Light again at the Churchill Downs track in Louisville for the Kentucky Derby. Secretariat, a 3-to-2 favorite, broke from near the back of the pack to win the 2 1/4-mile race in a record 1 minute and 59 seconds. He was the first to run the Derby in less than two minutes and his record still stands. Two weeks later, at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland, Secretariat won the second event of the Triple Crown: the Preakness Stakes. The official clock malfunctioned, but hand-recorded timers had him running the 1 1/16-mile race in record time. On June 9, 1973, almost 100,000 people came to Belmont Park near New York City to see if "Big Red" would become the first horse in 25 years to win the Triple Crown. Secretariat gave the finest performance of his career in the Belmont Stakes, completing the 1.5-mile race in a record 2 minutes and 24 seconds, knocking nearly three seconds off the track record set by Gallant Man in 1957. He also won by a record 31 lengths. Ron Turcotte, who jockeyed Secretariat in all but three of his races, claimed that at Belmont he lost control of Secretariat and that the horse sprinted into history on his own accord. Secretariat would race six more times, winning four and finishing second twice.

In November 1973, the "horse of the century" was retired and put to stud at Claiborne Farm in Paris, Kentucky. Among his notable offspring is the 1988 Preakness and Belmont winner, Risen Star. Secretariat was euthanized in 1989 after falling ill. An autopsy showed that his heart was two and a half times larger than that of the average horse, which may have contributed to his extraordinary racing abilities. In 1999, ESPN ranked Secretariat No. 35 in its list of the Top 50 North American athletes of the 20th century, the only non-human on the list.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The REAL History of the Holy City - Merriment!

In Charleston, change is often a four letter word. More than any American city, Charleston guards its heritage with a passion. A few notable examples include:
  • 1902 - the Powder Magazine (17 Magazine St) was preserved.
  • 1911 - Susan Pringle Frost began purchasing the slums along eastern Tradd Street for renovation.
  • 1913 - Congress authorized the transfer of the Old Exchange Building (122 East Bay St.) to the Daughters of the American Revolution.
  • 1920 - The Society for the Preservation of Old Dwellings was established.
  • 1924 - Joseph Manigault House opened as the first house museum, and the Heyward-Washington House was purchased by the Charleston Museum.
  • 1931 – Charleston established the Board of Architectural Review and established the Old and Historic District.

These are only a few of the official acts the city has taken to protect its buildings. But when it comes to protecting the social and cultural heritage of the Holy City it’s not as easy as just passing a city ordinance. After all, the state dance is the Shag, a watered down caucasian version of the much more challenging African-inspired the Charleston. But worse of all is the gradual deterioration of one of Charleston’s longest traditions – merriment!

No more street parties on St. Patrick’s Day. No smoking in ANY building in Charleston. No tailgating at Citadel football games (I guess fireworks at 11 pm after a baseball game in a park named after the current mayor is less disruptive). The only approved street “parties” these days are politically correct cultural events like the Art Walk (even then you can’t carry your topless plastic cup from site-to-site, the MOJO Arts Fesitval and various SPOLETO and Piccolo Spoleto happenings.

By the 1980s all of the “adult clubs” and “massage parlors” that used to be located around the Market area were pushed to the extreme northern end of the city. During the 1990s as the price of real estate began to rise in the downtown area, a new crop of self-important persnickety puritans arrived and slowly strangled the real social character of Charleston. After all, we can’t allow blue collar drunks on the streets of the Holy City having fun, can we?

Well, yes we can. Charleston is called the Holy City due to its number of churches, not due to the behavior of the locals. Maybe if these persnickety puritans had taken the time to learn the “real” heritage of their new city BEFORE they decided to purchase that million dollar home, things might be different. A quick primer on Charleston social behavior:

The city’s namesake, King Charles II was called the Merry Monarch. English historian Samuel Pepys described Charles’ court as there being so much . . . swearing, drinking and whoring that I do not know what will be the end of it.” Charles admitted to fathering “more than 35 bastards.”

One of the most important men in the establishment of Carolina was Lord Anthony Ashley Cooper. John Dryden noted that Cooper was a man who “loves fumbling with a Wench, with all his heart.” Charles II referred to Cooper as “the greatest whoremaster in England.”

When the first settlers arrived in April 1670, the cargo included 12 tons of beer and 50 barrels of brandy. Seven months later, Captain Joseph West complained that many of the settlers “were so addicted to the Rum, that they will do little whilst the bottle is at their nose.”

In 1768, one hundred and thirty-two taverns were licensed in Charles Town - one for every five adult males. Rev. Charles Woodmason complained that each Saturday so many people in Charleston became so “drunk and stupid, as to be utterly unfit to attend Public Worship on Sunday.” Francis Asbury preached at Old Bethel Church in 1789 and called Charleston the “Sodom and Gomorrah of the South.”

The upper floors of the former Planters Hotel (present location of the Dock Street Theatre) were reserved for “gentlemen and their private guests.” Richard Hofstadter noted: The Charleston hedonistic life put the other seaboard towns in the shade.” John C. Calhoun became one of Charleston’s most treasured citizens despite the fact that he loathed the city. He called Charleston “intemperate and full of debauchery.”

The Reverend Arthur Crain wrote in 1900: “The city is wide open. No liquor law is being enforced. Drunkenness greets us on every hand. I can meet more drunken men in a 15-minute walk in Charleston than I could in New York, Chicago or any other city.” Six years later the state of South Carolina granted 297 liquor licenses - two hundred and thirteen of them were issued in Charleston. Fifteen bars were located around City Hall and nineteen operated within a block of St. Philip’s Church. During Prohibition, more than 20,000 South Carolinians made a living as a bootlegger.

In October 1942, Charleston police raided Market Street and arrested 626 prostitutes – 346 white and 280 black. Nearly half were found to be infected with venereal disease.

So, welcome to the REAL Charleston, named after the Merry Monarch who fathered more than 35 bastards. The city’s two main rivers are named after “the greatest whoremaster in England,"and until recently we were renowned to be full of debauchery and loose and idle women.

As we approach another summer tourism season I urge everyone to help preserve one of Charleston’s most important heritages: eat drink and be merry, as often as possible. Or, if you’re feeling particularly inspired, eat, drink and be with Mary! And for you cross-dressers – go ahead and eat, drink and BE Mary. After this is the former Sodom and Gomorrah of the South.

Saturday, May 28, 2011


A number of towns around the nation claim holding the first Memorial Day, although the distinction generally goes to the town of Waterloo, in upstate New York. Not so fast.

MAY 1, 1865. More than 10,000 people gathered for a parade, to hear speeches and dedicate the graves of Union dead in what is now Hampton Park in Charleston, SC.The group consisted of several thousand black freedmen, northern missionaries and teachers who had arrived in Charleston to teach in freedmen schools post-War.

Hampton Park was originally the Planters Race Course and, during the final months of the Civil War, it was a hellish open-air Confederate prison. A total of 267 Union troops died at the camp, some of whom had been moved from infamous Andersonville in Georgia before it was liberated. The dead were originally buried in a mass grave by the Confederates, but after the war, members of black churches buried them in individual graves at the site of the camp.An arch over the graveyard entrance identified those buried there as "The Martyrs of the Race Course." The Union dead were later moved to national cemeteries.

Union cemetery, 1865 @ Planters Race Course

The Charleston commemoration was referred to at the time as Decoration Day, as were other early Memorial Day observances.The northern troops went home and the memory remained generally with blacks. Memory of the event was suppressed when white Democrats took back control of the state in 1876 and Southern states held their own Confederate Memorial Days.

Hampton Park, 1902

David Blight, a history professor at Yale, has researched the event. "As the Lost Cause tradition set in — the Confederate version of the meaning and memory of the war — no one in white Charleston or the state was interested in remembering the war through this event. At the end of the day you have to ask does it really matter who is first. But if the issue is what is the first event, Charleston occurred a full year earlier."

Memorial Day through the years was generally celebrated May 30. Beginning in 1971, the federal holiday was designated as the last Monday in May.

Hampton Park, today

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Oprah Book Club: Hits & Misses

The best thing about Oprah going off the air is that she will stop recommending bad novels to people too lazy to decide what they want to read.

Since 1996, Oprah has chosen 65 selections for her book club that have engaged, enlightened, entertained, bored and baffled readers. Other than an overabundance of "I'm-a-victim-poor-poor-me" type of stories, there is the out-and-out fraudulent travesty of A Million Little Pieces by James Frey.

Unfortunately, Oprah has bought completely the elite literary sham that for a book to be "taken seriously" it must be overwrought, self-indulgent and mainly ... boring. However, she did occasionally choose a great book, probably by accident.


A LESSON BEFORE DYING by Ernest K. Gaines. A legitimate classic. Should be read as a companion with To Kill A Mockingbird.
TARA ROAD by Maeve Binchy. Finally, a fun, uplifting book. Oprah should have chosen more than one Binchy novel, instead of the 4 by Toni Morrison, 2 by Wally Lamb, Jane Hamilton, and Kaye Gibbons.
THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER by Carson McCullers. One of the first "adult" novels I read as a teenager that blew me away.
AS I LAY DYING by William Faulkner. Classic Faulkner weirdness.
NIGHT by Elie Weisel. A genuinely great book.
THE PILLARS OF THE EARTH by Ken Follett. Possible the best book Oprah chose. Follett's masterpiece.
EAST OF EDEN by John Steinbeck. One of Steinbeck's books (not my first choice) that could have been chosen.
A TALE OF TWO CITIES BY Charles Dickens. The best Dickens book that Oprah could have chosen.


THE BOOK OF RUTH by Jane Hamilton. A depressing mess.
SONG OF SOLOMON by Toni Morrison. Like everything Morrison writes, it's messy, often unintelligible and perfectly worthy of a Nobel Prize.
THE DEEP END OF THE OCEAN by Jacquelyn Mitchard. A TV Movie-of-the-Week idea that somehow caught Oprah's attention.
ELLEN FOSTER by Kaye Gibbons. A short novel (144 pages) that seems longer than Gone With The Wind.
SHE'S COME UNDONE by Wally Lamb. Here's a two word review: IT SUCKS!
THE POISONWOOD BIBLE by Barbara Kingsolver. An absolutely incoherent mess.
THE ROAD by Cormac MacCarthy. An awful mess. An example of a literary snob thinking he's being clever when he's really just re-cycling ideas that have been done before. The Road is filled with cliques stolen from (much better) end-of-the-world novels by science fiction writers (gasp!)


ZOMBIE by Joyce Carol Oates over WE WERE THE MULVANEYS.
CAT'S CRADLE by Kurt Vonnegut.
CATCH-22 by Joseph Heller.
ENDER'S GAME by Orson Scott Card.

TODAY IN CHARLESTON HISTORY, 1660: Restoration of the English Throne

May 24: 1660: Under invitation by leaders of the English Commonwealth, Charles II, the exiled king of England, lands at Dover, England, to assume the throne, ending 11 years of military rule.

The Prince of Wales at the time of the English Civil War, Charles fled to France after Oliver Cromwell's Parliamentarians defeated his father, King Charles I in 1646. In 1649, Charles vainly attempted to save his father's life by presenting Parliament a signed blank sheet of paper, thereby granting whatever terms were required. However, the Puritan, Oliver Cromwell, was determined to execute Charles I, and on January 30, 1649, the king was beheaded in London.

After his father's death, Charles was proclaimed king of England by the Scots and by supporters in parts of Ireland and England, and he traveled to Scotland to raise an army. In 1651, Charles invaded England but was defeated by Cromwell at the Battle of Worcester. Charles escaped to France and later lived in exile in Germany and then in the Spanish Netherlands. During Cromwell's rule, the Puritan faction of the English government outlawed anything remotely fun! Taverns, theaters and brothels were closed. Public whistling was banned because we all know that whistling means you're happy, and if you're happy you're having fun, and if you're having fun you must be committing a sin - so you're going straight to hell. It was NOT jolly ole England. After Cromwell's death in 1658, the English Puritan republican experiment faltered.

In 1660, in what is known as the English Restoration, General George Monck met with Charles and arranged to restore him in exchange for a promise of amnesty and religious toleration for his former enemies. On May 25, 1660, Charles landed at Dover and four days later entered London in triumph. It was his 30th birthday, and London rejoiced at his arrival. In the first year of the Restoration, Oliver Cromwell was posthumously convicted of treason and his body disinterred from its tomb in Westminster Abbey, beheaded and hanged from the gallows at Tyburn. It was referred to as the "twice dead body of Cromwell."

Charles II went on to become known as the Merry Monarch, leadingEngland into the era of Eat, Drink and be Merry. He became legendary for his sexual prowess and debauchery. He died in 1685 after fathering more than 30 bastard children, but no legitimate heir to the English throne, which passed to his brother, James II.

Princess Diana was a direct descendant of one of Charles II's illegitimate heirs. When her son, Prince William, becomes the King of England sometime in the future, he will be the first direct heir of Charles II to sit on the throne. Below is a photo taken during the celebration of Prince William and Kate Middleton's wedding, proving, beyond a doubt, that William is most definitely a direct heir of the Merry Monarch.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

April Reading List

  1. CHARLESTON IS BURNING / Daniel J. Crooks, Jr. *** Slight volume covering the history of Charleston's major
    fires and fire fighting.
  2. JOHN C. CALHOUN . Margaret L. Coit *** Pretty good (but dated) bio of Calhoun.
  3. PIED PIPER / Nevil Shute *** The only Shute novel I had never read. Good, but not great.
  4. THE PEACH KEEPER / Sarah Addison Allen *** Charming, but v-e-r-y- slight novel. Allen has a great way of
    creating characters and making magic seem normal, but she is in danger of becoming a parody of herself.
  5. GIDEON'S SWORD / Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child ** Very poor thriller. Almost as slight as a James
    Patterson book.
  6. WHAT THE NIGHT KNOWS / Dean Koontz * Awful. Koontz has gotten progressively worse. I guess some
    people only have 30 good books in them! I miss the classic (good) Koontz.
  7. LITTLE BEE / Chris Cleave * Virtually unreadable.
  8. JOHANNES CABAL THE NECROMANCER / Jonathon L Howard. *** Entertaining but way too much cleverness.
    Loewen. *** Excellent review of stories American history textbooks don't teach, but I'm sorry, Mr. Loewen,
    everything is NOT about race. Maybe in your mind, but not in most people's.
  10. FOOL: A NOVEL / Christopher Moore ** Docked one star for working too hard to be funny and clever.
  11. ON THE BEACH / Nevil Shute *** Shute's most famous novel, but not his best by any stretch.
  12. FREEDOM / Jonathon Franzen ** It's good to see that Franzen's famous novel THE CORRECTIONS was not an
    aberation. This book is quite boring also.

Friday, May 6, 2011


Charleston is the #1 travel destination on the East Coast of the United States according to Conde Nast. Commonly called "America's Most Historic City" and "the most charming city in America", Charleston has great history, architecture, beaches and culture. It is internationally known for it's restaurants, art galleries and upscale shopping. A trip to Charleston can be ... expensive ... especially in an economy that shows little sign of rebounding. So, here are a few things for travelers to do in the Holy City with the best price tag possible ... FREE! Listed alphabetically.

The oldest tree east of the Mississippi River, this is a 1300 year old live oak tree on Johns Island, between Charleston and Kiawah Island Resort. When you stand beneath the Angel Oak you realize how insignificant we are in the grand scheme of life. Open 10-4 pm.

Black Cat offers two free daytime walking tours every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. A 10 am Confederate history tour and a 1 pm Battery Tour. Space is limited to 12 people per tour so Reservations Required.

150 Meeting Street. The oldest graveyard in South Carolina, the unique Circular Church has more than 1oo pre-Revolutionary headstones. Usually open from 10-5 pm.

80 Broad Street. Built in 1807 and located at the Four Corners of Law (four corners, four laws: God, Federal, State & City), City Hall is open to the public during the day. The infamous John Trumbull portrait of George Washington hangs inside the building. It is infamous because it features Washington's horse preparing to dump a load of manure on the city.

Folly Beach, the Edge of America, is a charming beach community 20 miles south of Charleston. The small downtown area features eclectic restaurants and shops. The Edwin S. Taylor Pier is 24 feet wide, extends more than 1,045 feet into the Atlantic Ocean. The beaches are wide and gorgeous and it is considered the best surfing in the Charleston area.

68 Spring St. The world's largest private collection of documents and manuscripts. Historically fascinating. Tuesday-Friday 10-4 pm.
Steeped in American history on the bank of the Cooper River, Magnolia Cemetery is a 128-acre former rice plantation with more 35,000 graves; among them are 2,200 Civil War veterans, 5 South Carolina governors, 3 U.S. senators, and 2 cabinet members. Not to mention several Charleston scoundrels, gangsters, and madams. Open 10-5 pm.

17 Chalmers Street. Built in 1695 and located on a charming cobblestone street, this is Charleston's second oldest structure. It initially housed John Breton's tavern and brothel and is now an art gallery. Open 10-5 pm.

71 Broad Street. St. Michael's is the oldest church structure in Charleston. The graveyard features two signers of the U.S. Constitution (John Rutledge & Charles Cotesworth Pinckney). George Washington attended services here on May 8, 1791. The steeple was struck several times during the Civil War by Union artillery. The stained glass windows were designed by Tiffany's of New York in 1905 and the steeple still retains its original eight bells, from 1764.
Church and graveyard usually open to the public daily until 4 pm.

120 East Bay Street. The oldest building in Charleston, circa 1686. Originally built as a tavern on the Charleston harbor it has been known as Harris' Tavern, Coates Tavern on the Bay, The Tavern on the Bay. During Prohibition (1920s) the building was turned into a barber shop with a free half pint of "hair tonic) to each paying customer. How often do you get to browse in a liquor store that has been selling booze for more than 325 years?

Corner of East Battery & South Battery Streets. The Battery was constructed in the early 1800s as a seawall and later was used for military use during the War of 1812 and the Civil War. White Point Garden is a charming public park filled with 150-year old live oaks and many statues and historical monuments. Along the Battery wall there are spectacular views of the Ashley and Cooper Rivers, Charleston harbor, James Island, Sullivan's Island and Ft. Sumter.


Enjoy your trip to Charleston!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

April 12, 2011 ... 150th Anniversary of The War Between the States

Ft. Sumter - Charleston harbor

Letter from Brig. Gen. P.G. T. Beauregard (Charleston) to Maj. Robert Anderson (Ft. Sumter) - APRIL 11, 1861.

I am so ordered by my govt. - the Confederate States of America - to demand the immediate evacuation of Ft. Sumter. I await your reply.

P.G.T. Beauregard

Anderson’s reply

I regret that my sense of honor, and of my obligations to MY govt., prevent my compliance of your request. I shall await your first shot, and if you do not batter us to pieces, we shall be starved out in a few days.

Robert Anderson

3:30 a.m. APRIL 12, 1861, Col. James Chesnut delivers this message to Major Anderson

By authority of Brig. Gen. Beauregard, commanding the provisional forces of the Confederate States, we have the honor to notify you that we will open fire our Batteries on Ft. Sumter in one hour of this time.

Ft. Johnson

4:30 am.

1st SHOT: fired from Ft. Johnson by Lt. James S. Farley – a signal shot.

2nd SHOT: from Ft. Johnson by Lt. W.H. Gibbes.

Edmund Ruffin

3rd SHOT: from Cummings Point fired by Virginian Edmund Ruffin.

Sunday, April 10, 2011


A fire at the LaLaurie mansion in New Orleans, Louisiana, leads to the discovery of a torture chamber where slaves are routinely brutalized by Delphine LaLaurie. Rescuers found a 70-year-old black woman trapped in the kitchen during the fire because she was chained up while LaLaurie was busy saving her furniture. The woman later revealed that she had set the fire in an attempt to escape LaLaurie's torture. She led authorities up to the attic, where seven slaves were tied with spiked iron collars.

After Delphine LaLaurie married her third husband, Louis LaLaurie, and moved into his estate on Royal Street, she immediately took control of the large number of slaves used as servants. LaLaurie was a well-known sadist, but the mistreatment of slaves by the wealthy and socially connected was not a matter for the police at the time.

However, in 1833, Delphine chased a small slave girl with a whip until the girl fell off the roof of the house and died. LaLaurie tried to cover up the incident, but police found the body hidden in a well. Authorities decided to fine LaLaurie and force the sale of the other slaves on the estate.

LaLaurie foiled this plan by secretly arranging for her relatives and friends to buy the slaves. She then sneaked them back into the mansion, where she continued to torture them until the night of the fire in April 1834.

Apparently her Southern neighbors had some standards when it came to the treatment of slaves, because a mob gathered in protest after learning about LaLaurie's torture chamber. She and her husband fled by boat, leaving the butler (who had also participated in the torture) to face the wrath of the crowd.

Although charges were never filed against LaLaurie, her reputation in upper-class society was destroyed. It is believed that she died in Paris in December 1842.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Today in History: 1895: Oscar Wilde Arrested.

Writer Oscar Wilde is arrested after losing a libel case against the Marquess of Queensberry.

Wilde had been engaged in an affair with the marquess's son since 1891, but when the outraged marquess denounced him as a homosexual, Wilde sued the man for libel. However, he lost his case when evidence strongly supported the marquess's observations. Homosexuality (often called buggery) was classified as a crime in England at the time, and Wilde was arrested, found guilty, and sentenced to two years of hard labor.

Wilde was a well-known author by this time, having produced several brilliant and popular plays, including The Importance of Being Ernest (1895). Born and educated in Ireland, he came to England to attend Oxford, where he graduated with honors in 1878. A popular society figure known for his wit and flamboyant style, he published his own book of poems in 1881. He spent a year lecturing on poetry in the U.S., where his dapper wardrobe and excessive devotion to art drew ridicule from some quarters.

His reception in Charleston, SC was decidedly cool. His penchant for ridiculing pomposity and upper class society met with negative reaction among the Charleston aristocracy. He described his interaction with an old Southern woman as ... "While strolling the Battery I remarked on how lovely the moon looked over the water, my elderly companion turned to me and said, "Sir, you should have seen it before the war."

After returning to Britain, Wilde married and had two children, for whom he wrote delightful fairy tales, which were published in 1888. Meanwhile, he wrote reviews and edited Women's World. In 1890, his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, was published serially, appearing in book form the following year. He wrote his first play, The Duchess of Padua, in 1891 and wrote five more before his arrest. Wilde was released from prison in 1897 and fled to Paris, where his many loyal friends visited him. He started writing again, producing The Ballad of Reading Gaol, based on his experiences in prison. He died of acute meningitis in 1900.

In 1903, a group of Charleston madams published the 8-page pamphlet titled THE BLUE BOOK, which contained advertisements for local brothels. One local Charleston wit could not resist poking fun of Wilde's former legal predicament - notably his arrest on buggery charges - by writing this ditty:

The boy stood on the burning deck with his back up against the mast.

"I will not stir one step," he said, "Until Oscar Wilde has passed."

Monday, April 4, 2011


UNDUE INFLUENCE / Steve Martini ** VERY predictable legal thriller. Had it figured out by page 130 and thought: "surely, it can't be that simple." But ... it was. Also, Martini has a choppy prose style which makes his dialogue a chore to get through. Needs to simple it up.

THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE WORLD / Mark Booth *** Exhaustively researched book about world history as told from the viewpoint of the Freemasons.

THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP / John Irving **** A 12th time re-read. Still great!

THE HUNGER GAMES / Suzanne Collins *** I would have rated this 5 stars except for that fact it is written in present tense, which does nothing to improve the book, and distracts from the narrative. But, it is an excellent YA novel about a futuristic America.

THE REVERSAL / Michael Connelly **** Connelly is the best current crime writer - period. This is an ingenious legal thriller that is really about character reversals.

MINDING FRANKIE / Maeve Binchy **** This is vintage Binchy; full of flawed, flaky characters rallying around one another for support - mainly to support a single father who is suddenly thrust into the care of a infant daughter he did not know he had fathered.

KEEP THE CHANGE / Steve Dublanicia ** Very weak social history of gratuities. Avoid.

THE ALIENIST / Caleb Carr **** Excellent historical thriller.

Monday, March 28, 2011

TODAY IN HISTORY, 1818: Wade Hampton born in Charleston

Hampton was born in Charleston, SC and grew up in one of the wealthy families in the South, receiving private instruction. When his father died in 1858 his son inherited a vast fortune, the plantations, and one of the largest collections of slaves in the South.

Although his views were conservative concerning the issues of secession and slavery, and he had opposed the division of the Union as a legislator, at the start of the Civil War, Hampton was loyal to his home state. He resigned from the Senate and enlisted as a private in the South Carolina Militia; however, the governor of South Carolina insisted that Hampton accept a colonel's commission, even though he had no military experience at all. Hampton organized and partially financed the unit known as "Hampton's Legion", which consisted of six companies of infantry, four companies of cavalry, and one battery of artillery. He personally financed all of the weapons for the Legion.

Despite his lack of military experience and his relatively advanced age of 42, Hampton was a natural cavalryman—brave, audacious, and a superb horseman. He was one of only two officers without previous military experience (the other being Nathan Bedford Forrest) to achieve the rank of lieutenant general in the Confederate service. On May 23, 1862, Hampton was promoted to brigadier general while commanding a brigade in Stonewall Jackson's division in the Army of Northern Virginia.

Post War, Hampton was offered the nomination for governor in 1865, but refused because he felt that those in the North would be suspicious of a former Confederate general seeking political office only months after the end of the Civil War. However, he did become a leading fighter against Radical Republican Reconstruction policies in the South, and re-entered South Carolina politics in 1876 as the first southern gubernatorial candidate to run on a platform in opposition to Reconstruction. Hampton, a Democrat, ran against Radical Republican incumbent governor Daniel Chamberlain in Charleston. Supporters of Hampton were called the Red Shirts and were known to practice violence. Due to their crude reputation and hopes of alleviating Union suspicion, Hampton used Grace Piexotto's "The Big Brick House", a prominent brothel located at 11 Fulton Street, to assure complete privacy for the Red Shirts' meeting ground, which was mainly served as campaign headquarters.

The 1876 South Carolina gubernatorial election was one of the bloodiest (and closest) in the history of the state. Both parties claimed victory. For over six months, there were two legislatures in the state, both claiming to be authentic. Eventually, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled Hampton was the winner of the election. President Rutherford B. Hayes stated that "the whole Army of the United States would be inadequate to enforce the authority of Gov. Chamberlain." Hayes then ordered the evacuation of Federal troops in South Carolina. Thus the election of the first Democrat in South Carolina since the end of the Civil War signified the end of Reconstruction in the South.

In 1890, Hampton's niece Caroline, an operating room nurse, married the father of American surgery, William Halsted. It was because of her skin reaction to surgical sterilization chemicals that Halsted invented the surgical glove the previous year.

Hampton died in Columbia in 1902 and is buried there in Trinity Cathedral Churchyard.

Statue of Wade Hampton at South Carolina State House

In Margaret Mitchell's novel, Gone With The Wind, Scarlet O'Hara's first husband, Charles Hamilton, served in Hampton's regiment, dying of measles only seven weeks later. As it was fashionable (according to Mitchell) to name baby boys after their fathers' commanding officers, Scarlett's son by Charles is therefore named Wade Hampton Hamilton.

In the North and South trilogy by John Jakes, the character Charles Main serves with Hampton's cavalry throughout the Civil War.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Today In History: May 26, 1776: South Carolina Declares Its Independence.

The Provincial Congress of South Carolina approved a new constitution and government on this day in 1776. The legislature renamed itself the General Assembly of South Carolina and elected John Rutledge as president, Henry Laurens as vice president and William Henry Drayton as chief justice.
John Rutledge
South Carolina took this action towards independence from Great Britain four months before the Continental Congress declared independence and five months before South Carolina learned of the declaration. Rutledge possessed quasi-dictatorial powers as president and commander in chief of the new state. In 1778, he resigned the post in protest over proposed changes to the state constitution. Rawlins Lowndes took over the presidency and instituted the changes Rutledge found objectionable. The executive power changed from a presidency to a governorship and veto power was taken away from the executive. The Senate became a popularly elected body, and the Church of England no longer held status as the state church. However, after the changes had been made, Rutledge was elected governor in 1779, a post he held until 1782.
William Henry Drayton
William Henry Drayton drafted the 1778 constitution that was opposed by Rutledge. The ardent Whig died while serving Congress in Philadelphia on September 3, 1779, at age 37. Rutledge lost much of his personal wealth during the British siege of Charleston, but survived to see the new century dawn before his death in 1800.
Laurens marker @ The Tower of London
Henry Laurens only served as vice president of South Carolina until June 1777. He was elected to the Continental Congress in January of that year and became the president of Congress under the Articles of Confederation on November 1, 1777, a position he held until December 9, 1778. Beginning in 1780, Laurens served 15 months of imprisonment in the Tower of London after being taken captive on a Congressional mission to Holland. He was the first American to be imprisoned in the Tower.
Tower of London
He spent the last years of his life in retirement on his plantation, where he lived until his death in 1792.