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!