Yesterday's Light

Images in Space and Time

Still in Love with Charleston

Unitarian Church, Charleston (1334, EM1)

Well, we’re home.  Back in Webster (I promise I won’t say the Webster slogan if you won’t either).  We even arrived for some damn good weather – temperatures in the lower 80’s for heaven’s sake.  Back to reality today, though.  Might even see a little snow.  But it’s April.  Not all that unusual.  As we like to say in western NY, “it could be worse”.  As in, “it could be worse if we couldn’t see the blood moon”.  Oh wait, we didn’t see it.  It was cloudy last night (as usual).  Maybe next time.  Or maybe “next time” I’ll be smarter and I’ll have my ass somewhere in the southwest.  Like Utah or something.  Where the sky is clear and there isn’t much light pollution.

And that’s one of the reasons our last multi-day stop was in Charleston, SC.  We wanted to be sure that we’d see some semblance of Spring.  You know, feel the warmth and smell the flowers.  There’s always lots of flowers in Charleston in April.  (Lots of pollen, too, but that’s another story.)

But mostly it’s “Old Charleston” that we wanted to see again.  We never tire of walking up and down the old streets and alleyways, some of which are still made of cobblestone.  And of course the old churches and cemeteries.  Usually my wife and I split up when we’re there – she wants to see the houses and gardens and I want to wander through some of this country’s oldest graveyards.  They fascinate me.  For one thing, they’re different.  If you visit a cemetery in most cities you’ll find grounds that look like a golf course, with carefully mowed lawns and carefully placed flowers.  Generally, the flowers aren’t growing there – they’ve been put there by someone visiting a grave.

In Charleston, the flowers in a cemetery are abundant, and they’re usually permanent fixtures.  In the spring, Charleston cemeteries look like large gardens.  And in some – like this one – the grass grows freely.  The pathways are clear but the grounds themselves are left to grow.  Add some spanish moss hanging from the trees and it’s all very beautiful.  And different.

What’s most engrossing, of course, is reading the gravestones (although some are so old and worn that they can’t be read anymore).  The history and the stories that exist in these places is mesmerizing.  And not always in a good way.  Charleston, of course, was the birthplace of the Confederacy and in large part the center of the slave trade.  Some not-very-nice people lived and died here.  Charleston hasn’t always been just a place for romance and art.  Perhaps more than any other southern city it represents a very dark chapter in American history.  What greater “crime against humanity” can there be than buying and selling other humans?

Unfortunately, it’s a part of Charleston’s history.  But it’s in the past.  A past that can still be felt and, in a way, heard in these old cemeteries.  We only need to listen.


4 Responses to “Still in Love with Charleston”

  1. Earl Moore

    Paul, I would definitely have a common interest in joining you wondering through those old cemeteries. As I mention in a recent post they fascinate me. I too prefer the old cemeteries which are more in the natural garden style, not so neatly sanitized and aligned. It’s like neighborhoods vs. track homes, except for the deceased. 🙂

    It’s especially important to remember those terrible chapters of Charleston’s history as they truly were, not in order to lay blame or judge, but to hopefully insure similar dark crimes will never be repeated against any group of humanity.

    • Paul Maxim

      Heck, I should have gotten in touch with you and seen if you wanted to take a short drive to Charleston to do some “wandering”! I’ll admit that it’s a strange fascination – exploring old cemeteries – but it can keep me occupied for hours.

      You’re absolutely right about Charleston’s history – we should remember it in the same way we remember other human tragedies, not to blame or accuse but to prevent it from reoccurring. But I sometimes think that even people who have visited the old dungeon and “workhouse” and slave market in Charleston don’t really understand what happened here. Or the depth of the human tragedy that transpired here. Hopefully, I’m wrong.

  2. TomDills

    I’ll see what I can do about getting Earl to Charleston! Come on back in the fall when it’s cooler and we can make it an outing.

    It looks like you found one of my favorite spots, Paul. There’s something about those graveyards that offer a counterpoint to the traditional tourist view of the city. While a lot of the history of Charleston is well known, there is some that doesn’t make it onto the Chamber of Commerce brochures. And I’d be willing to bet that the majority of visitors never gives it a thought.

    • Paul Maxim

      Well, you never know. We’re always “up” for a little (or big) road trip…….

      Actually, the Unitarian church cemetery was on my agenda the day you sent your first note. I’d just never entered it from the way you suggested (across the street from the Library Society building). In fact, I didn’t see the entrance at first – then somebody went through it and off I went.

      Yes, tourists seem a little uncomfortable in these graveyards. The only people that hang around very long are other photographers. But most folks take a quick peek and head back out.


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