Friday, October 12, 2012

The Mysterious Side Of Charleston-Uncommon Things You Don't See Everyday

Dock Street Theater
Charleston is charming, but also mysterious. It is renowned for its old homes and church graveyards, many with bizarre tales of ghostly encounters and things that go bump in the night. The Battery Carriage House Inn has its “gentleman ghost” and the headless torso and Poogan's Porch's resident apparition is an old lady by the name of Zoe St Amand. Junius Brutus Booth, father of John Wilkes Booth, is said to appear at the Dock Street Theater and Lavinia Fisher, famous for saying, “If you have a message you want to send to hell, give it to me – I’ll carry it,” haunts the Old City Jail. Many other such tales abound throughout Charleston and its streets. Even its barrier islands tell of pirate ghosts and confederate soldiers.

I have not personally experienced any of these types of encounters, but I have seen things that border on the peculiar. While traveling in and around Charleston you could see some strange and unusual things. Not saying that Charleston is the only place in this big country you could be confronted with the bizarre and unusual, other places have their own unique blend of quaint happenings. In the Lowcountry, the farther off the beaten track you go, the more bizarre some things may get. Some of them make perfect sense and others make no sense at all. Although, to the originator it probably appears very practical.

The first is the blue bottle tree. While I wouldn't categorize this as being bizarre, it is unusual. You see them all over the Lowcountry, on peoples front yards, gardens, porches and even one at the corner of a busy Summerville intersection called Five Points. To the originators, slaves from the Congo, the blue bottle tree was more than a lawn ornament and the idea behind its creation made perfect sense to them. Its purpose was to protect the home from evil spirits. The blue bottle tree was placed outside, near the home. The threatening evil spirits are drawn to the sparkling,blue bottles, cobalt blue to be more exact. Once inside the bottle they can't get out. The sun rises in the morning and burns them up, as one version tells it. Another version relates the bottles being corked and thrown into a river to carry the evil spirits away. Anyway you bottle it, the home was thus protected.

Both strange and unusual are appropriate adjectives for the next entry. I first happened upon this soon to become an iconic piece of Edisto Island history some years ago while driving the roads less traveled, at least by me. It was an old mattress hanging by four ropes from a large oak tree. Admittedly, at first I thought the peculiar sight to be rather repulsive. A mattress left outdoors, subject to the heat and humidity of the Lowcountry summer, would likely become a smelly, heap of decaying fibers over time. But then, as I reflected back over the uncommon spectacle, I found it to be amusingly uncanny, and so did many others who happened upon this contrivance posing as a double-wide hammock. It was the famed "Mattress Swing" and the place at which it hung was known to some of Edisto's oldest islanders as "Mattress Point." It was an ingenious invention of practicality and southern comfort. It was audacious. So audacious, the maker and owner of the swinging quilted pad, Frank Gadsden, charged drive-bys $10 to take pictures. The "Mattress Swing" no longer hangs from the old oak tree standing at the bend in the road on SC-174. Time and unforeseen circumstances have vanquished it.

White Gables, a quaint southern community development off of Central Ave in Summerville, is patterned after the colorful row houses of Charleston. One delivery man referred to it as the crayon box houses. The main entrance drive is flanked on each side by ponds, and once you past the first stop sign, lined with live oak trees. A clubhouse straight ahead and beyond a green area with benches and gazebos, stands as a center piece and hub of activity. It is a close knit community where the uncommon is as foreign as a Steeler jersey in the Dawg Pound of Cleveland Stadium. Until one day, a friend happened upon a freakish sight sitting on the lawn of a resident and shared it with me. A mechanical conjoinment of two dissimilar objects reminiscent of the Transformers. Someone finally discovered a way to mix work and play with this amalgamation of steel and wheels. It was a bike and a grass mower fused into one.

My final entry is unusual, but not bizarre. I happened upon it while visiting one of my favorite hangouts in Summerville, the Coastal Coffee Roasters, which is a contradiction for me because I don't partake of the dark, aromatic brew. While freshly roasted coffee from organically grown beans is Coastal Coffee Roasters niche, it is much more. Spending time there is like hanging out at a neighbor's garage for a community party complete with beverages and live entertainment, and if you are so inclined you can bring your own acoustic guitar to pick a few of your own favorites. CCR calls it open mic night.

It was on such a night I saw this unusual object sitting on CCR's counter. At first glance, from a distance, it looked like an oil lamp, but when the burner was put underneath, it eerily resembled a chemistry experiment. "What is that," I inquired. Brad answered, "A Japanese coffee siphon brewer." To satisfy my insatiable curiosity, I demanded an explanation, which involved another science, the laws of physics. So, a demonstration was needed, because seeing is believing, or something like that. Brad lit the burner and we watched. The whole process defies the laws of gravity and the end result is a pure cup of brewed coffee that even I had to try.

See you around the Lowcountry and beautiful Charleston.

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