Friday, October 10, 2014

Now Barely A Whisper In The Wind With A Ghost Of A Story, Edingsville Beach Was A Haven Of Grandeur And Extravagance

As the legend tells, in the hazy cast of a summer's blood moon, when the ocean air is heavy with a salty mist, you just may see the glazed shadow of the moon's dim light dance its somber dance on the window panes of the once upon a time planter's homes an oyster toss from Botany Bay along a stretch of beach once called Edingsville. And if you carefully listen to the tempestuous breeze passing over the sand and through the scattered relics washed ashore by the agitated surf, you just may hear the faint laughter and decadent chatter of the souls who past the time here during the burdensome heat of the malarial months of mosquito infested inland Edisto. But do not linger, for out of the translucent shadows, unexpectedly you may be enlisted by an illusory woman walking the beach mournfully in search of her husband long past due from a distant land.

Today, this hauntingly seductive shoreline is a windswept, sea-shelled stretch of solitary sand located between Edisto and Botany Bay Beach(see map). You would be looking from Botany Bay for a glimpse because there is no access to the beach other than by way of a causeway used exclusively by the residents of Jeremy Cay--a gated community separated from the beach by a salt marsh. You arrive at the gates of Jeremy Cay by way of a moss covered, oak lined road called Edingsville Beach Road. The very same road that led the families of the aristocratic Sea Island planters of Edisto to their beachside, summer resort once called Edingsville and the beginning of the story.

With the 18th century closing out and the 19th beginning, Edisto planters were fast becoming the wealthiest plantation owners in the South due to Sea Island cotton. Silky and highly prized, Sea Island cotton boasted extra long fibers making it a variety avidly sought after by mill owners of the world. Their unbelievable wealth empowered the planters to establish an aristocracy reinforced in blood and marriage. They built beautiful mansions, bought townhouses in Charleston and entertained lavishly, but in the summer months their plantation paradises languished in summer's oppressive heat besieged by swarms of mosquito and the dreaded "country fever," also known as malaria. While seeking relief on the barrier island beaches of the Atlantic, they discovered the cooling ocean breezes kept the scourge at bay. With this realization, the idea of Edingsville Beach was born.

Sea Island plantation
By 1820, the beachside resort of Edingsville had grown to include sixty stately two-story, brick houses wrapped in terraces with sweeping views, adorned with gardens and serviced by carriage houses and slave quarters. Two churches praised their good fortunes and resolved their sins while an academy kept the boys educated. In 1852, the Atlantic Hotel was built by the Eding's family to accommodate the growing list of vacationers. The beach retreat was dubbed "Riviera of the Low Country."

Every May, the planters would gather up their servants and furnishings, load them onto wagons and carts followed by horse drawn carriages filled with their progeny, and make the trek over Edisto's hot, sandy roads to their magical haven by the ocean to spend the long summer days partaking in elegant parties, boat races, horse races, elaborate banquets and splashing around in the soothing, salty waters of the Atlantic. They would stay until the first frost of autumn. It was a leisurely, carefree life, but destiny had other plans for Edisto's planters and Edingsville Beach.

Between the devastation of the Civil War in the 1860's and the boll weevil infestations of 1917, the Sea Island Cotton industry in the Lowcountry became decimated. In almost a single season, the royal crop of the sea islands was wiped out, never to return. After escaping the insanity of the Civil War, Edingsville Beach's benefactor became its malefactor. The very same ocean that brought jubilant relief eventually brought absolute devastation.

A series of hurricanes beginning in 1874 relentlessly eroded away the golden era existence of Edingsville Beach. Finally, the hurricane of 1893 washed away all affirmation of its splendor and extravagance leaving only a tabby brick fireplace and broken trinkets. Over the years since, the occasional piece of china or brick appears on the beach delivered by a passing wave as a reminder of the once flourishing aristocracy.

As for the illusory woman, her name is Mary Clark. She was the daughter of one of the wealthy planters who spent the hot summer months with the family at their waterfront home on Edingsville Beach. She recently married her childhood sweetheart, a ship's captain, who also was a descendant of island planters. Four weeks after their wedding, the groom set sail for the West Indies. It was October and most of the planter families were still in residence at their beach homes.

Each evening, just before sunset, Mary walked down to the water's edge, stared out over the steadily building surf and longed for the return of her husband. Two weeks had passed. The captain's ship was overdue. The smell of an approaching hurricane was in the air, but it was too late to leave the island. The causeway was already flooded. Mary knew in her heart the captain's ship may be involved.

The hurricane hit and the house trembled and swayed. The structure started to buckle and sea water washed into the house. It was a long night of terror for Mary and the others as they struggled to stay alive. The morning brought an eerie calm and a scene that would never be forgotten. Trees were lying everywhere. Some beach houses were moved off their foundations with porches, chimneys or windows washed away.

Through it all, Mary's concern for her husband never wavered. Looking in disbelief at the heavy pieces of furniture, chairs, and sofas strewn along the beach, she spotted a dark, lumpy form floating on the ocean's horizon. She watched as the form washed closer toward the shore and become more recognizable. It was the form of a man. A numbing chill ran down her spine. She ran into the water, and as the form got closer to her, she recognized the body of her husband. With a shuddering cry, she plunged her trembling arms into the salty water and with tears streaming from her eyes, drew his lifeless body to her heartbroken chest and then, it disappeared. Later, the heart-wrenching news arrived. Her husband's ship went down in the hurricane and all on board were lost.

Now it is said, on moonlit nights, a young woman can be seen desperately searching the beach and running into the waves to pull the form of a man onto the shore.

1 comment:

Connie Minter said...

Vacation Rick, I so enjoyed this story! it was like watching a movie, or being on the shore. I hope to see a book by you on your many adventures of our wonderful Charleston! I would be the first in line for my signed copy! What a great movie this story would be...A Whisper In The Wind! ;-)