Wednesday, December 30, 2015

An Upper King Street Eatery You will Relish--Four Ninety-Two

August 2013
The old building in the featured photo was photographed from the rooftop of the Stars Restaurant in August of 2013. As I looked down on King Street at the building and took the picture, I wondered about it and its destiny. As I contemplated the future of the neglected and abandoned building, my first thoughts were that of a restaurant. Upper King Street in most recent years has seen an explosion of restaurants and eateries. At the time, I was totally unaware of the fact the building had been purchased by the Relish Restaurant Group. My intuition proved correct. It just seemed to be a fitting hypothesis.

The building dates back to 1888 when clothiers such as Reuben's, Leon's and Bluestein's were a large part of the economy in Charleston. It is believed to have been a Leon's Men's clothing store. In 1989, Hurricane Hugo devastated Charleston. The building was damaged and remained abandoned since until it was purchased by the Charleston restaurant group. After a complete renovation of the building, the highly anticipated King Street "contemporary American" eatery opened in the Spring of 2015. Its name is its address, Four Ninety-Two. Executive Chef Nate Whiting presides over the kitchen.

December 2015
The main downstairs dining area is outfitted with a long community table accompanied by red, low-backed chairs. On the left, diamond-backed booths topped with large mirrors line the wall and to the right a bar. Moving beyond the community table is a more intimate seating area with wing-backed chairs and to the right a long, wood covered bar where patrons can be seated with a view of the open kitchen. Chef Whiting said they wanted to "dissolve the borders" between the cooks and the diners. The space features an artistic piece called the "button wall" and an "eating room red" ceiling. It seats around 75 guests.

Upstairs is an event dining room and a sun-drenched rooftop garden. The upstairs hall ceiling is painted a "piazza blue"--a well-known Charleston paint color. The rooftop garden is filled with wooden planters and white, plastic pillar planters filled with seasonal herbs and vegetables that will be used in the kitchen.

The most predominate and daring feature is the addition of the large metal fence separating 492's courtyard from the busy King Street sidewalk. The jazzy abstract metal work is actually patterned after Sanborn Street Maps. It leads to the 40-person outdoor seating area filled with tall palm trees and a curious gnome--an attractive space for guests seeking to enjoy the beautiful Charleston outdoor atmosphere.

The menu is broken down into seven categories: Fields And Gardens, Pasta And Grains, From The Sea, From The Land, Dessert, Cocktails, and Local Craft Beers. It changes daily, so you will need to call for information about your chosen night's menu. A three course dinner will cost about $30 on average. Cocktails are $10 and Local Craft Beers $6.

There are two upcoming events scheduled. On Thursday, December 31st at 5-11 pm, there will be New Year's Eve Dinner featuring a special five-course dinner menu for $75. To view the menu, click on New Year's Eve Dinner. To make a reservation, you can call (843) 203-6338. On Sunday, January 17th at 6 pm, a Truffles and Hazelnuts Dinner with internationally acclaimed Chef Carlo Zarri of the Ristorante Villa San Carlo in Cortemilia, Italy is scheduled for $95. For tickets, click on Truffles and Hazelnuts Dinner.

There is a documented Charleston story linked to the address of 492, which is located at the corner of King Street and Mary. Notably, today's Four Ninety-Two restaurant overlooks the very spot where Reverend John Bailey Adger first met his future wife, Elizabeth Keith Shrewsbury. The meeting took place in 1831. Reverend J. B. Adger was in the second year of his studies at Princeton Theological Seminary. He was back in Charleston for a month of Spring Break. The event is described in his My Life and Times. It is recorded as follows:

"I was returning from a prayer-meeting with my mother (Sarah Elizabeth Ellison Adger) and sister Margaret (Milligan Adger Smythe). At the corner of Mary and King Streets my sister observed Elizabeth Keith Shrewsbury, with whom she had recently become very intimately acquainted, on the other side of King Street, engaged in the duty of tract distribution. She called to her to come over. It required some little urging to get her consent, but she came. My sister said to me, "Now you shall see blushes," and I saw them. I was introduced to her, and with me it was love at first sight."

John Bailey Adger was the son of a prominent businessman in Charleston. North and South Adger's Wharf are two short, cobblestone roads near the Charleston Battery named for the location of his father's shipping company, James Adger and Co. He encouraged the Charleston Presbytery to build the church that today serves a congregation at 93 Anson Street as St. John's Reformed Episcopal Church.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Charleston's Chain Of Beautiful Barrier Island Beaches--Picturesque And Pristine

Caressed by the splendor of the rising sun and often threatened by the fury of the Atlantic Ocean, the picturesque and historic city of Charleston presides over her panorama like a queen. Resting on a peninsula cradled by the meandering currents of two merging tidal rivers, the vibrant and diverse downtown cosmopolitan and its welcoming deep water harbor are sheltered and sustained by a chain of barrier islands from Cape Romain to the ACE Basin. Some are inhabited and some are not. Some you can access by car and others only by some form of water craft. Each of these delicately balanced islands are fringed by pristine, sandy beaches with stands of old, weatherworn oak, palmetto, magnolia and pine trees and linked to the mainland by a maze of verdant saltwater marshes and nutrient rich creeks. All of this natural grandeur makes Charleston a wonderland for water enthusiasts and camera toting naturalists.

During this year, I visited three of the uninhabited barrier islands--Bulls Island, Capers Island, and Morris Island. Bulls Island, part of the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge, has a staggering variety of wildlife both local and migratory and is known for its Boneyard Beach. You can book a multi-day tour and stay at the famous Dominick House. Capers Island, also known for its Boneyard Beach, is the favorite of boaters with excellent fishing. You can camp overnight with a permit. Morris Island is famous for its decommissioned water-bound lighthouse and was the location of the embattled Civil War fortress of "Glory" fame, Fort Wagner--no longer there.

Isle of Palms, Sullivan's Island, Folly Island, Edisto Island, and Kiawah Island are popular vacation destinations with public beaches. Seabrook Island and Dewees Island are private and access to their beaches are only possible if you are renting one of the many beachfront vacation homes. There is one other barrier island with a stunning beach that is part of a wildlife preserve on Edisto Island, and it is a jewel--Botany Island. It too has a boneyard beach and an abundance of seashells. It is by far my favorite.

I have selected from my collection of photographs a favorite picture of each of the barrier island beaches you will want to consider visiting on your next trip to Charleston. They are a huge part of why Charleston is the top destination in the United States. Enjoy and I'll see you on the beaches.

Isle of Palms
Charleston's Barrier Islands-Beautiful Beaches, Abundant Wildlife, Great Stays, And Pleasure Packed
Sullivan's Island
Folly Beach
Beachwalker Park, Kiawah Island
Edisto Island
Capers Island
 A Charleston Barrier Island Tour Highly Worth A Trip To The Past
Bulls Island
Bulls Island Beach Drop With Coastal Expeditions--Thoroughly Enlightening And Deeply Soul Soothing
Morris Island
Charleston Outdoor Adventures' Morris Island Lighthouse Eco Tour--Uplifting And Enlightening
Botany Bay
Botany Bay Plantation Personifies The Reasons Why I Love Charleston And The Lowcountry-A Must-see

Monday, December 21, 2015

Four Superb Charleston Walking Tours To Satisfy Your Intellectual Curiosities And Your Culinary Cravings

Broad Street
I love walking the streets of Charleston. It's both educational and inspirational. There is always
something new to learn and always a different angle to photograph. Shadows of the City's celebrated past are everywhere and if your free your imagination, those spectral wisps of antiquity will speak to you. A colorful cityscape that thrives off its past, but flourishes off its present.

Charleston is exceptionally friendly--an attribute that is one of six criteria used by Conde Naste in determining the recipient of its Readers' Choice Award for Top City in the World. So-named several consecutive years running, the bestowing of the Award is a testimony to the warm and generous spirit of hospitality Charleston's residents show to its visitors, and is the exact reason it distinguishes itself from so many other places. But this welcoming spirit is just a portion of the pleasantness equal to the gratification one would draw from savoring a piece of the prized Ultimate Coconut Cake offered by the Peninsula Grill on North Market Street.

Chalmers Street
Charleston's numerous historic streets and alluring alleys are exceedingly walkable. From eclectic Upper King Street to charming South Battery, its famous landmarks, social drinking establishments and outstanding culinary restaurants are easily accessible by simply taking a leisurely stroll. With this in mind, there is no better way to soak in the ambiance of the Downtown District than by booking one of its many culinary walking tours and Bulldog Tours offers four of them.

Meeting Street
Savor The Flavors of Charleston is a 2 ½ hour immersion into the history and culture of the Lowcountry. As you walk, you will learn how Charleston’s unique cuisine has evolved over the past 300 and some years. Including briefs stops at local eateries, markets, bakeries, restaurants, and culinary landmarks, you will be treated to samplings of delicious Southern favorites like Stone Ground Grits, Charleston Benne Wafers, Locally Made Gourmet Chocolates, Southern Pralines, Collard Greens, Lowcountry Barbecue, and Sweet Tea. This tour is offered Monday to Saturday at 9:30 am and 2:00 pm for $60--Information and tickets.

Charleston Dessert Tour is a 2 hour tour where you will indulge in samples of one-of-a-kind treats prepared by some of Charleston's culinary artisans from establishments like Market Street Sweets, Carmella’s Dessert Bar, and Christophe’s on Society Street to name a few. Typical tastings include Huguenot Tort, Lemon Bar, Coconut Cake, Southern Pralines, Chocolate Truffles, and Petit fours. Cost for the tour is $60 and is only offered on Saturday 4 to 6 pm--Information and tickets.

Chef’s Kitchen Tour takes you behind the scenes into the very kitchens of some of Charleston’s best chef’s for a close-up peek at what it takes to produce the fabulous meals residents and visitors have come to love and rave about. On this 2 ½ hour walking tour, you will explore the history of the restaurant, learn about the chef’s approach to culinary excellence, and have the menus interpreted. This tour is only offered on Fridays 9:45 am until Noon for $60--Information and tickets.

Savor the Flavors of Upper King Street is offered on Wednesdays and Thursdays 3 to 6 pm. On this tour, you will explore the growing Upper King Street restaurant district sampling mouth-watering dishes of Lowcountry cuisine from its popular culinary trendsetters. One of your stops will include a visit to Victor's Social Club located in the busy Hutson Alley on John Street. As you step through its doors, you're greeted by a most inviting bar overshadowed by a huge painting of a blue marlin and a boat. Nautical paintings adorn the walls, bar tables line the outer part of the room, and a cozy circular couch is situated in the middle of the room--Information and tickets.

Victor's Social Club
Bulldog Tours was voted best tour company in Charleston by the Charleston City Paper for five years in a row from 2009 to 2013. Its Culinary Tours have been featured by Southern Living, The Food Network, Cooking Light, Michelin Guide, Bon Appetit, Turner South, South Carolina ETV and National Public Radio. The mission of the tours is to promote Charleston area local artisan growers, restaurants, culinary institutions, producers, and to help preserve South Carolina's rich culinary heritage. Bulldog Tours is located at 18 Anson St., but the exact meeting location details for each tour will be provided immediately upon purchase of tickets.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

A Feel-Good Play You Will Leave Smiling--"You're A Good Man Charlie Brown" Now Showing

The Peanuts gang is back in a huge way and despite a big screen debut in state of the art 3D animation, they haven't changed in the least bit since Charles M. Shulz created them in the 1950's. They are still riddled with the idiosyncrasies common to the childhood experience. In addition to their movie debut, they are making an appearance at the James F. Dean Theatre for the next two weekends singing and dancing in the 1999 Broadway revival of Clark Gesner's classic musical "You're A Good Man Charlie Brown."

The original musical premiered Off-Broadway at an East Village theater with a total of 1597 performances and a Broadway production opened in 1971 with 32 performances. It featured Peanuts characters Charlie Brown, Linus, Schroeder, Lucy, Patty, and Snoopy. A 1999 Broadway revival featured new dialogue and additional songs with one major change to the characters with the replacement of Patty with Charlie Brown's sister, Sally. The 1999 production is the one now playing at the James F. Dean Theater in Summerville.

The Peanuts comic strip, on which the play is based, is called the most popular and influential in history. It is largely based on Shulz's own childhood experiences. In this comic strip, kids rule. An adult has never appeared in the comic strip and in the television specials featuring the Peanuts gang. When an adult is heard, what they say is totally irrelevant and represented by a "WaWaWa," which to me is some of the funniest parts of the dialogue. It is utilized once in the play when Sally approaches her teacher concerning the "C" she received on her coat-hanger sculpture. It cracked me up.

Assembled in progressive rising levels, the unchanging set designed by Robert Venne is crayon box colorful featuring square blocks, a small, purple piano, a giant, red doghouse and a live, sky-blue piano positioned at the top where Sarah Morrison flawlessly hammered out the musical cues and scores from start to finish. The costumes designed by Patti Kelly were exactly what they needed to be.

Sara Armistead is awesome as Sally Brown. She portrayed her character with child-like authenticity and shined as she led her dog Snoopy on an epic rabbit-chasing adventure in "Peter Rabbit" and as she charmed her teacher into upping the C-grade on her coat-hanger art saying, "Its the squeaky wheel that gets the grease." She then capped of her winning performance in "My New Philosophy."

Jessica Wells was the perfect choice for the crabby and bossy Lucy. She just physically emits that quality of being a force to contend with. She was convincingly endearing in the vignette "Little Known Facts" where Lucy teaches Linus about nature the way she views it explaining to him that bugs make the grass grow, clouds make the wind blow, snow comes up from the ground or eating eagles for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Allison Brower secured many of the plays laughs as the ferociously imaginative, supremely confident, world-famous beagle, Snoopy. She safely and successfully succeeded at maintaining her balance high atop her big, red doghouse as her character pondered life and engaged in aerial combat with the notorious Red Baron. Her glowing moment was in the vignette "Suppertime."

Charlie Brown, the lovable loser dressed in the recognizable black zig-zag shirt, was pitifully played by Erik Brower, and I mean that in a complimentary way. He had the frowning expression, the slumping shoulders, and wilting walk down pat. Seeing him with a bag over his head was priceless.

Other notable scenes include Robert Venne dancing with his blanket as Linus in "My Blanket and Me" and Randolph Middleton as Schroeder leaning over his little, purple piano playing Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" and fending off Lucy's advances.

Chelsea DeRoche and Company did an excellent job bringing it all together with a well rehearsed and clearly executed presentation. The live piano play and performers were in complete sync throughout the play. As a group, the vocals were pleasant and suitably matched.

"You're A Good Man Charlie Brown" does not have a heavy plot nor does it have a social statement weaved within its storyline. It is simply a delightful, upbeat, and heartwarming play about a bunch of kids and a dog going about the business of dealing with their little, complicated lives. It is a feel-good play in which you just might see a little bit of yourself when you were that age. Your kids will love it and you will leave smiling.

You can purchase tickets at "You're A Good Man Charlie Brown."
Now showing December 4th to 20th and the Flowertown Players ask you to consider this:

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Lighthouses Energize And Inspire The Imagination--Plan A Visit To One Of These Surviving Icons

Pigeon Point Light Station
Resplendent cylindrical structures set upon the edges of picturesque seascapes, they were built to guide mariners away from dangerous shores and into safe harbors. Like giant grandfather clocks without hands, their weighted pull chains did not tick off the time of day but the light of night. Equipped with far reaching lights that radiated through the doom and gloom, they were a welcoming sight after dangerous ocean voyages. They bask in the glow of a long and illustrious history deeply immersed in stories with haunting themes. The keepers of the light and their families lived on sight and often in lonely isolation. Surviving iconic symbols of a beguiling era representative of adventure and peril, lighthouses energize and inspire the imagination.

Although, many of the remaining lighthouses have been decommissioned as light sources due to either erosion or technology, some still shine on. Of the decommissioned lighthouses, some of them have been turned into tourist attractions where you can ascend spiraling stairways to dizzying heights into its lantern room and then, step out onto a catwalk with an unparalleled 360 degree view of the surrounding area. Others have been turned into comfortable and cozy bed and breakfast's where you can experience life in the keeper's quarters and soak in the unique amenities characteristic to each one.

Many lighthouse complexes were built on the edge of rocky ledges, some on isolated islands, and some on sandy beaches. All of them offer unprecedented views. From the long list of beautiful lighthouses in the United States, I have picked out four you will want to consider visiting.

Tybee Island Light Station is only twenty minutes from Savannah, Georgia. There have been four different lighthouses. The first was built in 1736. It was called a "day mark"--a lighthouse without a light. It was octagonal in shape and was constructed of brickwork and cedar piles. Standing ninety feet tall, it was the tallest structure of its kind in America at that time, but only lasted five years before a storm to it out.

The second lighthouse was completed in 1742. Unfortunately, by 1768, rising waters made it necessary to abandon it. Another site was chosen for a new lighthouse, which was completed in 1773. The 100 foot tall brick and wood structure was lit with spermaceti candles. In 1857, a Second Order Fresnel lens was placed in the lighthouse. Two years into the Civil War, Confederate troops burned the upper portion to prevent Federal troops from using it to guide their ships into the harbor. After the Civil War, the fourth lighthouse was built utilizing the lower 60 feet of the damaged lighthouse. It now stands at 144 feet with 178 stairs to reach the light room where a the lens magnifies a 1000 watt bulb that can be seen from eighteen miles away.

The Tybee Island Light Station is one of America's most intact lighthouses having all of its historic support buildings on its five-acre site including a museum and a gift shop. Unlike many of the old lighthouses, it is open to the public where you can ascend the 178 stairs for a spectacular view of area.

The Point Arena Lighthouse is the tallest lighthouse on the Pacific Coast at 115 feet. It is located in Mendocino County just above the Sonoma Coast and about three hours north of San Francisco. The original lighthouse was built in 1870, but was damaged so severely in the 1906 earthquake, it had to be demolished. The present lighthouse was completed in 1908.

It featured a 1st Order Fresnel Lens, over six feet in diameter and weighing more than six tons. The lens was made up of 666 hand-ground glass prisms all focused toward three sets of double bullseyes. It was these bullseyes that gave the Point Arena Lighthouse its unique "light signature" of two flashes every six seconds. The lens was rotated by a clockwork mechanism--a unique feature of lighthouses before the utilization of electricity. This mechanism consisted of a series of heavy weights and pulleys, similar to that of a grandfather clock, and had to be rewound every hour to keep the lamp rotating.

The lighthouse is surrounded on three sides by the Pacific Ocean. It offers 4 different lodging opportunities--Assistant Keeper's Quarters-$250 per night (three-bedroom homes), Head Keeper's Quarters-$225 per night, The Keeper's Apartment- $200 per night, and The Keeper's Room -$150 per night. Amenities include cozy wood-burning stoves (wood provided), complete kitchens, satellite TV, some units are pet friendly, and restaurants and services nearby.

The area offers wine tasting tours, art galleries displaying art created by local artists, and seasonal farmer's markets. Horse riding on the ocean terrace is also available in the area. During the spring and fall seasons whales, seals, sea birds, and many other types of wildlife can be seen in the area.

The East Brother Light Station is my favorite. It is only 30 minutes from downtown San Francisco and sits on top of an island in the strait separating the San Francisco and San Pablo Bays--a ten-minute boat ride to the island from the boat landing in Richmond.

The Victorian style lighthouse began operation in 1874. The original lens was illuminated by a wick filled with whale oil. Later, the means of illumination was replaced by a fifth-order Fresnel lens powered by a 500-watt bulb. The San Francisco Bay area is one of the foggiest places on the coast, so the island lighthouse was also outfitted with a fog horn. The keepers lived on the island with their families and cared for its operation until it became automated in 1969.

Five rooms are available on East Brother Island. Four are former keeper's quarters located in the historic lighthouse itself. Each room, named for its view, is unique in decor and has a queen-sized bed--Marin Room-$375-$415 per night, San Francisco-$375-$415 per night, Two Sisters-$295-$325 per night, and West Brother-$325-$355 per night. A smaller, more rustic room, known as Walter's Quarters, is located in the fog signal building-$325-$355 per night.

A gourmet multi-course dinner is one highlight of the evening. Dinner is served for all guests at the same time and in the dining room. Full breakfast is served in the dining room, at 9:00 am, for all guests. A house specialty, Lighthouse French Toast Soufflé is often served. The island offers spectacular views of the San Francisco skyline, Mount Tamalpais, and the Marin coastline.

Four other lighthouses were built in the same design, but of those only two have survived--Hereford Inlet Light and Point Fermin Lighthouse.

When visiting the Outer Banks, plan a stop at these lighthouses--Currituck Beach Light Station and Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Flowertown Players 2015 Season--A Nostalgic Peek Into The Past Year

Nathaniel Hawthorne once said, "Time flies over us, but leaves its shadow behind." This year of 2015 is rapidly flying by and soon will be out of sight. Looking back over this past year, it clearly can be stated 2015 has been a highly successful one for the James F. Dean Theatre and its committed group of local actors called the Flowertown Players, who unselfishly volunteered their time to spread their wings of talent over the community of Summerville and in the process of doing so, left behind a silhouette of excellence.

Through the year, I had the pleasure and privilege of attending and photographing the steady procession of entertaining musicals and theatrical plays--a privilege for which I am truly honored and appreciative. Aside from the memories imprinted on our minds, the numerous photographs compiled through the year are a huge part of the shadow left behind.

As a tribute to the staff of the James F. Dean Theatre and the Flowertown Players, I have picked from the hundreds of photographs taken some of my favorites, which was not an easy task because there are so many favorites worthy of another look. I hope you enjoy this nostalgic peek into the past at some of the finer and funnier moments of the 2015 season.

"You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown" will be showing December 4th to the 19th to close out 2015--photos will follow. You can purchase tickets here.

If you are visiting Summerville or you plan on visiting and you love community theater, be sure to visit the James F. Dean Theatre on historic Hutchinson Square. The theater building has been around since the early thirties when it was simply known as "The Show." It is cloaked with history. The Flowertown Players were formed in 1976. Check the schedule and catch a production.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Bodega Bay--The Place Where The Birds Rule And The Gateway To The Sonoma Coast

"It's the end of the world," said the man sitting at the end of the bar with a capricious smile and a drink in his hand. The place was Tides Restaurant and Bar located in Bodega Bay, CA. It was a scene from the Alfred Hitchcock classic thriller "The Birds."

Bodega Harbor was the place where Melanie Daniels(Tippi Hedren) was unexplainably attacked by a lone seagull while heading towards a dock in an outboard motor boat where her love interest, Mitch Brenner(Rod Taylor), awaited her arrival. The Tides Restaurant and Bar was where Mitch took Melanie to care for her bleeding head. Later, at the same restaurant, a debate ensued between some of the patrons as to the strange behavior of the birds. "Not likely," said a bird lover and amateur ornithologist concerning the likelihood of a bird exhibiting violent tendencies towards humans.

Birds have been known to swoop down on cats and even people, if they consider them a threat to their nests. I have been a witness to such curious behavior. There have been times when I have observed a little bird menacing another bigger bird for some reason unknown to me, but to attack a human without provocation, that would be out of character in the world of birds. On one occasion, I was dive bombed by some seagulls while eating at Disney's Magic Kingdom in Orlando, but the birds were more interested in the food I was holding than taking out some anonymous vendetta against me. The family owned parakeets when I was just a toddler. I don't particularly recall any malevolent behavior on their part. Although, when it sat on my shoulder, it would peck my ear. It was somewhat bossy at times. Always told me to take out the garbage. Should I have been concerned?

As the movie progressed, the attacks from our fine feathered friends became more frequent and vicious. If you dare to watch the movie at some point in time you may want to close your eyes when Mitch's mother visits a neighbor friend. It isn't a pretty sight. Then, there was the scene after the crows attacked the children as they left the schoolhouse. Mitch finds the school teacher(played by Suzanne Pleshette) laying on the ground outside her home. Let's just say the birds have a thing about eyes.

They seemed to defy the idea that birds of a feather flock together only. These were no mere random acts or isolated incidents. Their maneuvers gave the appearance of being coordinated with one prime objective--punish man. The movie doesn't come right out and say that. Hitchcock leaves that up to us to figure out. At the climax of the movie, when Mitch and his family along with Melanie are forced to leave their battered home, one of the birds takes a parting shot with a peck to Mitch's hand as if to say, "It isn't over. It's only the beginning."

This was the premise of Hitchcock's first horror/fantasy film that scared audiences back in the early sixties. Bodega Bay was the setting he chose. It is a real place 1 1/2 hours north of San Francisco at the southern end of the rugged and beautiful Sonoma Coast. Hitchcock chose it because of its foggy weather and mystical landscape, which at that time was subdued and open. It has been over sixty years since the movies release and the Visitor Center in Bodega Bay receives thousands of Hitchcock fans every year. When you mention the movie to the receptionist, she will give you a sheet of paper listing all the points of interest and locations.


Although the original Tides Restaurant and Bar was destroyed by a fire in February of 1968, you can visit the newer Tides, which was built in its place--a complex with a snack bar, gift shop, seafood store, an elegant restaurant with a spectacular view of the harbor, and an inn. The old pier where Melanie was first attacked is still there. The farm house and the dock across the bay where Mitch lived all burned down in the late 60's. The old Potter School is the only original building used in the movie that stands to this day, and you won't find it in Bodega Bay. It is located some six miles inland in the town of Bodega. The schoolhouse was an abandoned building when it was first discovered by Hitchcock and rebuilt for the movie. Years later, it became a bed and breakfast, but now is a private residence. You can take pictures of it, but no longer able to tour it. You could politely ask the present owner, but the response may not be polite one--I read that in a review. The school teacher's house next to the schoolhouse was only a facade built for the movie.

I was just a young man entering my teens in 1963 when "The Birds" made its debut. The movie has since been a favorite. Hitchcock's spellbinding masterpiece has had an effect on my psyche. Whenever I see birds massing together I wonder, "Could this be it." There is a passage from the book of Revelation in the Bible that speaks of the birds being called to a great evening meal of God where they will eat the flesh of men. I wonder if Alfred had this text in mind when he was first inspired to write the script and storyboards?

Surrounded by tall hills and tall trees, the drive into Bodega Bay from the south is picturesque and narrow with many twists and turns. Once you reach the misty, tranquil waters of the harbor and begin to navigate its shoreline, you will sense the lingering remnants of nostalgia left by the movie. It saturates the old surviving salty structures of yesteryear as well as the contemporary. Bodega Bay is also the gateway to the rugged and scenic Sonoma Coast all the way to Goat Rock near Jenner.

Sonoma Coast Lodging

Inn at the Tides in Bodega Bay

One last parting thought. The ending we have become accustomed to seeing in the movie was not part the original script. The ending that was supposed to be was scraped due to costs. Picture in your mind the great Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco covered with birds. "It's the end of the world."

Friday, October 23, 2015

The Haunting Ashley River Plantation Just A Buggy Ride From Magnolia Plantation

The narrative of the unpretentious plantation located on Ashley River Road just a buggy ride from Magnolia Plantation stokes ones imagination. In the midday sun, it is inspirational, at dimday, unearthly. When the sun has disappeared from the changing skyline and the cloak of night has smothered the colors of light, the once sprawling shadows cast by the estate's ancient oak and singular chimney in the light of day melt away into the blackening landscape.

Standing amidst the old ruins, you sense there is something more than what meets the eye, something beguiling. The pervasive darkness and penetrating river atmosphere nourish the unsettling side of ones spirit. The heavy measure of primitive folklore from the plantations haunting Antebellum past permeates every weatherworn rock, moss covered tree and jaded brick. The ominous voices of yesteryear whisper disquieting words in your ear and the hairs on the back of your neck begin to dance. At that moment, you will have experienced the privilege of living the wonder and mystery that is Runnymede Plantation.

Two avenues led to the haunting estate--one of live oaks and the other with skyline hedges of Southern Magnolias. The garden was extraordinary.

There was a walk in the garden called the Alphabet Walk because the name of each tree that bordered it began with a different letter of the alphabet. Along such magical paths, under the plantation's ancient trees along Ashley River Road, wandered Edgar Allen Poe when he lived in Charleston and one finds just such mystical woodlands in his haunting tales.

The name of the plantation was inspired by a thousand year old oak on the estate located at the center of a large meadow overlooking the Ashley River. The pastoral scene reminded the owners of a property in England with a similar setting--its name, Runnymede.

The plantation has been known by three different names during its over three hundred years of history. Its oldest name was "Greenville." Later, it was named after the wife of one of the owner's and called "Sarah Place." After a fire destroyed the original mansion, the Pringle's built a new mansion and named it Runnymede.

Later, Charles C. Pinckney purchased Runnymede from the Pringle's son, William Bull. In 1865, the mansion built by the Pringle's suffered the same fate as the original. It was destroyed by a fire; a fire set by Union troops--likely the same troops that burned Middleton Place.

Pinckney rebuilt the home a third time. It was rumored to be one of the only country style Victorian homes in the Lowcountry. In 1995, it was purchased by the Whitfield's. The grim specter of fire revisited Runnymede again in 2002 and destroyed the home built by Pinckney. All that's left of the mansion is a partial outline of the home's perimeter, the brick entry steps, remnants of the brick fireplaces,

and the towering, two story chimney from the kitchen house.

Runnymede Plantation has a storied history interwoven with the folklore and superstitions of plantation living as big as its onetime 1,457 acres. One story tells of an African/American burial ground located deep within Runnymede's thick centuries old forests and an age old custom of placing personal items owned by the deceased in life on their graves--a custom with African roots. Items like plates, saucers, and drinking glasses if it was a woman or tools if it was a man, but not excluding items like a favorite chair.

The removal of any of these types of personal items from the graves of a dead person would result in consequences too terrible to imagine implicating swift retribution from the offended spirit. A belief implicitly held by hundreds of people living in the Lowcountry of South Carolina--including those who lived on Runnymede Plantation.

The plantation has a thick, untouched canopy of century old trees, numerous ponds and creeks, an unobstructed view of the Ashley River, and a unique place in Charleston's ancient and colorful plantation history.

A hauntingly powerful Southern tale from Runnymede's past: One September afternoon, two brothers from Charleston visited Runnymede Plantation for an end-of-summer outing; they were leaving the next morning to attend school in another state. One of the chief amusements enjoyed when visiting the old plantation was exploring its river and marshland setting in search of Lowcountry wildlife, such as the prowling alligator and abundant water fowl.

The two brothers were on such an excursion, an excursion that took them deep into Runnymede's surrounding forest where they happened upon an old slave burial ground. On the mounds of earth above where the remains of the people were buried, personal items belonging to the deceased person had been carefully placed. There were items like plates, cup and saucers, drinking glasses and favorite tools. Other items included such things as a favorite chair, a bottle of medicine and a spoon no doubt used to administer the medicine.

The brothers knew of the custom and the beliefs associated with the burial ground, but considering the beliefs to be just foolish superstition, they decided to play what they thought to be a humorous prank and disregarded what many Lowcountry people implicitly believed--the removal of an item from a grave or tampering with it in any way would bring swift and deadly retribution from the offended spirit. They removed a drinking glass from one of the graves and took it back to their home in Charleston.

When the parents saw the object, they questioned the brothers about it. The two brothers confessed to the prank. The parents were disappointed at the actions of their sons and became very concerned. It was not that they believed in the customs and rituals, but their concern was the disrespect their sons showed toward the people on Runnymede and their beliefs--beliefs handed down to them from their ancestors.

The parents immediately contacted the plantation owners and they insisted the item be returned at once to the burial ground and placed in its original position. It was returned. Word of the prank had spread throughout the plantation population, but it was believed their actions to undue the prank to be too late. Vengeance was probably already at work.

The brothers left for school out-of-state the next day, but they did not make it to their destination without deadly consequences. When word reached Runnymede of their unfortunate consequences, it was of no surprise to the people who firmly believed in such things. It was not unexpected.

Runnymede Plantation is located between Middleton Place and Magnolia Plantation. Unlike its more popular counterparts, it is not open to the public. It is open to scheduled weddings, private events, and concerts. You can check out its Facebook Page.