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.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Whodunit Agatha Christie Fans?--"The Mousetrap" Opens October 16th At The James F. Dean Theatre

Friday's weather on the Square in Summerville, after the warm sun retreats below the shops and tall oaks, is forecasted to be pleasantly comfortable with clear skies. But inside the James F. Dean Theatre, where its interior has been ingeniously and skillfully transformed into an English manor featuring a sitting room packed with Victorian furnishings, a tall stained glassed window, door’s with arched openings leading off to various rooms, and numerous hidden staircases, an implausible snow storm will be raging. Recently renovated and converted into a guest house, from October 16th to October 25th, Agatha Christie's Monkswell Manor will be open for accommodations and you are invited to spend the evening, if you dare.

You see, a notebook has been found linking it to a murder. The words "Three Blind Mice" are written on it under the Manor's address and a piece of paper containing the ominous message, "This is the first," accompanying it. Everyone present is subsequently either a suspect or a potential victim with the murderer anticipated to strike two more times. Be on your guard, when the phone goes dead, all hell breaks loose. The cast of characters is as follows:

Mollie Ralston, the wife of Giles Ralston, is the owner of Monkswell Manor. She inherited it from her aunt. An ordinarily attractive, level-headed young woman, her perfectly reasonable and achievable goal is the development of Monkswell Manor into a pleasant livelihood for herself and her husband. Her unfaltering sympathetic feelings towards a young, male guest draws some ire from her husband of one year. Mollie is a young woman with secrets.

Giles Ralston is Mollie's husband. The two married only three weeks after meeting. So, his past is a bit of a mystery. He's very jealous, loyal and protective towards his wife. During the course of the night, Mollie senses he is acting somewhat distant and is forced to address suspicions raised about a clandestine trip he made to London on the day of Mrs. Stanning’s death. He wears a coat, scarf, and hat similar to those seen on the killer, but it is not just these accoutrements, in the coat’s pocket, there is something incriminating.

Christopher Wren is a capricious, obviously neurotic young man; behavior that makes him an apparent suspect as the night progresses, which angers him at one point. The first guest to arrive at Monkswell Manor, he makes himself at home, which rubs Giles the wrong way from the get-go, especially the attention he is given by Mollie. He admits he is running away from something, but refuses to say what. Wren claims to have been named after the architect.

Mrs. Boyle is an old English fuddy-duddy. Forced by the weather to share a taxi from the train station, she and Major Metcalf arrive together. She surveys everything with displeasure and looks at her surroundings disapprovingly. From the moment of her arrival, she complains about everything from the furnishings to the service. Her agitating disposition is so infuriating to the guests, they would literally like to strangle her.

Major Metcalf is a typical retired British military officer. He doesn't say a whole lot. He is more of an observer. However, what you see is not exactly what you get.

Miss Katherine Casewell is the last of the booked guests to arrive at Monkswell Manor. She is very reserved in her demeanor and remains mysteriously indifferent to the other guests and takes exception to being interrogated about who she is, where she is from, and her reason for coming to Monkswell Manor.

Mr. Paravicini is an unexpected guest at Monkswell Manor with some unusual peculiarities. Claiming his car has overturned in a snowdrift, he asserts the snow has blocked the roads and that everyone in the house is now trapped. The other guests hypothesize over his strange accent and wonder about his true age; Mr. Paravicini appears to have artificially made himself look older with the use of make-up. He also likes to stir the pot.

Detective Sergeant Trotter is a late arriving guest at Monkswell Manor. Mollie answered a telephone call from Superintendent Hogben of the Berkshire Police telling her that he was dispatching Sergeant Trotter to the guest house, and that the Ralstons must listen carefully to what he has to tell them. The Ralstons wonder what they could have done to garner police attention. Arriving on skis, Detective Trotter proceeds to question everyone in an effort to establish a relationship between any of the guests and a murder already committed at another location.

The Mousetrap had broken records in London's West End and established playwright, Agatha Christie, in the public eye. It opened in 1952 and ran continuously for 60 years. The 25,000th performance took place on November 18, 2012. The performance accompanied the unveiling of the Agatha Christie memorial statue in Leicester Square--commemorating her great works and her contributions to the theater.

Director Chrissy Eliason has booked a competent cast who convincingly mirror the true nature of Agatha Christie's original characters. Heather Jane Hogan as Mrs. Boyle was picture perfect and so believably obnoxious, I wanted to get up out of my seat and strangle her myself.

Jordan Katie Stauffer as Miss Casewell was captivating to watch as she stoically moved about the stage from chair to chair, chair to window, and window to desk, on which a pivotal prop sat, a period piece radio.

Victoria Teal Hartshorn and Daniel Breuer had the right stuff as Mollie Ralston and Giles Ralston. I don't know if Victoria and Daniel have any English in their genes, but according to my humble observation, they were the bee's knees as the proper English couple.

If you have ever had the pleasure of hanging out with Ernie Eliason, Mr Paravicini is his counterpart--playful and gregarious. Humor is integral to a good Whodunit and William Boyd masterfully provided the lighthearted aspects to ease the tension as the over-enthusiastic, slightly off-kilter Christopher Wren.

The complicated role of Detective Sergeant Trotter was played by Jim Brantley, who juggled names and notes proficiently through a varied range of emotions. To round out the cast, Major Metcalf was played by Fred Hutter.

Well done costumes, typical of the time period, and very English.

As stated earlier, the play features an ingeniously and skillfully built set--trademarks of Chrissy Eliason and Company plays. Beautifully lit for optimum mood, precisely furnished and smartly functional. Each prop having a place and serving a purpose. Oozing with atmosphere and realism, the icy chill between the guests in the manor's sitting room is only surpassed by the chill outside the room's large window, partly covered with blowing snow, where Detective Sergeant Trotter made his first appearance.

If you are an Agatha Christie fan, you don't want to miss The Mousetrap. So, go ahead and make your reservation and then put on your sleuth hats, and maybe add a scarf. Outside the James F. Dean Theatre the temperatures may be pleasant, but inside there is a chill in the air and murder is afoot. Whodunit? That is for you to figure out, and when you do, keep it to yourself--Agatha Christie wants it that way.

You can purchase your tickets to join the fun at Flowertown Players Tickets.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Charleston Outdoor Adventures' Morris Island Lighthouse Eco Tour--Uplifting And Enlightening

Leaving Folly Road, the causeway traveling in was rugged and narrow. Exactly what you would expect of a 13 acre island located in the Folly Island estuaries. At the end of the road, standing above the island's tidal creek like an old brown pelican perched on a weatherworn dock, spreading its wings in the warm southern sun was the locally adored Bowens Island Restaurant. Recognized as an "American Classic," it is a hodgepodge of grayed timber, rusty corrugated steel, old doors for windows, graffiti covered tables and piles of bleached oyster shells. At that time of day, which was 10:45 am, the outdoor decks were silent and the tables unoccupied.

However, destiny did not bring me here to slurp on the restaurant's locally harvested and beloved oysters. Its old, saltwater tainted dock is also home to the Eco-Adventure guiding service, Charleston Outdoor Adventures. Shortly, I would be boarding one of the outfitters charter boats for a 2.5 hour trip through Folly's tidal estuaries to Morris Island on the Morris Island Lighthouse Eco Tour for $45 a person.

After boarding Samson 1, our captain and naturalist guide, Derek Evenhouse, proceeded with introductions and parting instructions--such as life jacket location, safety tips and boat equipment. He fired up the outboard motor and eased the boat away from the old dock into the ebbing waters of Folly Creek where we slowly motored past the ragged wooden remains of a crumbling derelict boat and a group of paddleboaders soaking in the creek's pristine surroundings.

Shortly into our trip, our guide spotted two white, black winged American wood storks circling high above the creek's marsh grass looking for an opportunistic place to land. Captain Derek briefed us on how they mate for life and described their down-curved bill as resembling petrified wood.

Further on, we encountered three brown pelicans and one double-crested cormorant sunning their feathers on a deserted dock across from Crosby Fish and Shrimp Market. Skittish of our presence, the cormorant clumsily took flight from the dock while the pelicans, accustom to human activity, remained unconcerned for us to observe. With their bills partly open, their pouches fluttered in the warm midday sun--an effective evaporate cooling mechanism.

Continuing further into the estuary and the retreating tidal waters, the once hidden pluff mud laced the air with its penetrating odor and for the next fifteen minutes, we contentedly watched numerous pods of bottlenose dolphins feed along the edges of the marsh grass, whipping their tails with a scooping action and on a rare occasion beaching themselves to catch the fish forced onto shore by their waves--a curious hunting technique called strand feeding and characteristic of South Carolina dolphins.

Thoroughly gratified by the exhibition, it was time to cruise to are destination, Morris Island, where we would spend about an hour exploring its tree-barren beach in the shadow of its now water engulfed red brick lighthouse--Morris Island Lighthouse. To learn more about Morris Island and the lighthouse go to Morris Island Lighthouse-Once A Beacon Of Light, Now A Symbol Of Survival.

On our return, Captain Derek took us to the end of Folly Island, talked about the island's Civil War history, learned why the barrier islands south of Sullivan's Island are eroding, drifted past a group of American oyster catchers scattered about on an exposed oyster bed, and watched a dolphin chase and catch a leaping mullet in midair. After 3 hours of cruising and exploration, we docked the boat completely uplifted and enlightened.

Captain Derek, a graduate of Central Michigan University with a degree in Outdoor Recreation and Natural Resources and a Ben Affleck look-alike--in my opinion, was personable, accommodating, knowledgeable and entertaining. He encouraged questions and when asked, took the time to answer them informatively and thoroughly. I give him five stars and as the Strand Feeding Coordinator on Folly Creek, I strongly recommend you request his tours.

The Morris Island Eco Tour is a great way to get an up-close look at one of Charleston's historically famous landmarks--the Morris Island Lighthouse. You can walk the island's seashell laden beach where the famous Civil War Confederate stronghold once stood and immortalized in the movie "Glory," Fort Wagner. You experience the breathtaking scenery of Folly's saltwater estuaries, its abundant bird life and catch a glimpse of its resident Atlantic bottlenose dolphins. While viewing the dolphins, you may have the opportunity to see these extraordinary animals perform a hunting strategy known as strand feeding. Although, we did not try our luck with a cast net or check out the crab traps, we saw plenty of wildlife and dolphins on an extended tour of 3 hours instead of the usual 2.5 hours.

Charleston Outdoor Adventures is Located at:
1871 Bowens Island Rd.
Charleston, SC

To view all the pictures, go to Morris Island Lighthouse Eco Tour Pictures.