Thursday, October 12, 2017

Summerville--One Of The Two Best On Earth

Summerville around 1880
Factually printed in an 1893 booklet by the Pine Forest Inn, Summerville was proclaimed one of the two best resorts on earth for the cure of throat and lung disorder by the Tuberculosis Congress at Paris. Just ponder the implication. Out of all the towns and cities in 19th century United States and the civilized world, Summerville, a quaint town 25 miles outside of one of the most beautiful cities in the United States with just a population of 3,000, awarded such an admirable accolade.

Who was Summerville’s competing counterparts? Actually, there were two other notable resort towns in the world known for their health benefits, Arcachon, France and Bournemouth, England. Rivals in one sense, yet so similar in another. Threads of the same color pattern were eerily woven throughout the tapestry of their histories leading to a common destiny.

In the beginning of the 19th century, Arcachon was just a sleepy little fishing village located on the south side of the tranquil Arcachon Bay in south-west France--a long-time oyster-harvesting area. As the years serenely unfolded, its idyllic location and soothing sea air quietly changed the character of the village. It began to procure a reputation as a place where sick people went to heal. The sea air was deemed to be a beneficial part of the recovery process. Ironically, it was fittingly referred to as the Ville d'été--summer village.

In 1860, improved transport train links to Bordeaux and Paris helped in the development of the land above the beach. Arcachon was topographically endowed with another natural asset. It was framed by lush pine forests--pineland air was believed to be beneficial in the curing of tuberculosis, as observed by Doctor Pereira. A group of business men, and in particular the Pereire brothers, and the owners of the railway line between Bordeaux and La Teste came up with the idea of extending the rail line to Arcachon and developing it as a winter resort for tuberculosis sufferers. This area above the beach was called Ville d'hiver--winter village.

In the beginning, the commercial project wasn't a huge success, but the Pereire brothers continued to develop the summer tourism and the thermal tourism of the famous les Abatilles spring. The town started to attract rich merchants from Bordeaux and the rest of France. By the end of the 19th century, those who were irresistibly lured to this part of town above the beach built magnificent villas both to extend the summer season and as an alternative to seeking cures in the high mountains of Switzerland for tuberculosis.

Napoleon III visited Arcachon and put his seal of approval upon it and there was no looking back. French writer Alexandre Dumas lived in Arcachon for a while and French painter Toulouse-Lautrec owned a house on the sea-front. Arcachon's fame spread while directly north in England a similar story was simultaneously unfolding.

In the beginning of the 19th century, an Englishman by the name of Lewis Tregonwell coveted a piece of deserted scrubland located on the south coast of England he had come to love through the years. As an officer in the army during the Napoleonic wars, he spent much of his time searching this scrubland along the coast for French invaders and smugglers. The only settlement of the area was by cows, gypsies, and a few fishermen living in rickety timber-framed cottages. Tregonwell had an idea for this land of the grand kind.

Tregonwell's house, Bourne Cliff, now is part of the Royal Exeter Hotel
In 1812, after retiring from the army and purchasing an eight-and-a-half acre parcel of land from Lord Tapps-Gervis, Tregonwell and his wife became the first official residents after completing the construction of their new home christened Bourne Cliff. Later, it would become known as the Exeter House. Between 1816 and 1820, he added a number of smaller homes on the grounds for his staff; one of these, called Portman Lodge. The first eight years saw several high society figures come to Bourne Cliff by invitation from Tregonwell including the Prince Regent and George lV.

Inspired by a popular Regency notion that the turpentine scent of pines had health-restoring powers good for lung ailments, and in particular tuberculosis, prompted Tregonwell and Tapps to plant hundreds of the stately conifers featuring a tree-lined walk to the beach that would become known as the Invalid's Walk. The cherished trees grew and so did his dream.

In 1820, Tregonwell bought up more land from Tapps-Gervis for building a number of cottages and stylish villas set along newly-laid streets for leasing to holiday-makers wishing to engage in the increasingly fashionable pastime of ‘sea bathing’, an activity with perceived health benefits. These holiday retreats of course would establish the core function of the developing health resort. By 1832, the year of his passing, Tregonwell’s dream was securely in place.

Highcliff Castle
It was at this time a distinguished diplomat, Lord Stuart de Rothesay, began the construction of a castle called Highcliff. Built mainly between 1831 and 1836, the Gothic Revival style castle incorporated medieval stonework and stained glass from around the world.

In 1835, after the death of Sir George Ivison Tapps, his son Sir George William Tapps-Gervis inherited his father's estate. Bournemouth started to grow at a faster rate as George William started developing the seaside village into a resort similar to those that had already grown up along the south coast such as Weymouth and Brighton.

In 1841, the town was visited by the physician and writer Augustus Granville. Granville was the author of The Spas of England, which described health resorts around the country. As a result of his visit, Dr. Granville included a chapter on Bournemouth in the second edition of his book. The publication of the book, as well as the growth of visitors to the seaside haven seeking the medicinal use of the seawater and the fresh air of the pines, helped establish the town as an early tourist destination.

With the arrival of the railway in 1870, there was a massive influx of seaside and summer visits to the town, especially by visitors from the Midlands and London. Bournemouth became a recognized town in that year. The Winter Gardens were finished in 1875 and the cast iron Bournemouth Pier was finished in 1880 when the town had a population of 17,000 people. By the late 1900's, when railway connections were at their most developed to Bournemouth, the town's population had risen to 60,000.
Bournemouth was now poised to be thrust into the world spotlight along with its seaside rival in Arcachon, France, and a second rival across the pond in the United States in South Carolina, Summerville.

It was 1891. Tuberculosis has been a scourge of the age. The International Congress of Physicians, also called the Tuberculosis Congress, assembled in Paris, France. The physicians then attending measured these three resort locations in their deliberations comparing climate, temperatures, and the presence of pine forests. The result of their findings was a ringing endorsement of Summerville.

Adding to the weight of this historical recommendation was a letter by Dr. Robert Harvey. Written after making a thorough examination of the climate and porous soil of Summerville, he stated it to be superior to both Arcachon and Bournemouth because it was dryer and had a more equable temperature. Also, unlike Arcachon, where its pineland forest borders the resort, and Bournemouth's resort is scattered around its one time hand-planted pine forest, Summerville's pineland is an inseparable part of the town, thickly scattered throughout its interweaving and winding roads.

Once an insignificant fishing village and a deserted seaside scrubland, Arcachon and Bournemouth had progressed into popular and attractive seaside destinations crowned with magnificent estates, lavish villas and opulent castles bordering on the Disneyesque. Rail lines connected them to the rest of their homelands and the people seeking what they had to offer. By the end of the nineteenth century, they had fulfilled their destiny for which they were conceived, to be world class health resorts.

In comparison, Summerville was once an uninhabited plateau near the Ashley River discovered by a wondering planter and soon after became a marooning refuge to escape the oppressive heat and yellow fever carrying mosquitoes of Charleston’s coastal lowlands.

Arcachon sand dune--one of the highest in the world
Unlike Arcachon and Bournemouth, it was not on the sandy shores of a vast ocean. It did not have villas or castles. If judged by those amenities, Summerville was quite humble. It did benefit from the introduction of the railroad. It did have beautiful summer homes built by rich planters, the Pine Forest Inn, and vast plantations close by. And if you wanted to enjoy the beach, neighboring Charleston was endowed with many barrier islands fringed with sandy beaches. Still, those were not the things that elevated Summerville to its pinnacle of greatness. Simply put, it was the town’s majestic, revitalizing pine trees--cherished and fiercely protected by law. Not many places can say they were regarded the best on earth. Summerville is one of those places.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Bye Bye Birdie--A Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin On At The James F. Dean Theatre From August 4th To The 20th

If you plan on seeing the Flowertown Players latest stage presentation, you will need to put on a happy face. A little Conway Birdie told me that before I attended their opening of Bye Bye Birdie on Friday, August 4th. As it turned out, it was easy to do.

To be truthful, when I heard the lost-in-time Bye Bye Birdie musical would be revisited on the stage of the James F. Dean Theatre, the revelation immediately triggered only two recollections of the long ago original production; the song "Put on a Happy Face" and the name Dick Van Dyke. Other than that, the rest of it was just jailhouse rock. Understandably, I was only eleven when this glutinous play opened on Broadway at the Martin Beck Theatre on April 4, 1960 and fourteen when MGM studios adapted Birdie into a movie musical in 1963. Interestingly, Dick Van Dyke starred in both.

Based on a book by Michael Stewart with music by Charles Strouse and lyrics by Lee Adams, after opening at the Martin Beck Theatre, it was moved to the 54th Street Theatre and finally the Shubert Theatre, where it closed after a total of 607 performances. Bye Bye Birdie garnered 7 Tony Nominations, ultimately winning 4 of them: Best Musical, Best Featured Actor (Dick Van Dyke) Best Choreography (Gower Champion), and Best Direction (Gower Champion).

Aside from Dick Van Dyke, the original Broadway cast included Chita Rivera, Paul Lynde, Susan Watson, Kay Medford, Charles Nelson Reilly (understudied as Albert Peterson for Van Dyke), Michael J. Pollard, and Dick Gautier as Conway Birdie and the film adaptation included Maureen Stapleton, Janet Leigh, Paul Lynde, Bobby Rydell, Ann-Margret, and Jesse Pearson as Conway Birdie.

Originally titled Let's Go Steady, the play was billed as a "happy teenage musical with a difference." Then, things got all shook up. Rock-and-roll idol Elvis Presley was drafted into the United States Army in 1957. Before leaving the States for an eighteen-month tour in Germany, Elvis was to give one special member of the Women's Army Corps one last kiss, and with a little less conversation, the real life drama became the premise for the refreshed musical play. With the plot set, the team had to come up with a name for the rock and roll heartthrob lead.

The original name of the Elvis-inspired character was Ellsworth, but who would take a rock and roll idol with a name like that seriously. So, it was changed to Conway Twitty. Unfortunately, there was already a real life Conway Twitty, who took exception to someone using his name and threatened to sue. With a little more deliberation, the team finally came up with Conrad Birdie and Bye Bye Birdie was born with the idea to have the drafted singer give one last kiss to a girl by the name of Kim MacAfee in a place called Sweet Apple, Ohio.

With David Mclaughlin pulling the guitar strings as the play's Director/Musical Director and based on past experience, I was confident going in our journey back to the rock and roll mayhem of the late 50's characterized by swooning teeny boppers and a society fighting to hold onto its fragile naiveté would be fancifully entertaining, and true to form, David did not disappoint. The brick walls enclosing the modest stage of the James F. Dean Theatre reverberated with the energy and enthusiasm belted out by the play's capable cast from opening to close.

Always passionate about the characters she portrays, Elissa Horrell as Rosie Alvarez shined in “What Did I Ever See In Him?” and sizzled in the piece called "Shriner's Ballet". A woman on a mission with a suitcase of 8 wasted years and a vendetta to serve for a recent snub from long-time boyfriend, Albert, Rosie invades Maude's Roadside Retreat and as the new Spanish Rose, proceeded to set the all-male clientele’s pilot lights on fire with her spitfire charm and impassioned dance moves.

Charleston native Matthew Walker sings and dances his way through an obstacle course of relationship challenges as the conflicted Albert Peterson, songwriter and agent of Birdie. He helped a sadden Birdie fan (Jessica Zhou Seymour) “Put On A Happy Smile” and tries to win Rosie back with “Baby, Talk to Me”, but despite an impressive fermata finale to the rendition, his pleadings fell short.

Rosie wants more. She wants Albert to standup to his mother, Mrs. Mae Peterson (Cynthia McLaughlin), who shamelessly tries to cultivate a guilt trip in Albert and is highly critical of Rosie, labeling her a Latin floozy from South of the Border. Cynthia portrayed the heavy-footed, woe is me mother from Hades masterfully and in the process stole away some of the funnier moments in the play.

A good measure of the side-splitting hilarity was turned out by Carlos Nieto, whose facial contortions and comic demeanor launched a thousand laughs as the excitable and flustered Mr. Harry MacAfee. Carlos, along with S.E. Coy as Mrs. Doris MacAfee, effervescent Sidney Tarrant as Kim MacAfee, and Olivia Gainey (a natural talent with a killer smile) as Rachel MacAfee effectively collaborated on my favorite number of the night, “Hymn for a Sunday Evening (Ed Sullivan)”. It was a powerful piece of combined vocals at its best supported by eye-catching visual effects.

Attempting to mimic the spasmodic gyrations and famous pouty smirk of Elvis Presley, let alone match his unusual voice described as a lyrical baritone, is a tall order, but Lucas Holt was up to the task. He filled Conrad Birdie’s black pompadour nicely and showed off his own rock-crooner pipes in “Honestly Sincere,” “One Last Kiss”, and “A Lot Of Livin’ To Do.”

Did I mention the other boyfriend, the one that is sweet on Kim? Hugo Peabody has just pinned his object of affection, but not long after, finds out his beloved has accepted an invitation to receive Birdie’s last kiss on public television, and no less on the Ed Sullivan Show. Needless to say, he is beside himself with insecurity and jealousy (the persona that became Caleb O’Neal). What happens next? Rosie knows.

The set was colorful and functional, the supporting props and costumes accurately dated, the lighting effects were dazzling, the choreography explosive, and the sound was top notch, as were the timing and placement of the constantly changing backdrops handled by the play’s stage crew.

Bye Bye Birdie is fun, lighthearted entertainment. It is a total team effort of varying talents jam packed with oohs and aahs. Simply stated, there will be a whole lotta shakin’ goin on at the James F. Dean Theatre from August 4th to the 20th.

Purchase your tickets for Bye Bye Birdie.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Cape Romain Lighthouses Tour Hosted By Coastal Expeditions And The Sewee Center--Merging Historic Charisma With Beauty And Splendor

On Sunday, the adage "good things come to those who wait" was confirmed. For two years, I have been wanting to do the Cape Romain Lighthouses Tour, but for various reasons ranging from conflicting schedules to being sold out, the highly coveted opportunity had been as elusive as the red wolf. There are only four tours scheduled through the year and timing is everything. The next tour is scheduled for October. I almost did not make this one. It too was sold out. I had my name put on the waiting list in case there was a cancelation and as fate would have it, lightning struck. I am thinking the threat of thunderstorms forecasted for the day of the tour, which was July 16, may have presented me the necessary thunder. Thank you Mother Nature.

Lighthouse Island is located in Cape Romain, a National Wilderness Area. Coastal Expeditions suggests participants wear appropriate footwear for water and pluff mud, preferably something water proof and attached to your feet. Anyone experienced with stepping into the dark-brown viscous material knows losing your footwear is always a possibility. Since I do not own boots, and highly unlikely to wear them if they were available, my choice was between flip flops and tennis shoes. So, I put on the later option, grabbed my camera and a banana for a snack, hopped into my truck and headed to the Sewee Center on Highway 17 in Awendaw for a pre-tour presentation.

Upon arrival, I checked in along with about forty other people for the hour long slide presentation outlining the history of the two lighthouses on the island. It was delivered by Tom Graham, a College of Charleston grad with a degree in Biology. He has dedicated his time and energy for the past 20 years to the preservation and restoration of the lighthouses. The shorter conical lighthouse, standing 65 feet, was built in 1847 and the octagonal lighthouse, standing at 150 feet, was built in 1857. At the age of three, Tom was present when the 1857 light was taken out of service in 1947. The two lighthouses are the only structures left on the island, the light keepers residences are just a pile of bricks and rubble.

From the Sewee Center, we headed for McClellanville and its boat landing on Pinckney Street where Coastal Expedition's Caretta Ferry awaited. Storm clouds were looming in the near distance to the south as forecasted.

Lighthouse Island is approximately a winding 6 miles through the Cape Romain estuary from the boat landing. A smiling Captain William Christenson welcomed us aboard, gave us some necessary safety reminders, and the location of the life preservers. Then, he delivered his first of many humorous witticisms, "If you should happen to fall off the ferry, we will toss you the life ring, but truthfully, all you need to do is stand up. The water in the estuary is only about 3 to 5 feet deep at the most." For the next hour, Captain William talked about life in the estuary. He instructed, "Take a deep breath," paused and then added, "You are breathing the cleanest air in the world."

Cape Romain Refuge is a Class 1 Wilderness Area. It is a place where humans haven't developed roads, pipelines, or other industrial infrastructures. What we see today is pretty much what the Indians saw hundreds of years ago as they canoed through its winding waters. Besides supporting the cleanest air, it is home of the cleanest water in the world, and that is the result of the estuary's four necessary components: water, spartina grass, pluff mud, and oysters. Spartina grass is the only plant that can grow in the estuary's salty water due to its ability to filter the salt out of the water and secret the excess out through special glands.

The most thought-provoking part of Captain Will's narrative was when he talked about the estuary's most distinguished amphibious sojourner, the loggerhead turtle. Born on the sandy beaches of the estuary's barrier islands, the tiny hatchlings who survive their demanding and dangerous scamper to the water enter the ocean and spend the next thirty years in the Atlantic currents swimming the Gulf Stream to the North Atlantic Drift to the Canary Current to the North Equatorial Current and back to the Gulf Stream. Reaching maturity at age thirty, it returns to the beach it was born on and lays its eggs to continue the cycle of life and then returns to the currents. The odds of reaching maturity are 1 in 1000.

At the start, just a small siloughette in the distance, the white and black octagonal lighthouse was now a colossus rising high above the island's trees. The captain eased the Caretta into the spartina grass and the ramp was deployed. We waded through the ankle deep water and traversed the bush-lined path to the lighthouses. For the next 45 minutes, I took pictures and walked among the brick strewn ruins of the keeper's houses. I touched one of the huge iron treads of the circular staircase now callous from rust and imagined ascending the 150 feet to the light room at the top--a task the light keeper performed daily. At present, imagine is all you can do, the light room at the top where the Fresnel lens was housed is off limits to the public for safety reasons. Possibly, within two years, you will be able enjoy a 360 degree panorama of the stunning surrounding vistas.

Lighthouses of old are remarkable relics of ingenuity and for many of us today, fascinating pieces of history and highly sought after subjects of photography. They were outwardly, geometrically simple in design, inwardly, an amalgamation of ingenuity all wrapped in a mystique as beguiling as an old grandfather clock. The Cape Romain Lighthouses Tour by Charleston Expeditions merges that historic charisma with the beauty and splendor of the Cape Romain estuary. The tour is both informative and entertaining thanks to the knowledgeable hosts. If you like boat rides, water, wildlife, and lighthouses, I highly recommend the Cape Romain Lighthouses Tour.

Departure Points:
Sewee Center
5821 Highway 17 North
Awendaw, SC

McClellanville Boat Landing(Boat)
Pinckney Street
McClellanville, SC

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Paddleboarding The Remarkable IOP Estuary Along The Serene Morgan Creek

I mounted my board suspended over the bustling waters of the IOP Marina located at the point Morgan Creek enters the Intracoastal Waterway. A slight teasing breeze brushed past. It carried with it the pleasant scent of the aromatic concoction fermenting around the docks--the resultant byproduct of boat fuel mingling with the fishy, marine air. With paddle in hand, I stroked the surface of the tepid waters impelling me forward into the unhurried tidal current of the creek. My two hour excursion was underway.

A gauntlet of weatherworn floating docks lined with boats of varying sizes attached to waterfront properties crowned with spacious villas accompanied my start for a fair distance, until my leisurely coasting board carried me past the oyster coated pillars of a singular bridge standing like a gateway to the serene world of the IOP's pristine estuary beyond.

I glanced back and bid civilization ado.

Ahead, a sprawling carpet of marsh grass dotted by islands of clustered backwater trees, some greyed and gnarled from the merciless southern sun and the passing of time, filled the horizon. I glided forward. My incursion scattered a school of small fish cutting an exiting trail of parting ripples in the surface of the water and a great white heron prowling the shell covered shoreline, warily watched my every move as I passed by—the first of many I would see on my venture. For the residents of this complex ecosystem, I was an uninvited but cautiously tolerated visitor.

The creek was on the backside of the tide. The retreating water exposed some of the estuary’s oyster beds and oozy, dark-brown viscous material southerners call pluff mud--the confluence of decaying spartina grass, fish, crabs, shrimp, and dinoflagellates primarily responsible for the reason why Charleston oysters are the best in the delicacy world of highly prized bivalves. Scanning the horizon to the far edges of the estuary, the rooftops of the Wild Dunes were barely perceivable.

I paddled past a fallen tree laying on a sandy outcropping. Fiddler crabs quickly scurried for cover across the wet sand. I wisely maneuvered around a razor-sharp oyster bed avoiding what could be an otherwise dangerous situation if my board were to become unsteady. As I paddled up the winding ribbon of nutrient rich waters, I bodily savored the warm aura of the estuary and let its nurturing environment caress my soul. Truly, in this place, one can get lost in their thoughts just as easily as one can get lost in the maze of tributaries. Tributaries too shallow for dolphin to navigate, but swarming with other aquatic species.

Some areas so shallow, the fin on my paddleboard could barely clear the bottom. Areas where the water boiled with hundreds of shrimp frantically jumping helter-skelter in all directions trying to escape my intrusion into their space, sliding across the tip of my board and some banging against my legs. I floated over deep water holes where I watched spottail bass streak across the surface of the water in hot pursuit of a smaller prey, wishing I had a fishing rod, but happy I had my cell phone to take pictures of my trek into the fascinating Morgan Creek estuary on the IOP.

Morgan Creek is just one of the many tidal creeks and waterways around Charleston's barrier islands that offer some of the best venues for indulging in watersports. I have paddleboarded the Intracoastal Waterway on the IOP, Shem Creek in Mount Pleasant, Folly Creek at Folly Beach, and Morgan Creek on the IOP. Each offer features unique to its waterscape.

The Intracoastal Waterway challenges your paddleboarding skills and it was the only place where I came across an alligator. On Shem Creek, you are likely to see dolphin and if you are fortunate enough, the illusive manatee. In addition, you can grab a beer or burger at one of its numerous waterside restaurants and watering holes. Folly Creek offers wide open waters that are home to pods of dolphin and one of the places I had the rare pleasure of witnessing strand-feeding. You will also paddle past a famous sunken boat. I enjoy them all, but Morgan Creek and Folly Creek are my favorite choices for a day on the water.

If you need to rent a board, Ocean Fitness is right on the marina with a large selection of paddleboards.