Although we’d enjoyed a good meal the previous evening, we woke up feeling there was a lot more to Charleston than we had seen, and that we should join a tour of the city. We packed up our gear and checked out, and joined one of the many mini-bus tours that take you around the city.
At the recommendation of our hotel, we scored a great tour guide with a fantastic knowledge of the city. The tour took us right through the city and past its wonderful mansion houses, as well as the Citadel, a military college on the edge of the city. One part of the tour was past the now disused jail, where she described the public executions by hanging, quaintly called the “dangle and strangle”.
One of her stories surrounded the execution of a husband and wife team, who were found guilty of serially killing a number of the guests at the inn they ran. The wife, a lady called Lavinia Fisher, had three requests of the judge as he handed down their death sentence, that they hang her husband first, that she be allowed to wear her wedding dress, and that she be allowed to address the crowd.
The judge agreed and they duly hung her husband first. Legend has it that Lavinia then addressed the crowd and suggested that she would be willing to marry any man present, right there and then. The method to her madness was that under the existing law, should any man marry the widowed woman, her death sentence would be lifted and her life would be saved.
Lavinia obviously overestimated the attractiveness of marrying a mass murderer, because surprisingly no man came forward. Perhaps she was just not particularly attractive. Her last words were reportedly “If any of you have a message for the Devil, let me know, because I’ll be seeing him soon”. Good to hear she kept her sense of humour to the end.
At the end of the bus tour, we were dropped at the Joseph Manigault House, one of a half dozen of the mansion houses that are open to the public for tours. The mansion houses were typically the city house of the plantation owners, and this one is attached to Charleston Museum..
The tours are conducted by volunteers, who seemed to be a couple of “South Carolina ladies”. Our guide was about five foot nothing tall, and whilst obviously of good breeding, had the most delightfully broad South Carolina accent. It is difficult to put on paper how she spoke, but phonetically, she said “South Carolina” something like “Sarf Cara-lie-na”, with extended emphasis on the “lie” syllable.
It took a while to tune into what she was saying, and for a while I thought she might have had a speech impediment, but once I got the hang of her inflections, the way she spoke was quite melodic.
It is easy to become enchanted by Charleston. Throughout the tour, I could tell Jane would dearly like to spend more time in the city. As we finished the tour, I suggested we stay another night. I didn’t have to ask twice.
During the tour, we were taken through the Battery Park area of town, home to the biggest and grandest mansion houses. One, that was originally built with the funds provided to a daughter by her father as a wedding gift, is now a hotel called the Two Meeting Street Inn. Sensing that it would provide a unique experience, we went back and were able to secure a room for the night.
The hotel was something out of another era, renovated to its former glory and full of antiques. Turning on the southern hospitality, our check in took about half an hour, complete with being served iced tea and coffee in the parlour.
We managed to drag ourselves aware from the hotel to walk around the streets of Charleston for a few hours, but made it back in time to join the owner of the Inn, a sixty-something Mrs Spell, for afternoon tea. Another southern lady, Mrs Spell kept us entertained with stories of the history of the Inn and of Charleston.
With a twinkle in her eye, she referred to the “War of Northern Aggression” (otherwise known as the Civil War) and regaled us with some of the folklore surrounding the events of that era. A delightful afternoon and one that you would never get in a Holiday Inn or a Marriott.
Mrs Spell recommended “Magnolias” as a restaurant for dinner. Keeping with eating unexpected regional fare in a quality restaurant, I had Southern Fried Chicken, complete with mash and beans, while Jane had a slightly more sophisticated tuna dish. What mine lacked in sophistication, it made up for in flavour, and definitely beat anything the Colonel could offer hands down.
In case it isn’t obvious, Jane and I very much enjoyed our Charleston experience.