Before we left Charleston, we had one last tourist thing to do. At the insistence of Mrs Spell from the Two Meeting Street Inn, a tour of the City Hall is not to be missed, although as she warned us, “the poor girl who gives the tour is entirely without a personality …”
Intrigued, we arrived at the City Hall to be greeted by the slightly frumpy, mid-20s Maria, who was suffering from a terrible cold. Throughout the “tour”, she regularly reminded us of this and the resultant symptoms, often stopping mid-sentence and holding a wall to get through the calamity of her terrible affliction. As for her personality, Mrs Spell was right on the money.
The tour was of the single room chambers where council sat, but focused on the portraits adorning all four walls. Pride of place was a portrait of George Washington, which was the primary artwork Mrs Spell, with a twinkle in her eye, described as something not to be missed.
The portrait was commissioned to commemorate Washington’s visit to Charleston, however in the first version, the artist John Trumbull included a battle that occurred in a Northern State as the background. Incensed by the inclusion of a moment in a Union state’s history, Charleston insisted the portrait be re-done.
When the representative from Charleston went to pay for and collect the second version, the background appropriately depicted Charleston. Although he accepted full payment, the artist insisted that the portrait required “a few finishing touches” and that he would deliver it shortly.
You can imagine the good folk of Charleston’s surprise when they finally received the portrait and discovered that the “finishing touch” was the inclusion of a horse, with its rear end facing the viewer, and placed strategically between the horse’s legs lay on the horizon the city of Charleston.
Mrs Spell thought this mischievous trick was uproariously hilarious, and it seemed our deadpan guide found it slightly amusing as well, although we couldn’t be sure.
The other portrait of note was of Andrew Jackson, the seventh President, who’s portrait features his head, apparently somewhat flatteringly depicted, atop another man’s body, because at the time Jackson declared he didn’t have time to sit for the whole portrait to be completed.
Despite having seen the portraits we had come to see, our tour guide insisted on walking us through each of the large number of portraits in the room, all the while reminding us that she was at death’s door. Having hoped for a quick visit, our departure from Charleston was, as a result, somewhat delayed.
From Charleston we headed northeast along the South Carolina coastline, stopping mid-afternoon at the Brookgreen Gardens. Previously a plantation, the gardens were acquired in the 1930s by Archer Hunttington, the son of a wealthy industrialist, and his wife Anne, a sculptor of some reknown.
Out of a total plantation 9,oo0 acres, they established a 300 section of the gardens as a outdoor gallery for sculpture. We joined an hour long tour with one of the volunteer guides, who was only able to show us the tip of the iceberg of the sculptures on display.
We knew she was a volunteer, as she repeatedly told us so. She also pointed out, with somewhat of a sneer, that there are over 400 volunteers, but “a lot of them just like having their name on the list of volunteers but don’t actually do much, unlike some of us who volunteer for hundreds of hours a year …” It was difficult for her to conduct the tour with the enormous chip she had on her shoulder, but she somehow managed …
Like many places we have visited, you could have stayed at the gardens for a lot longer, but with the afternoon getting away, we continued northeast just across the border into North Carolina and the small town of Wilmington.
We arrived on sunset and found a small restaurant on the banks of the Cape Fear River (thankfully no sign of Robert de Niro) for an early dinner of Carolina seafood – chowder for Jane and stuffed shrimp for me (stuffed with crabmeat). Feeling the pinch of a long day of travel, we found a Best Western and fell into bed for an early evening.