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25 Things You Should Know About Charleston

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South Carolina’s largest city is long on history and steeped in Southern charm. It’s also distinctly modern, with a lively performing arts scene and a lineup of foodie-approved restaurants putting a contemporary spin on Lowcountry favorites. There’s also Bill Murray. Here are a few things you might not know about Charleston.
 
1. In 1663, England’s King Charles II awarded the Carolina territory to eight loyal friends who had helped him regain the throne after years in exile. In 1670, the first expedition sailed across the Atlantic and established the province’s first settlement, which they called Charles Town. The name would hold until after the American Revolution, when victorious colonists shortened the name to Charleston.
 
2. The Ashley and Cooper Rivers, which border Charleston’s historic central district, are named for the same man. Anthony Ashley Cooper, formally known as the 1st Earl of Shaftesbury, was one of King Charles’ buddies—or “Lord Proprietors,” as they were known. He’s credited with picking Charleston’s location (just west of where it’s currently situated), and with establishing a progressive “Grand Modell” for the town’s development along with his assistant, John Locke.

3. In 1761, two tornadoes—one barreling down the Ashley River, the other down the Cooper River—converged over Charleston’s harbor. So powerful was the combined twister, one witness wrote, that it “ploughed the Ashley River to the bottom and lay the channel bare.” Four people were killed and five ships sunk.  

4. Charleston was the frequent target of pirate attacks in its early days. In 1718, none other than Edward Teach, a.k.a. Blackbeard, attacked several ships trying to enter the harbor. He took hostages and ransomed them for a chest of medicine.

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

5. Up until the early 19th century, Charleston had the largest Jewish population of any city in North America. Historians trace this to Cooper and Locke’s original charter, which expressed tolerance for all religions—well, except for Catholicism. Cooper and other English royals were not on good terms with the Roman Catholic Church. 

6. In 1776, colonists holed up in a makeshift fort on Sullivan's Island traded fire with nine British warships bent on conquering Charleston. The fort’s commander, William Moultrie, called it “one continual blaze and roar.” The battle lasted several hours, but Fort Sullivan’s palmetto logs held up against the barrage, and eventually the attacking fleet retreated. The effort staved off British occupation for four years and became a symbol of American resilience. The fort was renamed Fort Moultrie, in honor of its commander, and South Carolina adopted the flag Moultrie flew as its state flag, adding in an image of a palmetto tree for additional symbolic value.
 
7. Another famous fort didn’t fare as well, of course. In 1861, Confederate forces fired the Civil War’s first shots on Fort Sumter, situated in Charleston Harbor. According to writer Mary Chestnut, locals took in the 34-hour spectacle in a very Southern fashion: Sitting on their porches, toasting to the event.
 
8. Stroll around Charleston and you’ll notice numerous homes accented with a dark green known as Charleston Green. The story goes that after the Civil War, the Union sent buckets of black paint for residents to use when fixing up their damaged homes. Rather than use only Yankee black, however, citizens mixed in a bit of Southern yellow and created the distinctively dark hue. 

 


9.
In 2008, the Toni Morrison Society—inspired by her comments about the need for memorials dedicated to the victims of America's slave trade—built a bench on Sullivan's Island, where nearly 40 percent of slaves landed following the Middle Passage. This was the first monument in the society’s “Bench by the Road” project, which has placed benches around the world in locations significant to slavery and black history. 

10. There are numerous stories about why the colonial-era houses along Charleston’s Rainbow Row are so colorful. One states that the colors helped drunken sailors identify their lodgings, while another says merchants used them to identify goods sold in each building. The truth, though, is decidedly less colorful: In 1935, a judge and his wife decided to paint their home a lively pink, and their neighbors followed suit. 

11. On August 31, 1886, the largest earthquake ever recorded in the southeast United States occurred near Charleston. The 7.8-magnitude quake, which damaged buildings in states as far away as Ohio, killed 60 people and caused more than $5 million in damages. Included in that estimate were more than 14,000 destroyed chimneys.

12. A local orphanage significantly influenced the development of jazz music in South Carolina and throughout the U.S. Established in 1891 by the Reverend Daniel J. Jenkins, the Jenkins Orphanage taught its young residents how to read and play music on donated instruments. It also formed the Jenkins Orphanage Band, which traveled the country. Over time, the students developed a swinging style that became a hit with audiences far and wide. While touring in New York, the band’s playful dance moves (borrowed from Charleston’s Geechie culture), inspired composer James P. Johnson, who composed a song called “The Charleston.” Along with the accompanying dance, it quickly became a nationwide craze and a symbol of the jazz age.   

13. Local author DuBose Heyward’s 1925 novel Porgy offered readers a look at Charleston’s Gullah community, and inspired George Gershwin’s folk opera Porgy and Bess. To get a close look at the culture of Catfish Row, in 1934 Gershwin decamped from New York and spent the summer living on Folly Island, where he composed alongside Heyward. 

14. In 1969, workers at the South Carolina Medical College Hospital went on strike to protest substandard pay and working conditions for minorities. The strike, which lasted four months, resulted in improvements for employees, and became a model for healthcare labor efforts. It’s also seen as a seminal moment in the Civil Rights movement, having drawn the support of such luminaries as Coretta Scott King and Ralph Abernathy. 

15. For seventeen days every summer, Charleston’s theaters, churches, and other performance spaces fill up with live music, plays, operas, and dance numbers. The Spoleto Festival, modeled after a similar festival in Italy, features new and established performers from around the world. Yo-Yo Ma played at the inaugural festival in 1978, shortly after graduating from Harvard [PDF].
 
16. The first theater in America, the Dock Street Theatre, was built in 1736 on the corner of Church and Dock Street. It burned down just a few years later, in 1740, but 200 years later the city built a new Dock Street Theatre, which continues to stage performances to this day.



17. And speaking of firsts, the Charleston Museum is widely believed to be the country’s oldest museum. Founded in 1773 as a storehouse for natural and local history collections, the museum is today dedicated to preserving and showcasing artifacts from South Carolina’s Lowcountry. 

18. Charleston may not have a pro sports team, but it does have a Gaelic hurling club and a roller derby league called the Lowcountry Highrollers.
 
19. Charleston’s minor league baseball team, meanwhile, is partly owned by Bill Murray. Because of course it is. Murray, whose official title with the team is “Director of Fun,” owns a home near Charleston and can be frequently spotted around town. 

20. The city’s restaurant scene has exploded over the past several years, with chefs like Sean Brock and Mike Lata putting a contemporary spin on traditional Lowcountry cuisine. Husk, one of the city’s hotspots, only sources ingredients from below the Mason Dixon line, while Xiao Bao Biscuit serves what it calls “Asian Soul Food.” Of course, establishments like Martha Lou’s Kitchen and Bowen’s Island Restaurant, which have been pleasing locals and tourists alike for decades, may wonder what all the fuss is about.
 
21. South Carolina’s oldest public building is a former gunpowder storage facility called the Powder Magazine. Built in 1713, back when Charleston was walled in to protect against land and sea attacks, the small building features three-foot thick walls and a thin, gabled roof—an ingenious design that, were all that powder to ignite, would send the explosion shooting upwards rather than outwards.
 
22. One of Charleston’s most famous sons, Stephen Colbert, grew up on James Island. After his father and two brothers died tragically in a 1974 plane crash, Colbert’s mother moved the family to East Bay Street in the city’s downtown, where she ran a now-defunct bed and breakfast. 

 

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23.
The Charleston City Market is one of the country’s oldest public markets. First opened in 1804, it featured meat, fish, and vegetable vendors, and was notorious for the flocks of buzzards (affectionately called “Charleston Eagles”) that would swoop down for scraps. These days, the market features an enclosed, air-conditioned Great Hall as well as open-air sheds selling everything from handmade baskets to stone-ground grits.

24. The first golf club in North America, the South Carolina Golf Club, opened in 1786 on a peninsula field known as Harleston Green (really!). Back then, the ball was known as a “feathery,” and the holes didn’t have flags, tee boxes or a putting green. 

25. All of Charleston’s traditional multi-level homes, or “single houses,” feature piazzas that face south or west in order to take advantage of cooling breezes. Back in the 18th and 19th century, that was the closest residents could get to air conditioning.

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Why a Train Full of New York City Poop Was Stranded in Alabama for Two Months
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Residents of Parrish, Alabama probably aren't too fond of New Yorkers right now. That’s because the town is currently home to a full trainload of poop courtesy of the Big Apple, as Bloomberg reports. Some 200 shipping containers of treated sewage have been stuck in Parrish for more than two months while the town takes landfill operators to court.

New York City doesn't keep its own sewage sludge to itself, and it hasn't for decades. In the 1980s, New York City was dumping its "biosolids"—the solids left over from sewage treatment, i.e., your poop—into the Atlantic Ocean, where it settled on the bottom of the sea floor in a thick film stretching over 80 square nautical miles. When the government banned the practice of dumping waste straight into the ocean, the city had to get creative, finding a way to get rid of the 1200 tons of biosolids produced there every day.

Enter the poop train. As a 2013 Radiolab episode taught us (we highly recommend you listen for yourself), treated sludge was eventually shipped out to other states to use as fertilizer in the 1990s. After farmers in Colorado began noticing better growth and fewer pests in the fields they grew with New York City's finest sewer sludge, growers in other states began clamoring to take the big-city poop by the train-full, too. That tide has turned, though, and now no one wants the city's poop. Because of the cost of running the program, the train to Colorado stopped in 2010.

Now, biosolids are instead shipped to landfills upstate and in places like Georgia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, according to The Wall Street Journal. And Alabama. For more than a year, the Big Sky landfill near Parrish has been accepting New York City biosolids, and the locals who have to deal with trainloads of rotting waste aren’t happy.

Normally, the sludge would be loaded onto trucks and then driven the last stretch to get to the landfill. But Parrish and its nearby neighbor of West Jefferson aren't interested in playing host to those messy poop transfers anymore. As the two towns take the landfill operators to court over it, the trains are stuck where they are, next to Parrish's Little League baseball fields. The trainload of sludge is blocked from either being sent to the landfill or back to New York City. While the city has stopped shipping more waste to Big Sky, it essentially said "no takebacks" regarding what they've already sent south. Short of a legal decision, that poop isn't moving.

Needless to say, the residents of Parrish would really, really like to resolve this before summer hits.

Update: Parrish residents can officially breathe easy. The last of the sludge has now been removed from the town, and Big Sky has ended its operation there, according to a Facebook post from Mayor Heather Hall. The containers that remain have been emptied of their smelly cargo and will be removed sometime before Friday, April 20.

[h/t Bloomberg]

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The Self-Deploying Flood Barrier That Could Keep Cities Dry Without Sandbags
MegaSecur, YouTube
MegaSecur, YouTube

For many places in the world, the future is going to be wet. Climate change is already intensifying heavy rains and flooding in parts of the U.S., and it’s only expected to get worse. A recent study estimated that by 2050, more than 60 million people in the U.S. would be vulnerable to 100-year floods.

Some cities plan to meet rising waters with protective parkland, while some architects are developing floating houses. And one company has figured out how to replace piles of sandbags as emergency flood control, as Business Insider reports. Water-Gate, a line of flood protection products made by a Canadian company called MegaSecur, is a self-deploying water barrier that can be used to stop overflowing water in its tracks.

The emergency dam is made of folded canvas that, when water rushes into it, inflates up to become a kind of pocket for the water to get trapped in. You can roll it out across a street, a canal, or a creek like a giant hose, then wait for the water to arrive. In the event of a flash flood, you can even deploy it while the flood is already in progress. It can stop waters that rise up to five feet.

According to MegaSecur, one Water-Gate dam can replace thousands of sandbags, and once the floodwaters have receded, you can fold it back up and use it again. Sadly, based on the flood projections of climate change scientists, heavy flooding will soon become more and more common, and that will make reusable flood barriers necessary, saving time and money that would otherwise be spent buying, stacking, and getting rid of sandbags. The auto-deployment also means that it can be used by a single person, rather than a team of laborers. It could just as easily be set up outside a house by a homeowner as it could be set up on a city street by an emergency worker.

As climate change-related proposals go, it sounds a little more feasible than a floating house.

[h/t Business Insider]

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