*I apologize in advance for the length of this insane post…still playing catch up.*
We had reservations at a nearby state park for our week in Charleston but got bumped out due to hurricane Matthew clean up. So, we booked at Oak Plantation RV Park and crossed our fingers that it wouldn’t just be a massive parking lot for big rigs. At least it was close to the city. While it was parking lot-ish, it was impeccably clean and well kept with great wifi and a huge dog park.
We were looking forward to seeing what “The South” was like. Baltimore may not be THAT far north, but I consider myself a northerner (plus I still consider Keene, NY home too so that makes me a Yank—a very northern northerner). I’m a Union soldier, if you will. I was interested to see if it was truly “not over” in The South like I’d heard. I didn’t really get that vibe though, so that’s cool…and a relief. Charleston’s downtown area had a GREAT feel to it with cool galleries, cafes and shops all while maintaining the integrity of the awesome old architecture.
First field trip stop was Fort Sumter to learn about the Civil War and snag another Junior Ranger badge. While the entry into the fort was free, the ferry crossing was not even close to free. This was a pretty intense Ranger book to complete (although we didn’t realize until we were almost done that kids under 12 are supposed to only do 6 or 8 sections out of 12—or something like that). The fort is amazing even though much of it is gone from that whole war thingy. We were the last tour of the day so we got to see the flag lowering ceremony. Did you know that the first casualty in the Civil War happened at Fort Sumter and was a total oopsie-daisy?? Yup. When the mortar was fired it exploded a wee bit and one of the guys manning the cannon bit it. At least this is how the Ranger explained it.
Next up for our week of southern field trips was a tour of a local plantation. I had a little trepidation about this one. A friend had warned me that some plantations were (literally) whitewashing slavery to the point where they’d say that slaves were like family to their owners. Um, what? The plantation we chose wasn’t one of the biggies around Charleston. It was Drayton Hall, built by the son of the neighboring planation’s owners. (that neighbor is Magnolia Plantation about which an article was written on the revisionist history of slavery…you can read it here). Anyway…my point is that I wanted my family to learn truths, no matter how ugly. The home was beautiful of course. It’s not furnished or fancified—just kept to as true a history as possible…so it’s not color matched Benjamin Moore panted walls, it’s the true original, albeit peeling, paint. I appreciated that. The guided tour was lovely and while slavery wasn’t whitewashed per se, that part of the planation’s history was not expanded upon. It was still an interesting field trip and we can fill in those knowledge gaps for our boys. One of the most moving things to see was an exposed brick wall…bricks made and laid (layed?) by local slaves. In several of them you could still see the fingerprints of the owned, unpaid, overworked father/son/brother who created that brick. Maybe it sounds silly to some, but it brought tears to my eyes and left me wondering about his story for the rest of the day. After the house tour we went up the road to an old slave cemetery…slaves from that plantation were buried there as well as their descendants and other townspeople from more recent history who chose to be interred in solidarity with those who endured a painful history. Heavy and important stuff.
The final BIG field trip for the week in Charleston was Patriots Point where we toured a WWII destroyer, the USS Laffey and an aircraft carrier, the USS Yorktown, as well as the new Vietnam exhibit. This was a very hands on history lesson! The USS Laffey is the most decorated surviving US destroyer in existence. It was commissioned in the winter of 1944 and retired in 1975 and has innumerable stories to tell for that time in between. It was nicknamed the “ship that would not die” after surviving an epic kamikaze attack in 1945. The USS Yorktown, though considered small in comparison to today’s aircraft carriers, seemed never-ending. It was commissioned in the spring of 1943 and worked hard in the Pacific from shortly after then until the defeat of Japan in 1945. Post WWII, the USS Yorktown was used as an attack carrier and anti-sub carrier in the 50s and served off Vietnam in the 60s. Of note is the fact that the USS Yorktown was used in the recovery of the Apollo 8 astronauts and their return capsule in 1968. She was retired in 1970 and came to Patriots Point in 1975 (a good year, if I do say so). The Vietnam exhibit was heavy. Created as a replica of an actual Marine Corps artillery fire base during the Tet Offensive, there was a sound effect track playing in the background that could have easily triggered a service member’s PTSD (and there were signs posted to that effect). It definitely made Quinn nervous (Callum chose not to even go—the sounds from afar made him nervous). The exhibit is designed to simulate life in wartime Vietnam. I could plainly see from the unreadable faces of those servicemen who had served (and who were touring wearing their military insignia caps—so I knew) that the atmosphere took them back. It was all I could do not to run around administering hugs and tears and pride and appreciation for their service to our country.
At the end of the week, after a breakfast in town and a stroll through the market, it was Folley Beach time and time to pack it up and head on to Savannah, GA.