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Charleston, South Carolina

Mark Glass - Click to Enlarge
by Mark Glass 

Mark Glass is a journalist trapped in a lawyer's body, balancing his practice with
writing and broadcasting on travel, entertainment and professional sports.  

For years, I’ve wanted to see if Charleston, South Carolina, is as charming and beautiful as fellow travelers have claimed. Are there really so many lovingly-preserved ante-bellum homes in a concentrated Historic District? Can its harbor actually be so pristinely picturesque, while still serving as a busy port? Can the restaurants actually offer the promised bounties?

On the other hand, South Carolina has been a hotbed of controversy over its staunch refusal to stop displaying the Confederate Flag. They’ve also been electing Strom Thurmond to the Senate every six years since the Civil War ended - or so it seems. So what is this? A tourist’s delight, or an anachronistic bastion of Political Incorrectness?

My first chance to visit happened to coincide, according to my desktop calendar of obscure holidays, with Jefferson Davis’ birthday. What better chance would there be to put the city to the test? How would they handle the day of honoring their former president? I knew I could be objective. During the Civil War, my ancestors were still scattered around Europe, with their own set of  problems.

As a destination, I can report that the city lived up to every aspect of its billing. Charleston is nestled in the southern end of a peninsula, protected by some outer islands, to collectively form a large, calm harbor. There are very few buildings taller than three stories, preserving the quaintness of this deceptively active center of commerce. There is so much to see in the Historic District that the one-hour horse-drawn carriage tours rotate among four separate routes. And if you assume there’s a Conservative-fomented ban on gambling, a lottery system for each coach as it departs dictates which path it will cover.

The business district is lined with small stores, all in low store-front buildings. Many have awnings, to preserve a small-town look in a city of about 90,000, anchoring a metro area of over a half million people . Even the inevitable Starbuck’s occupies the former abode of  two banks and two jewelry stores. Several blocks of King Street are monopolized by antique shops.  Restaurants, ranging from the posh Charleston Grill, to the aptly-named Sticky Fingers rib house, fulfilled all my palate’s aspirations.

As to diversity, Charleston boasts 187 churches of various denominations. In 1750, one of America’s first synagogues was established there. Local churches led the funding drive to erect a large abstract sculpture as a memorial to the Holocaust. Several museums honor African-American contributions to the community. Charleston gave us our country’s first woman pirate, Anne Bonny; and first female newspaper editor and publisher, Elizabeth Timothy. Draw your own conclusion about any similarities. As a freelance writer, I can’t afford to.

 And that Confederate thing? None of the locals even seemed to know it was Old Jeff’s birthday! The place is so cosmopolitan, that it was hard to find southern accents among the locals in the shops and restaurants. In Market Square - a four-block, open air mall for area vendors to sell their wares from wood-tabled stalls - only one of about 100 offered Confederate-themed accessories. Even the narrator on our two-hour harbor cruise sounded like a Maine fisherman who tired of their cold winters, and moved down the coast.            

So, I’m determined to return, test my luck on the carriage lottery, and try to score the other three tour routes. And there’s a passel o’ fine restaurants yet to savor. Y’all might like ‘em, too.

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Email: (Mark Glass)

Mark Glass is a Mark Glass is a freelance writer and broadcaster, based in St. Louis, covering travel, entertainment and professional sports for his readers and listeners. Mark was travel editor for "St. Louis Connoisseur", and now have that role for "Life in the Midwest", based in Indianapolis. For the last fifteen years, he's written and broadcast features on travel, entertainment and sports, while maintaining his law practice in the St. Louis area. (More about this writer.)


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