Tour Private Gardens in historic Charleston

Charleston Tea Party Private Tour

This tour is for the discerning visitor who wishes to experience Old Charleston as a guest, not a tourist. Laura Wichmann Hipp is your knowledgeable and charming guide. A native who loves and knows well the city in which she was born, Laura takes discerning visitors to her friends’ private homes and gardens, in fact caters each tour to the special interests of her visitors. This is the ultimate insider experience and a rare chance for a visitor to see the “real Charleston.”

Your hostess serves tea following lunch

Tours week days  from 9:00 AM  to 12:00. The tour ends at lunchtime with an invitation to Tea at Laura’s home overlooking the Ashley River.

For reservations or more information: Laura Wichmann Hipp 843-577-5896.


Charleston: Ghosts, Gullah and Tea

The Charleston Tea Party Private Tour sounds about as genteel as it gets. The brochure features a photo of guide Laura Wichmann Hipp (“married to G. Preston Hipp of Charleston”) in a broad-brimmed hat, looking ready to snatch Rhett Butler away from an unsuspecting Scarlett O’Hara. It promises to emphasize architecture and preservation in the city’s historic district, with a grand finale of tea served in the guide’s private garden.

The Washington Post

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Sherman’s March to the Sea 150 Years Ago

On February 1, 1865, the last month for Charleston in The War Between the States, Major General William T. Sherman began the Carolinas Campaign, as his army invaded South Carolina.

Many ask  if Sherman came to Charleston.  He received a message from General Halleck saying, “If you can reach Charleston, Destroy that harmful place.  If some salt can be sown on the site afterwards, perhaps that will prevent future crops of Nullification and Secession.”

Sherman responded saying, “As for Charleston, the truth of the matter is, The Whole of the Northern Army is Burning with insatiable desire to wreak vengeance on… Carolina, the Hellhole of Secession. I almost tremble at her fate.” The wide swath of destruction in raping, pillaging, and burning was more horrific than the memory in our collective consciousness. As Sherman aptly said, “War is Hell.”  His army’s rampage was more feared than Charleston’s threat of destruction by daily bombardment of Union ships, or by guns on our sea islands surrounding Charleston.  What Charlestonians endured as a city of defenseless women and children, and old and invalid men, in the city’s daily bombardment, is a drama yet to be portrayed by Hollywood, but with a heroic stand for their faith and courage, comparable to Churchill’s London and Essex of my mother’s childhood.

It was the threat of Sherman’s  March to the Sea in the end that made Charlestonians evacuate, after all they had endured.  Many went to small towns to family connections and to perfect strangers who would take them in.  Many went to Columbia.  Mary Boykin Chesnut said in her Diary from Dixie that the whole State was crowded into Columbia.  It was like one, great, big party.  She was reprimanded for her levity by her dour husband for having taffy pulls, reading frivolous novels in French, and  going for rides in her carriage with Mrs. President Jefferson Davis, preening in her fashionable but not updated styles.

Meanwhile, Sherman’s army was burning, raping, and pillaging plantations leading to Charleston.  He stopped.  Within fifteen miles of Charleston, he turned.  He bypassed the Peninsula of The Holy City and headed for the capital of the State, Columbia.   Raven Van der Horst Lewis died that night in child birth fleeing the burning of Columbia as Sherman’s raid came in. She had fled to Columbia for refuge from Van der Horst Plantation at Kiawah near Charleston. On my private tour, we see her large, gold framed portrait inside the home of the doctor who delivered me.  The child lived, from whom comes the present family, showing the value of one solitary life, la chaime!

Yes, Sherman came to Charleston.  But it was before The War, when he was stationed at Ft. Moultrie, ten years earlier.  He had danced with Charleston girls, one of whom was a young, pretty widow, Caroline Pettigru Carson.  She had lost her husband that same year.  She was dressed appropriately in black, but at a dance while in her first year of mourning? Of  what character does this Caroline remind you?  This Scarlet woman was the daughter of James Louis Pettigru, a highly respected lawyer, who remained a Unionist,  whose opinions were shaped perhaps by Sherman, a suitor of his daughter.  Her two toddler sons ten years later became soldiers.  She kept up a correspondence with Sherman and asked him to be on the lookout for them to see that they came to no harm.

Could it be that Sherman had a soft spot in his hard heart for Charleston?  He bypassed Charleston altogether, following the party to Columbia, burning the capital instead of Charleston.  Five Points and  very few buildings are all that survive there today from before The War.

He also said at the end of That Late Great Unpleasantness, “If anyone is not satisfied with war, go to Charleston.” We had had a fire in December 1861, not war related, The Great Conflagration of 1861, the largest fire in the city’s history.  It was a block to a block and a half wide, but many blocks long. “By five a.m. the city was wrapped in a living wall of fire, from the Cooper to the Ashley River, without a single gap to break its dread uniformity,”  wrote Emma Holmes in her journal.  It left an ugly scar through the middle of Charleston that looked like a war  ravaged  city.

Mrs. St. Julian Ravenel at 5 East Battery, wrote of 1865, “In returning to Charleston, it was a city of weed wild gardens, of grass strewn streets, of acres of voiceless and pitiful barrenness. That is Charleston wherein Rebellion loftily reared its head but five years ago.  The streets looked as if piled with diamonds, the glass lay shivered so thick on the ground.”  The Holy City had been ransacked by the “liberators” from Massachusetts.

In comparison, Hitler gave his officers the order to destroy Paris when he lost France.  In documentaries, when asked why they did not carry out the order, the reply was, “Paris is Paris to the world.  She belongs to everyone.”  Having tasted Charleston hospitality, and having experienced this City of Antiquity as it was already known before the history of The War Between the States,  having had some of his fondest memories of his young manhood created here dancing with Charleston girls, might he have thought of Caroline Pettigru Carson and his ties to the Old City? Why destroy one of the Union’s most valuable assets?

Charleston’s hospitality may have saved her from Sherman’s wrath.  A long period of neglect also saved Charleston from the destructive wave of “progress.”  Now progress is measured in terms of Preservation Progress, the title of out newsletter from the Preservation Society of Charleston, founded in 1921, the first preservation society of a city in the nation.

The Charleston Tea Party Private Tour believes Charleston’s protection today is dependent on our maintenance of our reputation for Southern hospitality.  It is up to us as individuals as well as businesses to keep this Spirit alive.  Charleston is a place of restoration as many make their pilgrimage here to regain what America has lost.  “If you are weary of the syncopated unrest of a crazy world, come here and set your feet to a saner tempo”, says Elizabeth O’Neill Verner in her book of prose, Mellowed by Time.    “You will leave us wiser than when you came.”

My tours are from 9-1:30, Monday through Friday.  I look forward to sharing my world with you.  My cell is 843-708-2228.  Laura Wichmann Hipp

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Camellias are our Winter Roses; Persimmons and Calamondins our Winter Fruit

I dreamed that a profusion of roses was in bloom everywhere I went.  Despite the threat of thorns, I was exhilarated as I rode my bike at the sight of a new view of life in the everyday with such beautiful roses of all shades and scents and heady clusters.  I thought I must be in England.  I will have to go see my mother’s family and have a cup of tea, I thought. My mother was the rare English Rose of Beauty.  She loved giving tours with me and wanted nothing more than to get well to get back to them again.  We lost her to throat cancer in late August.

I awoke with a sense of expectation for the New Year.  Will it be filled with briars, or roses?  As I stepped into our back garden, what had been green buds were transformed overnight into round jewels of camellia balls about to open into many petaled delights.  With the winter green rye grass up, and now the camellias in bloom, we are a winter wonderland without the snow.   All summer and fall I scrub with leftover tea leaves the scale from under the foliage of camellias in anticipation of these winter delights.

Nothing speaks Charleston more than the camellia, developed by Andre Michaux here in the 18th century for the court of France.  In addition to introducing the camellia to North America through Charleston, he also brought us Crepe Myrtles, which are water nymphs, cursed, and put on land as these trees, with their fluid bark- like sculpture; and our beloved Tea Olive, the essence of Charleston when its tiny flower blooms in the spring and in the fall. Charleston gardens were designed to bloom in the winter for the highlight of the social season in the 18th and 19th centuries, The Races.  Many of the plantation owners were the trainers and breeders of these magnificent thoroughbreds. The Races were held at Washington Race Course, now Hampton Park, near The Citadel.  Hampton Park is a beautiful camellia and rose garden with a pedestrian bridge over a pond.

My white table cloth is now the snowy contrast to show off the three arrangements I have of camellias.  Two bowls are of silver and the center is a ver de gris pedestal bowl with handles on either side and classical swags.  My husband bought it for me one year for our anniversary from The Charleston Garden Shop.  I use wet oases in it to arrange my jewels of camellias interspersed with a few calamondins to give it a zing!

Calamondin oranges are being made into marmalade in my kitchen, the perfect thing on a cold winter’s night.  I risked life and limb to pluck these winter fruits yesterday on the tip top of our ladder in our back garden while hugging the tree’s upper branches.  Ours reach for the sky.  They are no bigger than golf balls, but they make the Queen of Marmalades. Our family had a calamondin deseeding party with our three daughters and friend, Jon, ’round the table after dinner last night.  We played vintage albums on our new phonograph we got from Santa!  We laughed until tears came to our eyes, giddy with light-hearted low stress after the holidays.  Now, for the adding of sugar to my copper jam pan;  nothing saves time in marmalade making like a copper pot.  It cuts the time in half.

For those who have been followers of my calamondin marmalade in the past, I did not have any to share last year due to the rare freeze.  I only put up one batch.  This year there is only enough for one batch as well; however, I will be serving it upon request at our tea parties at the end of the tour in jam tarts and in glistening dressing over golden beets and goat cheese, Russian onion dome style.  These are a few of my favorite things. It is served on Blue and White Cantonware China, the 18th and 19th century everyday ware of Charleston, shipped here in abundance on clipper ships. The English Tea Clippers were the fastest.

Persimmons are the luminescent orbs of transparency, like tiny Chinese lanterns,  hanging from an otherwise leafless tree in our back garden.  There is an abundance of persimmons despite my having picked at least 50 to put in floral arrangements and to make persimmon sorbet.  They have been bitten by frost, which is good for them; their chalkiness has been transformed into sweet, velvet lushness to the palate. My handy husband got out his loppers, and I got out my big round basket; he lopped, and I danced underneath to catch the persimmons.  Those that split were an invitation I could not refuse to receive to my salivating mouth.  If not me, then the squirrels and birds will get them.  When I go out before dawn, I hear an early bird squawking that the persimmons are its feast, not mine. Many have been transformed into persimmon sorbet with the help of cool Simple Syrup, and my electric ice cream maker. One calamondin is the citrus in place of  a squeeze of lemon that marries well with persimmons to give it that… je ne sais quoi!  My friend, Pringle, thinks I must have subtle spices included, but it is clean-and-easy and the best thing you have ever put into your mouth. Come while the supply lasts.  Persimmon pudding and persimmon bread to follow. Persimmon bits tossed in a salad with the different lettuce leaves, garlic and chopped swiss chard from my raised beds in the back garden made this an all fresh garden to table salad in January grown here on Tradd Street in Charleston.  Why didn’t I think to put persimmon in our kale salad tonight?

My neighbors, the Deans of the Charleston Academy of Domestic Pursuits,  Lee Manigault and Suzanne Pollak, are invited to pick persimmons in my back garden. According to Lee, they have been having to BUY them for their recipe Twelve-Months-a-Year Parsley Salad on page 31 in their newly published book : The Charleston Academy of Domestic Pursuits; with Etiquette and Recipes.  P.S. Who do I have to thank for this Christmas gift?  It is my favorite read with only Lee and Suzanne’s signatures.

It is a good year.  Look for the Good News.  Report it to others.  My husband’s numbers are good.  The dream of roses foretold it.  The Dream Maker is on the move, listening and speaking in that still, small voice.

Come to Charleston to renew your dreams, and to feel afresh the Wonder of Life.  Charleston is where Magic happens, which is one of the reasons she is called The Holy City.  Her history makes America’s history make more sense when you understand what first happened here, and the correlation to quotes from the Founding Fathers and diarists.  I never tire of telling it.  Few really know it. It is like looking at the moon that you have gazed at all your life, but from a side you have never seen before.

Valentine’s Day is on a Saturday.  Make a long weekend of it. The South Carolina Wildlife Exhibition will be in February followed by the Charleston Wine and Food Festival  March 4-8; then the Cooper River Bridge Run, and the Festival of Houses and Gardens. Charleston Arts and Antique Forum is coming up soon as well.

As Audrey Hepburn said of Paris, Charleston is always a good idea.

Call me on my cell phone for reservations at 843-708-2228.  Tours are weekday mornings starting at 9.

Laura Wichmann Hipp, founder of the Charleston Tea Party Private Tour

Our 1773 tea party was before Boston’s!

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Christmas in Charleston Tea Party Private Tour 2014

It is beginning to look a lot like Christmas!  It is a truth universally acknowledged that a person in possession of a good read must be in want of a hot cuppa tea.  Reach over to the wall and pull the needle pointed bell pull and have your scullery servant put the kettle on for a pot of tea.  Now, start singing, “I’m dreaming of a white-less Christmas!  Just like the ones I used to know,” in Old Charleston.  Just think, no snow to shovel, no salt to smear your windshield, no bones to break slipping on the ice!  I know you may really miss all that, but you will adjust in no time.  “Oh, the weather up North is frightful, but down South it’s so delightful.  And since you are invited on my tour to go, leave the snow, leave the snow, leave the snow!”

Come here and set your feet to a saner tempo.  You will think you are in a Dickensian London.  The warm days are producing a  gentle fog at night over the water and at the morning’s light.  Many houses have the soft glow of gas lights on either side of the front door donned with a fresh wreath. With the indigenous materials in abundance to work with of magnolia leaves, popcorn berry trees, and shaggy cedar, there is an Old World look about us that makes even those from off feel they have arrived home.  We keep all the other places from seeming natural. Christmas is when we are looking most authentically ourselves, dressed up for the Holidays, like my husband tall and handsome in black tie, his tails flying as he dances to Beach Music, our South Carolina State Dance.  You should have seen him at our daughter’s debut dancing with the tall and beautiful Miss Elizabeth Scarborough, a Taylor Swift impersonator on stage last summer in Myrtle Beach and Charleston debutante this season.  HOT!

My beloved went out this afternoon on what we call “de bo-at’ –Gullah for our family boat, and zipped over to Morris Island with “the boys” to play Bocci on the beach today.  How was your first Wednesday in Advent?  While he and his constant companion, Chesterfield, our English Springer Spaniel, were gone experiencing a slice of Lowcountry heaven, our college graduate first born daughter, Olivia, and I put up live green cedar garlands and red bows on our second floor porch railing overlooking the Ashley River.  It is great to have her home for the holidays.  With days of sun and laughter like today, the green garlands may have golden highlights before Christmas is over! Turkey Gumbo was delicious tonight, my reward after emptying the spice cupboard, cleaning, consolidating, and reorganizing it while Hubbie was out..  Whew!  I love that organized feel and easy turn of the rotating spices.   I cleared out about a dozen salt and pepper disposable canisters meant for the boat making my husband laugh with hilarity and incredulity when he saw them in his cubbie.

Christmas Cake preparation was the real achievement tonight after plowing through my mother’s and my hand written, hand cut and pasted recipe book that will not close. Picture a wide V.  Brandy is poured over the glass bowl of currants and sultanas with care, in hopes that your family soon will be here.  There will be English steamed Christmas pudding in vintage molds, mince meat tarts, and baked ham with muscadine and peach chutney. It’s the Hap-Happiest Time of the Year! Come let us spread some cheer to you and yours.  My brother and I both will be making and baking my dear English mother’s Christmas recipes, comparing notes, keeping our English- Charleston family traditions alive into this next generation, as she has past them down to us.

My tours are week days from 9 to 1:30, starting with a full Southern breakfast and the fattest Christmas tree overlooking the Charleston Harbor.  This house on High Battery is dressed to the nines for Christmas.  We also go into the house of the doctor who delivered me. (Thank you, Dr. Wilson! Thank you, Mumse!)  His ceiling is probably the most elaborate with more layers in the plaster and woodwork than any house in Charleston. I love the acorn, and egg and dart motif. It was built in 1856 by a signer of the Ordinance of Secession.  Christmas 1860 is the focus of our history on my Christmas in Charleston Tea Party Private Tour.  Camellias are our winter flower in bloom in our gardens.  I will take you into one that won a national garden award, in which I am the only guide allowed in by the owners, who are hard working,generous friends of mine.

The greening of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, known in the 18th century as the most elegant church in the English colonies, will be this Friday, as will the Garden Club of Charleston’s decorating of the Joseph Manigault House.

Call me to reserve a spot on my private tour as I take small groups. The tour ends with an invitation to a High Christmas Tea at my home on Tradd Street.  I hope to see you soon.  843-577-5896  Laura Wichmann Hipp

Post Script  I went to the Garden Club Tea at the Joseph Manigault House yesterday.  You must see it dressed up for Christmas as it would have looked in the time of the Manigaults, the early 1800’s. It is on the corner of John and Meeting Streets across from the Charleston Museum. It is open for tours daily. Out of the corner of my eye, I detected clutter on the stairs to the third floor.  Just as my children would leave toys where they last were playing, so too there are 18th and 19th centuries toys as if where the Manigault children last left them before being called down to dinner.This Christmas Tea for Garden Club members yesterday is the only time this museum house is used for entertaining as it was designed to be with homemade tea fare and coffee punch. Garden Club members keep up the garden all year.  I went with my fellow member, June McKnight, who was responsible for the pomanders hanging in the windows in an upstairs room. She is coming over to make some more with me for my windows, too!  Everyone was congratulating June on acing the City of Charleston Guide exam.  She made a 98!  The last time it was offered, sisters Therese and Mary Helen were two of four to pass out of 40!  It is an oral and written exam.  June has been interning with me and will be helping me with tours.  Like my precious, late mother, who did the tours with me for 25 years, June is a pretty,petite, elegant, and very well read lady.  She is reading everything she can get her hands on to do with Historic Charleston, all the classics.  I am encouraging her to have some available for you to purchase from her since she as well as I highly recommend them and quote from them on our tour.

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Living in the Present without Desecrating the Past

The oldest church edifice in the city.  It is still a dynamic church today, upholding the Faith of our Fathers.

The oldest church edifice in the city. It is still a dynamic church today, upholding the Faith of our Fathers.

Living in the present without desecrating the past is still the challenge to Charleston, America’s most historic looking city.  Since the advent of the automobile, Charleston has had the threat of the new American definition of progress challenging historic houses’ right to exist.  Due to the indefatigable efforts of early 20th century preservationists like Susan Pringle Frost, founder of the Preservation Society of Charleston in 1920, who outbid Standard Oil for 18th century houses on Rainbow Row, where a service station would have been built along East Bay, followed by Francis Edmunds, director of the Historic Charleston Foundation for almost 40 years, who  furthered the charge, Charleston is the most distinctly preserved historic city in America. It has always been a challenge; it still is.  The preservation of the Old Charleston way of life, sense of place, and close knit community is what I give you a taste of as if you were old friends from off visiting me for the first time, as well as the history as seen from a South Carolina perspective.  So much American history took place right in the Charleston Harbor, which we see at breakfast from my friend’s home and B&B on East Battery.  Hands on history is the best way to learn, with quotes from diaries and letters and speeches. George Washington’s words at Ground Zero, the neighborhood of his inauguration, still pertain to us.  He like many of our Founding Fathers looked ahead to where we are today, knowing the challenges that come with the blessings of Liberty they procured for us.  Just as “the Spirit of God hovered over the waters” at the Genesis of creation, so, too, the mind of the Founding Fathers contained the vision and pitfalls of all that was to come. “Propitious smiles from Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards eternal rules of Order and Right, which Heaven has ordained.  The preservation of the sacred fire of LIBERTY… is the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.”

Herringbone brickwork lined and creeping fig vine with a hand-wrought bench by Rick Averett.  A scallop in the middle matches the stone disc above.  The circular stone was the keystone to one of the stone access lids on either side of the bench.  They were access lids to the two cisterns behind the main house where rainwater was collected.

Herringbone brickwork lined in creeping fig vine with a hand-wrought bench by Rick Averett. A scallop in the middle matches the stone disc above. The circular stone was the keystone to one of the stone access lids on either side of the bench. They were access lids to the two cisterns behind the main house where rainwater was collected.

And so the experiment of LIBERTY goes on.  We are the ones upon whom those sacred fires depend to burn brightly. “As one small candle may light a thousand, so the light kindled here has shown unto many, yea in some sort to our whole nation.  We have noted these things here so that you might see their worth and not negligently lose what your Fathers have obtained  WITH SO MUCH HARDSHIP. ”    William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation. May we each rise to the challenges in our daily walk to be the government of the people, by the people, and for the people, realizing the part we each play as only we can to keep America strong.  The preservation of the sacred fires of LIBERTY is the “Fire, fire burning bright” entrusted to us.

We were thirteen colonies that bound together.  1 Corinthians 13 is the love chapter. Love will bind us together, from sea to shining sea, as hot coals touching each other  create a flame bigger than alone.

Come to Charleston to get refueled. “Walk on, walk on,  with Hope in your heart, and you never walk alone.  You never walk alone.”                                                                                                                                                                                  I sang these words at my own graduation and have had them in my mind and on my lips with my first born’s college graduation corresponding with my dear mother in hospital for a 16 hour throat cancer “flap” surgery May 8.  May 9th I flew out to attend Olivia’s  graduation from Rhodes College, torn between two loves and loyalties.  See Rhodes College

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Charleston Festivals Launch First Signs of Spring with Walking the Preferred Mode of Transportation

Francis Marion Square is full of white enclosed tents  for the Wine and Food Festival that began March 6.  Bacchus is there in the spirit of conviviality, mirth, and enjoyment of all good tastes and comradeship in which Charleston abounds.  “Ho!  Everyone that thirsteth. Come ye to the water!”  It started wet and chilly here, but chances are not as chilly as where you are, from what I see on the news.  No snow and ice are to be found here.  “For lo, the winter is past.”  Red Bud is in bloom and the purple Japanese Tulip tree, what you may call Magnolia.  “Daffy Down Dilly is come up to town; in her yellow petticoat and her green gown.”

We were kindly the guests of Lisa and Glenn Kline of Houston, who bought our beloved kitchen house on Legare Street.  The Wine and Food Festival culminated with the Jazz Brunch at the Gov. Thomas Bennett House in the garden.  It was actually warm!  The sunshine day was what you picture more of Easter  than the day we spring forward.  Our table started with the most delicious poached egg on an open face benne seed biscuit with an artistic sprinkling of tomato bits and candied bacon, baby arugula, melting Gruyere cheese , and lemon mayonnaise. My husband, who is used to only the best homemade fare, aptly said,”This is not your salad for the masses.”  We then found out it was only our table and one other who had that menu.  I told our server to tell the chef how impressed we were.  Rick Widman at that next table popped over to say it is on the menu at HIS restaurant, 208 King Street KITCHEN, next door to his Fulton Lane Inn, where he used to have the Victoria House Inn.  I have done tours for years out of his inns but never imagined he would venture into the realm of restaurants.  We do break out of the box every now and then, as has his daughter, Lauren, home for sunshine from phd studies in psychology from Wheaton C0llege in Illinois.   She is called to take her counseling skills to places of need around the world, perhaps Turkey.  See KITCHEN208.COM for her dad’s restaurant with great fare and fresh air.

CAMELLIAS are in full bloom, our winter flower that peeks in late February, early March.  I have a platter mounded on my table of choice camellias from the 19th century summer home of the Draytons of Magnolia Plantation, owned now by the Shelbournes in Summerville, some of our best friends and our teenage Godson, Sloan.  While my husband was on a quail shoot at Edisto, I got a spur of the moment quick get-away to bask in their company, home, and camellia garden over last weekend, just as people on my tour get away with friends to invest themselves in what really refreshes the soul, time apart spent with loved ones in a beautiful place like Charleston.  I awoke to see the windows full of camellia bushes, gargantuan in size, all in full bloom.  You can imagine the choice camellias there from the Drayton’s time in the 19th century.  Magnolia Gardens and Plantation now has the largest planting of different varieties of camellias in the world.  Gardens here were designed to peek for the highlight of the social season, The Races, held at Washington Race Course in the 18th and 19th centuries, now Hampton Park.  Plantation owners were the breeders and trainers of these magnificent thoroughbreds.  Camellias compliment the season of festivals beginning today.

Charleston Art and Antiques Forum,  celebrating 300 years of Georgian architecture in Charleston,  is March 12-16.   Our own Tom Savage, past curator here of the Nathaniel Russell House before moving on to the White House and now Winterthur, will be back home speaking at the Forum.  Charleston Antique Show sponsored by Historic Charleston Foundation is unlike any other in its quality of furniture and fine arts as well as in the authenticity of the Old Charleston experience.  It’s no flee market.  The prices reflect it.  You get what you pay for, and it is worth it.  It is March 21-23.

Overlapping the Charleston Antique Show, the city swings into high gear with The Festival of Houses and Gardens, March 20-April 19.  All through college I was their indispensable volunteer docent for these spring candlelight tours for the Historic Charleston Foundation, being moved hither, dither and yon, to wherever they had a need.  The rest of the year I gave tours on weekends and holidays of the Edmonston -Alston House and the Nathanial Russell House.  Frances Edmunds, the director for almost 40 years, was my role model and tutor.  I was blessed to receive a dual education while in college at The College of Charleston, the best a home grown girl could have.  I rose to be Assistant Administrator of the Edmonston-Alson House at 21 E.Battery, a job I stepped into when I graduated from college.  Remembering to lock the door behind me was a challenge!

Come as soon as you can get down your icy road or onto a flight out of your snow and sleet.  I hear there are new great flights into Charleston.  Spring comes in March to Charleston.

WALKING is the best way to see Charleston.  Whoever calls me first can determine the mode of transportation for that day, our feet, or my van.  As on a golf course, the price is the same whether you walk or ride.  As I wrote this paragraph, a lady called for a 60th birthday celebration in Charleston, cheering that they get to walk April 1st. We start with breakfast on the Battery in one of the mansions overlooking the Harbor.  Walking, we stay South of Broad.  We go into the home of the doctor who delivered me, unsurpassed in antiquities and plaster and woodwork.  We see gardens and end with High Tea at noon in my house overlooking the Ashley River.  I gave a walking tour to a happy Yoga class here from Texas for a retreat.  We covered so much of the nooks and crannies of Old Charleston on foot.  They inspired me to stay active with walking tours offered as well as my van tour. Varnetta, who works for me,  spoke to them at High Tea at my house in her Gullah dialect, saying, “My Daddy was a fushamun cross de Cupper…”  I told Varnetta while making the tea fare together that there was no one else in the world I’d rather be with preparing for this group.  We are a team.  You can meet her on Tuesdays and Fridays, she who my husband calls the core of our family’s sanity.  I can’t wait to hear from you as your plans shape up to visit the Holy City of Charleston, which like George Washington, was first in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of all Americans.–Laura Wichmann Hipp–843-577-5896

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Filed under Antiques Shop Til We Drop Tour, breaking routine, Charleston Food and Wine Festival, Charleston is world's top spot, Fesatival of Houses, Festival of Houses, for foodies, Francis Marion, Gardening, group meeting facilities, Gullah Culture, Historic Charleston Foundation, More English Than the English, museum houses before or after private tour, private lunch and group meeting conference room, the Swamp Fox

Charleston Under Attack

Christmas Day 1863 Charleston was under attack.  The War that had started in April, 1860 at Ft. Sumter, when occupied by Union forces, had shifted from the harbor, forts, and islands to the Peninsula of Charleston.  The Peninsula is the Holy City.  It is the concentration of 18th and 19th century humble houses and mansions;  houses of worship and stately buildings.  The homes were occupied by old men, women, and children, as well as by slaves and free persons of color.  There was no peace on earth or good will towards Charleston Christmas Day 1863.  One hundred and fifty years ago, the City was under relentless bombardment by Union ships firing in on the defenceless citizens of all who were not able-bodied enough to be off at war.  Civilians in Charleston died on Christmas Day.  Cannons were aimed at where Union shelling had  started fires in an attempt to increase the flames to “destroy that harmful place”.

Sherman had received word from General Halleck to proceed to  “sow salt on the site afterwards …to prevent future crops of nullification and secession.” They all remembered John C. Calhoun and the Nullification Movement of 1832 that had been the South’s efforts to correct the nation’s course under the Tariff of Abomination.   But it was not Sherman who was here.  He had been received into the life changing experience of Charleston hospitality ten years earlier when stationed here at Ft. Moultrie.  He had danced with Charleston girls, in particular, Caroline Pettigru Carson, daughter of prominent Charleston lawyer and president of the South Carolina Historical Society, James Louis Pettigru.  Perhaps his discourse with the father of this young widow with whom he danced influenced this lawyer’s views, for J.L Pettigru became an ardent Unionist, yet respected and beloved by Charlestonians despite differences of opinions and able to carry on his law practice in Charleston during The War and because of The War.  His daughter Caroline ‘s husband had died leaving her with two toddler boys.  What was she doing going to a dance the same year her husband died when in mourning wearing black?  Playing the part for Margaret Mitchell to model Scarlett after, of course, just as George Trenholm, blockade runner, cotton merchant and Treasurer of the Secretary for The Confederate States of America was modeling the part for Rhett Butler as one the wealthiest men on the continent.  His home on Rutledge was given to Caroline Carson by Sherman at the end of The War, only she could not accept.  How could she ever return to live in Charleston after what Sherman had done to the South?  Their relationship was notorious.  Trenholm got his mansion back; it is now Ashley Hall girls school. ( Our eldest graduated from there four years ago in her long white silk gown, which she wore again June 1 for the party we had in her honor At Home.  If you care to read reflections of it, proceed  with caution to the following entries.)

Despite all Charleston has endured, she has survived as an 18th and 19th century city.  We started the first Preservation Society in America in 1920.  That is a long time to have had the awareness of the importance of preservation.  In 1931 Charleston passed the first city zoning ordinance that set apart the Old and Historic District from  incompatible development.  One hundred and fifty years after the worst Christmas ever, Charleston is awhirl with Christmas parties and black tie debutante balls, packed churches for midnight mass, and coats and ties for Christmas Dinner.  The silver glistens, the white linen sets off the family china.  Carols are sung round the piano.  Oyster roasts are held with the setting sun as the backdrop.

But this Christmas Eve,  caroling was done in ICU by some of the party weary debutantes and Hipp sisters and me.  We wanted  to bring Christmas cheer and good will as we shifted our focus onto the real meaning of Christmas in giving gifts of the heart.  While caroling, a nurse delivered us a note, “Will you please sing ‘Oh Holy Night’ for my husband in room 1?”  Though two of the six of us could not hit the notes on key,  while blissfully unaware, the overall effect was angelic as I heard from down the hall.  The staff also appreciated our bringing Christmas to them as they had to work on Christmas Eve.  The magic sparkle of Christmas falls where you least expect it,  “where meek souls will receive” often far from the glitter.

Imagine… the Spirit of Christmas in the midst of the hardships of the relentless bombardment of Charleston Christmas Day and night 1863.  In the midst of dodging cannon balls, “How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given”.  In the lower peninsula, there were no Christmas Eve services, no caroling through the city or round the tree, no presents waiting to be unwrapped, “Yet in the dark streets shineth the everlasting Light.  The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight.”

I hope in 2014 you are able to give yourself and loved ones the life enriching gift of the experience of the Holy City of Charleston.   You hear quotes from primary sources, which are the means by which you are transported back in time.   Remembering from where we have come is important in the health of a society.  As Americans, born to Liberty, we need to remember who we are.  Founding Fathers are quoted as well.  The humble shall hear thereof and be glad.  Ask me to tell you the story of the freed slave of 1848, Lewis the carpenter, from Edisto, who  was an entrepreneur.  He started “repairing Charleston houses” with his new-found freedom.  Pretty soon he was buying, restoring, and “flipping” houses of Charleston, because in 1848 there were already historic houses over a hundred years old.  There is so much history here, one lifetime is too short to uncover it all.  I keep scratching the surface and sharing with you my findings.

Come!  All who are thirsty, come to the water.  Walk along Folly Beach where George Gershwin collaborated with Dubose Heyward to compose Porgy and Bess, the first American opera.  Go into the private properties with me and set your feet to a saner tempo.  For the streets of Charleston have something to give those that walk them in a receptive mood that will make life forever richer.  As the Charleston Renaissance artists and writers showed, it is a city mellowed by time.

Laura Wichmann Hipp  843-577-5896

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Filed under artist Elizabeth O'Neill Verner, Charleston real estate, Christmas in Charleston, historic churches of Charleston, History, The Holiday Season, War of Northern Aggression

The Holidays Begin with a Rebel Yell

White caps are on the chilly scene outside my window upstairs as I gaze out on the Ashley River.  This particular spot is the favorite feeding ground of the dolphins in from the nearby ocean.  Their fins have been weaving in and out in this window framed living picture, their morning feed in this choppy water.   The sight of them reminds me of my own summer play time in the surf at Kiawah with my husband for a precious two night stay at the Sanctuary after our daughter’s party.  We rode our bikes to the deserted end of this barrier island, Kevin’s story, which will follow, being composed in my mind for miles of wood paths and beach spinning.

I feel today like a mother hen concerned for her brood.  I know that many on my tour who have been in the warmth of my home and table are experiencing the trials of bad weather.  At each meal my husband prays safety for all who are traveling this season.  As I hear about familiar parts of the country hit with this early winter storm from where my tour guests have come, I wonder how you are and if you feel my heart-strings connected to you.  I am lifting you up.  Some of you know… Aslan is on the move!

Many have asked,” How did the party go?” of which I wrote  last time.  We are still partying!  We ushered in “the season” with our June 1st party and dance honoring our daughter, Olivia, now 21.  We rolled up the Aubusson and oriental rugs from our double house front drawing-room; the ballroom it became, voila!  My first boyfriend, Bruce Wallace,  and his Rocky and the Rollers Band from Florida played Beach Music and we danced the night away.  We put the rugs on the one rug remnant as if miraculously cut to fit our back yard, which Stevie Leasure with Carpet Baggers provided.  The back yard with the couches of the front drawing-room was transformed into an outdoor living room.  Mariana Hay of Croghan’s Jewel Box on King provided the many small prismed chandeliers with candles hanging from our Live Oak and our new raised vegetable beds of our vertical garden.  We had a bar on the top floor porch accessible only through our bedroom, the inner sanctum where none of our friends or family had ever been.  Jeff , the workman who restored the second floor porch floor and inside plaster walls was the bartender on the porch, the work of his hands and beautiful for situation with the view of the setting sun and Ashley River.  Reserved tents were never put up.  We were blessed with perfect weather on either side of rain in the wettest summer on record.

We had one hundred pounds of the freshest local shrimp ever seen at a black tie event, provided by Tommy Edwards, who had caught it off Sullivans Island in his shrimp boat and had peeled it all with his wife. Husband Preston and  daughter Olivia danced the first dance and wowed everyone with their love as they shagged, the South Carolina State dance.  Preston SO stole the show dancing the night away with all the young beauties, especially Taylor Swift’s Charleston equal, Elizabeth Scarborough, that her  mother was so embarrassed that she decided she had to had to help throw an oyster roast this Christmas for Olivia with the Freshleys and Bairds at Live Oak Plantation, home and working plantation of the doctor who delivered our three girls, Dr. Rebecca Gregorie Baird and her doctor husband, David.  They are doctors to support their farming habit.  We buy free range eggs and grass-fed beef from them where “the livin is easy”,  at least for the cows and chickens.  Their two eldest, Wills and Janie, have graduated from the Naval Academy at Annapolis.  Our Godson, their youngest, Gregorie Baird is infected with the same patriotism, saying he tears up every time we sing My Country T’is of Thee, which is every Sunday at St. Philip’s, the oldest congregation south of Virginia.  There is something still about the South..

We still have not put the rugs back down in the front drawing-room  at Thanksgiving, though it is time with the drafts of old Charleston houses.  My husband had two small dinner dance parties in November to lessen the blow of my being another year older.   Maine lobster was flown in and served on a bed of creamy grits with hot grape tomatoes and freshly grated corn, a recipe I first enjoyed at STARS restaurant.  Prosciutto wrapped blanched asparagus was passed.  Ron Yeager, who I grew up with from James Island, was the chef.  We all felt very grown up.  I especially feel that way when I look in the mirror.  Sobering.  But all was lighthearted and gay at the parties, as if we were  the young things.  My husband looks ten years younger than he is.  I believe I do, too, when looking at him.  Come have a look for yourself.  He occasionally pops in on my tours at lunch.

Dare to give a party this season.  Bring people together.  Break out of the routine and make the season bright for your family, friends and neighbors.  “What the world needs now is love, sweet love; it’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.”  Though it is pressure and expense to prepare, the gift to others and the memories to savor make it worth it in the end.

Help and encouragement come in unexpected places.  Before the June first black tie party for our daughter, I was feeling weighted down, oppressed by the negative expectations of those closest to me, you know the kind who get antsy that all your plans are going to flop and that the first party of “the season” is going to be a memorable embarrassment.  As my new friend, Judith Wadson from Bermuda says, it’s your own flees that bite the hardest.  It is part of the human condition.  We are shaped by people’s assessments of us.  Peer pressure can be for good or ill.  It continues all our lives.  Loved ones can put labels on you, and you are pigeon holed to all abroad, all in good humor,  but nonetheless trapped in your own self-image of other’s making that you have accepted and worn.  I am familiar with it; I felt it in school.

A few days before the party, I was following my list, planting white flowers in the front garden for the all white debutante look, “majoring in minors” as my husband calls it, when I cried out to the Lord to give me a sign that I was going to defy expectations and produce a winning success.  Along came an acquaintance I knew from 21 years ago, walking with his partner.  He still works as a men’s hair dresser as he did when another hairdresser,Kevin, worked with him back when I was  pregnant with Olivia, 21 years ago.  I always have wondered how Kevin is today, if he is still alive, still married, and still…well, straight.

KEVIN’S STORY is the exception, I know.  If ever there was a man born to be a homosexual, it was Kevin.  He fit the full stereotype of the limp wrist, effeminate, expressive  type.  He was a practicing homosexual living with his architect partner.  This partner had designed and built a house for the two of them.  Kevin had it made.  He loved his partner and loved his job. He loved his life.

Kevin’s partner’s mother would invite them to Sunday dinner after church.  Kevin loved the whole cultural package.  He had not been raised in the church, had never read or heard the Bible, had never sung the hymns.  It was all a new experience in the wonder of life in all its fullness.  The congregation loved them as they loved his partner’s mother.  Kevin felt warmed and embraced.  The pastor asked if anyone would like to join the church and get baptised.  Kevin was amazed that they were open to new members like himself, an infant in the faith, untaught, unchurched.  Yes, this was the only church he had ever known.  He would join and get baptised.

And so, they gave him a Bible.  “A Bible?  You’re giving me a Bible?!  No one has ever given me a Bible!”  He had heard of it but had never held one in his own hands.  He knew it was holy.  He also knew what to do with it, that it was not an ornament to be placed on a shelf to collect dust.

He read it.  He started at the beginning.  Faithfully he would plow through the stories of Genesis, Exodus, and then  Leviticus.  He was stunned; how graphic and specific the law was.  Incredulous, he read out loud to his partner where it said, “a man shall not lie with a man; this is an abomination to the Lord.”  “What can this mean?” he asked his partner, perplexed.  “Look”, said his partner uneasily and perturbed, “if you’re gonna try to justify our lifestyle by THAT BOOK—FORGET IT!”  There the schism began.  His partner hoped that would be the end of That Book in their lives.  But it was only the beginning.  Kevin had read enough to have become convinced of who God was, that His ways are not our ways.  Kevin responded out of the abundance of his heart, “If this book says we are not supposed to be living like this, then we must be wrong, because this is THE BIBLE!”  The consequences were profound.  It was not an easy decision to stay the course with the Bible rather than with his partner.  He did stay, thinking he could love his partner to the truth of That Book, but he had rejected it long before Kevin came into his life.

Kevin ended up getting married.  To a woman.   She was a young widow whose husband had taken his life.  We went to the wedding 21 years ago.  There was great hilarity at this wedding.  “For lo, the winter is past, and the spring has come to the land…”

I lost touch with Kevin, only knowing him for a season before my life changed by having three children.  The hairdresser who walked by my front garden was my link.  I dared to ask if he remembered him.  “Yes, of course.”  “Is he still married?”  “Oh, yes.”  “To the same woman?”  “Yes, yes.”  “Is he…still involved with the church?”  “Oh, for heaven’s sakes, yes.”  “How do you know?”  “Because every time they come to town to visit us at the hair salon with their son, every other word is ‘God bless you.’ ”  “He has a son?”  “OH, yes, he’s 18 now.”  “A life that would not have been  on this earth if his father had not…”  “That’s right…  It was just the time when my partner and I first came to Charleston, 21 years ago, that Kevin got married,”  he said.  He introduced me to his long-standing partner on the walk with him in front of my house.

We humans are complex creatures, with the innate ability to defy expectations others pin on us like a donkey’s tale.  As Dr. Eban Alexander, neurosurgeon and author says,  “We make real choices.  True thought is not the brain’s affair.  But we have been so trained to associate our brains with what we think and who we are that we have lost the ability to realize that we are much more than the physical bodies that do our bidding.  True thought is pre-physical.  It is the thinking- behind- the -thinking that is responsible for all the genuinely consequential choices we make in the world.  A thinking that is not dependent on linear deduction, but that moves fast as lightning, making connections on all different levels, bringing them together.”

Kevin’s story of defying the odds gave me the inspiration I needed.  Miracles began to happen as it all came together.  With each accomplished detail leading to The Party came from me a rebel yell, for “Shouts of joy and songs of victory are in the tents of the righteous.”  “Whoo-Hoo!”   Olivia imitates me to perfection.  I grabbed the victory from the jaws of defeat with each shout of thanksgiving, with Kevin’s story for inspiration.  The party was a game changer, they said, unpretentious, though over the top, with white flowers evrywhere, roses, lillies, and snapdragons, using our Charleston home as it was built to be used for entertaining.

Break out!  Defy the labels on you, or that you have put on others.  See others as whole people, not as stereotypes.  Be creative; turn off the noise and  tune in.  We have so much creativity within us the world has yet to see, symphonies to compose, books to write, poems and songs teasing our minds.  I believe that just as there is “great perplexity among the nations concerning the seas and the roaring of its waves” as sea levels rise and storms increase, as predicted by Jesus, one of the many signs of His Second Advent, so deeper sea levels of His creative force, measure for measure,  are rising across the land.  Within this new and deeper wave of His Spirit, there are answers to the mess we’ve made in the world.  We are the solution, each one of us, His still, small voice speaking to direct those who have an ear to hear.

Like the pathologist, Daniel Massi, our daughter Delia’s Godfather, saving Ft Jackson hospital tens of thousands of dollars by eliminating the wasteful out hospital spending, and Jane Nicholas, back to Charleston for our first College Prep highschool reunion, asking with her fellow workers in Pensacola, Florida in their county office what would the Lord have them do with each decision, saving the government money there as well, so too we in our sphere can make a difference, as only we can. This is my hope for America, my hope for the New Year, my Christmas message.   Think of that baby conceived to an unwed mother who defied the odds, labels, and humble beginnings and became proclaimed King of the Jews.   May we hear the angels sing, “Peace. Good will to all men.”  Listen.  Can you hear? As my friend Pringle says, you don’t have to be a saint to hear Jesus speak.  As my father says, Christians don’t have a cornerstone on God. He loves us all.  We are each his delight!  We are His preoccupation as a parent with his child.  His heart thrills when we look His way and thank Him,  the giver of all we enjoy, the ultimate lover of our souls.

God bless us, every one.  Stay safe and warm.  Call me when you can come on a tour, or when you need to share.  Leave a comment.  Thank you for reading to the end of this long-awaited freshly pressed post from my personal  life and inner thoughts not shared on a tour.–Laura Wichmann Hipp  843-577-5896

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Filed under breaking routine, Christmas in Charleston, heart tug, national architect from Charleston, saving on wasteful spending, The Holiday Season