“It may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but you gotta serve somebody,” says Bob Dylan. Thank you, my guests, for allowing me, your servant, the opportunity and privilege to “shout to the North and the South, sing to the East and the West,” “from the colors of fall to the fragrance of spring.” It is indescribable, uncontainable this experience of sharing the passion of the Holy City of Charleston with you. For those of us who are blessed to be called Charlestonians, our city is hallowed ground, set apart for a special purpose, peculiar, distinct and different, which is what the word “holy” means in Greek.
I believe it was the Jewish people who gave Charleston the nick name the Holy City. Who else could? Our guarantee of religious freedom and tolerance in our colony brought us some of the first Jewish immigrants. When the Marquis de Lafayette visited every state for our 50th Anniversary as a nation, it was Charleston who first presented the Jewish congregations to the Nation’s Guest along with Christian congregations and ethnic and civic societies. It was here that his secretary Levasseur first wrote of the disproportional contribution the Jewish volunteers made to the American Cause for LIBERTY. Here they were considered “A Portion of the People”.
We are geographically set apart on the Peninsula for a special purpose and grow more peculiar, distinct and different as the rest of the world changes and we preserve our heritage both architecturally and culturally. “Where are the sky scrapers, the business section” many of you ask. “I need to get my bearings.” I answer, “Our church steeples are still our sky scrapers.”Despite wars, fires, hurricanes, tornadoes, Earthquake of 1886, British bombardment, Union bombardment, ransacking, and the ravages of time, Charleston still looks like the oldest city in America. We formed the first Preservation Society of any city in the nation in 1920 under Susan Pringle Frost.
“People come here who have heard rumors from friends of an old city still left with high walls, and gardens barely visible through wrought iron gates, of houses with plum colored roofs. We have something new for their eyes to see. If you are weary of the syncopated unrest of a crazy world, come here and set your feet to a saner tempo. ‘What would we gain by that’, you ask; ‘all we’d accomplish would be to get out of step with the rest of the world.’ We do not argue the point, but if you would only do it for a bit, you would leave us wiser than when you came; for the streets of Charleston have something to give them who walk them in a receptive mood that will make life forever richer.”
Beware! The Holy City of Charleston is infectious! I am a servant of the Holy City as one says trying to convert you at every turn, to allow that passion I have to be yours as well. It is a rich history here with many layers still to be unpeeled, held within family portraits, papers, diaries, letters, and unpublished novels. Charles Waring, editor of the salmon papers of the Charleston Mercury, told me last night at The Wedding at St. Philip’s on Church Street of our minister’s daughter, Katie, that he has an unpublished novel by an ancestor of his family about Lafeyette! I want to read that historic fiction, as those of you who have heard me wax poetic about this French Founding Father can imagine. One life time is too short to discover all the facets of our city’s heritage. Come and see! “Ho! Everyone that thirsteth, come ye to the water. Ye that have no money, come ye buy and eat. Wherefore do you give your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which satisfieth not?”
I look forward to meeting you, feeding both body and soul if you are in a receptive mood. A sumptuous feast of the senses awaits you!–Laura Wichmann Hipp 843-577-5896