While the Northeast is battling fallen trees and pounding wind and rain, Charleston is astir with the sights and scents of Spring. Escape! Do whatever you can! Come quick! Bright yellow bursts of Lady Banks Rose, Carolina Jasmine, and points of snapdragons are in my garden along with the smiling faces dancing in the wind of the pansies, poppies, and johnny jump ups that bounced back from the rare winter ice and snow along with mounds of cilantro and lettuces for salads. It seems our wintry blast has given us the beginnings of a spectacular spring that is satisfying the color deprived eyes to behold.
Did my citrus survive? All my friends want to know who depend on gifts of my homemade calamondin marmalade. While I lost a satsuma orange tree in the back garden that had produced the most prolific crop of its life, my two calamondin orange trees are showing green stems and the first hint of leaves to come. The grapefruit tree is in a new coat of tender green leaves, which is a surprise because grapefruit are the least cold tolerant. That is why I planted it closest to the house. Last night I saw what took my breath away in the back garden. I actually thought someone had put little wispy white lights on my persimmon tree on every to-the-sky reaching branch. It was the clusters of new leaves catching the full moon light, a magical moment from the Light of Heaven. When you come on my tour, ask me to show you these behind the scenes treasures of mine.
Another treasure recently acquired is an American mahogany secretary-desk-linen press. While it doesn’t produce fruit, it does fit into my tour and has the added bonus of hiding my daily used books and linens. It is the kind with thirteen panes of glass on each of the two doors. Thomas Chippendale designed such secretary desks, which then were made by cabinet makers on both sides of the Atlantic. While Chippendale did not have our Thirteen Colonies in mind, the design in time came to be associated with celebrating America’s Thirteen Colonies, Great Britain’s most valuable possessions, when the sun never set on the British Empire, and then our Liberty. I had gone to one of my favorite antique shops to buy a wedding present, having felt compelled to go at that moment, though out of my way. I found the silver wine coaster wedding present and was reading the write up on the secretary desk, not really considering buying it, when I heard a voice behind me saying, “You know, you really should buy that piece.” “Who is this brazen salesman?” I thought as I whisked around. It was Jeff Miller, our minister at St. Philips, the Billy Graham of Charleston! How much more clear a direction can you get than that? Come and see! It is a practical, utilitarian piece made back when furniture was also a work of art.
Charleston was a haven for such creativity of skilled craftsmen: cabinet makers, silversmiths, iron workers, all vying with each other as to who could come up with the most pleasing design. The subtle inlay and crotchet mahogany and valanced pigeon holes show the skill of an artist who loved his work. I think it must have been the desk of the lady of the house with it having slides on the bottom half for linens.
What tidbit of history thrills me most to have recently learned? I have been quoting our state motto for years without knowing how it came to be ours. Dum spiro spero. While I breath, I hope. There is a narrowing ring within the ring of Charlestonians with whom I enjoy talking history who are the keepers of The Knowledge. Vic Brandt, who came to my father’s 88th birthday dinner party and gave wonderful toasts, told me the origin of our State of South Carolina motto. It was the motto of our namesake, King Charles I. He wrote it all his life in the front page of his books along with his name.
If only while he breathed and hoped he had called British Parliament to meet, King Charles I may have managed to keep his head. As it was, for this offense, Parliament, under the rule of Oliver Cromwell, said, “Off with his head!” As King Charles I was bound as a common criminal and led to the gallows, he objected to this undignified treatment. His chaplain said, “Do you not see that this is the last likeness to our Lord and Savior Jesus, who like you was treated as a common criminal?” With that word, Charles I went quietly to his death.
Our guys, who were given Carolina, the eight lords proprietors, were on his side. These eight lords risked their own lives and properties to REESTABLISH the monarchy after it had been abolished in a very memorable way. Cromwell had the head of King Charles I stuck on one of the spokes of the Houses of Parliament. When Oliver Cromwell died of natural causes and his son Richard Cromwell proved ineffectual, these eight lords got together to reestablish the monarchy, searching high and low for the king’s son, Charles 11, who had been chased like a fox by the hounds all over Great Britain by the Puritans. He had found refuge in France where he was raised like a member of the court of France and as a Catholic, the only option, when France was burning French Huguenots at the stake. To be king of England, Charles II had to give up Catholicism and become Anglican, which became The Church of England. In appreciation, Charles II gave these eight lords this land from where I write, called Carolina, which was North and South Carolina, Georgia, and large parts of Florida. By the way, Charles II also stuck Cromwell’s head on the spokes of the Houses of Parliament with the difference being Cromwell had been dead for quite some time.
Thus began the reign of the Merry Monarch during whose reign we were established. This period in England is known as The Restoration Period, when England was restored to herself. The history of Great Britain is that of being a monarchy. Artwork and literature and theater life came out of the Restoration Period. Ask to see our Hogarth etching original from the copper plate. I gave it to our daughter, Olivia, for her 21st birthday because she had studied the Restoration Period that summer at Oxford University. As theaters reopened in London that had been closed during the Puritan era, we here in Charles Town built the first theater in America, the Dock Street Theater, then “little more than a barn at the corner of Church and the Streete which leadeth to the Docks.” Adam style woodwork from the Thomas Radcliffe House was recycled into its drawing rooms in the 1930s making it a more elegant drawing card for theater life today. Search out what is playing for your visit and order tickets now, especially if coming later during the Spoleto Festival in late May and early June.
June and I do the tours as you call for reservations on weekdays only as we take you to private houses and gardens of hospitable friends who love us. We are blessed to share the blessings with those of you who appreciate the sacrificial spirit of hospitality still alive in America. We look forward to hearing from you. Thank you for reading. It is a fascinating history we have here. I can’t wait to show you what I am writing about. Laura Wichmann Hipp 843-708-2228