Category Archives: museum houses before or after private tour

The Acorn Motif, and other American Symbols of Thankfulness and Hospitality

Another year older, another year deeper in debt, in debt to my mother and father, Marianne and Fred Wichmann for my life; to The One who gave me breath and an added year to my purpose here on earth; to The One  who teaches me to “so number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom”.

I am blessed with the exclusive privilege of taking my tours into the home of the doctor who delivered me over a half century ago.  It is an Antebellum home in the Greek Revival style. There, in the Antebellum arch over wide pocket doors, is carved the Acorn Motif, under which you can imagine ladies in hoop skirts in the 1850’s-60’s. This house was the home of a signer of the Ordinance of Secession, Wm. Pinckney Schingler. Miraculously his two houses in Charleston survived both the War Between the States and the Great Conflagration of 1861 that went right through this block.

Why the Acorn?  This year my eye focused on this motif being repeated all around Charleston.  Most noticeably it is in the Edmondston-Alston House at 21 East Battery, where I got my training from my college days and after graduation where I was the second in charge of this museum house open to the public. Into focus came a 19th century photograph of High Battery that is blown up at my husband’s Yacht Club that I have seen repeatedly.  This time I noticed in the photo that the posts of the Battery Wall had Acorn Finials. My friend through a series of miracles bought a house on lower King a few doors down from my mother’s.  There on her first morning I found that her brick columns are ornamented with the SAME Acorns I had seen in the 19th century Battery Wall photo, acorns that no longer exist atop the posts of the Battery wall. Why is this exciting to me? Because of the symbolism.  Our Founding Fathers were wanting to carry on a message encrypted if you will in the everyday world around them SO THAT WE WOULD REMEMBER.

What was the symbolism?

I tell you on location as we stand under the arch where the Acorn wood carvings are.  I don’t want to spoil it for you by telling you now, though it is tempting.  The sublime simplicity is a story worth telling and worth hearing with the history that puts it in context.  It takes the whole tour to “get it”.  This unveiling of symbolism with quotes from primary sources is why I was an English major and history minor. I quote the literary people and Founding Fathers and patriarchs who were more eloquent than I, whose words are worth repeating in the power and beauty of the spoken word  as we gaze at the magnificent architecture of a bygone era.

The number THIRTEEN is an American symbol as well as the Acorn.  There is nothing unlucky for us in this number for of course we were founded as Thirteen Colonies.  The Founding Fathers were very tuned in to the number thirteen.  It contained the key to America’s success, to how we could be united across a continent, bigger than powerful countries of Europe put together.  Where did the key lie in the number thirteen?  “Though I speak with the tongue of men and of angels yet have not love, I am a noisy gong and clanging cymbal.” I Corinthians chapter 13. The number Thirteen is repeated on our one dollar bill in Thirteen stars and more.  Look with a magnifying glass.  Where do we see this number Thirteen in Charleston?  One of the most popular pieces of furniture that all my relatives have in their Charleston houses is the secretary desk with two glass doors.  Each door is a Chippendale design with Thirteen panes. It is for a moment in the recent film, War Room. Though designed by Thomas Chippendale in England, it became a popular adopted American favorite and symbol.

George Washington warned in his Farewell Address of what Revelation chapter 13 warns of as well, another Thirteen, of which more Biblically literate past generations would have been familiar. “It is the nature of government to expand.  It must be kept under many checks and balances.” Revelation 13 warns of the day when government has grown so large that the earth has a One World Government, in order to have, as our present president says, “a level playing field.”

Because my eyes and ears are trained to look for symbolism as an English major and daughter of an English major and as one who was trained by an excellent Bible teacher from 9th grade on, I see and hear symbolism everywhere for myself, like an epiphany. Symbolism is in dreams and on the news. It is very simple once you see it. Why did the terrorists attack in Paris happen last Friday? It was chosen to be date to remember but also to point as a warning to America.  It happened on November 13.  The Thirteen points to America, which started with 13 colonies.  How did they choose the particular band concert?  They liked the name. Eagle and Death were in it.  America is the Eagle.  Our enemies want death to America and to our Judaeo-Christian Civilization.  They want us in retreat, the Lion, Great Britain, with the Great Eagle, plucked feather by feather, until naked and ineffectual, as the prophet Daniel foresaw in his visions where KINGDOMS RISE AND FALL.

Why the airplane bomb in the soda can?  What did the soda can say?  Shweppes? Gold?  Pineapple? Our enemies want to “sweep” their enemies out of their way, to make the value of our economy or “gold” drop, and they want our Judaeo-Christian open-door hospitality to blow up in our faces, represented by the pineapple, the symbol of hospitality.  Hospitality IS our gold, our way of life, our identity. If we stop being hospitable to strangers, we will lose the magic that makes this country great.  Our enemies can take away everything, our comfort and ease, our heat and air by the grid, but they can never take our free will.  We have the power to choose our own Attitude toward them and to strangers.  Never underestimate the Power of Free Will.

My mother was naturally shy and in the bombings of WWll did not do any entertaining growing up. Doing the tours and bringing them to her garden for tea was a big step of hospitality for her.  I inherited a plaque from her which says,

“Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” Hebrews 13:2.

There is a remnant in every tribe, every tongue, and every nation that has ears to hear and eyes to see.  WE have the Good News they need.  These troubled times call for being “wise as serpents, and innocent as doves.” “The price of Liberty is eternal vigilance.”

Why else might the word pineapple  have been the choice of the can pictured by those who claimed to have been responsible for the Russian bound plane? I wonder if it was meant to bring a shudder to one particular person.  Where do pineapples grow? Where is our president from?  Where did World War II start for America? We must humble ourselves and ask protection for all leaders in authority as well as those brave enough to run for the presidential office. Let us not deceive ourselves. These acts of terrorism are the implements of war and world domination through intimidation. “Are we disposed to be of the number of those who have eyes but see not, and having ears hear not the things that so nearly concern our temporal salvation?  Let us know the whole truth,”said  Patrick Henry.

Our 17 year old dreamed the night before the thirteenth that evil was after her in the form of a robot.  It was a long nightmare saved by the ending where she was cornered with no escape.  She and I in the dream started singing Amazing Grace.  Soon the whole world was singing with us and the evil was rendered null and void. These are not the things I say on the tour, but “the times, they are a changin.” Writing gives me more space to share thoughts. We all want some answers and direction. “The lamp of experience must guide our feet. We judge the future by the past,” said Patrick Henry. Thomas Jefferson bought a copy of the Koran to understand the Muslim religion and laws to see why Barbary Coast pirates targeted us. The second half of their holy book reveals their orders, to kill the infidels, the Christians and Jews, wherever you find them. We study history and art and literature to understand our present state; otherwise, “The people perish for lack of knowledge.”

For small tours of 2-4 people call June at 843-577-5896.  For small groups of 5 or more call me, Laura, at 843-708-2228.  We are excited about the history and the choice properties we are privileged to share because the Spirit of Hospitality is still alive in The Holy City of Charleston. We remember who we are, from generation to generation. We are the land of the free and the home of the brave.  May the circle be unbroken, I show you in the Guilloche pattern of architecture.    Laura Wichmann Hipp


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Filed under 13, Acorn motif, Antebellum Charleston, breaking routine, Eagle, entertaining, Founding Fathers, Greek Revival, King St., Manners in Charleston, Mother-Daughter Tour, museum houses before or after private tour, pineapple, Shemitah

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


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

Opportunities to Make Others Thankful

Yesterday I broke routine to receive a phone call from someone to whom I had written a letter because of an article in the Post and Courier.  Later his mother called to thank me for my letter her son had just read to her.  I am thankful for the boundless opportunities provided by our reporters to step into someone else’s shoes and not only to be thankful for what we have in contrast but to make a difference in the lives of those in our Charleston community we read about in our newspaper.

 Everyone feels compassion, the kindness of a stranger for victims of tragedy and life’s sudden reversals.  Feeling compassion does not make you a compassionate person; it is acting on that heart tug that can make the difference.  We think, how can I make a difference with my little mite, but if we follow through with that urge and mustard seed of an idea, we can change the course of someone’s day, and perhaps someone’s life.

 I read the article on Mills Adams at Mars Hill College in the Sports section, to which I rarely turn.  It was lying open on the kitchen counter when I came down to cook breakfast for the family and caught my eye with its title of “It Feels Like I’m Playing with Fire”.  I learned that whites as well as blacks can carry the sickle cell trait as Mills does.  He is living his dream of playing football for college, despite playing with fire with the risks associated with being a carrier of sickle cell.

 I wrote him that I had a heart for those with this ailment from my association with the late Albertha Stokes, the beloved Gullah Flower Lady on the corner of St. Michael’s Alley and Meeting.  Though her baskets were not the most impressive, I always encouraged my tours to buy from her because her heart was always in songs and spirituals.  We loved each other so. She would bake me lemon cream cheese pound cake for my teas parties in appreciation, telling me after many years, that my support made a difference in the care she was able to provide for her daughter, who she said had “the sickle cellemia”.  This daughter would eventual pass away before her mother and father. 

 I also wrote Mills that I would like to offer him and his family a complimentary tour of Charleston, enclosing a signed gift card for my tour business, which has always been my career.   

He said I had no idea how much this letter and offer meant to him, that he was a history major, and though from the Charleston area, he had NEVER been in ANY historic houses of Charleston.  He had always wanted to see inside some and learn the history, but he dared not even mention it to his mom, because as a single mom, he says, she trys so hard to make ends meet for her two boys, sacrificing her own needs. 

 When his mother called, she gave me a fleshed out picture of their challenges, struggles, and reversals.  Just an encouraging word to let them know that there are those who care in Charleston meant the world.  The Post and Courier article is what made this connection between us possible.

 I want give money to  either the Coastal Community Foundation or to St. Philip’s and designate that money  be given to help this family this Christmas.  The mom needs to buy a car as she does not have one at the moment.  She also needs help with presents for her boys, one still home in highschool.  There are no life’s extras for them.  It will be a challenge for them to get to Charleston for my tour and for her son to get home from the North Carolina mountains for Thanksgiving and Christmas.  But with this mom, where there is a will, there is a way.  She has moved mountains already for her children.

 I do not pat myself on the back.  There are many opportunities I intend to take and miss.  The road to hell is paved with good intentions.  The important thing, I tell myself,  is to act on the little that is on our heart to do and not to delay a day.  Respond to that still, small voice only our heart can hear.  We each can make a difference in being a city on a hill, whose light cannot be hidden, the best city in America.  Carpe Diem!

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Filed under Albertha Stokes, breaking routine, Conde Naste, for foodies, Gullah Culture, heart tug, History, Lemon Cream Cheese Pound Cake, Mills Adams, museum houses before or after private tour, Press, Uncategorized

Museum Pass a Good Value

During the weekends, Fridays through Sundays, the Museum Mile Weekend Pass offers good value.  The tickets are $25 per person and $10 for children.  For those coming on my private tour, we do not go into museum houses, only private homes and gardens.  I  LOVE these museum houses and got my start giving tours in them in college.  If you come on a week day for my tour, offered Mondays through Fridays, plan to take advantage of the Museum Mile Weekend  Pass.  If you order it, it is best to start with it on Friday morning.  Schedule a tour with me either Thursday before or Monday after if you can stay that long. Artist Elizabeth O’Neill Verner said, ” If you are weary of the syncopated unrest of a crazy world, come here and set your feet to a saner tempo…for the streets (AND MUSEUMS) of Charleston  have some thing to give those who walk them in a receptive mood that will  make life forever richer.”

One of the museums is The Governor Aiken -Rhett House, one of my favorites because IT IS PRESERVED rather than “renovated.”  The collection is original and tells the story of Gov AIKEN, known for “moderation in all things,” and his daughter marrying the son of the Fire Eater, Senator Robert Barnwell RHETT, who argued for independence for the State of South Carolina;  thus the name the Gov. Aiken-Rhett House, at 48 Elizabeth St.

Another favorite is the Powder Magazine on 79 Cumberland St near St. Philips and the Market.  It is a humble little building that carried a big bang.  It is where the gun powder was stored to defend Charleston fr0om invasion from Spaniards and French and Indians in the Colonial period of the 18th century.  It will be celebrating its 300th anniversary soon.  The man who was Powder Receiver was the most respected man in the colony; he had the security of the entire city on his shoulders.  The moving of that gun powder to the Powder Magazine was the sensitive bomb with a bang.  The groin architecture is European in strength and beauty, three feet thick.

The Confederate Museum is upstairs in the Market Hall facing Meeting Street and Charleston Place at the foot of Beaufain and where the Market begins.  It is lost in time, the collection having been dropped off by individual Confederate soldiers here in Charleston for a reunion 20 years after The War.  I had saved it in my youth so that I would have something still to discover in Charleston.  One day I was asked by the Preservation Society to give a tour for Lord and Lady Salisbury.  It was raining torentially.  They wanted to go anyway.  In particular, he wanted to go to the Confederate Museum.  They were elegant, beautifully mannered people.  He was the epitome of a perfect gentleman, racing around as fast as a servant to open my door for me and to anticipate my every need.  God bless him.  He wanted to go to the Confederate Museum.  This was OVER 20 years ago.  Doubtfully, I told him it was not professionally done with choice collections under glass and climate controlled, that experts had told me that it should have been on many floors, not all together packed into one room.  He taught me a lasting lesson when he said,”Young lady, THAT IS A REAL MUSEUM!”  The Daughters of the Confederacy run the museum and took the collection home to air dry after the roof was blown off in Hurricane Hugo in 1989.  They are committed to providing this access to the real memorabilia of the Confederacy.

The Edmondston-Alston House at 21 East Battery is where I worked during college and then as assistant administrator after graduating from the College of Charleston.  It overlooks the harbor and Ft. Sumter, where The War started 150 years ago.  Hester Bateman silver is in the dining room, exquisite.  Susan Pringle Alston portrait is there, too, which she had painted on her grand tour of Europe, probably by a street artist in Paris or Florence, as my daughter Olivia did.  The frame and style are the same as one we see in a private home on my tour from the same period.  The books in the library and the furniture are all original to the Alston family, rice planters, reflecting the interests and lifestyle of this Charleston aristocratic family.  Charles Alston’s father married the Pringle daughter at the Miles Brewton House on lower King with the cheveau de frise, the spikey iron fence.  His father was Wm. Alston, called King Billy!   See the book by Richard Cote, Mary’s World.

Who can come to Charleston without seeing the free flying eliptical staircase of the Nathanial Russell House,  51 MeetingSt.?  It is the quintessential Adam style house, which never went out of style in Charleston.   Who can say they have seen Charleston if they have never seen Thomas Elfe furniture, our premiere cabinet maker from the 18th century?  His work is prolific in the Heyward- Washington House.  Note the letters  from Edward Rutledge asking President George Washington to stay at his house, and George Washington’s carefully worded regret, saying he could show no favoritism, that he must rent a house.The kitchen house and formal garden are worth the visit, maintained by The Garden Club of Charleston.

The Gibbes Museum of Art is a very human scale art museum at 135 Meeting where you can see the faces of the people Who Built This City.

See the old Exchange and Provost Dungeon at the foot of Broad, where the British imprisoned signers of the Declaration of Independence along with common criminals during the British siege of Charleston.  It is also where the tea was stored by locals from the Charleston Tea Party, the FIRST 18th century tea party in America before those more flamboyant in Boston took the credit, thus the name of my tour!

For a complete, unbiased listing, see or the Charleston Visitors Center, where the tickets may be purchased.

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Filed under History, museum houses before or after private tour