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Houses of Worship: Charleston, South Carolina

Houses of Worship in Charleston SCWe started our second day in Charleston with a houses of worship tour. There were many more sites than the ones I had chosen, but time was a constraint, and we planned to return for a longer stay in the future. Our tour had actually begun the previous day on Sullivan’s Island when I spotted the steeple tower of Stella Maris Roman Catholic Church projecting high over Fort Moultrie. See photo of the fort and the church in my post about Fort Moultrie.

The current Stella Maris Roman Catholic Church is the second Catholic church on Sullivan’s Island, and is one of the oldest in the Charleston area. The first church to sit on the site was the Church of St. John the Baptist. Miraculously, it survived the extensive bombing of Fort Moultrie by federal troops and was the only public building left standing after the Civil War. The initial plan called for a restoration of the small wooden building. But Father Bermingham, vicar general of the Diocese of Charleston, decided to build a new church. He bought the present-day lot for $100 and was granted permission by the secretary of the war to use bricks from the ruins of Fort Moultrie to build the new church. Working side by side, Protestants and Catholics, most of them Irish immigrants who had come to the island to work on projects carried out by the Army Corps of Engineers, helped with the construction of the church. Upon completion, an elaborate ceremony was held to celebrate the dedication of Stella Maris. In attendance were both Protestants and Catholics.

St. Philip's Episcopal Church

St. Philip’s Episcopal Church

First on my list was the Circular Congregational Church on Meeting Street, originally called the White Meeting House. Founded in 1681 by early colonialists, it was the city’s first non-Anglican church. The colonialists were labeled “dissenters,” and therefore forbidden to call the church a house of worship, only a meeting house. In 1804, the wooden meeting house was replaced with a circular brick building, which was destroyed by fire in 1861. In 1890, bricks from the ruins were used to create the present-day church. A stroll through the church’s cemetery is a must. One tombstone dates back to 1695.

Our next stop was St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, home to the oldest religious congregation in South Carolina and the first Anglican church south of Virginia. The first St. Philip’s Church was built between 1680 and 1681, a modest wooden building located at the corner of Board and Meeting streets. It was damaged in a hurricane in 1710, and a new St. Philip’s Church was built a few blocks away on Church Street. After several setbacks, the church was finally completed in 1723, but it burned to the ground in 1835 and was reconstructed.

St. Michael’s Episcopal Church

St. Michael’s Episcopal Church

What lured me to St. Michael’s Episcopal Church was its iconic 186-foot-high massive white spire with eight bells imported from England in 1764. Of note, it was here in the cedar-box pews that George Washington and General Robert E. Lee worshipped. The first church to sit on this site was the first St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, the wooden building damaged by the hurricane of 1710.

A friendly woman welcomed us as we climbed the steps to the French Huguenot Church. I first learned about the denomination while living in South Africa. The church traces its beginnings to 1680 when French Protestants—Huguenots—were sent by King Charles II to the new colony as artisans and tradesmen. In 1685, when the Edict of Nantes (1598) was revoked, Huguenots arrived in numbers in America, where they could freely practice their Calvinistic faith. The Gothic Revival-style structure was built of brick and covered in rose-tinted stucco, complementing the roof’s black iron finials. I was quite captivated by the church’s appearance.

French Huguenot Church - houses of worshipThe Edict of Nantes was, in my opinion, Henri IV’s greatest achievement. The terms of the edict ensured the peaceful coexistence of Catholics and Protestants and ended religious hostilities in France after thirty-six years of civil warfare. But in 1685, Louis XIV revoked the edict, and a Protestant exodus began. The French Huguenots who fled France for South Africa arrived in the Cape of Good Hope between 1688 and 1689. These French immigrants and their descendants made important contributions to the Western Cape’s viticulture and oenology industries, and to this day, a number of wine estates still bear their Huguenot surnames.

The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist has dominated the Charleston landscape for over a hundred years and is one of the many churches that gives Charleston its nickname “The Holy City.” The Gothic Revival cathedral is home to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston and is considered the “mother church.” It was built in 1854 on a less-than-holy site—Vauxhall Gardens—a post-Revolutionary “pleasure garden.” The cathedral burned down in the Great Fire of 1861 and was rebuilt on the foundation of the previous church. The structure is a Connecticut brownstone with a five-light window copied from Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Last Supper and a beautiful rose window.

Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim SynagogueFounded in 1749, Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim (KKBE) Synagogue is the second oldest Jewish house of worship in the US and the oldest one in continuous use. Charleston was known for its religious tolerance, so people of the Jewish faith began emigrating to “The Holy City” as early as 1695. The oldest synagogue in the US is Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island.

Across the street from KKBE is St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, the first Roman Catholic church in the Carolinas and Georgia. By the late eighteenth century, Charleston had a sufficient number of Catholic immigrants to warrant building a church. In 1788, Reverend Ryan, an Irish priest, arrived in Charleston, and in 1801 construction began on the church. In the meantime, the congregation worshipped in the dilapidated Methodist meeting house that was on the site. Most of the church burned during the Charleston fire of 1838. It was rebuilt and completed in 1839 in the Classical Revival style.

Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church

Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church

The last church, Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, brought tears to my eyes—tears for the nine fatally shot on June 2015 during weekly Bible study. The Gothic Revival building with its signature steeple was built in 1891, replacing a wooden building from 1872 that was damaged during the Charleston earthquake of 1886. The church dates back to 1816, when Morris Brown organized a withdrawal of the Charleston Methodist Episcopal Church’s black members over a burial ground dispute. The newly formed congregation soon established themselves as an AME, a denomination founded in Philadelphia by Reverend Richard Allen, and it is the oldest AME church in the South.

Side note: I had no idea how many fires Charleston had experienced until I dug into the city’s history. Learn more here on the Preservation Society of Charleston website and click on “Fires.” Also of interest is this article on “The Great Charleston Fire of 1861.”

We spent the rest of the day soaking up Charleston’s history, enjoying its charm, and admiring its architecture, ending with dinner at SNOB (Slightly North of Broad)—shrimp with grits and peanut butter pie. On December 3rd, I will begin a series of blog posts on the topic of writing.

Next week: “Let’s Talk Writing.”

Fort Moultrie: Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina

Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge

In my last post, I blogged about my alma mater, Lincoln Memorial University (LMU) in Harrogate, Tennessee, in the Cumberland Gap, near the junction where Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia meet. Proud of the university’s continued success, high college rankings, and flourishing private school, I satisfied my renewed curiosity in the campus and the history of the region by doing some in-depth research on the school and eastern Tennessee in general. This delving led me to Dr. Earl J. Hess’s book, Lincoln Memorial University and the Shaping of Appalachia. I immediately placed my Amazon order, only to discover that the book is temporarily out of stock. Dr. Hess is a student of Civil War history and grew up in rural Missouri. Since 1989, he has been at LMU and is an associate professor of history. He is also well published. I am eagerly awaiting my copy of his book.

The morning after we visited LMU, a heavy smoky-blue fog hung over the mountains, and mist specked our jackets as we prepared to leave the Inn on Biltmore Estate for the drive from Asheville to Charleston, South Carolina. Although the hotel staff in Charleston had assured us the city hadn’t experienced severe flooding, we decided to leave Asheville early, giving ourselves plenty of time to make the four-hour drive south, especially since Columbia was one of the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Joaquin. As it turned out, we experienced no high-water delays along Highway 26 but did lose an hour stuck in two accidents. One involved several cars—no one badly injured, thank goodness—and the other, unfortunately, was a deer hit by an SUV.

Fountain at Waterfront Park

Fountain at Waterfront Park

Charleston is a charming, colorful town, steeped in history. Although I love all things modern and thrive on being a minimalist, I have a fascination for historic buildings—their architecture and their stories. The moment I threw back the curtains in our hotel room at the Belmond Charleston Place, I immediately noticed all the church spires. Other loves of mine are houses of worship and cemeteries, so a church tour was definitely on my agenda. But first Dave wanted to see the waterfront, so we put our church tour on hold until the next day.

Waterfront Park Promenade

Waterfront Park Promenade

We stepped out of our hotel to a humid, subtropical afternoon, but as we neared Waterfront Park a soft breeze coming off the coast squelched any real heat. The park has great views of the Charleston Harbor and the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, a white, cable-stayed suspension bridge with two diamond-shaped towers that spans the Cooper River. It connects Charleston to Mount Pleasant and is an impressive 573 feet high and 2.7 miles long, and it has eight lanes in addition to a shared twelve-foot-wide pedestrian/bicycle path.

After we strolled Waterfront Park and snapped shots of the water fountains and a sailboat cruising the harbor waters, we took a leisurely walk through the cobblestoned side streets, just soaking in the sunshine and our surroundings, and working up our dinner appetites. That night, we had reservations at McCrady’s Tavern, built in 1778. The restaurant’s entrance is located down a narrow cobblestone alley off East Bay Street. The service was excellent and the food good.


On our first full day in Charleston, we drew straws, figuratively, and agreed to take our island tour in the morning and our house of worship tour in the afternoon. We both wanted to visit Fort Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island. We grabbed coffees to go, hopped into our rental, and sped away toward the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge.

Plaque at Fort Moultrie

Plaque at Fort Moultrie

Fort Moultrie, a coastal fortification, was built to guard the harbors and shores of the United States from as early as the first European settlements until the end of World War II. Fort Moultrie has defended Charleston Harbor twice: during the American Revolutionary War when it was attacked by the British fleet, and again nearly a century later during the Civil War when federal forces bombarded Charleston from land and sea. In 1776, after a nine-hour battle when Charleston was saved from British occupation, the fort was named for its commander, William Moultrie.

In early March of 1776, Colonel Moultrie, a former militiaman who was later promoted to general, was ordered to Sullivan’s Island to build a seacoast defense on the shielded harbor. The purpose was to make an invasion as costly as possible, or better still, to prevent invaders from landing. It was unrealistic to think that such a fort, even one well armed with troops and cannons, could annihilate the enemy, but it could certainly slow them down. Any large vessel entering Charleston had to first cross Charleston Bar, a series of submerged sandbanks lying about eight miles from the city. Most ships ran aground and became stuck, and were then more vulnerable to attack.

Fort Moultrie (foreground) with Stella Maris Catholic Church (background)

Fort Moultrie (foreground) with Stella Maris Catholic Church (background)

Work on the square-shaped fort began by cutting thousands of spongy palmetto logs, which became the foundation for an immense pen, five hundred feet long and sixteen feet wide, filled with sand to stop the shot. The workers constructed cannon platforms and nailed them together with spikes. During the construction, George Washington dispatched General Charles Lee and two thousand soldiers to assist in Charleston’s defense. Lee’s appearance alone boosted morale among the South Carolina troops. But after Lee viewed Charleston’s defenses, his worries mounted. Moultrie commanded only thirty-one cannons and a garrison of less than four hundred men. And the fort was hastily erected, with only thick planks guarding the powder magazine, and the curtain walls on the north side of the fort weren’t even finished.

US Flag over Fort Moultrie

US Flag over Fort Moultrie

In mid-May, Charlestonians received word that the formidable British fleet was massing at Cape Fear. On June 1, the fleet finally appeared, about fifty sail in all, and anchored outside of the bar. Moultrie termed the battle “one continual blaze and roar,” and it raged on for hours, until the garrison was running out of powder. Word was sent to Lee, and seven hundred pounds of powder reached the fort defenders later in the day, allowing them to fend off the enemy. The British had used thirty-two thousand pounds of powder and the Americans less than five thousand. Within days of the battle came the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Next week: “Houses of Worship: Charleston, South Carolina.”

Bouchercon 2015: Murder Under the Oaks – Raleigh, North Carolina

Author Pat Krapf Visits Bouchercon 2015As I type this week’s blog post, I am fresh off the plane from Raleigh, North Carolina, where I attended Bouchercon 2015. And I squeezed in a short working vacation to tour parts of the Carolinas and made a side trip to Tennessee to visit my alma mater—Lincoln Memorial University (LMU). More on the latter two in a moment.

What is Bouchercon? It was named in honor of writer, editor, and critic Anthony Boucher, whose real name was William Anthony Parker White, and is the world’s largest mystery convention. It is held annually between September and November in different cities throughout the US. In 2016 it will be in New Orleans, Louisiana from September 15th to the 18th. As the world’s finest crime fiction event, it attracts approximately 1,500 authors, publishers, fans, editors, reviewers, and booksellers to its four-day all-volunteer effort. Bouchercon is fan-driven and draws over 400 big-name authors, as well as those who will be big names tomorrow. The convention is an excellent opportunity to mingle with fellow writers and to sit in on informative panel discussions regarding just about any topic related to writing. There are also author signings and award ceremonies. No matter how many Bouchercons I have attended, I always walk away having gleaned something new, often something I can apply to make my craft stronger.

Biltmore HouseSince we planned to be in North Carolina for Bouchercon, we decided to extend our stay in the general area so I could visit LMU in Tennessee, and we both wanted to see Charleston, South Carolina. Our timing wasn’t the best after Hurricane Joaquin had brought torrential rains to the Southern state, but we were pleased to find minimal to no flooding everywhere we visited, even the beachfront along the South Carolina coastline. In Columbia, hardest hit by flooding, the waters were already receding, and Highway 26 from Columbia into Charleston had been reopened, as had the I-95, the main interstate linking the south to the north. We didn’t experience any detours or delays along the route we drove, only some minor roadwork—normal highway repairs or new construction.

Inn on the BiltmoreFrom Raleigh we drove to Asheville, North Carolina, where we stayed at the Inn on the Biltmore Estate. During this trip I intended to scout out new settings for a future Darcy McClain and Bullet thriller. While we enjoyed our stay on the grounds of the largest private estate in the US, a key attraction in Asheville, I haven’t decided if I will use the location for a future novel setting. The Biltmore home is a chateau-style mansion built by George Washington Vanderbilt II between 1889 and 1895, and has the floor space of four acres. There are a total of 252 rooms, which includes thirty-three bedrooms, forty-three bathrooms, sixty-five fireplaces, and three kitchens. At one time, the home sat on 125,000 acres. Today the grounds stretch over 8,000 acres and are split by the massive French Broad River, which flows for 218 miles from North Carolina into Tennessee.

During our two-day stay in Asheville, we took a day trip to Harrogate, Tennessee, to tour LMU. I was excited at the idea of seeing my alma mater; it had been years since I had set foot on the campus. The two-hour drive seemed endless as we motored along the two-lane road that wound and twisted its way through a national forest. When the campus entrance finally came into view, I felt a certain sense of pride that I did not feel as a teenager the first time I set eyes on the town and the college grounds. Everyone I knew was enrolled in a “real university,” but there I was stuck in the remote mountain town of Harrogate on a campus of barely five hundred, a town with a gas station and a mini-mart and not much else.

We entered the campus from the north, not the main entrance, and parked in the first available space near the new student union. The day was crisp and clear and the mountain air clean, exactly as I had remembered those fall days as winter was about to close in. Such weather was the harbinger of feet and feet of snow soon to blanket once-verdant, undulating hills I wouldn’t see again until spring. We were gazing around us, deciding where to start our tour of the campus, when a man walked up and introduced himself as Chip Weisgerber, Vice President of Student and Enrollment Services. I proudly informed him I was an alumnus. He’d thought we were there for Homecoming. He offered to show us around, as the school had grown considerably, but I wanted to do a self-guided tour, to be alone with my memories. While Dave tagged along at a distance, I set out ahead of him.

The SanatoriumLMU is a private four-year liberal arts college. The thousand-acre campus borders the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. When I attended, the student body numbered less than five hundred. Today attendance exceeds four thousand, and the school has also opened a college of veterinary medicine and the DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine, and in 2014 their law school received accreditation.

The plaque on “the Quad”In 1892, Alexander Arthur, an entrepreneur, spent millions building the Four Seasons Hotel, a seven-hundred-room structure that was the largest hotel in the US. It included a separate sanitarium that still stands today, as I was happy to see. I attended philosophy classes in the former sanitarium and remember well the hike up the steep grade to the building, especially in the winter. Not long after the hotel’s grand opening, came its demise. The details are described on a plaque posted on “the Quad.” All that remains of the lavish establishment is a stone wall displayed on the LMU campus near the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum.

In 1896, General Oliver O. Howard, who founded Howard University, and Cyrus Kehr, Howard’s agent, suggested Howard establish a university as a living memorial to President Abraham Lincoln. While on a lecture tour, Howard spoke at Harrow School, an elementary school at Cumberland Gap, founded years earlier by Reverend A. A. Myers. With the help of Howard and Kehr, Myers purchased the Four Seasons property, and Lincoln Memorial University was chartered on February 12, 1897—Lincoln’s eighty-eighth birthday.

Our next stop on our vacation was Charleston, South Carolina. On November 5th, I will go into detail about our visit to Charleston, a setting I do plan to use in a future Darcy McClain and Bullet thriller. In closing, today’s blog post is dedicated to my father, D. L. Myers Sr., who would have been ninety-two yesterday. His father’s family migrated from Clarksville, Tennessee, to Mobile, Alabama, in the early 1700s.

Next week: “Fort Moultrie: Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina.”