Secret night meetings, underground railroads and painful battles that tore a young nation apart. For my kids, these stories were once relegated to the pages of history books. It can be hard to comprehend such tales when you live far from where the history took place.
Then we visited two different, but important American cities—Boston, Mass., and Charleston, S.C.—and America’s history took on new meaning.
One hundred and fifty years ago, the residents of these two towns were arch enemies—each with differing ideas, which fueled a conflict that divided our country.
The Civil War started in Charleston, S.C., when Confederate artillery fired on Union soldiers at Fort Sumter. Seven southern states, including South Carolina, seceded from the Union. Boston’s mighty industrial strength fed the Union’s war engine, and its abolitionist leaders fueled the flames of change.
January 2011 marked the beginning of a four-year commemoration of the Civil War’s 150th anniversary. Events across the country this year and next include re-enactments, lectures, concerts and plays. Much of that history happened in Charleston and Boston, and both cities have a wealth to offer visiting families.
Charleston: A Grand Southern Lady
I had never intended to fall under Charleston’s spell. But several years ago, during a work assignment, I called a Charleston hotel room “home.”
At the time, I knew little about Charleston except that it was involved with the Civil War and that its residents spoke with a southern lilt. I did know that it was the middle of July, and that the roasting humidity was unforgiving. To boot, I had a 1-month-old, colicky baby.
After hours of pacing the halls with a crying child, soaring temperatures or not, I was getting out. Armed with a covered stroller, water bottle and sunglasses, my infant daughter and I ventured out into the open air.
The thick humidity hit like a wall, but the sweet smell of magnolias and orchids lured us into the brick-lined streets, where the salty scent of the sea greeted us with southern hospitality.
The aged avenues were more than welcoming, lined with colorful flower boxes, shapely trees and delicately crafted homes, pulling us deeper into the alleys and lanes that wound their way along centuries-old pathways.
Many of the town’s grand homes were built of aged brick, thick timbers and large stones. Many structures were even older than America itself, crafted by early British settlers who marveled at the bountiful land they had found.
Here, in the heart of a city that shone brightest in the 1700 and 1800s, it was easy to imagine grand women in hoop skirts, adventurous explorers and the men who would become America’s leaders.
The streets were neat and tidy, reflecting a sense of grace and sophistication. Charleston, it seemed to me, was a grand old colonial lady. Although she had aged a bit, she still held her head up high, clinging to her genteel manners and refined elegance.
I began to look forward to my daily walks. My earlier reservations of Charleston slipped away as the stroller and I turned down lane after lane, peeking into English-styled gardens and flower-covered piazzas, and stopping for cool glasses of sweet tea at small sidewalk cafés.
The streets led us to the Old Town Market, where we watched craftswomen weave magical sweet-grass baskets.
At one of the booths, two women spoke in a form of English that I’d never heard before. It was the distinctive dialect of the Gullah, a culture of freed African slaves whose traditions had been preserved over all these years.
Seeking relief from the heat one afternoon, I pushed the stroller toward the sea. That was when I found the swings at the Waterfront Park. It soon became our daily ritual.
It didn’t matter that my touring companion, her fussiness now quieted, slept through most of our adventures. Charleston was an open book to discover, and I was completely drawn in.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.