I found a parking lot near the Charleston aquarium and walked to the Fort Sumter National Monument. I purchased my fourteen-dollar ticket and strolled through the facility. I was pleasantly surprised to find a quote of Abraham Lincoln clearly stating his racial prejudice. It must be puzzling to recent generations who have incorrectly been taught that prejudice existed only in the South and did not exist in the North. And from Saint Lincoln, of all people! Well, I digress—back to my subject.
I waited for the ferry, The Spirit of Charleston, and chatted with a young, cute, and vibrant female park worker from Tennessee. She had only been working there a month and had not learned much about the fort or the Civil War yet. After I boarded, she waved to me. I returned her wave, thinking I would have liked to have known what brought her here. School? Work? Wanderlust?
I found the straw-hat wearing rangers more conversant and knowledgeable. I asked many questions, and refrained from expressing my opinion on Southern issues as I asked them.
The rangers were sympathetic to the city’s suffering during the war, but not exactly pro-South. But then, how could you even get a job as a National Parks interpreter if you were pro-South?
From the bow of the ferry, I could see the fort—3.2 miles out in the harbor. The Charleston peninsula is bordered by the Ashley River on one side and the Cooper on the other (the Park’s side). I had my writing pad and my binoculars—the only pair I saw—but I had forgotten my camera, so I scribbled everything down I could notice. With my ten-power binoculars, I studied the island fort that I had not seen in nearly twenty years. The island the fort rested on was manmade, from 70,000 tons of granite imported from either New England or England. The fort itself was constructed with 7-10 million bricks made on local plantations.
According to the Ranger, we had about 350 passengers on this one trip. At fourteen dollars a head, I can see how this little ferry trip to this piece of history had become a money cow to the government. Not all the passengers were as excited as I was. I heard more than one passenter say, “Is this really going to take two hours?” It seemed like simple math to me. One half-hour ferry trip there, one hour on the island, and another half-hour back. There would be water and bathrooms, and it was a nice day. The trip seemed like a bargain to me. What’s a couple of hours when you can learn and walk on history? Oddly, the foreigners on board seemed most excited.
The ferry ride alone was worth the trip. It was the first time I had been on seawater since 1990 (another story). We were told to sit. As I had seen passengers at the bow on the incoming ferry, I didn’t. I stood alone at the bow at first, but after a few minutes found myself surrounded with other passengers. The wind increased, and I had to fasten my ball cap to my wrist with its Velcro strap. The wind tore at the pages of my notebook so hard I had to stop writing. I have LONG hair, and soon it was flying out of the ponytail holder and going wild. I must have looked like a madman, which I admit to being on occasion.
As the ferry chugged its way across the bay, I saw several porpoises and flocks of floating and flying gulls. Occasionally a gull would crash dive into the water like a kamikaze pilot. For all that trouble, I hope it got a fish. There was a herd of sailboats anchored around Morris Island, where the soldiers in the earth and log Fort Wagner (subject of the movie Glory) had annihilated the 54th Mass. The flotilla was too far out for me to observe in detail even with my binoculars, but it looked like they had a giant beach party going. Behind us was the new Cooper River Bridge, a cable stay bridge designed to last for a hundred years. The supporting cables are hung from diamond design towers, and from a distance in the sunlight, the bridge looks like its supporting two giant sails. You can see and read about the bridge here: http://www.cooperriverbridge.org/index.asp
We also passed the Edco, an Egyptian cargo ship that is being held prisoner in Charleston Harbor over some legal matters. The government is not allowing any of the more than two-dozen crewmembers to come ashore since they do not have visas. I think they cargo they came in with was salt from Chile. They’ve been there since June, but they may have a long wait. The last time this happened to a ship and crew in Charleston Harbor was in the 90’s. They sat there for about two years. You can read about the Edco’s predicament here: http://www.shiptalk.com/index.asp?ItemID=712&rcid=160&pcid=139&cid=160′
After a wonderful thirty-minute choreographed ride listening to the recorded lecture, we docked at Fort Sumter. I’ll give part two of this soon. Tomorrow morning I’m going on a walking Civil War tour. I’ll let you know about that little walk too.