austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

That's where the old folks stay

Something we could see in the distance was the Charleston Lighthouse, and of course we wanted to see it. We'd brought bunny_hugger's lighthouse passport for it, and got that stamped (at the Fort Moultrie visitors center) for the purpose. It's not so near the fort as we thought, and we had to go driving down to find it. We never would find a parking spot exactly at the lighthouse location, so my mother sat in the car, motor running, listening to NPR, while bunny_hugger and my father and I prowled around territory in a way that we don't think was exactly tresspassing at least in intent.

The lighthouse, it turns out, is much newer than we imagined: it was built only in 1962, ``the last major lighthouse built by the federal government, according to It's 163 feet tall, considerably greater than the modest things that decorate Great Lakes shorefront, and the design --- by Jack Graham, a student of Louis Kahn --- is kind of nontraditional in a way that often gets it called ``ugly''. It's a triangular structure, with a slightly wider top. I can't really call it ugly, although the flatness --- apparently intended to make it withstand hurricanes better --- gives it a strange shape. But there's something where a design that's thoughtful and purposeful doesn't quite manage to be ugly, even if it's Brutalist.

Apparently at its opening the lighthouse blazed out 28 million candlepower, enough light to be seen from Portugal. It's now down to a mere 1.2 million candlepower, enough to be seen 25 miles out, which just leaves such questions about why 28 million candles were ever needed. It also apparently was originally white and red-orange, but now it's just white and black.

We walked down to the beach, past a thick brush where some kind of animal was prowling around. That seems most likely to have been birds, although they didn't seem anything too exotic. That's disappointing as the area is a major migration route and apparently a bird-watching guide is part of the daily newspaper columns.

We'd mentioned letterboxing as a possible pastime to my parents and they seized on the idea that whatever else, they must help us to find some letterboxes while we're there. There'd be none at Fort Moultrie or Fort Sumter (National Parks Service spots are very strict about prohibiting the little hidden boxes with stamps and log books), but there's plenty of spots around town otherwise. We found a description of one in a town called Isle of Palms, dedicated to an amusement park that apparently used to be in the area, and as much as we protested that it wasn't important my mother wanted to take us there. It turned out to be close to the lighthouse anyway, so it wasn't too ridiculous.

Following the directions into Isle of Palms led us to some attractive-looking spots, areas that were, really, too well-kempt for a letterbox, which is generally best preserved by being somewhere that goes unnoticed. We also couldn't quite match up the clues to the ground. But then my mother realized that the road we supposed the letterbox to be on also had a little cul-de-sac running the other direction and, yes, that was exactly the place to go. With my mother's help we spotted the letterbox in moments and we got our first South Carolina stamp, and my parents got to see something of the hobby without ever having to get out of the car.

While driving back home we ran across some beautiful dappled-cloudy skies and, most remarkably, a sundog, the first we've seen since last September. It's an arc of rainbow in an un-rainy sky painted on the clouds which are in it. Made a beautiful close to the touring day.

Trivia: In 1894, four major-league baseball parks caught fire. The one in Boston was the city's largest fire in twenty years. Source: Crazy '08: How a Cast of Cranks, Rogues, Boneheads, and Magnates Created The Greatest Year In Baseball History, Cait Murphy.

Currently Reading: Washington Burning: How a Frenchman's Vision for Our Nation's Capital Survived Congress, the Founding Fathers, and the Invading British Army, Les Standiford. (Bonus historical mention: Pierre L'Enfant was in Charleston when the British captured the city, and was eventually exchanged and paroled.)

Tags: south carolina visit

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