austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

Still it's a habit they say

[ Sorry I'm late. We went out for a little pinball, and that turned into a fair amount of great hanging out with our pinball friends. Also I had an awesome game of The Walking Dead: 350,897,620 points, more than double the previous Grand Champion, and I got somewhere in the wizard mode. I don't know where. I was staring at the flippers instead of watching the dot-matrix display t tell what I was doing. ]

The first thing catching my eye about Fort Sumter is that the place is tiny. Yes, the antebellum United States government built the island, on rock quarried in and shipped from New England, but still. Fort Sumter is about the size of a postage stamp commemorating Fort Sumter, so it makes it easier to see why it's a good spot to complete the defenses of the harbor, not so much a place to wait out a siege.

They had a guide there, to give what was supposed to be a ten-to-fifteen minute explanation of the fort's history, which sprawled on to maybe twenty minutes. She was also shouting, helping her to be heard in the back there certainly but also making bunny_hugger fear for her voice. She might just be a National Park Service guide for a couple years for college but it's hard to see how she wasn't tearing up her throat.

The fort's been through several layers of renovation, including the destruction of its upper storeys by federal bombardment during the Siege of Charleston, and so the park has a couple different areas showing off the different states of its existence. Most of the island shows off the fort in Civil War-era shape, brick walls and gunpowder rooms and such, although the upper storeys and spots like the officers' quarters are long gone and not restored. But most fascinating, I suppose because it's just never mentioned when you read about Fort Sumter, are the installations put in around the time of the Spanish War or dating as late as World War II: there's this whole side of the fort that's big, menacing-looking black coffins of steel and concrete, staring out at the sea for evidence of enemy dreadnoughts. You can almost smell the primitive electric relays of the era when turbine-propelled ships were a theory untested in battle.

Something I failed to find an explanation for: there's a monument to Major Robert Anderson, who'd held out at Fort Sumter until the war began. The monument was dated 1932, which makes it far too early to be a WPA or CCC project improving spots of historic interest, but then, who was paying to have historic sites renovated and improved in 1932?

Since the fort is so small, I kept stumbling into other people's photographs, and they into mine, which everybody apologized for over and over, but everybody was also fine with. A person in frame sets the scale, after all. And there wasn't really the time to sit around waiting for a perfect composition either: we had only an hour at the fort before the ferry would leave again. There'd be a later ferry, but it would return to some unknown other spot in Charleston harbor, well away from our car. This was why I was getting antsy at the tour guide's spiel and was also a little annoyed the ferry's designed around one-hour trips. I know, they're designed for people who want to see a thing and then move on, especially because they have four kids in tow, but I am more the kind of person who'll stare at a thing for a good 45 minutes before moving on, and the fort had literally dozens of things.

In the last few minutes my mother pointed out that bunny_hugger had gone into the gift shop where there was some National Parks Passport-related thing (there were more stamps to be had), but my bride had gone into the museum, something I hadn't had time to really see. We didn't have much chance to look around, but we did see the flag that was flying when the United States was forced to evacuate the island. It's much smaller and less battered and torn up for souvenirs than the Fort McHenry Flag, but I did feel a resemblance in the things.

We walked briskly around the rest of the museum, noting that there were things to look at, and got back to the boat before they had to summon us or leave us behind.

Trivia: Edmund Ruffin, with the South Carolina Infantry positioned on Morris Island, claimed to have fired the signal shell shot over Fort Sumter which began the bombardment. He was apparently the first one ashore when South Carolina occupied the fort. Source: The Confederate Nation 1861 - 1865, Emory M Thomas.

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.

Tags: south carolina visit

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