Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Beam Me Up, Scotty


GMLC made mention of the famous UFO Welcome Center at Bowman, SC, with a photograph of its pilot and curator, Jody Pendarvis, in her June 27 article. We thought that an encore posting of our September 3 trip to that mysterious site might add some background to this famous story.

Every community likes to have a landmark, some outstanding attraction which draws interest, tourists and, of course, revenue. It might come in the form of some historic structure, a famous battlefield, a lighthouse. Even if it can't be a cash cow at least the local leaders would like it to have some pedigree. Some desperate towns even glorify an infamous crime scene or the birthplace of a national scoundrel or some local delicacy which only the devil had intended humans to eat.

Windveil was cruising Hwy 15 in Orangeburg County and downshifted to meet the speed limit of Bowman, SC. It's a pleasant community, not exactly Cape Canaveral, but ..nice. One block of the main street and there IT was! Nothing prepares one for this and there are no signs bragging over this local treasure, but Bowman has a UFO. Well, it's not just your average transient UFO, but an Official UFO Welcome Center. This is no intergalactic tourist. This UFO has set down roots and become a denizen of Bowman.

Since we wanted to feel welcome in Bowman, we pulled up right under the giant blue flying saucer which is so labeled. Most hotels have a courtesy van, but here they've got a UFO pick up truck. On entering we find that it is, in fact, inhabited. A cheerful gentleman, our host seemed anything, but a cynical promoter. He patiently conducts a tour of the "spacecraft" and fields questions of which there are many. We want to be clear that at the end of the tour there is an opportunity to make a contribution to the upkeep of the UFO. This is completely voluntary, possibly necessary, but there is no pressure to contribute.

The UFO Welcome Center's Courtesy Truck is parked right at spacecraft side and is used to pick up guests who arrive by more conventional forms of flight.

The fellow lays out the whole story without a trace of irony. He seems to believe it all and who are we to hold otherwise. When you take Hwy 15 and reverse it, you get 51, as in Area 51. Pretty conclusive. Besides, this saves us a costly drive to Roswell, New Mexico

Monday, June 26, 2006

The Blockade Runner


We're at the front door of the Blockade Runner Hotel at Wrightsville Beach, N.C. We didn't check into the Blockade Runner, but we did check it out.

Wrightsville Beach is about 10 miles north east of Wilmington, N.C. It was incorporated in 1899, but a major hurricane of the same year wiped out nearly all buildings on the beach including the Carolina Yacht Club which had been established in 1853. Another major hurricane, Hazel, pretty well demolished Wrightsville again in 1954. Both of these hurricanes struck at high tide which brought very high tidal surges over the entire island.

During the American Civil War, Union gunboats formed blockades of most major Southern seaports on the East Coast in an attempt to deprive the Confederacy both commercial trade and goods for civilian as well as military purposes. The intention was, of course, to cause such depravation that the South might sue for peace. It didn't.

Naturally, the South and its trading partners would attempt to run the blockades. These ships were called Blockade Runners. At least three such vessels were sunk just off the coast of Wrightsville. The name, " Blockade Runner ", took on romantic and heroic proportions in Southern hearts and minds, neither of which fell to the Union after Appomatox in 1865. Blockade Runners became lodged in Southern lore and in 1964 it became the name of a newly constructed " Motor Hotel " on South Lumina Avenue. The Blockade Runner offers views of both the ocean and the sound on this very narrow strip of beach land. A guest might well surrender two hundred Yankee dollars for the pleasure of spending one night at the place.

The original mission of blockade runners was to keep commerce open and healthy. This Blockade Runner seems to be doing just that.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Head of the Cabbage World


This is the Town of Meggett, SC, which received its charter in 1905. We're parked in front of an area which once contained buildings contiguous to the two brick structures on either side. This is their main street which has received recent appointments of curbed sidewalks and simulated period lamp posts. The small white peaked roof covers an atrium which is a brand new fixture to give you the time of day and a bit of shade.

The two story brick building in the background once housed the South Carolina Produce Association, built for that purpose around 1921. Meggett was almost entirely an agricultural community at the time and the Cabbage Capital of the World. The Association was a consortium of local farmers formed to promote and sell their crops worldwide. Directly across the street were large packing sheds and a railroad siding.

We seldom pass up an opportunity to tie railroads into our visits. The Atlantic Coast Line Railroad ran a spur ( side track ) right through this area which terminated at a dock on Yonges Island, an adjacent community. Crops where shipped out both by merchant vessels and train. Neither modern paved roads nor the efficient vehicles which ply them existed at that time.

In our travels we often wind up on remote paved roads which terminate into dirt paths or fields, roads to nowhere. Because agriculture was a primary industry for the state in those years, the S.C. Legislature funded considerable rural paving to allow farmers to both harvest and deliver their crops to market. Often a farmer might have a bumper crop, a bull market, but become bogged down on muddy, rutted, impassable dirt roads only to go bust for the season. Frequently a public posting or newspaper ad promoting some event would include a boast of excellent road conditions as a primary draw. That was a hundred times the seduction of free hot dogs and rides for the kiddies today.

Meggett was a thriving community in the 20's and 30's and fared better than many rural or urban communities during the Great Depression which began in 1929. The Association's building later became an active local bank. The first telephone exchange for the Meggett - Hollywood are was housed in the rear of that same building. A library came into the place in later years and was quite popular in those distant days prior to the planting of satellite dishes in every garden.

It is uncertain what sort of activity will be generated by these recent adornments to the surviving business district. We notice that the lamp posts came equipped with staffs to display banners such as those we see in many towns promoting some sort of festival, event or encouraged community sentiment.

The building forward of the GT was once the post office then Town Hall, but houses a real estate office now. In this delightful, quiet and yet unspoiled community it seems certain that those realtors will be very busy. Property owners will no longer need to call at the post office as Charleston County will gladly mail their tax bills directly to those increasingly valuable homes. The tax man will be harvesting a lot of cabbage from those wallets this season.

Monday, June 19, 2006

McClellanville: The Wolf is Knocking

[ FOR BETTER RESOLUTION, CLICK ON IMAGE ] According to its cornerstone, this stately structure was built in 1921 in the quiet coastal community of McClellanville, SC. From 1901 there had stood a school building on this site, an indication of that community's dedication to the proposition of public education. It is today a public middle school.

McClellanville is that quintessential sleepy little coastal community which is surviving yet in the face of thundering, predatory development. It is not as old as Charleston or Savannah, but it has retained a far greater percentage of founding families down many generations. The town has a very solid sense of itself and a pride in its people and their way of life which defies fashionable notions. It is an anomaly in today's rootless, trendy, tradition-free society. McClellanville is no hotbed of multiculturalism, but it has made some peace with the realities of social engineering.

In the early 1980s, the Charleston County School District considered selling the building as it had fallen into disuse. When desegregation began to wax, public schools began to wane in some Southern communities and especially here. By and by with the infusion of new residents, the political dynamics of Charleston County politics overrode McClellanville's opposition to reopening the school for public attendance. The resistance movement used euphemistic arguments of environmental, engineering and traffic safety, while the insurgents used sanctimony and the law to win the day.

Neglect by state and federal governments and a complete absence from the tourism radar had helped preserve McClellanville over the years. That and a decided lack of general prosperity was a preservative for most southern coastal communities. The rabid propulsion of urban sprawl is headed like another hurricane up from Mt. Pleasant, SC, toward this vulnerable town. Some of the newer folks, those insurgents from the middle school to do, have come to love the pace of life in McClellanville. Perhaps their initiative and the resolve of long term residents can provide a concerted effort to hold off that wolf which is surely at their door.

Friday, June 16, 2006

The Steel Bay Window Caboose

Cars of the rails and roads have long been the passion of modelers, collectors, coveters.

The obsession with the automobile diverges into more branches than the Edisto River. Automobiles are loved and lost, stolen and recovered, bought and sold, wrecked and reanimated, raced and chased. People do unseemly things with and within automobiles. They kill for and with them, some are born, but more die in automobiles. Almost everyone gets to drive one. The passion for automobiles is fragmentary, however, something like the way a hand grenade divides its interests.

The love of trains is linear. They are organized into and viewed as lines. Their cars, whether, hopper, flat, tank or box car, engine or caboose make up the diversified forms of carriage. Each railcar has a mission and serves a purpose as a team member. Each railcar depends upon the others in the line, none are more important than the next. They all, quite literally, pull together. When did you last see a Hummer in harmony with a Honda?

Seaboard Coast Line, The Soo Line, The Southern Railway, The Canadian Pacific, Conemaugh & Black Lick Railway, The Aberdeen & Rock Fish Railway are all lines, teams actually. Those who love railroading embrace both the lines as well as the individual railcars. The love of trains is both the love of progress, their trailblazing errands into the wilderness as well as a reverence for the past, the recognition that the history of our railroads rode with the history of our country.

If there is a favorite type of railcar among railroad lovers and the general population, it would be the caboose hands down. Pictured above is a restored "Steel Bay Window Caboose", the anatomically correct term for this railcar. X-657 sits on a short rail siding just outside of Bamberg, SC. Restoration of these much adored cabooses ( or is it " cabeese ? ) has been undertaken by the SC Railroad Museum and the Southern Railway Historical Association which has with some 25 restored examples of the caboose on display in quite a few local SC communities. The are not called antiques, but " surviving equipment " for which there is a: registry

In our running of the back roads and secondary highways, we are becoming more aware of both the presence of the modern living railroad and the memorials to its surviving equipment. We have also come to better understand the relationship of people to their equipment. To urbanites, the automobile is largely fashion and a place to hang your ego's hat. To rural people, their trucks, tractors and the railroad have meant survival.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Slaughter on 12th Avenue

[ FOR BETTER RESOLUTION, CLICK ON IMAGE ] We were tipped off by Bellascribe about graffiti scrawled upon a wall in her neighborhood. We made for the scene post haste. Just for good luck we drove past the Charleston Police Department which is right on the way. We saw several officers moving toward their vehicles, but none appeared to have a canister of paint remover on their gun belts.

Upon arrival at the crime scene we observed a small concrete block structure which had been nearly slaughtered by a farm tractor. The final indignity had been delivered by a devotee of the redoubtable Gloria Anzaldua in red paint more readable in the photo below. We remember the giants of graffiti: " Behold God Army ", " (Obey) Andre the Giant " and some recent ruddy renditions of the Jolly Roger. We don't have Ms. Anzaldua's thoughts in our menu of public defacements, but we have it on good account that she speaks to a sense of "outsiderhood ." This is a nice neighborhood which is rapidly growing in real estate value as the County Tax Assessor can easily confirm. We presume that Bellascribe would prefer that quotations from Her Outsidership be rendered outside of her hood.

We regret that the Charleston Police have not made this a blue light special, but they've been otherwise detained. We've had a few thousand folks in town who required considerable wet nursing in addition to the usual police protection. The shooting season has opened a bit early this year with a promising run that's likely to exceed that of " CATS ". CPD also rounded up five alleged humans for a string of robberies, kidnapping and sexual humiliation upon several local businesses and their employees. In today's POST & COURIER, a tear stained letter from some hotel character demands that they become tour guides as well. The list, as they say, goes on and on.

We took our header from "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue ," a book and play about actual murders by union thugs on Grove Street in New York, but they decided that Tenth Avenue sounded better. The location of this site specific art is the corner of Twelfth and Grove Streets, a lovely neighborhood which surely deserves better. While removal of graffiti has sadly become yet another chore of the Charleston Police, we don't think that they would mind a civilian taking over that part of police work in this case. Up against the wall, you all.

Not Far Enough Outisde the Hood


Thursday, June 08, 2006


We are the reincarnation of the 1969 Mustang GT. In five years the pleasant little brainchild of Lee Iacooca went from honor student to troublemaker. It sang in Ford's choir then matriculated to cutting doughnuts in the lawns of nice neighbors. It took to performance in loud, almost trashy ways, got sleek, went boxy, took the fuel efficient four cylinder path in the gas crunch of 1973 and after we all quit caring about fuel prices it went back to speed. After a half dozen major body changes we're back to the 1969 look even though it's a radically different car. Thus the advances of the new evoke the charm of the old or perhaps it's just another pitch to the Baby Boomer generation's insatiable nostalgia.

We feel smooth, like to think we're heart throb of the wind tunnel set and even had the spoiler deleted at the factory to keep it sleek. Several miles out of Aiken, SC, we caught sight of something which pulled us right off the road: an Airstream trailer. Like a dog which thinks it's related to a different breed, we prowled around the thing. What is sleeker than the Airstream !

When we saw the " For Sale " sign on both the Airstream and the truck which must have hauled it all over creation, it seemed sad. It was like a fellow who's forced to sell his boat and tosses in the rod and reels so they won't remind him of the boat. Truck and trailer were parked on an elevation at roadside about two hundred yards from the owner's house. It was a pleasant looking home with the front door open and a figure just within the doorway who appeared in silhouette. They sort of looked our way and we sort of looked their way, but no one advanced. The door to the Airstream was open so we peeked inside. We wondered what happy times had been had in its coziness, but we wondered more why it had to go. It doesn't cost anything to keep one around so it could, after all, just live out its life on this large tract of land. With the truck in the equation, however, it seems that one of the team must be out of the game. You just don't keep an Airstream for one. It's too much like rods and reels after the boat's gone.

The Airstream came into being around 1931 when ad man Wally Byam invented it to accommodate his wife who refused to go camping with him any other way. It was born of companionship. So, the Airstream has quite a lot of history and more devotees than any make of automobile. Mustang's forty odd years of zoom-zooming has been loads of fun, but Airstream has meant much more to many more for much longer.

If we just blew past everything on the sides of the roads we travel, we'd certainly miss out on many funny, interesting even bizarre discoveries. Sometimes when we pause in our travels, though, we get a window to the sadder side. Then we're ever so happy to get back on the road and try to escape the gravity of life's harder lessons.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

It's a Long Way to Topiary.....


It's a long way to Topiary, It's a long way I know....well, about 165 Miles to Bishopville, the Seat of Lee County, South Carolina. The mileage from Charleston just happens to coincide with the address of a most unusual botanical artist which he has rendered in topiary-numerics in his front yard. Just try working this out with your riding lawnmower. This is NOT Photoshop, but the real living topiary plants which form these numbers. Our apologies to demonologists as we could only come up with one 6, actually two if you add the first and third numbers. It's a shortfall for Lucifer.

There being no Academy of Topiary Art around these parts, the artist, Mr. Pearl Fryar, is a self taught man. He began experimenting by cutting plants on his property into unusual forms in 1984. It seems to have been a lark which begat a hobby which begat a stylistic art form which is both eccentric and captivating. He branched out into larger and more daring shaping of his plants and hedges from an apparent desire to win the " Yard of the Month " award.

Mr. Fryar wasn't working via cutouts from British garden magazines nor was he following any path known to him. He didn't call this art nor himself an "artist". He just went out into his yard and nipped and tucked or whacked and hacked his way with only imagination as a guide. Now he has a yard full of topiary art which has spread throughout his neighborhood.

The photo below reminds us of the science fiction classic, " Day of the Triffids ", in which people become threatened by a revolt of suddenly aggressive plants. We wonder if Mr. Fryar has these things under voice command as none seemed to be leashed.

Word of this extraordinary undertaking spread so far and wide that paved parking and a turning circle for tour busses has been laid to accommodate the flow of visitors. There is no charge to visit his grounds, but a donation box is available and donations optional.

We didn't get to meet Mr. Fryar, but have considered offering him a commission to render the GT in topiary form to see how far we can get in the " Yard of the Month " struggle locally. Even Kentucky's grass isn't blue enough so we'll just have to issue Mr. Fryar a can of Windveil Blue spray paint for the finishing touch.



Friday, June 02, 2006

Aquarium II : The HUNLEY leaks again.


Six years ago the sunken Confederate submarine, H.L. HUNLEY, was lifted back to the surface of Charleston Harbor, it's crew lowered into graves at Magnolia Cemetery and it's hull placed into a preservation process and put upon display at the former Naval Base in North Charleston. We hear a lot about ceremonies honoring the HUNLEY around the low country, but we don't hear very much about the proposed Hunley museum. There are few local leaks. Our only information on that grand design has come from watchdog blogs and that newspaper up in Columbia. We decided to have a look for ourselves, to tour the tours as it were.

We're parked close to the building in which the shrine is embrined. It was a slow day for visitors as we saw, but three elders wandering away from the hallowed hangar. We are also parked under the pipeline which we presume is for the funds which we hear are being pumped into this project. We saw nary a nickel drip from the open line, not a farthing fell our way. If we had the power to discretely funnel funds into our Mustang Museum, we'd certainly have the money piped in underground. This high profile pipeline is just asking for trouble. You'd think local folks would have noticed this earlier since it's certainly high enough to be seen from Columbia.