Thursday, February 05, 2009

Leave Your Blood at the Red Cross - Not on the Highway

Yes, by all means, but don't bring it here.

The wall bearing the Red Cross surrounds a very old building which is now a private residence at the corner of Wentworth and Smith Streets in Charleston, SC. Built in the late 1700s, it became the local headquarters of the American Red Cross during World War I. It housed not only the administrative services of the Red Cross, but was the Blood Bank as well.

It was to this very place where donors would come to roll up their sleeves and make the priceless gift of blood so that others might live or recover from serious surgery. It was an act of caring rather than a fashionable charity. There was no Bloodmobile in the early days to round up donors. This was well before the days of commercial plasma vendors who draw anyone from the streets with a few bucks for their blood.

The Red Cross decamped from this location in 1988. In the month before Hurricane Hugo struck Charleston in 1989 the building was returned to private habitation. A native Charleston couple fixed up the house, raised a family and remains there today. They retained the Red Cross on the wall as a matter of historical integrity. It is not the fanciful invention of some decorator. It may also be a reminder that our blood runneth red as it does in the rest of the Union.

The notion that Charlestonians have forever lived at ease, in splendor within endless rows of beautiful mansions is the unrelieved bunk of hack tour guides and Hollywood's corruption of history. Our buildings had not been simply the idle trophies of today's bored and fortunate. Like the people they were pressed into service to meet the needs of our times. The bold Red Cross on this wall is a reminder that the hopes and fears of every generation have played out on a working stage by actual people facing the very daunting challenges of real life.


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