George Washington Visits Charleston: Day 3

George Washington’s Visit – Day 3

Tuesday, May 3, 1791

The president had breakfast with Elizabeth Grimke Rutledge at her home on Broad Street (John Rutledge House). Mr. Rutledge (Chief Justice of the S.C. Supreme Court) was on the Circuits and not in the city.

116 broad street - john rutledge house

John Rutledge House, 116 Broad Street. Library of Congress.

Later in the day, at his lodgings, he

was visited about 2 oclcock, by a great number of the most respectable ladies of Charleston – the first honor of the kind I had ever experienced and it was flattering as it was singular.

George Washington Visits Charleston: Day 2

George Washington’s Visit -Day 2

Monday, May 2, 1791

Washington had breakfast at Snee Farm, the home of Gov. Charles Pinckney. Pinckney apologized for the house, calling the home “a place so indifferently furnished and where your fare will be entirely that of a farm.”

After breakfast Washington crossed into Charleston from Haddrell’s Point which was the eastern terminus of the ferry. Washington was rowed across the river on a large barge by “12 American Captains of Ships, most elegantly dressed.” He noted:

 There were a great number of boats and barges on the river filled with Gentlemen and Ladies, as well as two boats of musicians, all of whom attended Washington across the river.

Washington was greeted at the Point by city recorder John Bee Holmes, and Gen. Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, and Edward Rutledge. A month after the meeting Washington offered Pinckney and Rutledge a seat on the Supreme Court, a seat that had recently been vacated by Edward’s brother, John Rutledge. Both men declined due to family finances.

Once in Charleston Washington was greeted by Lt. Gov. Isaac Holmes, Charleston intendant (mayor) Arnoldus Vanderhorst, and S. Carolina’s two U.S. Senators – Pierce Butler and Ralph Izard. The president was greeted at the Exchange Building where he stood on the balcony facing East Bay Street and watched a “procession in his honor to whom he politely and gracefully bowed as they passed in review before him.”

Washington was then taken to his lodgings on Church Street (Heyward-Washington House) where he was attended by several of Mr. Heyward’s servants.


Thomas Heyward’s house @ 87 Church Street, where George slept. 

George Washington Visits Charleston: Day 1

George Washington’s Visit – Day 1

May 1, 1791

The president’s party had breakfast at Hampton Plantation, the home of the widowed Harriet Pinckney Horry. Her mother, Eliza Lucas Pinckney, had been living with her daughter for several years.

During the visit, Eliza asked Pres. Washington whether a certain oak tree should be cut down to create a better view from the portico. Washington replied that he liked the tree and the view. The tree was saved and from that day it was known as the Washington Oak.

On the road to Charleston County

Washington Oak at Hampton Plantation. Photo by author.

John C. Calhoun

John C. Calhoun, at the age of 68, died of tuberculosis on March 31, 1850 at the Old Brick Capitol boarding house in Washington, D.C. Many know his name, but few remember that at one point, he was one of the most powerful figures in American politics.

john c calhoun - 1822_John_C_Calhoun_Portrait

1822 portrait of John C. Calhoun. New York Public Library

Calhoun served in the South Carolina legislature and was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1811, serving three terms. One year later, Calhoun and Henry Clay, two famous “war hawks,” convinced the House to declare war on Great Britain.

From 1817 to 1825 Calhoun served as Secretary of War under Pres. James Monroe. In 1824 he ran for the presidency (against John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay and Andrew Jackson) and ultimately served as vice president under Adams. Four years later, Calhoun was re-elected vice president under Andrew Jackson.

Calhoun supported the Tariff of 1828, in opposition of Pres. Jackson. Calhoun wrote an essay, “The South Carolina Exposition and Protest” in which he advocated that a state had the right to veto any federal law that went beyond the enumerated powers and encroached upon the residual powers of the State.

Also, during this time, Washington D.C. became embroiled in something called “the Petticoat Affair.” Calhoun’s wife, Floride, who was queen of D.C. society, organized Cabinet member’s wives against Peggy Eaton, wife of Sect. of War John Eaton. Floride alleged that John and Peggy had engaged in an adulterous affair while Mrs. Eaton was still married to her first husband. Jackson, who was close friends with Eaton, resented the Calhoun’s attack, creating even more tension between the president and vice president.


Calhoun portrait by Matthew Brady. Library of Congress

In 1832 the South Carolina legislature nullified a Federal agriculture tariff, citing Calhoun’s “Exposition.” Pres. Jackson threatened to send naval war ships to Charleston to hang Calhoun or any man who worked to support nullification or secession unless South Carolina relented. Ultimately, a compromise was reached and passions cooled, but many of the South’s leaders smoldered with resentment of the Federal government’s growing dictatorial power, planting the seeds for the South’s secession, twenty-eight years later. 

On December 12, 1832, Calhoun was elected to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Robert Hayne, who had been elected South Carolina governor. On the 28th Calhoun resigned the Vice Presidency, the first man to do so. He was also the second and last vice president to serve under two presidents (George Clinton is the other.)


As a senator Calhoun engaged in one of the Senate’s most famous debates with Daniel Webster over slavery and states’ rights. In 1844 Pres. John Tyler appointed him as Secretary of State for two years during which time Calhoun supervised the Texas annexation and the creation of the Oregon Territory.

Calhoun then returned to the Senate in 1846 where he opposed the Mexican War and helped to defeat the Wilmot Proviso. 

calhoun's last appearance in the senate

New York Public Library

After his death he was buried at St. Philip’s Cemetery in Charleston. Toward the end of the Civil War, Calhoun’s supporters were concerned that Union troops in the city would ransack his grave, so during the night, they removed his coffin to a hiding place beneath the stairs of the church. The next night, they buried the coffin in an unmarked grave. In 1871, it was exhumed and returned to its original spot. In 1884, Calhoun’s brick tomb was replaced by a decorative sarcophagus by the South Carolina government. 

In 2000 the U.S. Senate honored Calhoun as one of the seven greatest senators of all time.


Calhoun’s grave at St. Philip’s Church, Charleston. Photo by author

Sad Day. Pat Conroy Dead.

“I have a need to bear witness to what I saw there. I want to tell you how it was. I want precision. I want a murderous, stunning truthfulness.” – from The Lords of Discipline by Pat Conroy

conroyxSad day. Pat Conroy died of pancreatic cancer. He wrote books where passion and enthusiasm dripped from the pages like butter sauce from freshly sauteed shrimp. After you were finished the sensation lingered, something to savor and remember.

“Music could ache and hurt, that beautiful music was a place a suffering man could hide.” ― from Beach Music  by Pat Conroy.

To read Conroy was to be immersed in a world of lush poetry, flippant humor and wounded souls. He used words the way Miles Davies used his trumpet, the way Sinatra used his voice – to lighten to load from the weight of life experiences which accrue in everyone’s journey through this world.  

“Walking the streets of Charleston in the late afternoons of August was like walking through gauze or inhaling damaged silk.”  – Pat Conroy

Godspeed Pat. May the water be not so wide and all wounds be healed. 

Today In Charleston History: February 29

Nothing happened.

At least nothing that I could find of any note, that is. Probably cause it’s Leap Day. Meanwhile, here’s a nice etching of Meeting Street and St. Michael’s Church from the New York Public Library. 

meeting street - st michaels - etching - cropped

Richard Valenti: Super Christian – Serial Killer

Valenti is coming up for parole … click here to sign the petition to keep this monster behind bars.

Folly Beach is a barrier island, six miles long and one-half mile wide. It is the closest beach to historical Charleston, South Carolina, twenty minutes away. During the War Between the States, Folly Island was the staging area from which the Union troops attempted to take back Charleston from the Confederacy, and in 1934 George Gershwin rented the bungalow at 708 West Artic Avenue and composed the music for Porgy and Bess. 

   A small town with a population of just over 2000, Folly Beach is a low-scale community which is primarily a residential and family vacation beach it also happens to have the one of the best surf areas on the east coast at the washout on the east side of the island. It also boasts to have the fastest surfcam in the world. During the busy summer season, Folly Beach is cherished by tourists as a slower paced, less commericalized resort and during the off season, the locals cherish the return of their all-American small town. It is certainly not a place one expects to find a monster living with a view of the surf and dunes.

center street

Center Street, Folly Beach, SC

  Wednesday, May 23, 1973. Thirteen-year-old Alexis Ann Latimer and her fourteen– year-old friend, Sherri Jan Clark, told Mrs. Latimer they were going out for a walk. They left the Latimer’s Folly Beach cottage in the mid-afternoon, and never returned.

   When the girls had not returned by dark, Mrs. Latimer immediately reported the girls missing and got no help from the Folly Beach police. She recalled that the police ”thought I was just an overwrought mother.” The police assumed the girls had run away. It was more than two weeks before the they took any action and began an investigation. They admitted to being baffled. None of the Charleston papers mentioned the girls’ disappearance.

   During the following months, the family became frustrated by the lack of police urgency and success. They became frantic. They distributed leaflets about the girls and placed ads in local papers asking for any help. Mrs. Latimer went as far as consulting with famed Dutch psychic Gerald Croiset, Jr. Mr. Croiset, examined pictues of the girls and drew a fairly accurate map of Folly Beach, complete with bus stops, even though he had never been to the community.  He told the parents that Alexis was dead and they should search the north area of the island near the Coast Guard station.

   Saturday, Sept. 19, 1973. A nineteen-year-old woman picked up a sailor at the local naval base at a party and brought him back to her North Charleston apartment. Without warning, he suddenly savagely assaulted her.  He pushed her, throwing her to the floor; she vainly fought back. He quickly tied her and bound her to the bed. As she struggled he undressed and greedily watched her. She summoned more courage than most would have in that situation. She challenged him, ”Well, if all you wants is a piece of pussy come on. I got things to do and places to go.” The man suddenly lost his erection. He carried his clothes from the room. She could hear him dress and soon he left. The next day she contacted the naval authorities. She was told to take her complaint to the local sheriff’s office so she let the matter drop.

   February 14, 1974. Police discovered a teenaged girl bound, gagged and tied to a tree behind the James Island Shopping Center, six miles from Folly Beach.  One week later, sixteen-year-old Mary Bunch was last seen walking down Center Street on Folly Beach, heading for her home, two blocks away. She never arrived.

   Mr. E.D. Pickerall was walking his dog along the Folly Beach shore a month later. The dog became excited and begin to dig frantically in one spot. Mr. Pickerall walked over and noticed the area where the dog was digging was bloody and full of maggots. Assuming it was the carcas of some dead sea creature washed into the sand, he dragged the dog away from the spot. 

   April 12, 1974. A Folly Beach policeman was investigating a beach complaint on the northern end of the island. As he was walking the beach he heard a call for help coming from a nearby vacant vacation cottage. As he approached the raised cottage the officer realized the cries were coming from beneath the cottage. He discovered three sixteen-year-old girls bound and gagged. One of the girls had managed to slip her gag  and began to scream for help.

   The girls told the officer they had ditched school to come to the beach from Summerville, a town 30 miles away. While they were sunbathing on the deserted beach, a man had approached and pulled a gun. He told the girls he had killed two policmen and if they didn’t do what he said, he would kill them. He forced them into the outdoor shower room beneath the house where he tied and gagged them. Then their abductor left. 

   The girls provided police with an excellent description of the men, he had a beard and mustache and one very distinctive feature – a birthmark on his ankle. By the next week, the composite drawing was in wide circulation throughout the area, and many people began to make uneasy connections to past events. Mr. Pickerall began to wonder about the odd incident with his dog and on Tuesday, April 16 he contacted John Wilbanks, Folly Beach city manager and voiced his concerns. The two men went the spot on the beach where the dog had been digging; it was only several hundred feet from where the three girls had been abducted.

   Pickerall and Wilbanks began to dig through the sand with shovels and discovered a piece of clothing. Next, they contacted a local who owned a bulldozer who began to scrape away sand in the area. On the third pass, a body was unearthed beneath two feet of sand. The body was clad only in underwear and due to the fact that it was only skeletal remains, the gender could not be determined. The body was bound with the same kind of nylon clothesline that had been used on the three recently rescued girls. The next day the coroner was able to identify through dental records as Mary Bunch.

   After the body was discovered, digging continued through the night and into the next day. Huge floodlights were erected and could be seen throughout the entire island. Locals arrived to stand in silence along the dune to watch the police conductr their dig . . . with the unspoken fear that more bodies would be discovered,  thirteen-year-old Alexis Ann Latimer and fourteen- year-old Sherri Jan Clark, foremost in their minds. People who lived in nearby houses allowed officers to use their bathrooms, telephone and supplied drinks to the workers.

   Police set up a roadblock on the one highway and bridge off the island, and conducted a house-to-house investigation, asking questions, gathering information. Navy jets surveyed the island beach with infared sensors, and the police composite sketch of the assailant on the three girls was distributed throughout a three county area. They had held back on key piece of information, the birthmark on his ankle, which police hoped would make a positive ID easier.

   The young woman in North Charleston who had survived the attack from the sailor saw the composite drawing and she contacted naval authorities. She was shown photos of navy personnel stationed at the base and she made a positive ID. Charleston County police officers were dispatched to the home of Richard Valenti, a six-year radar operations specialist on the rescue submarine Petrel.Valenti, age 31, was renting the beach house across the street from where the beach excavation was taking place. In fact, officers already knew Valenti, he had been one of the specators on the beach, and had offered them drinks. When Mary Bunch’s body was discovered, Valenti told the neighbors, “Don’t worry, everything’s going to be all right.”

   Valenti had just recently shaved his beard and mustache.

    He was arrested  at 6:40 P.M. and within one hour he had admitted to the attempted rape of the woman in North Charleston, the kidnapping of the three Summerville girls and that of Mary Bunch, and also, the kidnapping and murder of Sherri Clark and Alexis Latimer. He took police to the beach and pointed out a section of sand to where he claimed the two girls’ bodies were buried. He then lead police to the place where he killed the girls – the outdoor shower room beneath his beach house and described the abduction of the two Folly Beach girls. The police found their bodies in a common grave later that night.

valenti newspaper

   Valentio said he enountered the two girls on the beach and immediately had the urge to tie them up. He walked to his house and got a toy gun and forced them into the outdoor shower room. Inside he tied their hands and feet and made them stand on chairs while he tied nooses around their necks. He then partially undressed them and fondled them. In their attempts to get away from his groping the fell from their chairs and strangled to death. Valenti sat and watched, masturbating as the two girls gagged and struggled and finally died.

   Before he was taken back to jail, Valenti was allowed to go to his house and pick up two Bibles.

   The small community was in shock. One of their own was a monster! Everyone remembered Valenti and his family as “quiet people who seemed so good.” He was described as a “straight dude” and a “Jesus Freak”.  One person recalled that “He seemed to be a super-Christian . . . the one time I visited their home, they were singing Christian songs and talking about the Bible.”

   May 27, 1974. Richard Valenti was charged with three counts of murder, four counts of assualt and battery with intent to kill, and one count of assault and battery with intent to ravish. He was held without bail.       

valenti mug shots

   During the trial Valenti’s wife testified. She said that it was in 1969 that she discovered a hidden stash of pornographic magazines that featured women bound and gagged. She claimed that his hidden (and shameful) desires caused him to attempt suicide on once occasion. She also claimed that she had allowed her husband to tie her up to satisfy his desires, but it did not seem to work. When they moved to Charleston, they both became Christians and Mrs. Valenti thought the crisis had passed.  

  Valenti had grown up in a dysfuntional house, with a domineering, all-controlling mother, which planted in him the desire to reverse the domination which led to only reaching sexual gratification through domination and control. 

   The trial lasted four days; the jury took less than an hour to find Valenti guilty on both counts of murder. He was given two life sentences to be served consecutively. Two dogwood trees were planted at the Harborview Elementary School as a memorial to Alexis Ann Latimer and Sherri Jan Clark. The trees still bloom each spring. 


Richard Valenti

First Performance of “Rhapsody in Blue”

Rhapsody in Blue is to jazz what Sgt. Pepper’s Lonley Hearts Club Band is to rock and roll. 

It premiered in an afternoon concert on February 12, 1924, held by Paul Whiteman and his band at Aeolian Hall in New York City before a packed house. . The version performed that afternoon was for a 24-piece jazz band, not for full orchestra.


George Gershwin at the piano.Library of Congress

Billed as an “Experiment In Modern Music”  the concert’s purpose was to demonstrate that the relatively new form of music called jazz deserved to be regarded as a serious and sophisticated art form.  A young man named George Gershwin, then known only as a composer of Broadway songs, seated himself at the piano to accompany the orchestra in the performance of a brand new piece of his own composition. 

New York Times critic Olin Downes wrote:

It starts with an outrageous cadenza of the clarinet. It has subsidiary phrases, logically growing out of it…often metamorphosed by devices of rhythm and instrumentation. This is no mere dance-tune set for piano and other instruments. This composition shows extraordinary talent, just as it also shows a young composer with aims that go far beyond those of his ilk.


For all its mastery and subsequent acclaim, Rhapsody in Blue was put together very hastily. Just five weeks prior to the concert, Gershwin had not yet committed to writing a piece for it. His brother Ira read a report in the New York Tribune stating that George was “at work on a jazz concerto” for the program. Thus, in some desperation, Gershwin pieced Rhapsody In Blue together as best he could in the time available. On the day of the concert his own piano part had yet to written; it was improvised by Gershwin during the world premiere.

Rhapsody is important  because it helped change people’s perception of jazz from “low dance (and race) music, and it opened the door for a whole generation of “serious” composers, like Copland and Brech, to draw on jazz elements in their own important works. 

Fortunate Son: A Review

The saga of Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR) is heartbreaking – a talented, yet business-naïve songwriter and musician becomes a national icon and gets screwed by a soulless sleazy CEO of a record company. This is a story that we have heard a hundred times, but the sad saga of John Fogerty and CCR IS the most agregious.  


CCR: John Fogerty, Stu Cook, Doug Clifford, Tom Fogerty.

I’ve hear this story through the years – in bits and pieces. Some of the bits were told by former (and self-serving) band members. While other pieces showed up in news stories about trials and accusations. But now, the man who was not only the creative force of CCR, but also the man who persistently fought against this soul-sucking injustice finally tells his side of the story!

As a teenager, John Fogerty (with his brother Tom, Stu Cook and Doug Clifford) signed away most of their money and copyrights to Saul Zaents and Fantasy Records. John has spent much of his life and energy fighting the injustice. Fogerty hit rock bottom in the late 70s and 80s but with a new wife who gave him new perspective and energy, he returned.


CCR on stage.

We’re all familiar with CCR. Some of rock and roll’s most iconic songs were written by Fogerty (most within a 2 year period!) like “Proud Mary,” “Run Through The Jungle,” “Fortunate Son,” Green River” and “Who’ll Stop The Rain?”

The book often comes across as bitter and vindictive, but when you hear Fogerty’s side, no one could hold that against him. His relationships with former band members of CCR were almost always strained, due to Fogerty’s ambition and impatience. He was the one with the most talent; he also had the vision and the drive.   But in Fortunate Son Fogerty is pretty much a straight shooter.  He is very critical of himself.

forunate sonThe section of the book which details the madness of 1967-70, when CCR turned out classic LPs and dozens of great singles is worth the price of the book for anyone who loves music. Fogerty is quite egotistical about his musical skills, and bit of a control freak. He often goes out of his way to bad-mouth former band members.

The theft of Fogerty’s royalties was only the “tip of the iceberg” of the evil machinations of Saul Zaentz. At his advice, the band members agreed that their share of revenue be placed in an offshore bank to avoid paying taxes and lost most of the money completely. During this time Fogerty’s fell into alcoholism and despair, but managed to recoup and start a successful solo career with the LP “Centerfield’. 

The next part of the book was the most compelling, – Fogerty suing Fantasy Records all the way to the US Supreme Court. The scene where Fogerty sits in the court room with his guitar and describes how he wrote this song, versus this other song … is priceless.

For music lovers … this is a must read!

4 palmettos




A Reminder of Why We Do What We Do

Yesterday I got an uplifting reminder of why I do what I do.

What do I do?

I write, and I talk, about history – for a living. Yeah, I can hardly believe it either.

The common theme of my professional life is simple – tell good stories, hopefully about subjects most people are unfamiliar with. My passion is illuminating events, people, and the culture of the past into a forum that is accessible to almost everyone. Hopefully, to 1.) entertain, 2.) educate and 3.) enlighten.  

Yesterday, I was at the Tri-County Literary Celebration at the Old Santee Canal State Park. Almost 100 authors (most of them regionally located) and their books, a cornucopia of literary diversity! I had just finished setting up my table when a family of four walked passed.

2016-02-06 13.12.22

My table at the Tri-County Literary Celebration


The daughter, who was appx. 11 years old, stopped at table and stared at one of my books (Kingdom By the Sea: Edgar Allan Poe’s Charleston Tales) with her jaw open. She grabbed her mother by the arm and excitedly said, “I’ve got that book in my room!!” She started jumping up and down. Then she looked at me. I asked her  if she was a Poe fan, and she answered “Yes!”

marks books - poe cover2

For the next ten minutes I talked with her and her family, and we discussed Poe, and Charleston, history, writing and and of course, I informed the girl that at some point she should investigate at writer named H.P. Lovecraft. (Not sure her parents are gonna appreciate that later!)

Her parents ended up purchasing another copy of Kingdom By The Sea, which I personalized, and she insisted that we pose together for a photo.

All in all, it was 10 minutes of a long day in which I talked to hundreds of folks and sold dozens of books. But driving home that afternoon my mind kept returning to that first customer, that young girl with a passion for a book (my volume), and a writer (Poe, not me). It was a nice reminder that those of us who labor in often lonely trade of writing, that something we helped create and put out into the world affects others, and even if it was one 11-year old girl, it was worth the hours of work.


tri county - mark jones2