Tuesday, April 19, 2016

HGB Ep. 119 - Folly Beach

Moment in Oddity - Dr. Suess House
Suggested by: Listener Ren Davenport

Located in Willow, Alaska is one of the most amazing homes. The whimsical architecture of this multi-tiered house has led it to be dubbed "The Dr. Suess House" by locals. Construction began on it around 2002, but it stood mostly unfinished for 10 years because the owner passed away during construction. During that time, the house played host to non-Suessical characters. There were no Whos, no Horton, no Cat-in-the-Hat, no Thing 1 and Thing 2, no Sam I Am, no Lorax, no Grinch and such. Rather there were derelicts, drug addicts and partying teenagers using the place for their festivites. In 2012, a new owner started the construction again and it still needs to be finished. The structure has 12 levels, but these are not your traditional stories as found with most homes. Each level is set-up like its own individual house and they are stacked on top of each other. The structure at each level gets smaller, so that the top level is basically a tiny overlook. Riding the rail line from Anchorage to Fairbanks gives one a great view. Finding an architectural wonder in the middle of Alaska certainly is odd!

This Day in History - Shot Heard Round the World

On this day, April 19th, in 1775, the Revolutionary War began with the "Shot Heard Round the World." The war began when 700 British soldiers were sent with orders to destroy colonial military supplies in Concord, Massachusetts. What these British troops didn't know is that their orders had been revealed through some colonial spying by the Sons of Liberty and the Patriots were prepared. They moved the supplies and then prepared for battle. Dawn broke in Lexington, Massachusetts on April 19th and shots rang out. The colonial militia was outnumbered as they only had 500 men and they were forced to retreat. The British took the opportunity to look for the supplies. While they were busy doing that the colonists reformed their group and met the British at the north Bridge in Concord, where they drove back the British. The Siege of Boston would soon follow, but it was this day in history when the American War for Independence got started.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote a poem about this historic moment:
By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April's breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.
The foe long since in silence slept;
Alike the conqueror silent sleeps;
And Time the ruined bridge has swept
Down the dark stream which seaward creeps.
On this green bank, by this soft stream,
We set to-day a votive stone;
That memory may their deed redeem,
When, like our sires, our sons are gone.
Spirit, that made those heroes dare
To die, and leave their children free,
Bid Time and Nature gently spare
The shaft we raise to them and thee.

Folly Beach (Suggested by listener Dee, research assistance from Sharon Spungen and April Rogers-Krick)

The barrier island of Folly Beach, South Carolina appears picturesque with its images of waves lapping against the sand. Locals refer to it as the "Edge of America." Below the surface of painted sunsets and beautiful beaches lies a dark history of mysterious and tragic losses. Folly Beach really has it all from shipwrecks to the Civil War to pirates. Blackbeard himself took cover at Folly Beach. A native tribe also died out here. Is it this colorful history that has led to rumors of hauntings? Join us as we explore the history and hauntings of Folly Beach.

Much of what we know about Folly Beach comes from its close geographic and cultural connections to the city of Charleston, South Carolina.  The name Folly is thought to have come from the Old English translation of the word, which means a clump of trees or a thicket.  This name appears to be historically appropriate for the island.  The main channel into Charleston harbor in the 1700 and 1800’s brought the ships past the northern side of Folly Island.  For some ships, the trees on Folly Island may have been the first they had seen after a long voyage across the Atlantic.  The island is also at times been labeled Coffin Land or Coffin Island on some historical maps.

The significance of this name is still under debate for several reasons.  Some believe that it is due to the fact that ships entering Charleston harbor would drop off sick and dying people on the island to avoid becoming quarantined.  Others think it came about from a shipwreck that occurred off the coast of Folly in 1700. Many of the bodies of those onboard washed up on the beach.  The final inconsistency with the name Coffin Island is that documents also show that name being used for Morris Island as early as 1749.  

King William III issued a land grant for the area to William Rivers in 1696. Mr. Rivers was unable to do anything with the land grant, so he sold it. Folly Beach passed through the hands of several owners who never lived there, but the true owners of the island had been there for many years. The Bohicket tribe called this land home. The Bohickets were a sub-tribe of the Kussoe or Cusabo who lived in a village near Charleston Harbor. By the late 1600’s this tribe had completely disappeared.  Even today it remains unclear what happened to them.

By the eighteenth century, pirates would hideout along Folly Beach and maraud among the surrounding coves and inlets near Charleston.  They would wreak havoc and commandeer innocent trade vessels. Edward Teach or Edward Thatch became the notorious pirate known as Blackbeard. He was an English pirate who terrorized the Caribbean Sea during the Golden Age of Pirates. This was a time period during the earlier 18th century. His main ship was the Queen Anne's Revenge. For Blackbeard, image was everything. He made sure to be pictured as a fearsome man with a feathered tricorn hat, pistols, knives and swords. To add to the image, in person, Blackbeard would appear as a terrifying man with smoke and fire emanating from his beard and around his head. He got this effect by weaving matches and hemp into his beard.

Originally, Blackbeard had served as a privateer during the War of Spanish Succession working aboard an English ship in the Spanish West Indies. When the war ended in 1713, Blackbeard turned to piracy. He learned from other pirates and eventually was given his own ship by Benjamin Hornigold. His ship the Queen Anne's Revenge was originally the La Concorde, a French slave ship, and he added 40 cannons to it, to make it the mightiest ship on the sea. He named it for the queen of England and Scotland. He blocked the port of Charleston and looted several ships before the town encouraged him to leave by giving him a chest of valuable medicine. Blackbeard's ship ran aground on a sandbar near North Carolina in 1718. The wreck was discovered in 1996 and confirmed in 2011 as that of Queen Anne's Revenge.

Blackbeard went legit after this causing many to believe he wrecked his ship on purpose. Governor Eden of North Carolina pardoned him and then soon enlisted him in crooked dealings. Blackbeard would continue to loot, but share his treasures with the Governor. Two Royal Navy sloops caught up with Blackbeard and a fight ensued with the pirate almost escaping. In the end, the military got their man leaving him with twenty sword cuts and five bullet wounds before cutting off his head and throwing his body to the sea. Legend claims that the body swam around the ship three times before sinking into the murk. The head was presented for proof in order to collect a bounty. Most of our modern day ideas about pirates are inspired by Blackbeard, the most famous pirate in history.

A tragedy occurred in the next century. In 1832, a sailing ship, the Amelia, was en route from New York to New Orleans when it was wrecked. As the story goes, 120 passengers survived and were cast ashore at Folly Beach. However, because it was believed cholera had broken out among the passengers, they were left at Folly Beach to fend for themselves instead of being brought to the mainland. On November 9, 1832 Charlestonian’s burned the wreck and cargo. While stranded on Folly Beach twenty of the survivors did die from cholera.

During the Civil War, because of its close location to Charleston, Folly became a stronghold for Union soldiers.  In 1863, Federal troops began occupying the relatively uninhabited island.  The federal troops constructed the first system of roads on the island.  This allowed ambulances to transport wounded soldiers and for communication purposes.  The troops built various forts and batteries on both the northern and southern ends of the island.  A commissary depot, known as Pawnee Landing was built to aid in the unloading of troops and supplies.  There was virtually no actual fighting on the island.  An exception to the no fighting was on May 10, 1863.  Confederate forces attacked federal pickets on the left side of Little Folly Island.  The fighting was light, as the confederate forces were conducting a reconnaissance mission, aimed mostly at gathering information and taking prisoners.

Folly Island’s major contribution to the Civil War was its use as a base, housing troops and equipment, and for the presence of an artillery battery located at the northern end of Little Folly. Rebel commander Warren Ripley had less than 2000 men in Charleston while Union General Alexander Schimmelfennig had 6000 on Folly and 8000 at Port Royal and Hilton Head.   The island was used as a staging area for the battle of Morris Island which took place from July to September 1863.  Fort Wagner a confederate fortification that guarded the entrance to Charleston harbor was located on Morris Island.  From the artillery battery on Little Folly, the federal troops shelled Fort Wagner and deployed troops to capture the fort.  With the capture of Fort Wagner, the federal troops were now in position to shell Fort Sumter.  On August 17, 1863 the shelling began and quickly reduced Fort Sumter to rubble. The troops moved their artillery from Big Folly to the captured fort, and renamed it Battery Meade.  Still they were unable to force a confederate surrender.  Folly Island and Morris Island remained occupied by federal troops until the end of the war.

The Civil War ended and Folly Beach Island lost its use. The forts and beaches were abandoned until people realized that this was a nice beach area near the city. A pavilion was built in the 1920s and rumor has it that this helped usher in an era similar to that of the time of piracy where pirates enjoyed the isolation of the island. Bootleggers made good use of the island for their hideouts and dropping off liquor. Building and habitation really launched in the 1930s as temporary camps became cottages and then homes and then finally, tourist attractions were added like the Folly Pier, which became a musical headquarters. Big Bands came to play including Maurice Williams' and Glenn Miller's Bands. George Gershwin came as well and while he was here, he composed the classic musical Porgy and Bess that contains the classic line, “Summertime, and the living is easy,” in 1934 while staying at 708 W. Arctic.

A wooden bridge and tollgate was built to aid with the influx of day visitors. A toll of twenty cents per person or fifty cents for a carload was charged.  Friends would fill the car to capacity and beyond to avoid the high toll fee.  Residents paid $3 a month to come and go as they pleased.  At this same time, goats were being used to keep the grass under control.  It became a popular game called “kid-snatching” to try and steal a goat and get it pass the toll and off the island without getting caught.  What they did with the goat once they were back in the city is unknown.

It wasn’t until 1936 that Folly became a township all unto its own.  A jail, if you can even call it that, was erected.  It consisted of a mere cage in the marsh where the Sandbar Restaurant is now located in present day.  Any man arrested for drunken or disorderly conduct was locked away with the mosquitoes and heat, and left to sober up for a few days under the awful conditions.  Later the jail was moved into a more central location with a better environment.

The 1940’s coupled with World War II saw an increase in population and needed housing on Folly.  In 1942 the island initiated an air raid system.  The siren would sound on Saturday at noon.  This happened every Saturday until the late 1990s. As visiting the beach for vacation became more popular in the 1940’s through to the 1950s there was an increase in musical entertainment on the island.  A magnet for famous groups, top performers of the day played the prier.  Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Count Basie, The Ink Spots, Dinah Shore and many more performed for large crowds of beach goers.  The 1950s saw many black bands entertaining the throngs of white beach goers.  Folly Beach like all southern beaches was segregated.  The only blacks allowed on the beach were maids, entertainers, or workers.

In 1959, Hurricane Gracie pommeled the island and what was known as Rainbow corner, a colorful cluster of buildings nestled in a grove of palmettos right on the ocean.  One of the most popular dancing and drinking spots on the island.  It was completely destroyed and had to be demolished.  Roads and bridges were improved as utilities were upgraded and the Edge of America seemed to be just a bit less isolated. The first surfboard made it to the beach in the 1960s and Ocean Plaza was built with amusement rides and games and a boardwalk that stretched 1,700 feet. There were shops,food vendors and even rollerskating. This truly was the golden age of Folly. Today, it is a local vacation destination and home to a few thousand people. Part artistic retreat, part eclectic community, but all sun, beach, and ocean.

With the kind of history that has occurred in and around Folly Beach, it is no wonder that there are claims that the town is haunted, particularly its beaches. One possible reason for hauntings at Folly Beach could be linked to a mysterious discovery in the 1980s. Construction workers were digging on the island when they found 14 bodies at the western end of Folly Beach. The South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology was called out to handle the dig and investigate and they figured out that the bodies belonged to members of the 55th Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment. The 55th Regiment was joined on Folly Beach by the soldiers of the 54th Regiment that was made popular in the movie Glory. Archaeologists were shocked to find that 12 of the skeletons were missing their skulls and other body parts. And even stranger was the fact that the bodies didn't have battle wounds. Were the bodies buried this way and why? It's one of the great mysteries of the Civil War. Many of the soldiers who died at the Union Field Hospital were buried in unmarked graves on the island and are reputed to haunt the island.

On the western side of the island, some residents have experienced paranormal activity that includes the smell of burning flesh, disembodied voices and one resident claimed that an unseen small child was jumping on their bed in the middle of the night. It only makes sense that a fearsome pirate like Blackbeard would still be here in the afterlife. His spirit has been seen walking the beaches near where he was killed, particularly near Ocracoke Island, North Carolina. Twenty passengers died at Folly Beach after they were left abandoned. For this reason, it is believed that many of them haunt the island.

Does the spirit of Blackbeard still walk the beaches in the afterlife? Are the beaches here crowded with more than just the living? Is Folly Beach haunted? That is for you to decide!

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