on my way out of Columbia

… I visited a couple of urban ruins. I love this stuff.

I heard these buildings referred to as a sanitarium; signage refers to the South Carolina State Hospital, which was originally founded as the South Carolina Lunatic Asylum. From a historical marker:

South Carolina State Hospital: Institution authorized 1821 by General Assembly, mainly through the work of two members, Samuel Farrow and William Crafts, Jr. The original building, designed by Robert Mills, shows a pioneer grasp of the ideas of humanitarian treatment.

I’m not sure how a building shows a grasp of humanitarian ideas, but okay. Mills is still in use as an office building today (and still associated with mental health services), but the rest of these grounds vary. The Babcock building is boarded up and copiously wreathed in chain link and warning signs boasting of arrests “in the last 30 days” (and a cop car was conspicuously parked out front). The Chapel of Hope is boarded up but approachable. I was originally attracted by a huge brick complex that I imagine housing residential units. Such brick beauty! I hope they manage to renovate and reuse these lovely structures, but they’re looking pretty far gone. On the same grounds is a new-ish baseball stadium doing fine business, though, as well as the barbecue restaurant I enjoyed the other night. Again, a strange and complicated world.

Next I visited the Guignard Brick Works, where they used to make the bricks for these lovely old buildings. The site itself is a construction zone; I parked at a bank and Hops and I walked over. The apartments under construction are going to be the “Brickworks Apartments,” but nothing seems to be being done with the old works, themselves. Fascinating stuff.

Leaving the city proper we headed for Congaree National Park, which according to their literature “protects the largest remaining tract of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest in North America… Trees average over 130 feet in height, making Congaree one of the tallest deciduous forests in the world.” Hops and I walked a few miles through American beech, bald cypress, loblolly pine (the tallest trees in South Carolina), switch cane, dwarf palmetto, and much more. The bulk of our hike was on boardwalk over swampy earth or over water, where I saw a bunch of fat crawdads and one crab, but no snakes (some folks I met had counted five). I also saw an old still, left over from Prohibition (again so says the pamphlet). The dominant feature was cypress knees, on and on as far as the eye can see. We walked out to Weston Lake but I had not brought Ritchey’s ashes with me.

And then on to our campsite for the night.

Columbia complications

As always, I have really enjoyed the down time, and use of a house: laundry, showers, electricity, wifi. I’ve been reading and writing and catching up.

And having a lovely time with Brad. We took a rainy walk around downtown Columbia, visiting the state capitol building and grounds. Recall this is the site of one of our most recent & contentious (& nationally visible) takings-down of the Confederate battle flag. Brad tells me the flag once flew from the top of the capitol building’s dome; upon complaints, the “compromise” was that they moved it down to ground level in front of the building, where it was many times more visible. The flag finally came down only after the murders at Charleston, SC’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in 2015. Brad worked across the street at the time, and tells me his whole office turned out to see the flag come down. There is an African American History Monument on the same grounds – dedicated in 2001, one year after they moved the flag from the dome to the street level. The South is a complicated place.

The grounds are beautiful, but the statues are conflicted. There’s Benjamin Ryan “Pitchfork” Tillman, George Washington, a Confederate Soldier Monument, a Liberty Bell replica, and much more. I only took a few shots.

From here we wandered on to a delightful underground dive bar: a very fine dinner and drinks.

Columbia has been everything I love and some of what I don’t. Beautiful, lush, and verdant, with kudzu, azaleas, wisteria. Friendly and humid; excellent barbecue and a complicated history. I love complication; I do not love an ongoing argument about the legacy of the Confederate battle flag. Any place that makes me think of mint juleps on a veranda will also make me think of plantations and slavery. I haven’t figured out the answer yet.

Columbia with friends

Just kicking around Columbia… Brad and Liz took me to a brunch that was more than I’d expected; we left at 11pm, making it a full twelve-hour day at the home of a lovely man with fascinating collections of books, cameras, skulls and the macabre, medical equipment, so much… the party was rich in terms of food and drink and excellent company (including our gracious host), but I rather wished for a separate visit just to take it all in. I’ll give you one representative picture of his beautiful library.

We’ve also had some quiet time in my friends’ peaceful backyard.

One of the deep joys of this trip has been checking in with people I don’t see often enough. Although Brad and I have kept in touch, I think this is the first time we’ve seen each other in person in five or six years. I’m so glad to be here.