The International Writers Magazine: Hacktreks in the USA: Charleston
Beauty in Reality
weeping oak trees lined the dirt road leading to Boone Hall Plantation,
a lovely Charleston landmark. Summers blazing heat enveloped
me in the sweet-smelling gardens leading up to the wooden door that
seemed to stand strong, blocking any foreigners from gaining entry.
Aside from the tour guides dressed in costumes, the mansion felt
authentic, and the surrounding gardens seemed like they had established
themselves centuries before. Walking along the brick pathways, I
could not help but feel a strong sense of history pervading my spirit.
up at the grand entrance to the plantation house, with its Southern
style columns, I began to daydream about what it would have been like
to live there during the Civil War days. Built in 1800, the house and
farm, set on a backdrop of cotton fields, seemed reminiscent of an earlier
era. To enter the stately building, you must first traverse the lush
gardens. Upon entering the gardens, the scent of roses, camellias, and
azaleas tingled my nose. Large water droplets sparkled on each petal
of every flower. One could truly get lost in such a wonderland, as I
did that day. I gazed at the grounds and the house in front of me, amazed
that this plantation could be part of the same country as my home state,
Charleston exhibited a different lifestyle to me. As a child, I remember
hypnotically taking in the miniseries North and South on television.
The story of the two young friends fighting against each other in the
Civil War interested me immediately. But most of all, I remember gazing
at the scenes set in the south, wondering if I would ever come to know
a locale as bewitching as that. Standing alone in the garden, I remembered
thinking those thoughts. A smile invaded my face. I had finally found
a spot as captivating as my childhood fantasy. I overheard a women dressed
in a Scarlet OHara costume matter-of-factly state that this was
the house used in the making of North and South. I really had
With this revelation, all aspects of Boone Hall appeared new and exciting.
I admiringly gaped at the house and imagined it the way I had seen it
on television- women in their hoop skirts strolling in the garden, and
handsome men in their navy blue wool and gold buttoned uniforms discussing
the effects of the war on the huge wrap-around porch. I imagined horse-drawn
carriages traveling on that same oak-lined road that I had driven upon,
in our groups rickety bus, this morning. Even the tour guides
in their cheesy, artificial, used costumes seemed like real Confederates.
Boone Hall Plantation suddenly became the setting of a romantic story.
I hastily turned to my right to take in more sights that would fit into
my fantasy and my face dropped.
Dusty, sagging slave quarters, still in tact, quickly destroyed the
romantic aura given off by the enormous house and its grand style. Small
cabins, lined up neatly in a row, represented a new kind of Boone Hall
Plantation to me. Its gardens and cotton fields no longer glowed in
a positive light. They now represented fields of tears, sweat, and blood.
As I walked along the dirt path to get a closer look, I spied a woman
demonstrating a basket-weaving technique brought over from Africa. During
their rare moments of free time, the slaves who lived in these cabins
practiced basket weaving as a hobby. This demonstration made life at
Boone Hall seem even more real. And the more real it became, the more
disgusting it seemed. As I closed my eyes, I could almost hear the hymn,
Hush, Hush Somebodys Callin My Name, sung by the slaves
in the fields, as they labored over the cotton plants and fruitful gardens
to make the plantation successful.
While strolling along the path leading from the slave quarters, I saw
the main house and the gardens again. They had changed. Not physically-
the same bright plots of roses still gleamed in the sunlight- but rather
my attitude toward them had changed. I decided to finish off my day
where it had started- in the garden. As I began my second walk through
the maze-like paths, the visual beauty and the sweet scent struck me
differently. Just as before, the garden was beautiful, but its beauty
held a different meaning to me now.
My views of Boone Hall Plantation had changed three times in one day.
Its beauty struck me from the moment I drove through the Avenue of Oaks.
But it did not seem extremely exceptional until I entered the garden
for the first time. My perspective changed again when I learned that
Boone Hall was indeed the place that I had so much wanted to be a part
of as a child. Yet the Boone Hall I had dreamed of existed only in storybooks.
Finally, my first glimpse of the slave quarters brought my mind back
to earth. Boone Halls haunting past leapt into plain sight. But
as I walked through the gardens a second time, I realized that its past
allows for its uniqueness.
In fact, beauty, romance, and this haunting past are all a part of what
makes this attraction so popular. Boone Hall Plantation taught me something
that day. I realized that something or someones past may not always
contain a history to boast about, but that past does not have to affect
its future. Today, as I remember watching North and South and wondering
if I would ever find a place as beautiful as that, I know that I have.
But this place does not exist on television or even in my mind. It is
a real place with real flowers that need watering, a real porch to stand
on with floorboards that creak, real fields that need plowing to grow
delicious food, and a real past that makes it what it has become today-
a part of our complex history and a symbol of American beauty.
© Melissa Katz March 2004
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