Back in September Dwight Moffitt and I had taken a tour of the historic Elmwood Cemetery in Columbia. The tour was interesting, but since it was at night you couldn’t really see any of the headstones or features. The tour focused on the people, and not on the features of the cemetery. Dwight and I decided that we needed to return during daylight. So, we made plans for another visit, and also planned to throw in a tour of several other historic cemeteries while we were at it. This past Friday was the date we’d set, so I headed on down to Columbia to rendezvous with Dwight. I picked him up at his house, then headed downtown where we had several stops planned.
We parked on Senate Street, right across from the Rutledge Building, home of the South Carolina Department of Education. I must admit to getting a few heebie jeebies that had nothing to do with cemeteries. We decided that since we were this close, we would walk over to The Horseshoe on the USC campus (not that it has anything to do with cemeteries, either.)
We first walked by the World War Memorial, but it was locked.
Our destination was the Caroliniana Library. The South Caroliniana Library building was designed by Robert Mills ad served as USC’s first main library. It now houses one of USC’s many special collections, including their Oral History collection. I’ve worked with Andrea L’Hommedieu from the library, contributing several photos to an oral history of the Shivar Springs Bottling Company in Fairfield County. Their website currently features an oral history of Rosenwald Schools. I was very much interested in seeing the library.
Sadly, when we arrived the library was undergoing major renovations. The shelves in the second floor reading room were devoid of books. A few scattered computer monitors seemed incongruous with the opulent setting. Even so, there were some that were using the space for research.
The Caroliniana Library was replaced by the McKissick Library, which itself was replaced. We decided to check out the McKissick Museum while we were there.
On the second floor they had an exhibit honoring James F. Byrnes. I think this might be a permanent collection, but for now the exhibit focuses on Byrnes’s involvement in presidential elections.
What I found fascinating was the reminder that divisive politics have always been with us. There was the memorial to Preston Brooks in the foyer of the Caroliniana (image above). Brooks is best known for beating Charles Sumner nearly to death on the Senate floor. Then there were other buttons that were less than flattering to the opposing candidates.
We left the politics behind and headed out onto the Horseshoe. Standing on the green I thought back on my life choice. I was accepted into the Honors Program at USC back when I was looking at colleges. How different would life have been if I’d come here instead of Furman?
We were right across from the State House, and the south side loomed large against the sky. Normally I see the building from Gervais Street, so this angle struck me as much more dramatic.
We figured since we were this close we might as well walk the grounds. We stopped at the memorial to General Wade Hampton. It reminded me of the mounted memorials all over the place in London.
We stopped at the Strom Thurmond memorial so that Dwight could point out the crude corrections necessary after his illegitimate daughter was discovered. (And, for the record, I don’t really like the term “illegitimate.” Any child is legitimate and has worth.)
We continued our walk until we reached the African American Memorial. Probably the most striking feature was a stylized version of one of the slave ships that would have sailed into Charleston Harbor.
Bus loads of schools children were being marshaled across the grounds by weary teachers. Third graders. I could tell by the look and smell, and by the fact that South Carolina is part of the third grade curriculum in state. Third grade focuses on the geography, while eighth grade covers its history. Third graders always take a field trip to the state house.
As we were approaching another memorial in the northeast corner of the grounds I heard one teacher say, “That’s James F. Byrnes, the guy the high school is named for.” That stopped me in my tracks, since Byrnes High was one of my schools. Turns out these students were from Spartanburg Six. While not our district, they would certainly be familiar with Byrnes High. We paused for photos of good old J. F. B.
So far we hadn’t visited a single cemetery on our Columbia cemetery tour, but that was about to change. On the opposite side of Sumter Street from the State House sits Trinity Episcopal Cathedral. Trinity is on the National Register of Historic Places, and its cemetery is the final resting place for many famous South Carolina citizens.
We found all of the Wade Hamptons, I, II, and III, plus members of their families.
There were lots of other interesting names and artwork.
An obelisk had a broken rose, which I’d not seen before.
By contrast James F. Byrnes’s grave was rather modest.
I did find a couple of disconcerting stones.
Then again, Col. Thomas Taylor helped lay out the streets of Columbia.
I know this was a cemetery exploration, but I really wanted to see the inside of the cathedral. Dwight and I wandered until we found the office, and inquired about a visit. A woman in the office was very kind, and offered to show us the inside.
To the left of the altar area there was a small chapel done in stunning blues. The gold stars on the ceiling seemed unusual.
We were particularly impressed with the stained glass. Our host offered to find us a sexton to turn on the light, but we thanked her and said no. It would diminish the effect of the light entering from outside.
Dwight and I thanked our host and took our leave of the church. Since it was about lunch time we grabbed a bite to eat at a sandwich shop near the Horseshoe. From there we had one more stop in the downtown area. We walked a few blocks north along Sumter until we reached First Presbyterian.
Dwight told me that this was an Associate Reform Presbyterian. I was a bit surprised, as “First” churches are usually PC-USA, not ARP. (Although First in Greenville has left PC-USA and is now unaffiliated.) The door was open, so we let ourselves in. The interior wasn’t as ornate as Trinity, but it was still impressive.
Out in the cemetery I was surprised at how many people were hanging out and enjoying the shade. None of these struck me as homeless drifters. I guess it’s just close to vary businesses, and folks have gotten accustomed to enjoying a break in the shade.
We wandered through the cemetery. While I didn’t recognize as many names, the funerary art was still impressive.
I saw lots of “Sacred to the memory of…” headstones, but this one caught my attention. I’d never seen one refer to the “Dust of…”
The end piece of this vault also seemed unusual.
It was strange. The cemetery had seemed somewhat uninteresting at first, but the more I explored the more it drew me in. We found a series of headstones that looked like the owners were still alive, yet their obituaries had already been written.
I guess if you can dictate what you want on your headstone ahead of time….anyway…
I was surprised at the lack of signature stones. I was beginning to wonder if there was some church covenant that prevented them, perhaps as being “vainglorious.” However, I did spot a couple here. There was a J. Hall, a very ornate G. Brown, and one I couldn’t read very well.
There were other more interesting stones, but our time was running out. We made our way back to the car. My feet were starting to get quite tired, and my FitBit let me know I had exceeded my walking goal for the day. However, we weren’t done. Elmwood was still there.
We drove on across town and turned onto Elmwood Drive. We pulled into the cemetery and up to the office to make some inquiries. Dwight wanted to find the old Confederate cemetery section. A lady pointed us the right direction, but also mentioned that there would be a funeral onsite. We would try to avoide that.
We drove around one of the circles and found the location. A large gate marked the spot, as well as a raised picnic area adorned with a Confederate Battle Flag.
Just outside of the area was the grave of Maurice Bessinger, infamous Barbeque King who promoted Confederate ideals.
Also outside of the plot, proper, were several Union soldiers.
When we walked into the Confederate section itself, we were in for a bit of a surpirse. There are no real graves here. These are just markers commemorating the Confederate dead. The graves themselves are unmarked, and all over the city.
Some of these memorials weren’t very old.
I must confess to being a bit uncomfortable with all of the glorification of the Confederacy. I’m OK with honoring war dead, but this seemed a bit much. I began wandering to other areas. There was some nice sculpture, and some things that were downright creepy.
Elmwood is massive, and there was no way we were going to explore it all on foot, or recreate the route we took on our previous tour. I was once again reaching cemetery saturation, and even if we had been able to find the same route, my feet would have rebelled.
We explored a bit more by car. Some of the names seemed a bit amusing.
Adjacent to, but separate from Elmwood are two other cemeteries. Randolph Cemetery is an African American cemetery closer to the river. We drove through it.
On the other side of Elmwood was the St. Peter’s Catholic Cemetery. Some of the names here seemed even more unusual. There were also several nuns buried here.
Apparently there is another St. Peters in town with its own cemetery. Right now I’m unsure of the relationship between these two.
We had one last place we wanted to check. There was an old slave cemetery and the cemetery for inmates at one of the prisons down closer to the river. I had discovered it by accident several years ago. Access is through a narrow passageway under I-126. That was now chained and blocked on both ends – no way to get to it.
That was probably just as well. At this point I really, really was “cemeteried out.” I think that if we had wanted to recreate our tour from September we should have just done Elmwood and not all of the other cemeteries downtown. Even so, I was happy to explore all of those areas. We saw some beautiful churches and interesting things other than graves. I call that a successful day.