Charleston Fantasy

Shadows on the wall Charleston SC

Shadows on the wall, Charleston SC

The Charleston in the tourist’s fantasy is a city that’s done and gone. What today the vacationer sees South of Broad street is a pastiche of the romantic, chivalrous Old South. While still charming as a well-cultivated nostalgia industry and fortress of the lost cause, Charleston struggles to maintain an illusion. Riding the horse-drawn carriages and hearing the guide’s tales of Old Charleston, the modern tourists, while respectful, are unmoved by the city’s past. But the carriage drivers  nonetheless press the tourists toward awe and acceptance of Charleston’s special place. The murders, divorces, and political scandals of Antebellum’s Holy City, while all true, are not uniquely Southern. Why shouldn’t these houses give up their toxic family secrets? Any city in America has them. But the last weapon in his arsenal, as the guide reminds us, are Charleston’s ghosts haunting the nocturnal streets and alleys, what the locals call the “night walkers”. There’s that cadre of Citadel cadets, who fired on Fort Sumter and started a war, now proud watchmen of the darkened city.

So, while the Charleston visitor yearns for the authentic city, he’s confronted by a flood of souvenir seekers disgorged daily from the tour ships docked on the wharf. It’s not long before the tourist gives up on the fantasy and settles for today’s Charleston and, being a good sport, is willing to go along with and to some extent enjoy the charade of nostalgia.

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