Charleston Mythbusters

by Ken Malcom, an AOL Travel ContributorPosted Sep 24th 2010 08:29 PM

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Charleston Mythbusters

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Charleston, South Carolina, is one of the oldest cities in the United States. As such, the city has a long history with its fair share of colorful stories and urban myths. Charleston mythbusters will separate fact from fiction and urban legend from historical truth as you delve into this city's rich history.


1. The market on Market Street was used to buy and sell slaves.

This is a popular Charleston urban myth. The Market opened on August 1, 1807 as the Centre Market. It was built as a central location for citizens to buy and sell food, including meat, fish and vegetables. In later years, it would become known simply as "The Market," though its official title is the City Market. Today, it is one of the largest tourist attractions in the city. Packed with vendors seven days a week, offerings include artworks, candy, Charleston confections, jewelry, T-shirts, and much, much more.

How and why it began to be referred to as a former slave market is unknown, though this urban legend is mainly attributed to tourists' unfamiliarity with the city's history. So if you are ever in Charleston and someone refers to it as the "slave market," you can correct them. Politely, of course!

2. White Point Gardens was the site of public hangings.

Charleston mythbusters can't bust this one: it's true! White Point Gardens at The Battery is a park popular with tourists and locals alike. With stately oak trees, a band stand, and the scenic Charleston harbor a few feet away, it is a great place for a picnic or for the kids to feed the squirrels that populate the park. While it is a beautiful park, the fact that it was the scene of public hangings in the early 18th century is no urban legend.

Charleston, like many of the British colonies, had a piracy problem during the 18th century. In 1718, Stede Bonnet, the "Gentleman Pirate," was captured by Colonel William Rhett and brought to trial. He and several of his crew were found guilty. They were hanged on December 10, 1718, at what is now White Point Gardens. They were buried in the nearby marsh and their remains are still there to this day. In 1719, pirates of Richard Worley's crew, and possibly Worley himself, were also hanged there.

3. The Three Sisters

This is a popular Charleston urban legend, but Charleston mythbusters must reveal that it is total fabrication. The three houses at 23, 25, and 27 Meeting Street are referred to as the Three Sisters. Built from 1760 to 1800, they are known as sisters due to their similar architectural styles. The story goes that the houses were built by a wealthy Charleston father for his three daughters, who were so ugly that he figured they would never marry. One sister was a blond, one a brunette, and one a redhead. While this is an intriguing tale, there is no evidence that it is a historical fact.

4. During construction of the first Cooper River Bridge, a worker fell into the fresh concrete of one of the pillars, was buried alive, and his body never recovered.

This is another urban myth in Charleston. There were two Cooper River Bridges before the current bridge was built. The first, the John P. Grace Memorial Bridge, was completed in 1929 at a cost of six million dollars. The second, the Silas N. Pearman Bridge, was completed in 1966. It is said that during construction of the Grace Memorial Bridge, a worker fell into one of the pillars while it was being filled with concrete and was buried alive. The story goes that his body was never recovered and was forever entombed in the structure. While it is true that several men died in the construction of the bridge, none were buried in the concrete and all bodies were recovered.

During the construction of the John P. Grace Memorial Bridge, fourteen men were allegedly killed. Seven men, known as "sandhogs," were working in a caisson, digging as they excavated one of the footings for the bridge, when the caisson shifted and gave way, crushing the men in a sudden rush of water and mud. Another sandhog was killed after contracting a case of the bends as a result of working in the heavy atmosphere of a caisson. Other fatalities on the bridge included an electrocution, a head injury, a fall, a drowning, and a tram crash.

By the time the Silas N. Pearman Bridge was constructed, safety regulations had improved dramatically. During construction of the bridge, it is said that only four workmen lost their lives. One was crushed by a pile-driving crane when it collapsed, two fatalities were the result of falls of over 100 feet, and the fourth fatality occurred when a worker went over the side of the bridge while driving a vehicle used for hauling lumber. While all of these deaths were tragic, it was a marked improvement over the construction of the John P. Grace Memorial Bridge.

Both of these bridges are gone now, replaced by the new Cooper River Bridge, formally known as the Arthur Ravenel, Jr. Bridge. This bridge was completed in 2005 at a cost of about $541 million. The Arthur Ravenel, Jr. Bridge is the longest cable-stayed bridge in the western hemisphere. Remarkably, only one fatality occurred during construction of the Ravenel Bridge. Supposedly in that instance, a 19-year-old construction worker fell 75-feet to his death when he unclipped his safety harness as he prepared to go to lunch.

Thanks to Charleston mythbusters, you'll be able to sort Charleston urban myths from facts. So next time someone refers to the "old slave market" or the guy who was buried alive in one of the bridges, you can go ahead and bust those scary urban legends.


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