Garbage Detectives

It’s not easy to study ancient history. There are no letters, no photographs, and no newspapers because ancient history occurred before humanity knew how to write. You can learn a lot from a burial site or a pile of garbage, though.


Science Learning Hub. “Middens.” Retrieved from


Garbage heaps are called middens by archaeologists, from the Danish word, køkkenmødding, meaning kitchen mound.

From the name, clearly some of these middens were near or actually where cooking took place. We can learn what people ate and what the environment was like from midden excavations. We can see what tools ancient people used too. Archeologists use radiocarbon techniques to date the artifacts and even recreate some aspects of ancient life to learn how middens worked and what it took to live in prehistoric times.


Layers of a midden. Hirst, K. Krist. 2019, July 19. “Midden: An Archeological Garbage Dump.” Retrieved from .


Camp Bowie, Texas, has several “central feature” middens that were in use from 750 to 1400 A.D. The “central feature” was a pit, lined with rocks where ancient people cooked.

The scientists recreated the earth ovens and learned it takes a lot of wood and stone to create a fire hot enough to cook with. They also were able to measure the cracked rock they produced to help extrapolate the age and use of the Camp Bowie middens. They estimate the largest midden was used about 300 times. These middens are about 8,000 years old.

It makes sense these middens would be close to the materials needed to build them. There’s still plenty of rock around Camp Bowie. Based on the plant debris found inside the middens, archeologists believe at the time the middens were used there were stands of oak, juniper, willow, and mesquite in the area.


Texas Beyond History. “Camp Bowie.” Retrieved from


It’s rare to find a lot of plant remains in a midden, but Camp Bowie had some well- preserved specimens. Plant bulbs and seeds were found, showing that wild onions grew nearby.  They found a lot of flower bulbs: dog-tooth violet and eastern camas (like wild hyacinth). Eastern camas bulbs have a lot of protein in them, especially in the spring.  Dog-tooth violet bulbs are poisonous and the natives in the area cooked the poison out.


Britannica. “Hyacinth.” Retrieved from


Since Middens can contain bones of animals that were eaten, they can show us what the people hunted each season.  A midden in New Zealand tells us that the early Maoris hunted moa and seals. Later they ate shellfish, muttonbirds, weka, and fish.  From this, we can learn not only about extinct animals, but also, we can trace animal, human, and plant population growth and decline.


Short-tailed Shearwater (muttonbird) Retrieved from Audubon. “Muttonbird.” Retrieved from


Many middens are located on the coast and show the different shellfish eaten, as well as give us a timeline. They even help us understand climate change.  One Late Stone Age midden on the coast of South Africa enabled scientists to identify sea-level changes by looking at the different sizes and ages of the mollusks discarded there.


Many middens contain broken or discarded tools. From this we can see how those tools were made and what they were made of.  The Camp Bowie site produced prehistoric arrow points, 5000-year-old dart points, chipped stone tools used for butchering and scraping hide, and grinding stones.

In the shell middens especially, shellfish tools are found.

dart points

Two late Archaic dart points (600 B.C.E. to 1200 B.C.E. Texas Beyond History. “Camp Bowie.” Retrieved from


Shell rings, like shell middens, are a build-up of shells and food refuse and appear across the world. They vary in size and can have diameters as large as 800 feet or as small as 98.5 feet. Their height varies from 3.2 feet to almost 20 feet.

Shell rings are built in maritime forests, on high land. South Carolina has 17 sites and a total of 25 shell rings on our islands, such as Coosaw Island and Hilton Head. In the U.S. shell rings were generally created by the woodland period natives, roughly 3,000 years ago.

Rings vary in shape from ovals and circles, to Cs and Us. Using comparative analysis of circular communities, and by analyzing the lay-out of towns, scientists deduced that some sections of the rings had more significance than others.

shell circles in SC

Shapes and locations of S.C. shell rings. Southeast Archeological Center and U.S. Department of the Interior. “Archaic Shell Rings of the Southeast U.S. Historic Context. “ Retrieved from

Some archeologists argue that the oval and circular rings point to a more egalitarian society and that the C or U-shaped rings mark different social statuses. They use the setting of homes within a village to support this. Often a C-shaped ring has a higher accumulation of shell in the ends of the C. This mirrors the placement of high-status homes within the village.

Additionally, the natives didn’t lay down one layer from one end to the other and then build on top of that. If one section of the shape had more cultural or social influence, it would be built higher and more quickly.

Often the ground would be scorched first, then a mound of sand from nearby would be placed on top. Shells would be layered on top of that.  Then multicolored sands would be set down, and covered with shell. Because of the careful construction and the effort taken to get different building materials, these sites are deemed ceremonial.

Shell rings usually were next to a town plaza where people congregated for interaction, feasting, and ceremonies. They also served to mark a tribe’s territory.

Screenshot_2020-03-28 Archaic Shell Rings of the Southeast U S - archaic-shell-rings pdf(1)

Southeast Archeological Center and U.S. Department of the Interior. “Archaic Shell Rings of the Southeast U.S. Historic Context. “ Retrieved from


Shell middens and shell rings mark the beginnings of community living and ritual. Shell mounds give us insights into the people, animals, and even plants of the time. These refuse piles allow us to track ancient ecological change as well as societal change. What you throw out matters. Maybe in the future an archeologist will be digging through our refuse heaps. Kind of makes you wonder what they’ll think of us.


“Ancient shell rings preserved on Coosaw Island for 4,000 years.” Retrieved from  Eat Sleep Play Beaufort.

Audubon. “Muttonbird.” Retrieved from

Britannica. “Dog Tooth Violet.” Retrieved from

Britannica. “Hyacinth.” Retrieved from

Britannica. “Moa.” Retrieved from

Hirst, K. Krist. 2019, July 19. “Midden: An Archeological Garbage Dump.” Retrieved from .

Merriam-Webster. “Midden.”

“Middens.” Science Learning Hub. Retrieved from

New Zealand Birds Online. Retrieved from

Science Learning Hub. “Middens.” Retrieved from

Smith, Debbie. 2017, August 15. “It’s Not Just Garbage: Identifying Ceremony and Cosmology in Shell Middens.” Retrieved from

Southeast Archeological Center and U.S. Department of the Interior. “Archaic Shell Rings of the Southeast U.S. Historic Context. “ Retrieved from

Texas Beyond History. “Camp Bowie.” Retrieved from


Septima Clark


Septima Poinsette Clark, African-American civil rights activist and educator, was born in Charleston on May 3, 1898. She went to public school, then she attended the Avery Normal Institute (n/k/a the Avery Institute). The Institute was at that time a private African-American school. Ms. Clark became qualified to teach, but this was the South in the early 20th century; she would never be hired to teach in Charleston because of the color of her skin.

Not letting that daunt her, Septima Clark took the state examination for rural schools and began teaching on Johns Island. She later taught at the Avery Institute. In an effort to motivate Charleston to hire African-Americans as educators, she joined the NAACP.

In 1927, Septima moved to Columbia to teach. While there she worked with Thurgood Marshall to obtain equal pay for all teachers, black and white. They won the case. This was her first foray into civil rights.

While in Columbia, she studied at Columbia University in New York and with W.E.B. DuBois in Georgia, at the Atlanta University. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Benedict College in 1942 and earned a masters from Hampton (Virginia) Institute in 1945.

Typical for the South at that time, South Carolina did not allow state employees to associate with civil rights organizations, so Clark had to leave the state since she was not willing to leave the NAACP. She worked with the Tennessee Highlander Folk School and directed the Highlander’s Citizenship School program. The idea was to educate individuals so they could educate others in their communities, teaching basic math and literacy. Literacy was often taught by reading the Constitution. Of course, teaching reading would enable more people to vote because of the literacy tests used to disenfranchise African Americans.

Clark joined the Southern Christian Leadership Conference when it took over the Citizenship School program in 1961. She was the director of education and teaching for them. Septima Clark was instrumental in creating over 800 citizenship schools.

This woman who did so much to educate others had to fight for reinstatement of her teaching pension and back pay from South Carolina.

In 1970, Clark retired from the SCLC. She served on the Charleston County School Board for two terms. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter gave her the Living Legacy Award. In South Carolina, she was awarded the state’s highest civilian honor, the Order of the Palmetto, in 1982.

She died at the age of 89, but her legacy lives on in all of the people whose lives she touched.


accessed Jan. 24, 2017. acceded Jan. 24, 2017. accessed Jan. 24, 2017. accessed Jan 24, 2017.

All images from Google Images.

A Wise Woman


Hannah Arendt was a political philosopher who tackled “the hard stuff”: totalitarianism, the question of freedom, revolution, the role of judgment in politics. A complex woman, she distained the title philosopher because she felt philosophy dealt with man (singular). She felt she was a political theorist because she focused on “men.”

Born on October 14, 1906 in Wilhelmine Germany, her childhood in Hanover was sad: her father died of syphilitic insanity when she was seven, and the German and Russian armies clashed, often, near her home.

She eventually went to university in Marburg and it was there that she met Martin Heidegger. They had an affair (he was married) which ended when Hannah went to the University of Heidelberg where she studied under Karl Jaspers.

Of course, affairs of the heart do not turn on and off instantly, and Arendt would love Heidegger for years. He would influence her thought in terms of phenomenology and existentialism; Jasper influenced her in political theory.

Hannah married Günther Anders in 1929 and completed her dissertation on St. Augustine’s concept of love as shown in his works that same year. Later, she wrote Rahel Varnhagen: The Life of a Jewish Woman, a biography of a German Jewess in Berlin in the early 1800s when Jews were supposedly acculturated into German society. Varnhagen, however, for all that she ran a fairly popular salon, was always a parvenu, an outsider.

Arendt became a political activist when the National Socialists took power and she worked with Kurt Blumenfeld and the German Zionist Organization to inform the public of the Nazis’ violence against the European Jews. She was jailed, released, and escaped to Paris where she worked to rescue Jewish children from certain death in Germany.

It was while in Paris that Arendt met Heinrich Blὕcher who was a communist and had previously been a member of the Spartacus League. He was also a gentile. She married him after they each divorced their spouses. While in France, Arendt and the other exiled Jews were stripped of their German citizenship (1937). At this time, she became friends with the German-Jewish philosopher and poet, Walter Benjamin who was her first husband’s cousin.


When the Nazis invaded France, Arendt and others were sent to Camp Gurs as an “enemy alien”. Once released, she left France with others including Walter Benjamin.  After crossing the French-Spanish border and being told that the Franco government had cancelled all transit visas, Benjamin committed suicide rather than face being returned to France and delivered to the Nazis.  The next day, Hannah and the others were granted passage to Lisbon, from which they ultimately travelled to America.

In America, Arendt became a writer and editor for various publications. Her works resonated with both Jewish and non-Jewish readers. She analyzed how politics shapes us and how we shape politics – what threatens democracy and our humanity.

Her first major work, The Origins of Totalitarianism, explored how totalitarianism develops and how it works. A totalitarian government uses terror to manipulate its citizens and then…uses terror simply because it can. Terror for terror’s sake.

Totalitarian governments manipulate history and present a supposed answer to the insecurity of the future. It doesn’t have to be rational. This happens when political organizations are delegitimized and when citizens are not united, but are systematically made more homogeneous – and less free. Arendt also took this opportunity to examine imperialism and racism.

As a correspondent for The New Yorker, Arendt’s coverage of the Adolf Eichmann trial resulted in Eichmann in Jerusalem: a Report on the Banality of Evil. Her phrase, “the banality of evil” summed up how a bureaucrat could commit himself to cataloging and transporting people to their death.


She felt Eichmann did not think through or judge what he was doing; he had no inner dialogue, no thought. He did his job. His lack of empathy was because he was not able to see the Jews in the trains, on their way to the death camps, as humans. For him, they were numbers, a quota. So, you have political evil merging with a failure of thought and judgment which results in a massive evil: genocide.

Interestingly, Arendt did not see the Jewish community as completely innocent in their annihilation, although she did not elevate Eichmann’s character in any way. She felt that the Jewish leaders deluded themselves into a false sense of security, that their lack of action and inability to organize against the Nazi threat was a failure on their part. She also pointed out the venality and self-serving actions of some Jews against their brethren. This was enough to alienate her from the Jewish community.

Arendt tried to illustrate that partisanship and nationalism obscure rationality and positive actions. What she really wanted was a shared world.

She died in 1975. She was the first female (full) professor at Princeton; she taught at the University of Chicago, and Wesleyan University.  She was an outspoken critic of the War in Viet Nam. She was awarded the Sonning Prize for Contributions to European Civilization (the first American and the first woman to receive that honor).

When she died, she was buried without being consecrated and with no ceremony. Her ashes were buried at Bard College where her second husband taught.

I wonder, were she alive today, what she would like to say to us.


Sources: accessed Jan. 2 2017.  accessed Jan. 2, 2017.

Images: Image 1:….0…1ac.1.64.img..3.10.1036.IIXmI2lTF74#imgrc=_IXoain_r_CT4M%3A accessed Jan. 5, 2017.

Image 2:….0…1ac.1.64.img..3.10.1036.IIXmI2lTF74#imgrc=tVdUL8zOEQY9sM%3A accessed Jan. 5, 2017.

Image 3:….0…1ac.1.64.img..3.10.1036.IIXmI2lTF74#tbm=isch&q=martin+heidegger&imgrc=_dRot05vvS5nIM%3A accessed Jan. 5, 2017.

Image 4:….0…1ac.1.64.img..3.10.1036.IIXmI2lTF74#tbm=isch&q=karl+jaspers&imgrc=6BIYd47VutfFZM%3A accessed Jan. 5, 2017.

Image 5:….0…1ac.1.64.img..3.10.1036.IIXmI2lTF74#tbm=isch&q=walter+benjamin&imgdii=iLmgfDSKlpeL2M%3A%3BiLmgfDSKlpeL2M%3A%3B4cCSLW1D-qrlBM%3A&imgrc=iLmgfDSKlpeL2M%3A accessed Jan. 5, 2017.

Image 6:….0…1ac.1.64.img..3.10.1036.IIXmI2lTF74#tbm=isch&q=adolf+eichmann&imgrc=kgtJhcZ0OQgl8M%3A accessed Jan. 5, 2017.

Image 7:….0…1ac.1.64.img..3.10.1036.IIXmI2lTF74#tbm=isch&q=hannah+arendt+quotes&imgrc=PxL6JKm268WGRM%3A accessed Jan. 5, 2017.


Every Voice Counts


Few people are willing to die for their beliefs. Rosa Luxemburg was born in 1871 to a Jewish family in Zamość, Poland.  She spoke three languages:  Polish, German and Russian.  She studied political economy and natural science in Zurich, Switzerland at a time when women traditionally did not walk the halls of higher learning. However, her political activism started even before that; while in high school she joined the first socialist organization in Poland, the Proletariat.  This organization was destroyed by the government after a wave of strikes in the 1880s.  That was when Rosa went to Zurich where she wrote “The Industrial Development of Poland” in 1898.

Her thesis in this work was that Poland’s economic development was tied to the Russian empire and that Polish nationalism would weaken that. She felt that nationalism (ethnic identity) fed capitalism.  Capitalism separated the workers from each other, and helped justify wars.  Wars caused the proletariat (workers) to suffer.

She studied capitalism and economics further in The Accumulation of Capital which she wrote in 1913.  She examined Marx’s statement that capitalist production exceeds demand. From that thesis, Luxemburg deduced there was no real incentive for capitalists to reinvest. The only outlet to sell excess goods was in lands where capitalism did not yet flourish.  This caused imperialism, so the mother country could sell excess goods to the colony.  While Vladimir Lenin defined imperialism as “the highest stage of capitalism”; Rosa Luxemburg felt it was a part of capitalism in the beginning.

After writing all this very heady stuff, Luxemburg married a German and moved to Berlin. There she joined the German Social Democratic Party (SPD); she was a socialist. Rosa was against the Germans fighting in World War I since she felt it was an imperialist war. She contributed to Eduard Bernstein’s revisionist debate. Bernstein felt that the SPD should stop promoting revolution and work to create economic reforms so socialism would gradually push out capitalism, thus “revising” Marx’s original thought.

Her writings on capitalism, political power, and trade unions are much too complex for me to follow. Basically Luxemburg feared that the SPD would succumb to the pressures of capitalism and give power to the trade unions which would never be able to really control wages and direct the flow of income without political power. At that time, she promoted the idea of a political revolution.

Her desire to give workers a voice in society led her to take part in the Russian Revolution which took place in 1905. She was captured and jailed.


Later, Luxemburg helped found the Spartacus League and the Communist Party in Germany (also known as the KPD because of the excruciatingly long German word for “Communist Party of Germany.”) The Spartacus League, which she and Karl Liebknecht founded in 1915, was an anti-war organization.  The League was based on The Crisis in German Social Democracy written by Luxemburg, in which she berated the SPD for embracing the war. She also decried the SPD’s response to public opinion; she felt they had betrayed the working class.


Rosa Luxemburg was involved in the Spartacist demonstration against the war in May of 1916; she was arrested and stayed in jail for the rest of World War I. When she got out, she began working on turning the Spartacists into the new Communist Party of Germany.  Unfortunately, the Spartacists did not ever get strong proletarian support.  Rosa warned the Spartacists against starting a revolution, but wanted them to take part in the National Assembly elections.  You can see that her opinion of revolution had changed.  She was outvoted, though, and the Spartacists revolted throughout 1918 and into 1919.  Friedrich Ebert, the leader of the Weimar Republic of Germany, called on General Wilhelm Groener and the right-wing Freikorps to stop the revolution. They crushed the leftists.



By mid-January, 1919, Rosa Luxemburg, together with Wilhelm Pieck and Karl Liebknecht, were arrested and questioned at the Adlon Hotel in Berlin. Pieck escaped, but Luxemburg and Liebknecht were taken from the building, knocked unconscious, and driven to a river where they were shot. Their bodies were dumped in the river by the Freikorps, who would later support the National Socialists (Nazis) when they took power.


This story does not have a happy ending and I am not promoting socialism over democracy. Yet, under extreme hardship, incarceration, and ultimately death, Rosa Luxemburg was steadfast in her commitment to socialism, which she felt would one day end both sexism and anti-Semitism.  She stood by her beliefs.  She saw socialism as a unifying force, one that emphasized equality. She did not follow the dogma that the workers’ interests should be tied to a party or even ultimately a revolutionary movement.  She was a libertarian as well as a socialist.  Rosa Luxemburg literally gave her life for individual autonomy, political freedom, and freedom of choice.  She believed in the individual.  I do, too.

Sources: accessed Dec. 1, 2016. accessed Dec. 1, 2016. accessed Dec. 1, 2016. accessed Dec. 1, 2016.

Image 1: Public Autonomy Project, accessed Dec. 1, 2016.

Image 2:Robert Graham’s Anarchism weblog…2590.7276.0.7446.….0…1ac.1.64.img..0.17.1193…0j0i24k1.sRsZwHd6OXM#tbm=isch&q=Russian+revolution+of+1905&imgrc=lYRKbUqsZC7waM%3A  accessed Dec. 1, 2016.

Image 3:….0…1ac.1.64.img..2.8.968…0i10k1j0i8i30k1j0i24k1.Gi6teCtckaU#tbm=isch&q=spartacist+revolutin+poster&imgdii=NmiX_KmPUahYsM%3A%3BNmiX_KmPUahYsM%3A%3Bx19YhVLk82U_WM%3A&imgrc=NmiX_KmPUahYsM%3A accessed Dec. 1, 2016.

Image 4: accessed Dec. 1, 2016.

Image 5:….0…1ac.1.64.img..2.8.968…0i10k1j0i8i30k1j0i24k1.Gi6teCtckaU#tbm=isch&q=friekorps+stopping+revolt&imgrc=DBe7UQjY_hJAjM%3A accessed Dec. 1, 2016.

Image 6:….0…1ac.1.64.img..2.8.968…0i10k1j0i8i30k1j0i24k1.Gi6teCtckaU#tbm=isch&q=river+where+rosa+luxemburg+died&imgrc=XwQi_Xv00cPWzM%3A accessed Dec. 1, 2016.




Feeling closed in?


Edgar Allan Poe’s creepy tale of live entombment, “The Cask of Amontillado” was written in 1846, centuries after the ancient Romans practiced immurement on Vestal Virgins who had broken their vows. In spite of this harsh punishment, Vestal Virgins were highly regarded in ancient Rome and there are artifacts that suggest they existed even before the Romans.

Our written history tells us that six Vestals were chosen from girls aged six to ten. They had to be perfect both physically and mentally, and have living parents who were either free-born or patricians.  The parents could not be involved in any dishonorable occupation and if a father or mother was divorced, this lessened the chance for the girl to be chosen.  Once chosen, the parents gave up all parental rights, and the Emperor dowered the new Vestal with ten hundred thousand sesterces.

The High Priest would then escort the girl to the Home of the Vestals (Atrium Vestæ) where her hair would be cut short and the cut hair hung on a tree called the Capillata, within the Atrium.  She would be dressed in the robes of the vestal virgin and her short-cropped hair would be bound in a white woolen wrap or riband.  As you can see from the image below, Vestal Virgins’ clothing were the precursor to a nun’s habit.  As the nuns of the Catholic religion are called “Brides of Christ”, the Vestal Virgins were considered brides of the deity or the sacred fire.  This is a common idea in many ancient religions.  In fact, Roman mythology has many virgin births, fathered by the sacred fire, the most famous being Romulus, the mythical co-founder of Rome itself.


A Vestal Virgin would go through the grades of priestess and at the end of thirty years, she could be named the High Vestal Virgin, or Virgo Vestalis Maxima, similar to the Catholic Mother Superior. She would then continue in the Vestal service as long as she liked. Tacitus tells of Occia who oversaw the Vestal ceremonies for fifty-seven years. Another Vestal, Junia Torquata, was 64 when she was awarded the title of Virgo Vestalis Maxima. She served in that role for over thirty years.  If a Vestal Virgin served her thirty years and did not wish to continue, she could retire and many did so, having acquired quite a bit of wealth.  They could then marry if they wished.

These women were punished so harshly because they were responsible for the well-being of the City. It was important that the religious rites be performed precisely or the gods would not favor the people. In the home, the father played the role of overseeing the family’s daily prayers. In the City, the Pontifex Maximus (High Priest) and Vestal Virgins held that role.  The Virgins served the goddess, Vesta, who was the Romanized Greek goddess Hestia.  Hestia was the daughter of Chronos (Time) and Rhea (Earth) and was the goddess of the hearth and the altar.  Here the hearth represented not just the home, but the city as well.  Vesta was the protector of the city and her fire had to be kept lit eternally. Fire represented home, comfort, and safety.  In addition, fire was pure and elemental. It did not “produce” and so had to be tended by virgins.  While Vesta’s fire did not produce, Vesta herself was at times a fertility goddess as well as a protector. Her fire was kept in the temple in the very center of the City.

The Vestal Virgins were responsible for keeping the sacred fire lit and for transporting it to various temples and religious festivals. If the fire went out, the city had broken its covenant with Vesta and then she would not protect them from crop failures, miscarriages, or even invasion. ITo rekindle the fire if it had gone out, the flame had to be carried from another temple which had received a portion of the sacred fire previously.  Because of this sharing, the same sacred fire burned in all of Vesta’s Temples.


In addition to tending the fire, the Virgins were responsible for carrying all the water for the temples and ceremonies, and for the “mola salsa” or salt wafer used in ceremonies. This wafer was offered to the gods as a bloodless sacrifice.  Pliny tells us, “Numa (the second king of the ancient Romans) first established the custom of offering corn to the gods, and of propitiating them with the salted cake.”  (Worsfield, 22).

The Vestal Virgins were quite busy, constantly performing their own rites and taking part in state religious ceremonies throughout the year. They were responsible for public relics and for community prayers, such as prayers to Fascinus, the god of infants and generals. In addition to their public religious duties, Vestal Virgins were entrusted with Emperors’ Wills, treasures, and treaties. Julius Caesar entrusted his Last Will to the Vestal Virgins and Marc Anthony’s Last Will was taken forcibly from them, to the shock of the Senate.

The Vestals were venerated and had great privileges. They could make a Will – unheard of for a woman at the time! If a person was being led to execution and happened to meet a Vestal Virgin along the way, he was pardoned. Magistrates, tribunes, consuls and praetors acquiesced to them.

Vestal Virgins existed even before 717 BC, the earliest written record we have of them. They were dissolved in 394 CE by Emperor Theodosius. For over a thousand years they performed their sacred duties.  Yet, the records we have only show 22 Vestal Virgins who broke their vows. Of these, two committed suicide; one became an empress; another was seduced by Nero in what had to be a fate worse than death.  The remaining eighteen were put to death.  If a Vestal Virgin broke her vow of chastity or let the sacred flame die, she was buried alive under the Colline Gate of Rome. Plutarch tells of a small cell under the Earth, with a bed, and a lighted lamp.  It was thought impious to cause a consecrated person like a Vestal Virgin to starve, and so they left a little bread, water and milk, although certainly the victim would starve eventually.  They also could not cut or hurt her.  They would, however, bind and gag the Vestal and carry her on a litter to her doom.  The townspeople knew what was going on and would make way for the litter; it was a terrible, sad day for the entire city. The High Priest said prayers as the woman (who was veiled) was led to the stairs leading downward to the cell.  After she entered, they removed the stairs and covered the cell.


This is one of those rare occasions in ancient history when the man was also punished. If a man seduced a Vestal Virgin, he would be executed by being whipped to death. You don’t let a little lust get in the way of keeping the city safe! So, remember to keep  your vows and don’t be lured into a dungeon with the promise of fine wine.



Worsfold, T. (1934). History of the Vestal Virgins of Rome. London: Rider & Co.

Image 1: Kosari, Akos. “Cask of Amontillado” Retrieved October 26, 2016, from

Image 2: Encyclopedia Britannica, Retrieved from Oct. 26, 2016,

Image 3:, Retrieved Oct 26, 2016, from

Image 4: Dantoux, Henri Pierre. “Vestal Virgin Torture” Retrieved October 26, 2016, from




History Lives!



We drive past history; we work beside it; we live in it. There are over 1500 historical markers in South Carolina.  At first, they were placed along a state highway near the site of the historical occurrence.  Now they are placed on the site.  A marker can note a building or the site of an event relating to local, state, or national history. Interestingly, these markers are not state funded. South Carolinians usually pay to have them erected; they also document the event or site and maintain the markers, too.  Of course, most of these citizens are in an organization of some type.  South Carolina authorized the markers in 1905 when it created the Historical Commission of South Carolina.  It wasn’t until 1936 that the first marker was erected near the Long Cane Massacre sight in McCormick County. On James Island, S.C., there are eight historical markers pertaining to Civil War history, all within 4 miles of each other.  They commemorate the following: the Battle of Secessionville; Riversville/Battle of Secessionville; Battle of Sol Legare Island; Battery Number 5; Battery Reed; Redoubt Number 3; Battery Haskell, and Battery Cheves.

earthenworks battle-of-sec-marker

The Secessionville marker recounts the Battle of Secessionville which was fought on June 16, 1862. Confederate Col. Thomas G. Lamar battled with Union leader Henry W. Benham to retain the earthwork batteries named Fort Lamar.  Over 150 men lost their lives on this site.  This battle was pivotal in that the Union was not able to take Charleston. James Island and the surrounding islands such as Folly and Morris Islands, were used to protect Charleston during the Civil War and to some extent, during the American Revolution as well.

The monument lists the Confederate and Union battalions and infantry groups who fought in the battle. It was erected by the Washington Light Infantry in 2003. It stands on Secessionville Road on James Island.  Nearby is the Riversville marker, which commemorates the establishment of a settlement by Constant H. Rivers.

Secessionville Marker, right face


Less than a mile away is the Battery Number 5 marker. Battery Number 5 was built to augment the Secessionville region and held four guns in 1865.  The battery itself is earthen and at one time held a powder magazine. The marker is on Seaside Plantation Drive.

The marker for the Battle of Sol Legare Island was erected in honor of the Massachusetts 54th Regiment, one of the few black regiments in the Union army.  The marker is on Sol Legare Road, near Old Sol Legare Road.   sol-legare-bill-coughlin-2013

On Stone Post Road, the marker for Battery Reed is a small stone engraved with “Here stood Battery Reed commanded by Lt. Col. Ellison Capers, June 16, 1862.” It is located on the west end of Stone Post Road.

Redoubt Number 3 was one of six Confederate earthworks batteries build on James Island. Ultimately, they were replaced by stronger earthworks and were evacuated. This marker is on 5 Oaks Court.

Battery Cheves and Battery Haskell also mark Confederate batteries. Battery Haskell was rather large; it was built to hold twelve guns. Gradually, however, due to farming and residential development, it was destroyed.  This marker is located at the end of Schooner Drive.  Battery Cheves was much smaller; it was built to hold four guns, and was named after Capt. Langdon Cheves who designed Battery Wagner on Morris Island.  It is located on Robert E. Lee Blvd, south of Preston Road.


As noted above, some of these markers are in residential areas and so as always it is best to be respectful of other people’s property and to be on the lookout for small children and pets. The island grew up around these historic sites, with children undoubtedly playing on the earthen works, unaware of the blood and sacrifice made under their feet.  Still, there is a sense of history especially at the marker for the Battle of Secessionville and the area is hauntingly lovely, surrounded by marsh and old oaks.  It isn’t hard to imagine Confederate soldiers feeling at home amid the palmettos, and it is equally as easy to imagine the homesickness of the Union soldiers as they gazed on the marsh and heard the night birds.  Take the time to stop, read the markers, feel the history moving past, and remember how war changes nothing and everything.


Sources for images:

Image 1: Author’s archive

Image 2: Author’s archive

Image 3: Author’s archive

Image 4: Mike Stroud at accessed Sept. 9, 2016.

Image 5: Mike Stroud at accessed Sept. 9 2016.

Image 6: Bill Coughlin at accessed Sept. 9 2016.

Image 7: accessed Sept. 9, 2016.

Image 8:….0…1ac.1.64.img..7.7.823…0i24k1.5bbRQSp42j0  accessed Sept. 9, 2016.


Sources:  accessed Sept. 9, 2016.  accessed Sept. 9, 2016.


Hot Springs, Arkansas

Even gangsters need to unwind from time to time. They need a hot soak, a good-looking broad, and some booze to get over the stresses of bootlegging and shooting people up. Owney “The Killer” Madden showed up in Hot Springs, Arkansas in 1935. Also known as “the English Godfather”, Madden supposedly is the guy who made organized crime, well, organized. In the 1930s other gangsters like Al Capone, Bugsy Moran, and Lucky Luciano would travel to Hot Springs, Arkansas for a little R&R.

While the remote, scenic setting of Hot Springs helps explain the mobster migration, it is only part of the story. Hot Springs might have looked sleepy, but it was a haven for illegal gambling as early as the 1800s, complete with corrupt judges, police and, yes, the mayor. The town was run by two families in the mid-1800s: the Flynns and the Dorans. Like any two powerful families, they fought over the gambling rights of the city, with Frank Flynn, who had controlled the gambling houses initially, challenging Alexander Doran to a duel. Flynn was shot in the chest, but somehow survived and then the blood-feud began in earnest. It didn’t end until Doran was killed in 1888.

On March 16, 1899, the fight for control over gambling led to the gunfight at Hot Springs. You would expect it to be between the Flynns and the Dorans, but you would be wrong, that fight was over. It was between the Hot Springs Police Department, used by Flynn to collect debts, and the Garland County Sheriff’s Office. The police dept. was headed up by Thomas C. Toler.  The sheriff’s dept. was run by Bob Williams. Each wanted the graft and kickbacks from the gambling. When the Mayor, William L. Gordon, decided to crack down on illegal gambling, Chief Toler defied him while Sheriff Williams made a show of supporting him, all the while still planning for kickbacks and illegal gambling. By the time the shooting was over in Lemp’s Beer Depot, four men were dead and a fifth would die soon after.


Other famous visitors include Frank and Jesse James who it is rumored hid in the barn at what is now the Hilltop Manor Bed and Breakfast. They are also rumored to have hunkered down in caves in the area.  In 1886, the city also played host to the Cubs (then the Chicago White Stockings). They built five fields and each spring players came to play and do spring training – a new idea at the time. Among the greats who trained in Hot Springs were Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Jackie Robinson, Al Simmons and Cy Young.

Even before all these folks, the American Indians shared “The Valley of the Vapors” for the healing powers of the thermal spring waters which create about one million gallons of water each day, more than enough for any Indian tribe that needs it. In the 1500s, the French and Spanish enjoyed the area, though probably not as genially as did the American Indians. De Soto even visited. In 1832 President Andrew Jackson designated it the first federal reservation; during the 1800s the Victorian-style baths and homes were built and the city came into being.

Historic Bathhouse Row has bathhouses from 1911 to 1923. You can visit the Buckstaff, the Quapaw and the Ozark Bathhouse Cultural Center. The buildings are beautiful, both inside and out and you can even use their spa amenities. One of them, the Superior, hosts a brewery.


In 1921, Congress established the National Park Service and the Hot Springs Reservation became Hot Springs National Park.

In addition to the Gangster Museum of America in downtown Hot Springs where you can see real artifacts from the gangsters who vacationed in the town, you can check out Bathhouse Row or simply walk and look at the Victorian-style homes. If walking around the lovely town is not your thing, you can do the Hot Springs Baseball trail where you get links to photos and audio clips on your phone. If you’re a nature lover, you can go to the Park or the many lakes nearby. There is hiking, boating, fishing, and more. Hot Springs is a great place to vacation and learn about history. There is, literally, something for everyone, even the gangster in your family.


Photo sources:

Image 1: Grav Wilson at   Image 2: Personal Archive

Image 3: Rose Robinson                                               Image 4:

Image 5: Personal Archive                                           Image 6: Rose Robinson

Image 7: Personal Archive                                           Image 8: Personal Archive

Image 9: Personal Archive



Our nation’s oldest city

We tend to focus on our British heritage in this country. After all, one of our most beloved national holidays celebrates Puritans feasting with the natives. However, before the British arrived, the Spanish and Portuguese explored North American shores. On September 8, 1565, St. Augustine, Florida was founded by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés of Spain. The city served as the capital for the Spanish for several years and is the oldest European settlement to be continuously occupied in the continental U.S.

Before the Spanish incursion into their lands, Timucua Indians lived in the area from Cumberland Island, Georgia down to Orlando, Florida. Even before the settlement of St. Augustine, the Timucuans had interactions with the Spanish. In 1539, Hernando De Soto and over 500 men marched through western Timucuan territory on their way to Apalachee lands. As they travelled, they pillaged the native villages. In addition to taking food, they also kidnapped the women as consorts and the men and boys as guides or to carry their supplies. Battles between the Spanish and the natives resulted, of course, in heavy losses for the Indians. Luckily for the Timucuans, De Soto was anxious to reach Apalachee lands, where he expected to find gold and food. He did not linger with the Timucuans. The natives fared better with the French Huguenots at Fort Caroline but Menéndez attacked the fort, almost ending any French settlement in Florida. The Spanish established missions within the Timucuan villages. Over the course of time, between disease and war, the Timucuans became extinct.

Timucua Lemoyne Ribault

In 1586, Sir Francis Drake sacked and burned St. Augustine. A little over 100 years later, in 1688,  the town was sacked again by the English buccaneer Robert Searle, who also ransomed some hostages and sold others into slavery.  In 1695, the Castillo de San Marcos was built to try to protect the town from the British in Charles Town. The fortress was built out of coquina, which is made from broken coral and shells and still stands today. Apparently it didn’t work as St. Augustine was again burned in the early 18th century by the British.

Castile de San Marcos                             Union soldiers in Florida

After the Seven Years War Florida was transferred to Great Britain and so St. Augustine was a stronghold for loyalists during the Revolutionary War. After the American War for Independence, Florida was given back to Spain. Finally, in 1819, Florida was ceded to the U.S.  During the Civil War, the state of Florida was Confederate, although Union forces took St. Augustine.

Aside from the Spanish, perhaps the one biggest influence on the town was made by Henry M. Flagler, co-founder of Standard Oil   He built two hotels, bought another, and founded the Florida East Coast Railway. Besides rebuilding churches he’d had demolished to complete his vision of St. Augustine as a luxury resort, Flagler also built a modern hospital and the City Building.

Alcazar Hotel at  The Alcazar Hotel

The City is full of historical sites. A significant site is the Mission Nombre de Dios at Matanzas Bay. The mission is the site where Menéndez’s chaplain, Father Francisco López de Mendoza Grajales, held the first parish Mass and where America’s first mission was born. The original chapel was destroyed, but the present chapel from 1915 is a meditative place among the equally peaceful surroundings. When you walk these grounds, you can feel the Spaniards’ devotion to Our Lady of La Leche, and easily imagine Menéndez kneeling to kiss the wooden cross presented to him by Fr. López.

Today’s St. Augustine is a blend of tourist-town and college-town. Still, the history of the city wafts down Ponce de Leon Blvd., and San Marco Ave.; it is embedded in the cobbled streets and coquina buildings. After you’ve visited the downtown shopping area, and been through Zorayda’s Castle, and the Fountain of Youth, enjoy the other sites like the old school house and oldest home, and be sure to explore the side streets. You might see the ghost of an ancient Timucuan Indian, or hear the echoes of long-gone Spanish explorers traversing the ancient stones.

Sources for images:

Image 1: Oldest Schoolhouse postcard from

Image 2: Bridge of Lions from

Image 3: St. George Street from St. Aug

Image 4: Flagler College aka Hotel Ponce de Leon from southernspaces

Image 5: St. Augustine Lighthouse from

Image 6: Athore with monument from

Image 7: Castillo de San Marcos from

Image 8: Union soldiers in Jacksonville from

Image 9: Alcazar Hotel from

Image 10: Chapel at the Mission Nombre de Dios from

Image ii: Pieta at Mission from

Image 12: Giant Cross at the Mission from


Additional sources: accessed Aug. 2, 2016. accessed Aug. 2, 2016. accessed Aug. 2, 2016. accessed Aug. 2, 2016. accessed Aug. 3, 2016.


Images: SCIWay, SC DNR)

One of many gifts brought to North America by the African slaves was the art of basket weaving. In Charleston, S.C., you can walk downtown, or drive on Highway 17 in Mt. Pleasant, and see beautiful hand-woven sweetgrass baskets. This art was brought over by the Mende and Temne tribes from West Africa. Using the bulrush grass, the slaves made “fanners” for winnowing rice in order to separate out the chaff. Generally, male slaves made the baskets for the field while female slaves made the baskets for the home. Often older slaves made the baskets as they were no longer able to do the harder work required on the plantations.

sweetgrassbaskets Image:

After the 1900s, basket weavers started using other materials too, such as sweetgrass. Sweetgrass was more flexible and the artists were able to make more intricate designs. Growing near oceans and marshes of the low country, this grass has a purple flower in the fall, which later fades to white. Harvested in the spring and summer, it is then dried in the sun.

sweetgrass-goldenrod c Elizabeth McConnell of Hamlin Farms

(Image: by Elizabeth Hamlin, from SCIWay)

Sweetgrass baskets are made with the West African technique of bundling the grass and then coiling it in circles. Thin strips of palmetto fronds hold the coils in place and then sometimes bulrush and pine needles are added. Various tools like a sewing bone or a sewing nail are used to manipulate the grass.

Just like any other art, there are knockoffs in the basket business. Fake sweetgrass baskets are sold in gift shops. It is easy to tell they are not locally made, since plastic is used to bind the coils. Obviously, they are not as expensive as a hand-made basket by a local artisan and they are not as lovely, either.

The art of basket making does not generally interest the younger generation and that, coupled with development which has created a shortage of sweetgrass plants, may mean that the art will die out.

Development is always a danger and our marshes are an integral part of our ecological system. There are actually many types of marsh grass. Some other types of marsh grasses are spike grass (Distichlis spicata), cattails (Typha latifolia), wire grass or saltmeadow cordgrass (Spartina patens), and sawgrass (Cladium jamaicense). These grasses all have varying toughness, height, and leaf width. Each has a different “taste” for saltwater and each thrives in a slightly different environment.

Of these, one commonly used in baskets is smooth cord grass, also called oyster grass or spartina (Spartina alterniflora). It is perennial and grows between two to four feet tall.

It grows quickly and has its most active growth in the spring and summer. Oyster grass likes salty water and has a very strong root system. It has special glands to secrete excess salt. This grass dies each fall and is decomposed into detritus by bacteria. This detritus blends with algae and other wonderfully decomposing stuff in “pluff mud” that helps feed the marsh ecosystem.

saltmarshfoodweb DNR.jpg

(Image: SC DNR)

As you can see from the image above, many animals thrive in the marsh. Even raccoons, mink, and bottlenose dolphins forage for food in the marsh on occasion.

So, the next time you’re driving past a marsh, take a look at the grass and notice what it is doing. Is it brown or green? Think about the beautiful baskets that are made from it and all the critters living in that wonderful stinky slimy mud. Then buy some local seafood and put it in a sweetgrass basket; be grateful for pluff mud, the stuff that grows in it and the stuff that lives in it too.

Sources: accessed July 21, 2016 accessed July 21, 2016 accessed July 21, 2016


The Charleston Tea Plantation

Nothing’s better on a hot, humid low country day than that first sip of sweet iced tea, so sparkly-cool you can feel it running down your throat all the way to your toes. It’s one of the reasons God made summer – just so you could enjoy that very first sip of sweet tea.

Did you know that Wadmalaw Island, S.C. is the proud host of the only working tea plantation on the North American continent? Oh, sure, South America, Africa, and Asia have tea farms, but North America has one and only one. The Charleston Tea Plantation is at 6617 Maybank Highway, that same wonderful oak-lined road that takes you to Rockville.

Tea plants 2

Although tea plants had been brought to North America in the 1700s, it wasn’t until 1888 that the Pinehurst Tea Plantation in Summerville, S.C. was able to grow tea successfully. When the owner of the plantation, Dr. Charles Shepard, died the plants were left to grow wild for about 45 years.

In 1963, Dr. Shepard’s tea plants were transplanted to a potato farm on Wadmalaw. The 127 acres were an experiment for the next 24 years until 1987 when William Barclay Hall bought the acreage. William Hall, a third-generation tea taster, completed a four-year tea tasting apprenticeship, and created the first tea to be made with 100% American-grown tea: “American Classic.” In 2003, Mr. Hall created a partnership with the Bigelow family, combining their 65 years of experience in tea with his intense zeal for the golden-brown brew.

There is no admission fee and parking is free. Inside the shop, there is a tea counter where you can sample iced and hot tea. The gift shop is full to the rafters with tea pots, tea cups, tea puzzles — all things tea.

giftshop Frog giftshop

Also inside the gift shop you can enter the factory tour which runs about every 15 minutes. This tour is also free and here you see how the harvested tea leaves are turned into the tea that you drink. It’s informative and fairly quick. Those are two good things for a factory tour.

Tea factory 1 Tea Factory 2 Tea Factory 3

After the tour, you can take the trolley ride. This is not free. It costs $10.00. It is a pretty trolley, a pleasant ride, and, you get to see the entire plantation. Let’s face it, especially in the summer you don’t want to walk 127 acres. You get witty commentary, especially if Stephen is your tour guide, and you stop at the greenhouse. The trolley tour is more fun than the factory tour. But then, just about anything is more fun than a factory tour.

Tea Trolley 1 Tea Trolley and Stephen Tea plants trolley Tea Greenhouse 1

The first harvest in the spring is called the First Flush (a technical tea term for the first growth on the top of the tea plants) and produces a mellow, amazingly smooth tea. Every year, the Tea Plantation hosts the First Flush Festival to celebrate the first harvest. Instead of ladies in flowery hats, flouncy dresses and white gloves sipping tea, they have live music, artisans, artists, and food. The main act for 2015 was Sheryl Crow. As great as Sheryl Crow is, Charleston is home to some very talented local musicians who put on a great show as well. General admission tickets run about $40.00. If you want, you can get special tickets with perks and special parking, but you’ll have to pay for it. The festival has grown over the years and is quite popular. The date changes from year to year, based on when the tea is ready for harvest.

The Tea Plantation is a lovely day trip that is informative, fun, relaxing, and pretty. You can pick and choose how much time and money you invest in the day. Either way, the farm itself is very welcoming and scenic. The tea is great, too.

Tea plants

Sources: on July 3, 2016 on July 3, 2016