Thursday, September 1, 2011

Upheaval in Charleston

On August 31, 1886, a massive earthquake centered near Charleston, South Carolina, sent shock waves as far north as Maine, down into Florida, and west to the Mississippi River. When the dust settled, residents of the old port city were devastated by the death and destruction.

Upheaval in Charleston is a gripping account of natural disaster and turbulent social change in a city known as the cradle of secession. Weaving together the emotionally charged stories of Confederate veterans and former slaves, Susan Millar Williams and Stephen G. Hoffius portray a South where whites and blacks struggled to determine how they would coexist a generation after the end of the Civil War.

This is also the story of Francis Warrington Dawson, a British expatriate drawn to the South by the romance of the Confederacy. As editor of Charleston’s News and Courier, Dawson walked a lonely and dangerous path, risking his life and reputation to find common ground between the races. Hailed as a hero in the aftermath of the earthquake, Dawson was denounced by white supremacists and murdered less than three years after the disaster. His killer was acquitted after a sensational trial that unmasked a Charleston underworld of decadence and corruption.

Combining careful research with suspenseful storytelling, Upheaval in Charleston offers a vivid portrait of a volatile time and an anguished place. 



Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Exhibitions Feature Anniversary of 1886 Earthquake

The 125th anniversary of the great Charleston earthquake of 1886, the largest earthquake ever to strike the east coast of the United States, is being commemorated by three physical exhibitions and two online displays. All draw on the research conducted by Susan Millar Williams and Stephen G. Hoffius for their new book Upheaval in Charleston: Earthquake and Murder on the Eve of Jim Crow (University of Georgia Press, 2011).

Medical University of South Carolina: “Faults and Fractures: The Medical Response to the 1886 Charleston Earthquake” opens on August 31, 2011, on the third floor the MUSC Main Library and will remain on display until October 31. It describes the effects of the earthquake on public health, medical institutions, and health-care professionals in Charleston. The City Hospital and Roper Hospital were so badly damaged that patients had to be moved away from the damaged buildings. Eventually, the structure housing the City Hospital was torn down and a new facility was constructed. An online version of the exhibition can be accessed online at

College of Charleston: An exhibit featuring images, poetry, and prose about the earthquake, as well as manuscript materials can be viewed in the display cases outside Special Collections, Marlene and Nathan Addlestone Library, at the College of Charleston. The exhibit will open on the anniversary of the earthquake, August 31, and will continue through the fall. Many of the images from that exhibition and others from research facilities in the area can be found at

South Carolina State Museum: At the South Carolina State Museum, “The Great Charleston Earthquake, 1886” illustrates the impact of the quake on communities across the country, national and local relief efforts, how people coped with aftershocks, and the process of rebuilding the city. The exhibit also explains how to protect lives and property against seismic disasters and how government agencies aid communities after quakes. Artifacts include “earthquake sand” thrown up by sandblows and sold as souvenirs to tourists after the 1886 earthquake, “earthquake bolts” used to reinforce damaged structures after the disaster, a model of one of the shock absorbers installed under the South Carolina State House foundation during renovations in the late 1990s, and an emergency box used today by the Red Cross and other agencies to bring food, shelter, and first aid to victims of natural disaster. The exhibit will run through April 2012 and then travel to other locations across the state. The exhibit is co-sponsored by the South Carolina Emergency Management Division.

For more information, contact Susan Millar Williams (843) 887-3890 or Stephen G. Hoffius (843) 853-5372.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

It’s the Earthquake Anniversary!

Time to celebrate! And fortunately lots of folks are ready to help. Teresa Taylor described them in “Quake cakes and brews” in the Post and Courier:

First, our friends at Firefly Vodka have concocted a delicious “Quaketail” for your earthquake parties:

Muddle 1 Lime, 1 Cherry, 1 Orange Slice
Add 1 oz. Sea Island Gold Rum and 1 oz. of Sea Island Spice Rum
Add 4 oz. Pineapple Juice

Or, if you’re more of a beer person, you need to try Aftershock beer, made by Charleston’s Palmetto Brewery. In 1887 a company also called Palmetto Brewery celebrated the city’s recovery from the previous year’s quake with an Earthquake Beer, which a flier described as “The only Beer made entirely out of Cistern (Rain) Water, Filtered and Condensed, and the choicest Hops and Malt.” Today, Palmetto’s event evangelist Chris Winn describes Aftershock, according to Teresa Taylor, “as very flavorful with malt notes yet with a light body and creamy mouth feel.” It will only be available for a short time, so watch for it!

And of course any good earthquake party has to have food, and Sugar in Charleston Bakeshop (59 ½ Cannon Street) has concocted “Cupquakes” (naming rights claimed by Susan Dick Hoffius). Bill Bowick and David Bouffard of Sugar told Taylor they “were inspired by leaning cupcakes that one of their ovens produced due to a funky convection fan.
“’Maybe we can do something topsy-turvy,’ thought Bowick. They … came up with a riff on liquefaction, which happens during earthquakes where sandy soil is predominant. Water underground bubbles up and turns the surface soil into something like quicksand. … So they made cupcakes with liquid fillings, such as lemon and lime curds and vanilla butter cream. To carry the theme further, they sprinkled the tops with chunky garnishes such as nuts, crystallized ginger and chocolate to simulate pieces of crumbled buildings.”

Cupquakes are available at many of the book signings that Susan Millar Williams and Stephen G. Hoffius attend. And they can be special ordered for your own private celebrations.