Sarah Bernhard Appears in Charleston

bernhardt-sarah-1880Sarah Bernhardt appeared at the Academy of Music in “La Tosca” on January 21, 1892. Her appearance was treated like that of royalty. A local reviewer for the “News and Courier”, who referred to Bernhardt as “the divine Sarah,” also wrote that the theater “had rarely held as brilliant and cultivated an audience who were spellbound through love, hate, scorn, revenge, and disgust, all of which had full sway in the role.”


The two lower floors of the Academy sold out for Bernhardt’s performance within forty-eight hours. The day before, the “News and Courier” warned the audience about the “bonnet boycott” if they were attending.


(From “The News and Courier, Jan. 20, 1892)
Bonnets and Bernhardt do not go together. We do not mean … that the Divine Sarah has discarded the use of bonnets; on the contrary her headgear is said to be perfectly lovely; and we wish to convey the idea to the ladies of Charleston that bonnets will be entirely out of place at the Bernhardt performance … It is suggested that all ladies leave their bonnets at home unless indeed they are small enough not to interfere with the view.

“A Sufferer” goes so far as to suggest that it would be entirely proper for the Reporters of the News and Courier to take down for publication the names of all the ladies who go to the Academy wearing any particularly offensive hats or bonnets. Another correspondent “who paid three dollars to see Bernhardt, and not to gaze at ‘Miss Brown’s bonnet’” suggests that the new Chief of Police might distinguish the beginning of his administration by posting a strong force of men at the Academy to keep all the high hats out of the house!

It is true that some ladies have to wear hats as a protection, but the ladies of Charleston never look so sweet and charming as when they display their queenly heads unencumbered by the frippery of the milliner’s art. There is no reason why any lady in Charleston should keep her head covered at the Bernhardt performance tomorrow night.


Academy of Music photo: from “Memories of the Professional and Social Life of John E. Owens, By His Wife.” 1892.
Sarah Bernhardt photo: from Library of Congress

Some 1886 Charleston Earthquake History

eq - book coverThe following pages are taken from A Descriptive Narrative of the Earthquake of August 31, 1886 by Carl McKinley for the Charleston City Year Book 1887. 

Specifically, these pages report the effects of the earthquake around the state of south Carolina. The epicenter was 20 miles north of Charleston, but the quake was felt across the east coast north to Chicago and south to Miami.

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People fleeing the earthquake’s destruction on the night of Aug. 31, 1886. Image from Harper’s Week

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Church Street damage: Dock Street Theater (left); St. Philip’s Church (center); French Huguenot Church (right)

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Broad Street … 27 Broad Street with crumbled facade

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Hayne Street (looking east from Meeting Street)

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St. Michael’s Church and City Guard House

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Food lines, from Harper’s Weekly

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Washington Square became a refugee camp for hundreds of residents whose home were destroyed. 



Historic Charleston Image #3 – Rainbow Row

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Rainbow Row, 1910 … looking south along East Bay Street from Elliott Street.

This famous group of buildings at 79-107 East Bay Street are excellent examples of 18th & 19th century wharfside mercantile life in Charleston. They were built as individual businesses and residences by prosperous merchants with the ground floors used for commercial use and the upper floors for homes and boarding rooms.  

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Rainbow Row, 1910, looking north along East Bay Street … from Tradd Street.

Post Civil War the entire area fell into neglect due to the economics of the time. The wharves along East Bay Street were abandoned and the waterfront silted in, making the area unusable for shipping. The buildings along the Row deteriorated into slum-like conditions by the time of World War I. 

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Rainbow Row, 1920s, looking south along East Bay Street … from Elliott Street.

In the 1930s Dorothy Porcher Legge renovated her house at 99-101 East Bay Street and came up with the concept of different pastels colors as a homage to the Colonial Caribbean heritage of the Charleston merchants. As the entire Row was renovated and each individual building was painted a pastel … the nickname Rainbow Row came into use to describe the street.

MythBuster: The colors WERE NOT painted on the buildings so illiterate slaves could identify individual businesses! 

Modern view of Rainbow Row

Modern view of Rainbow Row

Historic Charleston Image #2 : Three views of 1 Broad Street

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1 Broad Street, Harper’s Weekly. East Bay Street to the left, Broad Street to the right.

An handsome 1853 structure designed and built by Edward C. Jones and Francis Lee, prominent Charleston architects in the Italian Renaissance Revival style. It is faced with Connecticut brownstone at a cost of $100,000 for the State Bank of South Carolina.

During the War Between the States, the building sustained damage by Federal shelling and was purchased and rehabilitated by George A. Trenholm, infamous Charleston blockade runner and former Treasurer of the Confederacy. Trenholm was sued by the Federal government after the War for the import duties on his illegal blockade goods and was forced to liquidate the building.   

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An engraving showing the Bank of the State of South Carolina building in Charleston from a bank stock certificate.

In 1875 the building was purchased by another former blockade runner, George W. Williams, who founded the Carolina Savings Bank in the structure. By 1897 the bank was on the first floor while the second floor housed the offices for Southern Bell, the new established phone company. The third floor housed the local office of the U.S. Weather Bureau.

Throughout the 20th century, the building housed a series of banks. It is currently vacant.

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1 Broad Street, looking down East Bay, circa 1910. The row of buildings stretching down East Bay is the now-famous Rainbow Row

Charleston Historic Image #1

This is the earliest outdoor known photo taken in Charleston, South Carolina.- Seigling’s Music House which sat on the corner of King and Beaufain Streets from 1840 until the early 1970s. It advertised itself as “America’s oldest music house.” 

German-born John Seigling started his music store in 1819 on Meeting Street, selling harps, pianos and wind instruments. He relocated to 243 King Street (at the bend) after the 1838 fire. During the War (Between the States) Seigling’s firm manufactured drums for the Confederate Army. C. Casimer Seigling closed the store in 1970, after being a Charleston institution for 150 years.

Seiglings Music House 1853

Seiglings Music House 1853