"The island is a very singular one. It consists of little else than the sea sand, and is about three miles long. Its breadth at no point exceeds a quarter of a mile. It is separated from the mainland by a scarcely perceptible creek, oozing its way through a wilderness of reeds and slime, a favorite resort of the marsh-hen. The vegetation, as might be supposed, is scant, or at least dwarfish. No trees of any magnitude are to be seen. Near the western extremity, where Fort Moultrie stands, and where are some miserable frame buildings, tenanted, during the summer, by the fugitives from Charleston dust and fever, may be found, indeed, the bristly palmetto; but the whole island, with the exception of this western point, and a line of hard, white beach on the sea coast, is covered with a dense undergrowth of the sweet myrtle so much prized by the horticulturists of England.”
This is how Edgar Allen Poe describes Sullivan’s Island in the story “The Gold Bug.” His description doesn’t make me want to visit, but I have to remember that Poe was stationed on Ft. Moultrie, on Sullivan’s Island in the early 1800’s. Beach islands were different places then. What we consider a vacation spot was a place hard to get to, hard to live in, and basically undesirable. It is a completely different place now, full of vacation homes and expensive property. Unlike many beach towns, it isn’t over developed, but still retains its beach town feel. My favorite walks have been along the beach from the main street to the fort. I also love walking in town, looking at the beach homes, exploring Ft. Moultrie, and eating seafood at my favorite restaurant, Sullivan’s. I love the entire island visit, from crossing the drawbridge to parking along the side streets and following the different pathways to the ocean.
The island is small, only 3 miles long, so really I can park anywhere and walk easily to the beach. One warm Saturday in January my kids and I parked behind the visitors center for Ft. Moultrie and walked all over the town. First we walked to the pier behind the visitor’s center and watched a few boats gliding along the inter-coastal waterway. I was tickled to see a man navigating his boat while talking on his cell phone. Wherever we are we still bring our bad habits. I took a few pictures of the boats moored to the docks, and of the marsh grasses with the sunshine reflecting off the water.
We decided to walk towards the commercial part of town in search of lunch, and so we followed the sidewalk by the beautiful homes. One house had several trees in pots in the front yard. The trees were lemon and orange trees, very tiny but with full sized ripe fruit. It was odd to see a spindly looking little tree sticking up out of a pot holding up large ripe oranges. Another house was for sale, and I eagerly checked the reduced price, still beyond what I could pay. We passed a series of apartments, one unit had the door wide open and we could hear loud music and a cheerful party going on, the next unit had a hammock hung under the porch, making a most inviting scene although I guess the hammock would not be a great place to relax as long as the neighboring party was going on. I passed many houses with hammocks in the front yards, hung from porches or trees. I yearned to live in those houses, resting in the hammock and feeling the cool ocean breeze from only a block or two away. My son reminded me that we were on a busy road, and every tourist in town would be driving or walking past these houses all summer long. The idea of peace and restfulness seemed more of an image than a reality.
The sun was out and the temperature was warm for January, but the breezes brought in cool air. We chose to leave the sidewalk, turn right and follow a neighborhood street to the last row of houses. Every so often a public access to the beach is placed between houses and we were quickly walking beside the water. The air was chillier, but we didn’t mind. We passed many people also walking on the beach with sweatshirts and jackets, even gloves and hats. Maybe it was because we had been walking for a while but their choice of winter wear seemed excessive. We walked along the beach until we judged we were close to the main street and the restaurants, then we returned to the town. Crossing the main street we continued towards our destination, Poe’s Tavern. We were not the only ones interested, the street was full of cars, all the parking lots were full, and the restaurant looked crowded.
We sat outside on picnic tables and ordered our food. I wanted the regular cheeseburger, so I ordered the Gold Bug. Laura loves different foods, and especially anything from the sea, so she ordered a hamburger with a crab cake on it, the Annabelle Lee. Joseph likes spicy chicken so he ordered the black cat, a burger covered with drunken chili. We became cold sitting there in the sun because of the cold breeze, but even so we enjoyed our meal. The burgers were the best I have had in a long time. Laura loves Edgar Allen Poe, and never turns down a chance to quote him, so when her food got cold due to the wind, she had to say, “A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling my beautiful Annabelle Lee.”
Edgar Allen Poe was stationed at Ft. Moultrie from 1827 – 1828. He later located several of his short stories on Sullivan’s Island including the Gold Bug. We chatted about his life while walking, and wondered what his family and friends would have thought to see a restaurant and the town library named after him. Poe wrote poetry to be musical, even rhythmic, which was not the style of the time. He felt the poem was the “rhythmical creation of beauty,” but his critics were not impressed, and saw his poetry as nonsense jingles.
When we walked through the town library, the Edgar Allen Poe Library, we saw prints representing The Raven, and The gold Bug. Almost every corner of this tiny building had something honoring the author on the walls. His critics may not have been impressed, but today his poetry is extremely popular. The library was housed in a building that had been a battery for Ft. Moultrie, and it is very small and claustrophobic. While we were talking to the librarian a mother and her daughter pedaled their bikes into the library parking lot, took their books out of the child’s front handlebar basket and walked in to exchange them for next weeks reading material. This may be a vacation spot, but it is also a small town with regular residents, and nothing feels more normal than biking to the library every week to collect books.
The kids and I really enjoyed our Poe discovery day, walking on the beach and eating some excellent hamburgers. By the time we returned to our car we were cold and tired, but ready to return over and over.
This last picture was taken on Ft. Moultrie.