Our handy little book about Charleston-area history, the aptly named 350 Facts About Charleston, includes lots of cool stuff about happenings during the holiday season. Here’s an eclectic mix of history and trivia to enjoy:
Nation’s first passenger rail service started on Christmas in 1830
The Best Friend of Charleston was a steam-powered locomotive that powered the nation’s first passenger rail service following an inaugural run on Dec. 25, 1830, on a six-mile route starting in Charleston. Ironically, the Best Friend also became another first — the first locomotive to experience a boiler explosion in an accident on June 17, 1831. Rail service continued with another locomotive with what became a 136-mile-long route to Hamburg, S.C., then the world’s longest continuous railroad. A 1928 replica of the locomotive is on display at the Best Friend Train Museum, 23 Ann St.
December 1860: South Carolina is the first state to secede
Just after 9 p.m. on Dec. 20, 1860, South Carolina became the first state to secede from the United States in South Carolina Institute Hall after a “Convention of the People,” called by the General Assembly, in St. Andrew’s Hall on Broad Street. The original convention was meant to be held in Columbia, but fears of a smallpox outbreak led the 169 delegates to move the meeting to Charleston. Posters entitled “The Union is Dissolved,” flooded the streets and joyful crowds celebrated after the decision.
One year later: Fire destroys 575 homes in downtown Charleston
Two years before the Union bombardment of Charleston began and eight months after the first shots of the Civil War were fired at Fort Sumter, fire ravaged the city. The conflagration began Dec. 11, 1861, at the intersection of East Bay and Hasell streets. Fourteen houses on Queen Street were destroyed to create a fire block and save the Marine and Roper hospitals, the Medical College and the Roman Catholic Orphan House. The fire burned itself out by noon Dec. 12, 1861, after it had consumed 540 acres, 575 homes, five churches and numerous businesses. The fire is considered the worst in the city’s history.
When Charleston didn’t become a Christmas gift
During the American Civil War, there was one name that struck fear in the hearts of Southerners across the Confederacy: William Tecumseh Sherman. The Union general led his troops out of what remained of Atlanta on Nov. 16, 1864, and rumor had it that he was headed toward Charleston on what became known as the March to the Sea. In truth, the only thing anyone knew for sure was that he was marching toward the ocean, but locals in the Lowcountry assumed that the Holy City was his target because the first shots of the Civil War were fired here. As it happened, Sherman made it to Savannah, which he “gave” to President Abraham Lincoln as a Christmas present in 1864. His forces then headed north to Columbia, leaving Charleston to fate.
Charleston’s only world fair started in December 1901
The city of Charleston hosted the only world’s fair in the history of South Carolina from December 1901 to May 1902. The South Carolina Interstate and West Indian Exposition, also known as the Charleston Exposition, attracted 675,000 people to the Cotton Palace. The palace and many of the other structures built for the expo no longer stand. The only buildings that remain are a bandstand at Hampton Park and Lowndes Grove, which was the exposition’s Women’s building. The regional trade show was held on 250 acres of land that is now home to The Citadel and Hampton Park. Famous visitors during this time included President Theodore Roosevelt and inventor and businessman Thomas A. Edison, who took panoramic video of the expo, now available through the Library of Congress.
YouTube’s Angry Grandpa died in December 2017 in Charleston
Charles Marvin Green Jr., better known as Angry Grandpa, was an American internet personality before his death in December 2017 due to cirrhosis of the liver. The West Ashley resident’s YouTube channel, “TheAngryGrandpaShow,” was just shy of 4.5 million subscribers in 2020, and his videos have been featured on Dr. Drew, TruTV’s Most Shocking, Rude Tube and MTV’s Pranked. The channel is still being updated, and more previously-filmed but unreleased videos of AGP were still being uploaded as recently as May 2, 2020. The content was filmed previously and had yet to be released.
Jump Little Children honored in December 2019
The fandom for Jump, Little Children is so rabid around the Lowcountry that U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham, D-S.C., honored it in the Congressional Record on Dec. 10, 2019: “Jump has earned a substantial and loyal fan base that has followed them throughout the country, supporting their nine records and EPs, and literally thousands of energetic concerts that keep us showing up,” he said.
One week later: Ranky Tanky gets its day in the sun
Gullah band Ranky Tanky became a surprise national hit in 2017 with the release of their self-titled debut album. Composed of several popular jazz artists from the Charleston area, the band performs modernized versions of Gullah songs and uses the cultural traditions of some of its ancestors to create original music. The band’s popularity reached a high point in 2019, when Mayor John Tecklenburg declared Dec. 17 as Ranky Tanky Day. One month later, the band won a Grammy Award for Best Regional Roots Music for its second album, Good Time.
Sixth of White’s Tradd Street series was about Christmas
Born May 30, 1964, in Tulsa, Okla., Karen White grew up in London and now lives with her husband near Atlanta. She is known for her Tradd Street mystery series, which is based in Charleston. This first book in the series, The House on Tradd Street, was published in 2008. There are six books in the series, the most recent being The Christmas Spirits on Tradd Street, published in 2019.
Writers Lindsay Street, Skyler Baldwin, Heath Ellison and Andy Brack contributed to this story.