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Community : Top Stories Last Updated: Feb 6, 2013 - 9:47:34 AM

At the Museum: The Charleston Museum
By Kate Maas
Feb 6, 2013 - 9:35:19 AM

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A video of a Gullah woman recounting a traditional folktale.
Silverware used by Charleston's high society - colonial era to Victorian period.
Early 19th century pistols from the armory collection.
A piece of Charleston's earliest landscape, The Walled City.
A Victorian era dollhouse.
The Hunley - one of the first submersibles, a precursor to the later submarine.

Hey Hollywood - heads-up! If you’re planning another sequel to the movie “Night at the Museum”, have we got the perfect location for you! The Lowcountry’s own Charleston Museum, which is located downtown at 360 Meeting Street, right across the street from The Visitor’s Center.
Established in 1773 (when South Carolina was just still a British Colony,) the museum is considered by many to be America’s “first museum”.  The early collection was originally inspired by The British Museum, famous for its display of rare and exotic objects. Although many of the original colonial collections were destroyed by fire in 1778, the fledgling museum re-opened to the public in 1824, sporting brand new acquisitions. After the Civil War, additional findings, depicting both local culture and history, as well as fascinating artifacts from around the world, have been continually acquired, dating from the late 18th century all the way to present day.
Fully accredited by the American Association of Museums, the Charleston Museum continues to successfully fulfill its mission to “document and explain the natural and cultural history of Charleston and the South Carolina coastal region…”   The museum offers something for visitors of all ages and interests: natural science (think dinosaur bones and dioramas of favorite Lowcountry animals), ornithology (bird lovers will have a field day inspecting the museum’s vast well-preserved avian collection of popular and extinct birds) and hundreds of fascinating objects – like pottery, plantation tools, early 19th century pistols, weaving looms, 20th century quilts and dancing shoes! A wide variety of historical documents, photographs, videos and other memorabilia on display tell the story of the Lowcountry’s rich and colorful culture and history.
 As a matter of fact, the museum offers so much to see and do, you might want to set aside a full day to visit all the galleries. But even if you decide to stick with just a few areas of interest, we encourage you to try several visits to the museum to get well acquainted with the history and culture of the Lowcountry and the very palpable spirit and energy within the museum that makes history truly come alive!
The easiest way to introduce you to the museum’s extensive collection is to follow the galleries’ chronological path just as they are laid out in the museum. 
But first, before you even enter the museum, check out the scaled-down replica of the H.L. Hunley, the Civil War-era submarine mounted outside the museum’s entrance. It’s sure to draw plenty of “oooh’s” and “aaahs” from everyone in the family (and possibly prompt ideas for a cool underwater scene with “Larry Daley” (Ben Stiller) and his buddies from the past).
Although your kids may want to hang out around the Hunley, encourage them to go inside the museum with the promise of the skeleton of a giant, 40-foot Right whale, captured in Charleston Harbor in the mid nineteenth century, that beckons visitors up the stairs to take a closer look at it...and begin their fascinating stroll through the Lowcountry’s natural and cultural history.
Our first stop:  History of the Lowcountry
Daniel Island School third graders will be thrilled to see all the Lowcountry history they’ve been studying this year – from aspects of early Native American lifestyle, early colonial life, slavery and plantation life. Learn about Charles Towne’s start as “The Walled City”, examine early tradeware, slave badges (a mark of ownership and a way for plantation owners to keep a tally of their slave ‘property’), and utility jars fashioned by “Dave”, one of the few literate slaves. Take a look at how cotton was harvested and begin to appreciate the complexity of rice harvesting as illustrated through photographs, videos and a wide array of tools needed to complete the long and exhausting process of rice cultivation. Also, the gallery provides a peek into the wealthy lifestyle of plantation owners, including imported china, glassware, and articles of clothing.
Turning the corner (of history and the museum galleries):  Becoming Americans
This section highlights key findings relating to the American Revolution. Though the pen, not the sword, was key to winning this war against the British, arms nevertheless played a major role in Charleston’s military history. A permanent armory exhibit includes dozens of historic 18th, 19th, and 20th century weapons – including pistols, muskets and rifles, is a fascinating look into a military culture that depended on guns as much for formal celebratory uses as much as it did for purposes of battle, hunting and dueling. Visitors will also see examples of Revolutionary era Patriotic uniforms, furniture, and household items and examples of antebellum life including a brickpress, weaving loom and a spinning wheel.
To battle we go again:  The Civil War - Secession through Surrender
 Here, Civil War buffs can get a close-up of the special Secession chair and table designated for the signing of one of our country’s most historically controversial documents. In celebration of the Sesquicentennial - the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the Civil War - the museum is hosting a special exhibit through June 3, 2013 called Brethren: Charleston’s Militia and the Civil War. The exhibit spotlights the struggles that Charleston’s militia endured during the long bombardment by the Union. You can practically hear the gunshots as you examine swords and other firearms, artillery, uniforms, and even a Palmetto Guard Flag used by the militia units serving in the Charleston area during the Civil War. 
Also on display in the permanent collection are food and water containers used by soldiers as well as photographs of local war heroes and lesser-known soldiers. No doubt your kids will be fascinated by a special prosthetic hand carved for Confederate Colonel Gaillard (who lost his limb from gun blasts during a Civil War battle); the prosthetic is believed to have been carved by one of Gaillard’s soldiers from the wooden butt of a gun.
As the post-war 19th century begins to roll towards the 20th, advances in medicine and apothecary science, among other “improvements” made their way into the culture. Visitors can peer into a real turn of the century Apothecary as well as marvel at some of the tortuous - and painful - looking devices used to extract teeth (and we think our dentists are scary!). Other icons of early culture, such as Gershwin’s piano, baseball trading cards and cameras dating back to the turn of the century.
It’s not all about us:  Natural History
Visitors will round the corner once again to step out of the drama of battle and into a more serene environment. The Natural History exhibit features a large variety of birds, reptiles and mammals native to South Carolina’s Lowcountry. They have been skillfully preserved by experts, such as Mark Catesby, a colonial-era naturalist whose detailed documentation and beautiful illustrations rivaled that of the more famous James Audubon generations later.
Bird enthusiasts will enjoy a close-up of an extinct Carolina parakeet, an ivory-billed woodpecker, a passenger pigeon as well as a wide variety of modern birds, like our local Osprey!  But watch out! You just might run into “Charleston’s Polar Bear” or the giant pre-historic crocodile, a pre-historic “false-toothed” bird (the precursor of the modern-day pelican) and the jaw of the terrifying-looking 75 million-year old Mosasaurus. What’s more, these ancient bones were uncovered in an area not far from Charleston. One look at these creatures makes us hope that “Night at the Museum” is really just fiction. Things don’t really come alive at night. Do they?
The Wild, The Weird and The Exotic:  The Early Days
A giant plaster cast of the original British Museum statue of Pharaoh Ramses II greets visitors as they enter one of the museum’s oldest exhibits reflecting our early nineteenth century fascination with exotic, ages-old specimens from across the seas.
Children of all ages may especially delight in looking at a real embalmed, gauze-wrapped Egyptian mummy, as well as a decorated sarcophagus. Young scientists, too, will love the many biological specimens, like a snake and a toad, preserved in bottles of rum. A variety of other Egyptian, Roman and natural history artifacts round out the collection.
A few pages from Lowcountry history:  Kidstory
Kidstory is a hands-on exhibit that helps to bring the cultural and natural history of the Lowcountry alive for kids (and adults, too!) through interactive exhibits that are creative and fun!  KIDSTORY features four fictional child characters from Lowcountry history who virtually guide young visitors through lessons about the natural and cultural landscape.  “Rosa” is a modern day nature lover from John’s Island who invites visitors to investigate creatures that live in the local pluff mud. “James”, a 19th century boy, invites visitors to turn on the beacon at the Morris Island Lighthouse where he lives with his family. Or hoist a pirate’s ‘Jolly Roger’ flag with “Robert”, a young slave boy who has to haul crates and barrels off ships for a living in post-Revolutionary Charleston, Finally, young visitors can step inside a scaled down version of the museum’s own Heyward-Washington house where they don authentic colonial clothes and enjoy afternoon tea and a game of checkers with “Betsy”, their young colonial hostess whose portrait hangs on the wall.
Families can also enjoy video clips of local storytellers, like the celebrated Gullah woman, telling tales of Charleston, Native Americans and more.
Stitching the Centuries Together:  Historic Textiles Gallery
Fashionistas will love this permanent gallery that will be rotating exhibits through 2015 in order to display the museum’s extensive collection of historic textiles and clothing. 
If you hurry, you might manage to catch Charleston Couture, an exhibit that closes this Sunday the 10th.  The exhibit features examples of Charleston high fashion and haute couture, from the colonial days through the last quarter of the 20th century.
Then, you’ve got to see Shoes, the first of a rotating five-part exhibit called Fashion Accessories, a look at the important role that accessories, like parasols, walking sticks, fans, scarves and shoes, have played throughout the past centuries in Charleston. What better way to enjoy a walk through history than in elegant satin slippers or high-button shoes? Believe us, you’ll never find any of these shoes at Zappos! This special footwear display through June 9, 2013. Next in the Accessories series is Uniformly Dressed, February 16 - August 11, 2013. This exhibit will focus on all types of uniforms, including diplomatic, school, volunteer, sports and military groups - even an early 19th century jockey suit!  Another must-see exhibit in the gallery is Early Twentieth Century Quilts, through August 4th, 2013, featuring a variety of beautiful and skillfully handmade quilts from 1900 to 1930. 
Loeblein Gallery of Charleston Silver
From the colonial era through the Victorian age, this gallery, replete with teapots, platters, forks knives, and spoons - even our first president’s christening cup - exemplifies the work of the finest silversmiths in the Lowcountry.
Now, let’s go across the street:  The Joseph Manigault House
Designed by architect Gabriel Manigault for his brother Joseph, one of the early curators of the museum, The Manigault House, a property of the museum, was built in 1803, and is a prime example of Federal or Adams-style architecture popular in the early nineteenth century. The elegant furnishings and interior design depicts the grand lifestyle of a wealthy plantation family.
Then head a little farther downtown: the Heyward-Washington House 
Built in 1772, this grand style Revolutionary War era house, was the home of Thomas Heyward Jr. one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. The house was also George Washington’s temporary home during his Southern Tour in 1791.  The house is situated in the environs of the old walled city where the movie “Porgy and Bess” was filmed. Inside, furniture enthusiasts will find the Holmes Bookcase, considered by many to be one of the finest pieces of American-made furniture. It’s a visit well-worth the walk.
There’s plenty more nature, culture and history to explore. By special appointment only.
And a little bit more
Across the bridge on James Island, there’s The Dill Sanctuary - designated for use only for Museum-sponsored programs, the sanctuary is composed of assorted habitats for wildlife, three Confederate batteries as well as prehistoric, colonial, antebellum, and postbellum archaeological sites.
And, for Daniel Islanders, a special treat: Among the museum’s unique  back-room collections, not open to the public except through invitation, are objects like ammunition, arms, ceramics and everyday objects that show occupation of Daniel Island as far back as the early 17th century. These findings were unearthed on two plantation sites discovered during the building of Interstate 526. The Daniel Island News will be talking to Martha Zierden, the museum’s curator of historical archeology, to learn more about these fascinating findings and the stories they tell about Daniel Island’s earliest history. Stay tuned for more information about this unique collection in next week’s edition.
Contact the museum to learn more about Special Saturday educational family programs, tours and historical crafts workshops designed just for kids, and even dedicated toddler days (18 mos. to 3 years) full of crafts, puppets and even a sandbox to play in.
And if your kids are looking for even more excitement, on the scale of Larry Delaney’s wild escapades from “Night at the Museum, we’ve got a special “program” for that, too. Charleston Museum presents our annual “Nightime at the Museum” on June 7, where history comes alive for an entire evening. While it doesn’t get pitch black here at night, the lights do get dim Your child will want to carry his flashlight
The Charleston Museum is located at 360 Meeting Street, Charleston, SC  29403
Phone: 843.722.2996
The museum is open Monday-Saturday 9-5, Sunday 1-5
The Historic Houses are open Monday-Saturday 10-5, Sunday 1-5
Admission for both the museum and the historic houses:  $10/adults, $5/children 3-12, children 2 and under free. Combination tickets are also available.
Please note that admission as well as many museum programs are free with membership – a perfect gift idea for individuals, couples, parents and grandparents! For more information, go to:
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