Pluff Mud Chronicles

By David Farrow and Charles W. Waring III


This year we will be treated to an event during the cool week of August that could be the coolest thing we people have ever seen ... a total eclipse of the sun. Turn around bright eyes. On Monday, August 21, we will be under a total eclipse here in the Holy City: at 2:47 p.m. the sun will be completely hidden by the moon.

This is actually kind of a big deal as these things go. The last total eclipse we had round these parts was in March of 1970.

Mike Robertson writes on the College of Charleston website: “If you missed that one (or hadn’t been born yet), you’ll have another chance to witness a total solar eclipse on Aug. 21, 2017, when the ‘Great American Total Solar Eclipse’ crosses the entire continental United States. The last time a total solar eclipse traveled coast to coast was in 1918 when an eclipse’s shadow traveled from Washington State to Florida.

“Reporter John Noble Wilford of The New York Times described the 1970 eclipse this way: ‘The total eclipse, the first to be seen over heavily populated areas of the United States since 1925, was greeted with curiously and passing awe. Millions of people observed the phenomenon and a holiday spirit prevailed among the thousands of sightseers who crowded beaches, towns and islands where the viewing was most favorable.’ Back on March 7, 1970, a solar eclipse cut a 100-mile-wide swath from Mexico, through Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia and clipped Massachusetts’ Nantucket as it headed out to sea. It was nicknamed ‘The Eclipse of the Century.’

“The Charleston News and Courier reporter Ben Palmer wrote in the following morning’s paper: ‘Near 1 p.m. it was noticeably darker everywhere. It was a strange sort of darkness, not exactly like that of approaching dawn or dusk and it appeared to reach a certain level and then stop. About a minute before totality at 1:25 p.m., the sky began to darken rapidly from the southwest, much like an approaching thunderstorm. With the arrival of the complete shadow, it became quite dark — comparable to the darkness on the night of a harvest moon. Light returned just as quickly as it left and everything was back to normal within a half hour after totality.’”

Roughly 100,000 people in the area witnessed the event. This year, according to various local media sources, more than a million folks are coming to South Carolina with over 100 “celebrations” taking place all over the state. Chances are that a quarter of those visitors will land right here in the Lowcountry.

What an absolute cluster! I suggest you prepare for this thing like you would a hurricane. Gather supplies and shelter in place because the word “gridlock” will be repeated again and again. Ain’t nobody going nowhere.

It’s gotten to the point in mid-July that the local media leads with it every broadcast: “Don’t forget Charleston will have a total eclipse ... In other news, six were murdered in North Charleston last night.”

I have to admit that I scheduled my own vacation to Maine so I’d be here. At this point, I only have one question — what if it rains?


I should discard any rumor that the wretch is placing bets at Ladbrokes regarding clouds or rain that could end all eclipse viewing on August 21. I am, however, keen to place a serious wager that many a Lowcountry deer hunter will expect this astronomical phenomenon to stir up a monster swamp buck that will throw caution to the wind and prance about mid afternoon in the open woodlands — especially if the desired-but-rare “cool week” of August materializes at the very moment the big shadows fall.

Further, I am delighted to report that I actually remember the eclipse of 1970.

Memories are fuzzy from the age of five-and-a-half, but the associations with the eclipse helped engrave the event in my mind. We had just been visiting my great grandmother on Lamboll Street; it was just sister Dede and the wee wretch in those days, but my mother was about to tell us that we would have a new sibling in October. I think our younger sister should be aware that she was “hatched” under an eclipse, which may explain a few things about the one named for the sixth Witte girl. (Just kidding, Laura.)

Another Laura, the lady whose married name was Laura Witte Waring, was born in 1877, the year after Gen. Wade Hampton was elected governor of South Carolina, which was a perspective I did not appreciate at the time. I just knew that “Granny” was very old, tremendously kind and extremely hard of hearing. She had a kitchen that consistently smelled of ripe bananas — a common memory of all those who visited the house that Laura and T.R. Waring built in 1912 — six years before the last total eclipse. I suspect that T.R., as a renaissance man type of editor, was well aware of the eclipse, but we never heard Granny discuss it.

I am not sure when we received the lecture, but we left Granny’s house with a clear understanding that we should not look up or we would go blind. I remember how the sky began to darken just as we walked to the Ford Country Squire “woody” that was the “mom mobile” de jour. Unlike today, I did not have any options for wearing special glasses for viewing the eclipse and I had no clue as to how my surroundings would change.

Richard Nixon was in his first term of office and the Palmetto State was celebrating its Tricentennial with men sporting very wide blue ties decorated with palmettos. It was a year before Donald Trump’s father gave him control of the family business. Walter Cronkite talked inside a big box in our den on New Street about a war in a place called Vietnam. Rep. Mendel Rivers was the man to see until his death on Dec. 28 of that year. Palmer Gaillard was mayor of the city of Charleston and the wee wretch would play flag football that fall at the East Bay Playground, which was a few years before it was named for our beloved Hazel V. Parker.

Some of the top Billboard hits of the year included “Raindrops Are Falling on My Head” and “Everything Is Beautiful”; meanwhile, the Jackson Five eclipsed The Beatles and had four hits going to number one. The number one song during the actual eclipse was “Bridge over Troubled Water.” As citizens of the Lowcountry rode around listening on WTMA to The Partridge Family sing “I Think I Love You, there was no open container law; others burned a gallon of regular for a mere $.36 while catching Bread sing “Make It with You.”

Pull tops were still on all beer and soft drink cans and a cell phone was as foreign as a non-smoking area during a Charleston cocktail party of that era. Patton, M*A*S*H, Love Story and The Aristocats were some of the highest grossing films of the year. Meanwhile and far away from the drive-in, Robert “Bob” Burbage ran his corner store and enjoyed dining and dancing at the Cavallaro, where Charlestonians celebrated special events. We cannot know if the eclipse of 1970 inspired much gallivanting of the type that Mr. Farrow forecasts for this August, but we are in dire need of a place like the Cavallaro.

We can book a fly-fishing trip to New Zealand via a phone that fits in our pocket, but we have nowhere to go dancing while supping in our Lowcountry. It is clear that being the number one tourist destination in the United States does not demand a waltz with your wantons. We are painfully unaware of how “progress” has eclipsed our livability, but I, nonetheless, wish all a happy and safe eclipse viewing — and successful deer hunting!


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Mercury newspapers can be found at the following locations:


Buxton Books

Caviar & Bananas

The Meeting Street Inn (Rack)

Clair's Service Station, Folly Rd. (Rack)

Harris Teeter, Houston-Northcutt Blvd. (Rack)

Mt. Pleasant Library, Mathis Ferry Rd. (Rack)

Pitt St. Pharmacy

The Square Onion, I'On (Rack)