Posts Tagged ‘American South’

What does Cairo have in common with the Mississippi River?

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010
Civil War era image of USS Cairo

Civil War era image of USS Cairo

The answer is the USS Cairo, which is actually pronounced “kare-o”. It was one of seven ironclad gunboats named in honor of towns along the upper Mississippi and Ohio rivers. In January, 1862, during the Civil War, it was commissioned by the North as a way to gain control over the lower Mississippi – part of a plan to split the South in two. Unfortunately, the USS Cairo had a short life and was the first ship to be sunk by an electronically detonated torpedo on December 12, 1862. Two explosions ripped open the hull of the ship causing it to sink 35 feet into the river in only 12 minutes – amazingly with no loss of life.Time passed with no way of retrieving the USS Cairowhich remained at the bottom of the river. Over the years, the story was forgotten and locals weren’t really sure what happened—if members of the crew had died, or even of the gunboat’s exact location.

In 1956, Smithsonian Journeys Study Leader Ed Bearss, started analyzing contemporary documents and maps. As Historian at the Vicksburg National Military Park, he and his companions Don Jacks and Warren Grabau made it their goal to uncover the gunboat, which was now buried under almost one hundred years of silt and mud. While they believed they had found the site of the ship, it wasn’t until three years later that Cairo’s armored port covers were brought to the surface, confirming the find.

It took several additional years to gain public interest and funding, and then there was the issue of actually raising an ironclad gunboat from the bottom of a river. After securing funding, the decision was made to split the USS Cairo into three parts in order to lift them to the surface. The entire ship was finally raised on December 12, 1964—exactly 102 years after it sank. After a long preservation process, it is now on display at the Vicksburg National Military Park.

The USS Cairo Gunboat today, Photo Courtesy of the National Park Service

The USS Cairo Gunboat today, Photo Courtesy of the National Park Service

Which Civil War locations have you visited? Share Below.

Photo: Language and Storytelling Southern Style

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

Experience vibrant Gullah traditions in Beaufort, South Carolina.

The Lowcountry areas of South Carolina and Georgia are known for many things: good music, excellent food, and continuing southern traditions. But there are no communities in the South that have preserved their history, culture and language quite like the Gullah people.

The Gullah, who originated as slaves in the 18th and 19th centuries and eventually created their own communities, have preserved their language, which is based on English with strong influences from West and Central African languages such as Mandinka, Fula, Mende, Vai, Akan, Ewe, Kongo, and Kimbundu. There are an estimated 250,000 people who still speak the Gullah language today. One of the most famous speakers is Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who grew up in the coastal region of Georgia.

Their storytelling traditions have successfully blended not only their African traditions, but their historical experiences in America as well. The result is a collection of trickster tales that teach youngsters moral lessons while celebrating ancestor tales of clever and self-assertive slaves, the most well-known being Br’er Rabbit.

The Gullah language was originally believed to be a showing of low socio-economic status and corrupted African Americans from learning proper English, but in the 1930’s and 1940’s a linguist named Lorenzo Dow Turner did a study of the language based on field research in the coastal areas. He identified over 300 loanwords from African languages and found people in remote seaside communities who could recite songs, stories, and count in the Mende, Vai, and Fulani languages of West Africa. Today, the Gullah Festival in Beaufort, South Carolina celebrates these longstanding cultural traditions.

Have you been to the Gullah Festival? Share Below.

If you haven’t been to the Gullah Festival, check out The Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum Presents: Word, Shout, and Song: Experiencing South Carolina’s Gullah Traditions and join the celebration!

Photo: Historic Savannah

Tuesday, November 10th, 2009
Victorian Homes in Savannah

Victorian homes in Savannah

There are few southern cities that survived the Civil War as well as Savannah, Georgia. Founded in 1733, the city has seen its fair share of tragedy, including fire, war, disease, and its unique connection to voodoo culture. As a result, the American Institute of Parapsychology named Savannah “America’s Most Haunted City” in 2002.

But Savannah is more than spooky ghost stories. Despite its colorful past, it is recognized as one of the most historically preserved cities in the United States thanks to a caring community who pride themselves on old fashioned southern hospitality. There are over 40 blocks of gorgeous architecture with 150-year-old oak trees and Spanish moss hanging over cobblestone streets.

The city is also well known for having a thriving art culture, largely due to the creative students at the Savannah College of Art and Design. But for the more traditional art fan, there are the Telfair Museums, comprising of the Telfair Academy, the Owens-Thompson House, and the Jepson Center. The Telfair is the oldest art museum in the South and was founded in 1883. The museum has now expanded into three buildings and represents art from the 19th century to the contemporary arts.

Experience art and history in Savannah for yourself! Book your Springtime in the Old South tour by December 26 and save $200 per person

Which Southern City is your favorite?

Video: Savannah

Thursday, August 27th, 2009

Before the American Civil War, Savannah was the center of a vast cotton empire stretching across the south. Today, its numerous squares, azalea-laden parks, and picturesque cemeteries bear testimony to its founder, James Oglethorpe. The city remains full of green, with more than 5,000 oaks shading its streets and squares. Recognized as one of the nation’s largest historic districts, Savannah both preserves its history and offers plenty of new things to see and do. Here, check out 80 Moments in Savannah, from YouTube user DJ Sandoors.

Ready to see the American South for yourself? Join us on one of these tours.