Radio Update

Thanks to Hurricane Matthew, the radio version of the Charleston Time Machine was temporarily blown off the air.  I’m returning to the airwaves this weekend, however, at a new time:  11 a.m. Saturday mornings, with an encore performance on Sunday mornings at 11.

Set your radio dial to WYLA, 97.5 FM, or go to and search for “WYLA live stream.”

This week’s show is dedicated to Lowcountry hurricane history—the first of a two part series covering the major storms of the past 346 years.

For the latest updates to the broadcast calendar, keep your eyes on my Calendar of Events, or follow the Charleston Time Machine on Facebook.  Thanks for listening!

October 2016 Programs

time_machine_oct_2016_updatedFollowing the debut of my new radio show, I’ll continue to give live presentations around the community each month.  For the moment, however, the radio topics and live topics do not overlap, which means more work for me. In the coming weeks or months I’ll streamline the schedule as I settle into a new routine. I also need to establish a new blog routine in order to make the most of my very busy schedule.  In the meantime, please take a look at this month’s offerings on my Calendar of Events and please tune in Monday evenings at 8 p.m. for the Charleston Time Machine on WYLA, 97.5 FM (or the live stream on YouTube if you’re not in downtown Charleston).

Radio Debut on WYLA

Tune in Monday evening, October 3rd, at 8 p.m. for the radio debut of the Charleston Time Machine.  That’s right—here at the Charleston County Public Library, we have a new radio station, WYLA, 97.5 FM LP, and I’m committed to producing a weekly show dedicated to local history.


My first episode is a telling of the “Invasion of 1706,” and I’m already working on the next show.  As a one-man operation, I’m working long hours to get this new venture started, but hopefully the process will become easier in the coming months.

For those of you who don’t live in the immediate Charleston area, WYLA will soon (we hope) have a permanent Internet location (that is, a dedicated URL).  For the moment, however, you can find a live stream of WYLA content on YouTube.  Just go to and perform a search for “WYLA live stream.”  In the list of results from that search, click on the item that includes a red rectangle around the red text “Live Now.”

Once I’ve produced a few shows, I’ll then tackle the task of turning these audio recordings into podcasts that you can download and listen at your convenience.  For the moment, however, I’m going to take this one step at a time!

Voices of the Santee Delta

On Tuesday, September 27th, I’ll have the honor of introducing the curators of a recent oral history project aimed at documenting the cultural legacy of the Santee Delta region of coastal South Carolina.  Bud Hill and Bob Raynor, who spearheaded this important work, will describe the goals of the project and then introduce us to several of the participants who will share their memories and reflections on the significance of this unique landscape.

The Santee Delta, straddling the river in both Charleston and Georgetown counties, is a vast wilderness rich in history as well as natural beauty.  Over the past century, thousands of acres that were once dedicated to rice cultivation have been transformed into wildlife preserves for all to enjoy and to learn about our shared past.  By capturing the memories of people involved in this work, Voices of the Santee Delta seeks to honor the legacy of the past and to educate future generations of South Carolinians.

Voices of the Santee Delta is a collaborative project undertaken by the Village Museum in McClellanville and the South Carolina Historical Society (SCHS), with grant funding from SC Humanities.  The oral histories collected in this project will be archived by the SCHS and made available to the public online through the Lowcountry Digital Library.

Please join us for this free program on Tuesday, September 27th at 5:30 p.m., at the Charleston County Public Library auditorium, 68 Calhoun Street, 29401.

September 2016 Programs

Time_Machine_Sept_2016What do opera, slavery, and foreign invasions have in common?  First, each of these seemingly-unrelated topics contributed mightily to the storied fabric of Charleston’s cultural heritage. Secondly, as you might have guessed, each of these topics will be featured in this month’s calendar of events.  Thirdly, there is more cross-fertilization between these topics than you might imagine, and I guarantee you’ll find links between them all if you join me for these upcoming presentations.  Charleston history is indeed a strange and wonderful mix of good and evil, the banal and the unexpected.

Opera In Charleston, Part 2: After the Revolutions

Continuing our series on the history of opera in the Palmetto City, we begin in the aftermath of the American Revolution, when most people in South Carolina had little use for the dramatic arts. Thanks to the influx of refugees fleeing revolutions in France and Saint Domingue (Haiti), however, Charleston’s cultural life was soon enlivened by a number of talented performers looking to start their careers anew.  Over the next quarter century, the city’s theaters resounded with French operatic excerpts, mingled with the latest melodramatic novelties from the London stage and a bit of nationalistic tension for good measure.

  • Saturday, 10 September at 1 p.m., 2nd Floor Classroom, Charleston County Public Library, 68 Calhoun Street, Charleston SC 29401


Escaping Slavery in Early South Carolina

Last autumn I created a summary of the four principal paths out of slavery in eighteenth and early nineteenth century South Carolina.  The response was very positive, and the program led to a number of very interesting and productive conversations about some little-known aspects of slavery.  In response, I wrote an essay about the topic and made a recorded version of my presentation (see my post from September 2015).  I’m happy to report that I’m going to offer the program again on John’s Island, where I hope we’ll be joined by a number of 8th-grade students from Haut Gap Middle School!

  • Tuesday, 13 September at 11 a.m., John’s Island Regional Library, 3531 Maybank Highway, Johns Island, SC 29455


Invasion 1706: South Carolina vs. France and Spain

This month we celebrate the 310th anniversary of one of the most dramatic and defining moments in South Carolina history, which almost no one remembers.  In September 1706 a fleet of French vessels carrying Spanish soldiers and their Indian allies sailed into Charleston harbor and curtly demanded that the English surrender the town.  The English colonists laughed at this request, rolled up their sleeves, and spent the ensuing six days driving the invaders out of Carolina.  Thanks to the valiant efforts of our militia, and the strength of our fortifications, Charleston was not lost, and the colony of South Carolina persevered.  It’s an exciting story of action and international intrigue that every Sandlapper should know!

  • Wednesday, 21 September at 6 p.m., Charleston County Public Library Auditorium, 68 Calhoun Street, Charleston SC 29401

Questions? Drop me a line at butlern[at] or call 843–805–6968 for more information.

August 2016 Programs

Time_Machine_August_2016I’m pleased to announce the premier of two new programs focusing on two very different aspects of early Charleston history.  In the first, I’ll return to my artistic roots and commence a series of lectures on an important part of the musical culture of the Palmetto City.  In the second, I’ll unveil the results of some recent ground-penetrating radar aimed at identifying subterranean traces of Charleston’s early fortifications.  It’s back to school season, and I’m winding my Time Machine back to the early days of South Carolina history.  Many more details to follow soon!

Opera in Charleston, Part 1: The Colonial Years

The first opera performed in North America debuted in Charleston in early 1735, and  our city hosted many more productions of English musical theater in the subsequent four decades.  In this program, the first of a seven-part series, I’ll explore the music, the performers, the venues, and the audiences involved in Charleston’s first tentative steps towards embracing this popular European art form.   Whether you’re an opera fan or not, this is an important and under-studied aspect of our community’s cultural heritage.  And because it’s the beginning of a new series, I’m offering two chances to hear the first installment.

  • Wednesday, 10 August 2016 at 6 p.m.
  • Saturday, 13 August 2016 at 1 p.m.

Both events will be held in the Charleston County Public Library Main Auditorium, 68 Calhoun Street, 29401.

Searching for Colonial Charleston’s

South Wall and Moat

In the early 1700s the 62-acre center of urban Charleston was surrounded by a trapezoid-shaped system of walls and moats.  The approximate locations of the north, west, and east walls are known, but the location of the south wall and moat is a bit of a mystery.  We know it was roughly parallel to Vanderhorst’s Creek, which is now Water Street, but details are lacking.  This summer members of the Mayor’s Walled City Task Force spent an afternoon trying to locate these features using ground penetrating radar in an area now used as a parking lot by First Baptist Church and School.  Did the technology reveal the lost location of the wall and moat?  To learn the answer, you’ll have to join me for an exciting new program where I’ll describe the process and reveal the graphic results of this investigation.

  • Tuesday, 30 August 2016 at 6 p.m., at Charleston County Public Library Main Auditorium, 68 Calhoun Street, 29401.

Questions? Drop me a line at butlern[at] or call 843–805–6968 for more information.

July 2016 Programs

Time_Machine_July_2016July is already well underway, but I’ve just returned from a long holiday away from Charleston history.  Sometimes getting outside of one’s own surroundings really helps put things in a better perspective, to see the “bigger picture” of historical events and narratives.  I always strive to present stories of local history in a broader, less “provincial” context, and traveling abroad certainly helps.  In the spirit of better-late-than-never, therefore, here is a brief description of this month’s public offerings from the Charleston Time Machine:

The Forgotten Pleasure Gardens of Charleston 

Charleston is renowned for its ornamental green spaces, both its historic public parks and the numerous private gardens tucked behind so many of the historic downtown homes.  In the years before the advent of the city’s first public park in the 1830s, however, there was a third species of urban garden here: semi-private “pleasure gardens” that were open to select members of the public.  Modeled on famous English examples like Vauxhall and Ranelagh, Charleston’s various pleasure gardens offered a bucolic escape for well-heeled urban dwellers who sought to promenade through sculpted arbors and shady boughs while sipping beverages and listening to music on a moonlit summer’s eve.  At places like the Orange Garden and New Vauxhall, both on Broad Street, and Watson’s Garden and Tivoli Garden, both on Columbus Street, the ladies and gentlemen of the town strolled, danced, flirted, drank, and even purchased greenery for their own private gardens.

Modern development has overrun the sites of all of Charleston’s early pleasure gardens, but this important part of our horticultural history is not entirely forgotten.  The legacy of these forgotten green spaces adds significant color and spice to the early history of Charleston’s urban culture, and I encourage everyone to learn more about them.  Please join me for a new mid-summer program about “The Forgotten Pleasure Gardens of Charleston.”

  • Wednesday, 20 July 2016 at 6 p.m.,  Charleston County Public Library Auditorium, 68 Calhoun Street, Charleston SC 29401


 Charleston’s Colonial Lake: A Brief History

Later in July I’ll reprise last month’s program on the history of Colonial Lake, that serene oasis on the west side of the Charleston peninsula.  If you haven’t visited the lake since it’s grand re-opening in early June, I encourage you to stroll around the newly refurbished sidewalks and admire the much-improved sheet of water between Rutledge and Ashley Avenues.  While there, you might be inspired to wonder how such a wonderful, open space came to be in an otherwise cramped and compact city.  If such thoughts pique your curiosity, please join me for a colorful whirlwind history of Colonial Lake, three hundred years in the making!

  • Thursday, 28 July 2016 at 6 p.m.,  Charleston County Public Library Auditorium, 68 Calhoun Street, Charleston SC 29401


Questions? Drop me a line at butlern[at] or call 843–805–6968 for more information.

Where is the South Wall?

Here’s a brief preview for members of the Time Machine audience who might not be tuned-in to the Walled City Task Force. . . .

Rediscovering Charleston's Colonial Fortifications

How does one find evidence of an earthen wall and moat that were dismantled nearly 300 years ago?  In urban Charleston, a traditional archaeological excavation is not always possible because the built environment is now quite dense, and because there are a myriad of private property concerns.  An alternative is to use ground penetrating radar (GPR), which allows one to “see” features below the surface without disturbing the ground at all.  But can GPR technology identify a centuries-old earthen feature that now might be just a stain in the ground?  That’s the question the Walled City Task force hopes to answer this summer with a test in the school parking lot of downtown Charleston’s First Baptist Church.

In the late afternoon of Tuesday, June 21st 2016, task force members gathered at the First Baptist parking lot to meet with Dr. Jon Marcoux, an archaeologist and professor at Salve Regina University in Newport, Rhode Island…

View original post 687 more words

June 2016 Programs

Time_Machine_June_2016June is the time to get out in the sun and soak up some warm-weather history, and Charleston has plenty of it.  First on the docket is Colonial Lake, the popular downtown park that is officially re-opening after a major facelift. I’ll be on site on Saturday the 4th sharing information about the lake’s long history with representatives from the City of Charleston and the Charleston Parks Conservancy.  Later in June I’ll turn back to the intriguing story of Sgt. William Jasper as we celebrate the 240th anniversary of Carolina Day.

Charleston’s Colonial Lake: A Brief History

The serene rectangular pond and park on the southwest side of the Charleston peninsula has been a messy construction site for the past two years, but it will officially reopen on June 4th with a grand celebration.  Officially known as Colonial Lake since the summer of 1881, it is one of the jewels of the city’s urban parks and the gathering place for many generations of residents of the Harleston neighborhood.  But it was not always so.


Colonial Lake, looking southeast, circa 1890

From the earliest days of colonial Charleston to the early years of the nineteenth century, the area now encompassed within Colonial Lake was a stinking mudflat that was underwater at every high tide.  The South Carolina legislature designated this area to be a “public common” in 1768, but its sole use during the second half of the eighteenth century was as a garbage dump for the “street sweepings” collected by the city scavenger carts.  As the mud flat was gradually filled and the “made land” crept westward toward the Ashley River in the early 1800s, the City of Charleston began selling off parcels of the “common” and leasing “water lots” to steam-powered saw mills along the riverfront.  Only after neighboring citizens sued the city did the garbage dumping cease, and the city was forced to consider a different method of “improving” the mud flat. In the late 1850s, Charleston’s city engineer devised a plan to create a temporary pond to collect the incoming tidal waters in order to facilitate the construction of streets and building lots in the neighborhood.  The idea was to let the natural accumulation of silt, brought in with every high tide, gradually fill the pond, which could then become building lots.  After the Civil War, however, there was no money to complete the project, and the pond persisted–literally stagnated.  In 1875 a group of citizens sued the city again for failure to create the “public common” envisioned by the 1768 act of the legislature.  In the summer of 1881 the Charleston County Court of Common Pleas ruled in favor of the citizens, and the City of Charleston was forced to ready the site for public use.  In July of that year the city created a group of Commissioners of the Colonial Common and charged them with the responsibility of creating and maintaining the park that quickly became known as Colonial Lake.  Trees were planted, benches installed, and the muddy pond was transformed into a man-made “lake” with tabby walls and broad sidewalks.

If you’d like to learn more about the history of this once-unsightly mudflat on the banks of the Ashley River, please join me for an illustrated review of the park’s rise from a colonial-era dump to a premier example of urban landscaping.

  • Tuesday, 14 June at 6 p.m.,  Charleston County Public Library Auditorium, 68 Calhoun Street, Charleston SC 29401


Sgt. William Jasper: An Enigmatic Hero

June brings us Carolina Day, when we celebrate the American victory at the Battle of Sullivan’s Island on 28 June 1776.  In retelling the dramatic tale of that battle, no storyteller omits the legendary exploits of Sergeant William Jasper, who bravely rescued and hoisted the fallen flag of South Carolina amid a shower of British cannonballs.  The sheer reckless bravery of Sgt. Jasper’s actions inspired his comrades to fight on with renewed vigor and ultimately to win the day.  From that moment onward, Jasper was a celebrity whose continued acts of valor garnered much admiration from his fellow soldiers.  In October 1779, however, Sgt. Jasper was caught in the American confusion at the Siege of Savannah, where he was mortally wounded while defending his regimental colors.

Since his untimely death in 1779, the name of Sgt. William Jasper has been invoked by countless historians in retelling the American victory at Sullivan’s Island in June 1776.  But as time passed it became increasingly difficult to distinguish between Jasper the legend and Jasper the man.  Writers have found few reliable facts about his origins and family, and some controversy has emerged about whether he was of German or Irish descent.  Jasper’s widow and children passed away in the early nineteenth century, and  with them the last opportunities to learn the facts.  Faced with a paucity of documentary evidence, writers began to invent anecdotes about Jasper’s life that have persisted for many generations.

As a citizen of the Palmetto State, I feel strongly that we owe it to the memory of William Jasper to strive for a more accurate telling of his biography.  With that goal in mind, I’ve been collecting “new” facts about Jasper’s life from contemporary documentary sources that help us separate the reality from the fiction.  He was a native of Ireland, born around the year 1734, who most likely emigrated to South Carolina in the 1760s.  He was indeed a tall, athletic man, and for those precise attributes he was recruited as a grenadier—not as an infantryman or a dragoon—in 1775.  And his last surviving child, Elizabeth Jasper Brown, attested to these facts before her death in 1845.

If you’d like to learn more about this topic, I invite you to celebrate “Carolina Day” by joining me for a profile of the enigmatic Sgt. Jasper and some new insight into his family’s legacy.

  • Thursday, 16 June at 7 p.m., Addlestone Library Room 227,  205 Calhoun Street, Charleston SC 29424
  • Wednesday, 22 June at 6 p.m.,  Charleston County Public Library Auditorium, 68 Calhoun Street, Charleston SC 29401


Questions? Drop me a line at butlern[at] or call 843–805–6968 for more information.

May 2016 Programs

Time_Machine_May_2016May brings to Charleston a profusion of flowers and a general feeling of great anticipation.  Tens of thousands of students are eagerly looking forward to the end of the academic year, while tens of thousands of tourists and locals are eyeing the arts calendar of the upcoming annual Spoleto Festival USA.  Add to this mix the local celebration of National Bike Month, and you have the recipe for some real Charleston fun.  Why not celebrate the end of the school year by bicycling to a performance of  Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess? It’s almost summertime, and the livin’ is easy . . . .

Is South Carolina History Relevant?

As 21st-century technology brings the world to our fingertips, the distant past might seem increasing irrelevant.  In the lowcountry of South Carolina, however, our past continues to shape the world around us. We cannot truly understand our community and move forward in harmony without acknowledging the complex past that shaped our imperfect world.  Thank goodness our state educators know this fact, and have mandated a year-long course in South Carolina history for all third- and eighth-graders.  As the school year comes to an end, I’ll speak to a group of eighth graders (and anyone else who’s interested) about the many reasons why it’s important to study South Carolina history, and why they’ll appreciate this knowledge in the future.

  • Tuesday, 10 May at 11:15 a.m.,  John’s Island Regional Library, 3531 Maybank Highway, Johns Island, SC 29455 (with students from Haut Gap Middle School)


The Sounds of Charleston In Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess

While composing his operatic version of DuBose Heyward’s 1925 novel, Porgy, George Gershwin made several pilgrimages to Charleston in 1933–34 to learn about the musical traditions of the South Carolina lowcountry.  Some of what he heard merely inspired the musical fabric of Porgy and Bess, but some local sounds Gershwin transplanted directly into his 1935 opera.  This month I’ll dust off my musicologist hat and conjure up some audio excerpts for a discussion of the sounds Gershwin absorbed in Charleston and how they influenced the creation of Porgy and Bess.

  • Saturday, 21 May at 3 p.m., Mt. Pleasant Regional Library, 1133 Mathis Ferry Road, Mt. Pleasant, SC 29464


Charleston Bicycles into the Age of Mass Production, 1910–1960

The rise of the automobile pushed the bicycle to the sidelines in the early twentieth century, but the two-wheeled cycle industry continued to expand and to find new customers.  In this new installment in my ongoing annual series on Charleston’s bicycling history, we’ll take a look at why cycling in Charleston surged during the Great Depression and how baby-boomers drove the post-war market to new heights in the 1950s.

  • Tuesday, 24 May at 6 p.m., Charleston County Public Library Auditorium, 68 Calhoun Street, 29401


Questions? Drop me a line at butlern[at] or call 843–805–6968 for more information.