Bringing My Preschool Age Daughters to Charleston’s Old Slave Mart Museum

For the past few weeks, after my kids are in bed, I have had my nose buried in Ned and Constance Sublette’s quintessential soon-to-be-required-reading The American Slave Coast: A History of the Slave Breeding Industry. (My thoughts on this book will be a whole nother post…) Through reading this, I came to understand that few images exist of slave auction houses, and the historical remnants of slavery have been persistently concealed.

While looking up sites to visit on a family vacation to Charleston, I came across The Old Slave Market Museum  I was enthusiastic to visit this rare preservation of an auction building, but I hesitated because I would need to bring my three young daughters with me.

I worried: Is it appropriate for them? Is it going to be too scary? 

But I really wanted to go. I really want my daughters to be educated about history and justice, even in a small way at their age. I want my daughters to see the joy I take in learning and the seriousness and purposefulness that I approach learning in my life.

And so we went. It was $8 per adult and free for children, so I knew that even if we spent a short time, it would be fine – not too expensive.

And so we went. My daughters love to look at maps, and we spent a little time discussing a map which showed how slaves were transported from Maryland and Virginia to other parts of the South – by chattel, train, river, and ocean.

My daughters mentioned that the people in the photos looked sad, and they didn’t like that people had to leave their families. They asked me about the shackles and told me that they didn’t want to wear them. They studied a plaque that showed how people who were enslaved were prepared for the auctions – shaved, dressed nicely, being fed more food in the weeks prior to sale.

I used some very simple questions (taken from Visual Thinking Strategies) to start discussions about the museum’s features: What’s going on in this picture? What more can we find?

We spent twenty minutes in the museum, and I was proud that I took my children, proud that they behaved well, that they were curious, and proud that I overcame my hesitation of bringing them.

After they went outside, I had the pleasure of speaking with History Interpreter Christine King Mitchell, who provided me with some wonderful booklists. She is working towards publication of a book of primary source materials, and she showed me a few copies of posters announcing slave auctions that will be included in her book.

Later that day, my oldest daughter informed me: “I want to be brown.” I realized we had not discussed the skin color of people displayed in the museum. She had also played with two girls who were black in the Charleston Waterfront Park Fountain that day. (Not unusual – my daughters go to a fairly diverse preschool and have played with children with all shades of skin.) So, I wondered why she wanted to be black. “Mom – I could wear bright pink lipstick if I was brown.”

She is interested in race, so it is my responsibility now to find some books about this and start talking a bit about skin. I don’t feel comfortable with the topic at all, but I know it’s important.

The Greenwich Village Literary Pub Crawl

Hello, Reader!

Isn’t it unbelievable how relationships change over time? I was a difficult teenager and a distant twenty-something for my mom, but now she is one of my best friends. One thing I love about my mom is that she is up for anything – meaning that she will accompany me on whatever quirky little adventure.

So when I called my mom at 6:30 in the morning and asked if I should buy tickets for  The Greenwich Village Literary Pub Crawl for our NYC weekend, she (of course) said,”Sure!”

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Mom and I Heart NY!

Although I don’t want to give any spoilers for those who may attend this tour in the future, I hope to give a glimpse into the three hours I spent in the Village on a sunny autumn afternoon.

Our tour began at the White Horse Tavern (est. 1880), where we convened with our tour guides (both very cool looking – a goth woman and a bearded guy with a newsboy hat) as well as a literary crew of tourists, mostly from New York State, all nerdy – just like us!

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Mom outside the White Horse Tavern.

Welsh poet Dylan Thomas was the featured author at the White Horse, where he wrote his lilting yet highly emotional poetry…and literally drank himself to death. The White Horse is also the site of graffiti antagonizing belligerently drunk beat writer Jack Kerouac as well as a place frequented by one of my all-time favorites – James Baldwin.

Our crew then walked through the winding streets of the Village. Thank goodness for our guides – one can easily become lost here.  I find O’Henry’s description precise:

In a little district west of Washington Square the streets have run crazy and broken themselves into small strips called “places.” These “places” make strange angles and curves. One Street crosses itself a time or two. 

Our next stop was the Kettle of Fish, a dive bar sectioned into two parts – the bar itself on one side and then a separate room with tables and chairs. Mom enjoyed a local beer (recommended by our guide), while I sipped a Guinness. I have never been a day drinker, and I worried about drowsiness, but our tour guides were so intriguing that it was not an issue at all.

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Portrait of Kerouac outside the Kettle of Fish

One of the highlights of the tour (for me, at least) was seeing the guides act out a wussy fight between Andy Warhol and Bob Dylan over the Factory’s it-girl Edie Sedgwick. The truly violent storytelling emerges, however, as the guides tell of the severe beating of Jack Kerouac outside the bar after a long night of drinking. (Inference: Jack Kerouac was not a popular guy in these parts.) However, the Kettle does preserve Jack’s memory by housing the famous bar sign used in a well-recognized portrait, and later featured in a 1993 Gap Ad.

As we left the Kettle of Fish and made our way through the winding streets once more, we stopped outside the home of famed poet and openly bisexual woman Edna St. Vincent Millay, whose education and talent brought her from rural Maine to the Village in the early 20th century. Our goth tour guide impressively recited St. Vincent Millay’s poem “Thursday”  from memory.

After a brief stop outside of famed speakeasy Chumley’s, with it’s sliding window door, we arrived at Grove Court, the setting of O’Henry’s immensely touching short story The Last Leaf. Sample of this well-crafted narrative:

The most lonely thing in the world is a soul when it is preparing to go on its far journey.

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Grove Court: The apartments in the back housed the bohemian characters in The Last Leaf.

Across the street was the home of the poet Hart Crane, a tragic figure estranged by his homosexuality and alcoholism. Despite these struggles, Crane, inspired by T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland as well as his obsession with the Brooklyn Bridge, attempted an epic poem of the history of America, which was well-known but highly criticized. Crane’s life is truly sad and fascinating – I continue to research him when I can.

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Our crew outside the home of Hart Crane.

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Marie’s Crisis 

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A Haunting Plaque Commemorating Thomas Paine 

Our penultimate stop was Marie’s Crisis, site of the pauper’s death of Crisis papers writer Thomas Paine. A colorful moment at this location was when a woman with bright red lipstick (not a member of the crew) crept up behind Mom and I and proclaimed to the group:

Welcome to the Village! Where the streets aren’t straight, and neither are the people!

And, as quickly as the tour had began, it ended at The Stonewall Inn, considered the birthplace of the modern LGBT rights movement. In 1969, in an era when police routinely raided gay bars, the inn was the home of violent riots between the LGBT patrons and the police following the death of gay icon Judy Garland.

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The Birthplace of the Modern LGBT Rights Movement 

This tour made quite the impression on me. I have provided a mere snapshot here, as so much more information was presented by our knowledgable and enthusiastic guides. I was left with the following question:

How do writers persevere despite challenges related to trauma, alcoholism, and persecution for homosexuality and gender?

I have only recently began to identify myself as a writer (despite writing since childhood), and I face my own struggles with not only life’s challenges but also with making the mental and physical time and space to write. I haven’t yet found my community of writers, but on this tour, I felt at home. It was heartwarming and encouraging to spend an afternoon with a group of people as interested in writing and literature as I am (and to know that my mom is one of them!). This warm feeling had lingered within me ever since.

This post was written out of personal interest.  I paid my $20 (seriously a bargain) just like any other customer for this incredibly worthwhile tour! I highly recommend visiting The Greenwich Village Literary Pub Crawl’s Website for more information. The tour meets every Saturday at 1 pm at the White Horse Tavern (567 Hudson Street on 11th).

Dines Family Book Club September Selection: The Devil in the White City

Welcome to the first monthly installment of the Dines Family Book Club! My husband David and I often buy two copies of the same book, and we read them together and talk about them. Even through we are not part of a more formal book club, we enjoy having our book chats at home. I thought it would be perfect to share some of our selections with readers of this blog along with discussion questions. Enjoy!

September

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson

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Pepper Dines elegantly displays the Dines Family Book Club’s September selection.

My Review from my Goodreads.com Account

A fantastic cocktail of American macabre beauty with a twist that “only Poe could have imagined”. A well-researched book that allows the reader to time travel through the dichotomy of good and evil in the White City and its dark shadow.

Post-Reading Discussion Questions

by Jennifer and David Dines

1. Why did Holmes feel the need to appeal to the public?

2. Why would parents allow their daughters to travel alone to Chicago? What social change made that possible? Was the crime rate in Chicago publicized? Would non-Chicago papers carry those stories?

3. Did Holmes’ victims have a particular psychological profile?

4. Who burned down Holmes’ building?

5. Why did people comply with Holmes’ wishes?

6. Could Holmes be the Devil?

7. Is it wrong to put human beings on display?

8. What is the danger in the desire to curate? How are Holmes and the fair’s planners curators?

9. How does the White City contrast the city of Chicago?

10. What are the connections between Holmes and the fair aside from physical proximity?