You know those annoying photos that various entities – cruises, theme parks – have visitors pose for? They have you and friends and/or family stand in front of the ship (or a fake scene), take a group photo, then try to sell it to you later in the gift shop. Well, that unfortunate money-making scheme seems to have hit historic sites — or at least, one historic site.
We were heading for the line for the ferry to Fort Sumter when an employee with a camera said “You can’t go in there, you have to come this way. There are other people ahead of you.” We hadn’t seen “the other people” because they were backed up halfway through the long, roped line. And they were back up because they had to wait for her to take photos of each of them. My uncharitable thought was that she was less concerned that we cutting in front of other people and more concerned that we were bypassing her.
Et tu, National Park Service?
Six days after South Carolina succeeded from the Union in December 1860, Federal troops moved (without orders) from Ft. Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island to Fort Sumter (empty because it was still only partly built), on an island in Charleston Harbor. Confederates, determined to take the fort, opened fire on it on April 12, 1861, with what’s claimed to be the opening shots of the Civil War. The Union surrendered the fort the next day, then spent the rest of the war trying to get it back. While about 500 slaves worked to and succeeded in shoring-up the fort for the Confederates during the war, all the bombing did take its toll. By the end of the war, the fort was in ruins. In the late 19th century, the army built it up again, into a working battery.
Today, Fort Sumter belongs to the National Park Service. It’s free to get into the Fort, but costs $18 for the round-trip ferry service that will take you there. The only way it would be completely free is if you took your own boat there, which is allowed.
“Don’t walk away from the island on a sand bar,” the volunteer aboard the ferry announced before we disembarked. “It’s low tide now, but it will rise. And we won’t rescue you if you get stranded. Also, don’t climb on the cannons. Or put your head in a cannon, or put your baby in a cannon. I know how cute he’d looked posed that way, but we don’t know what lives in there.” Then she handed out a pamphlet titled, “History Can Hurt,” with warnings about the evils that can befall you on a visit to Ft. Sumpter: climbing is unsafe, watch your step, use insect repellent, drink plenty of water and take breaks out of the sun.
The fort itself is made up of crumbling walls, lots of cannons (the temptation to stick my head in one was, I admit, great), a small museum, and a stunning view of surrounding islands. You have to be back at the ferry in an hour, which for most people is more than enough time to explore the tiny fort. On the ferry, forget sitting. I recommend you stand at the bow (there are three levels, so take your choice) for the short trip, to get the perfect view.