Serendipity on Sullivan’s Island

My Humourist post for today noted my location:  Sullivan’s Island.  It noted as well that Edgar Allan Poe was at Fort Moultrie on the western end of Sullivan’s Island for thirteen months and while there gained the inspiration for his story “The Gold Bug”—a story about a beetle that leads to a buried treasure!

Great!  So, that’s how I started my day.  Afterwards I went to the Charleston County Public Library to research wills and plats.  More on my findings tomorrow or the next day.  Let me tell you, though, that I have but one word to describe what I found:  PHENOM!  Stay tuned.  You will be as stunned as I was/am!

After my research, I returned to Sullivan’s Island.  Allen and I thought that it would be fun to bike around the island.  We’re staying at a marvelous historic home, located on Station 28.  So, off we went, biking.  We had nowhere special in mind, mind you.  We just wanted to bike, mindlessly.  We just wanted to explore, mindlessly.

And so we did.  We biked.  Mindless.  Mindlessly.

Toward the end of our trip, and, indeed, just a stone’s throw from our “home away from home,”  we spotted the most spectacular tree that either of us had ever seen in our lives.  We nearly fell off our bikes at the same time!  We stopped, drop dead.  And, just as we were gawking, a woman walked down the driveway that led to the house behind the tree.

“What a spectacular tree,” I exclaimed.  (Of course:  she knew that already!)

“Yes.  It’s on the Historical Register.”

“Yes, yes.  Of course. As well it should be.  It’s phenomenal.”

“It’s the Gold Bug tree, you know.”

I didn’t know. To me, it was just a drop-dead, spectacular tree.

“The Gold Bug Tree?”  I questioned.  “The Gold Bug Tree?  You mean Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘Gold Bug’ tree?”

“Yes,” she said.  “This is the Gold Bug Tree.  But It wasn’t quite this big when Poe wrote his story.  It’s grown a lot.”  She smiled—a big wide Southern smile, full of pride. The Gold Bug Tree, right there in her yard. Right there, in front of her home. Right there, in front of me.  Right there in front of me—a tree that I had read about but not a tree that I had ever in my wildest imaginations expected to see!  I had no idea that such a tree ever, ever, ever existed!  And here I stood, drop dead in front of it, admiring it without even knowing its literary significance.

“Oh, my!” I stammered, stuttered.  “How strange.”  I continued stammering, stuttering. “I write a blog, and my post for today mentioned that I was staying here on Sullivan’s Island where Poe gained his inspiration for writing ‘The Gold Bug.’  Wow! I’m so glad that you were here as we biked by!  The Gold Bug Tree.  I’m stunned. Just stunned! The Gold Bug tree!  If you hadn’t been here, I woudn’t have known.  I would have just thought that this was such a spectacular tree.”

“Yes.  This is the tree!  The Gold Bug Tree.  Enjoy the rest of your day.” 

She walked back up the driveway leading to her home behind the famous tree.  

We biked back to our less famous rental home on Station 28, and then we returned to The Gold Bug Tree at Station 27.  Without a doubt:  we had to take pictures. 

Two photos follow: one of the tree; the other, the corner marker where the tree reigns with commanding magnificence!  



I have but one word:  Serendipity!


And, of course, let me tease you with the passage from Poe’s “The Gold Bug”:

“Jupiter, by direction of his master, proceeded to clear for us a path to the foot of an enormously tall tulip-tree, which stood, with some eight or ten oaks, upon the level, and far surpassed them all, and all other trees which I had then ever seen, in the beauty of its foliage and form, in the wide spread of its branches, and in the general majesty of its appearance.”

Now, go:  read the story and find the tree!  “The Gold Bug.”

Share with me my serendipitous day! 



Controlled Revelation #4: Live from Charleston, South Carolina

This week I’m here in Charleston, South Carolina, where I am continuing my research work on The Humourist.  For this trip, however, I decided to stay off the beaten path:  I’m out on Sullivan’s Island, at the entrance to Charleston Harbor.  Edgar Allan Poe spent thirteen months here at Fort Moultrie, beginning November 18, 1827, and it was here on Sullivan’s Island that he wrote his famous short story, “The Gold Bug.”

Later this morning, I’ll be visiting the South Carolina History Room, Charleston County Public Library. I want to examine some land plats from the 1750s when the Humourist was publishing his essays in the South Carolina Gazette, and I want to examine some wills from the period.  Obviously, I’m looking for the will of the person I believe to be The Humourist.  I want to see whether the will contains any information that might confirm that he is actually the writer!

I realize, of course, that it’s a long shot, but who knows!  Last week, I was chatting with one of my colleague’s about my research, and I mentioned to him that I was 99% certain who wrote the essays, but I still hoped to find a direct statement somewhere that “Mr. X” was The Humourist.  My colleague looked at me and wisely replied, “You’ll never find it because it probably doesn’t exist.”  He’s probably right, and I know that I won’t find such a statement in The Humourist’s will.  However, I might find such a statement in someone’s diary, someone’s journal, or someone’s letters.  And who knows:  I might just find it on this research trip.

I keep reminding myself, however, that identifying the author of these essays is only part of my project.  The larger and more important part is making the Humourist essays available to students, scholars, and the world at large.  I am well on my way to doing just that by making the essays available here in this blog.

You will recall that last week’s Controlled Revelation #3 left me reeling because I discovered multiple passages in the Humourist essays that were identical to passages that had appeared in a series of “Castle Building” essays that had been published in The Student under the name of Chimaericus Cantabrigiensis.  I offered up two possibilities, as follows:

“The Humourist is a plagiarist, and I have just unwittingly disclosed what may well be the first documented case of academic dishonesty in Colonial America.

“Or, shifting to a more optimistic possibility, is it possible that Chimaericus Cantabrigiensis and The Humourist are one and the same?  If that’s the case, the parallel passages are all fine and well because a writer may certainly borrow from his own work and use it in multiple publications!  More, though, if that’s the case—if Chimaericus Cantabrigiensis and The Humourist are one and the same—I have just expanded significantly what I believed to be The Humourist’s literary canon.”

Since last week, I have discovered that Chimaericus Cantabrigiensis was a pseudonym used by English poet Christopher Smart (1722-1771).  Smart, not The Humourist, is the author of the “Castle Building” essays that appeared in The Student.

Therefore, I must report that Continue reading