It all started with BBQ – SC’s weird and wonderful history
By Phil Noble
Last week I had lunch with three old friends. All of us are proud South Carolina natives, amateur history buffs and great fans of BBQ. We decided to meet at a new BBQ joint that we were all anxious to try.
As a member in good standing of the SC BBQ Association, I felt it was by solemn duty to educate my friends to the fact that BBQ was invented in South Carolina – as indeed it was. This led to one of the more interesting lunches I’ve had in a long time, as we attempted to one up each other in our knowledge of state’s weird and wonderful history.
Although, as a reader, you can’t indulge with us in the joys of our slow-cooked feast with spicy mustard sauce, I can elucidate you as to 11 of the most interesting facts about our state’s history, as determined that day by the SC BBQ Gang of Four.
First, the BBQ. We really did invent it here. Going back forever, Native Americans had been cooking deer, alligator, turkey and all sorts of local critters using the slow, pit-cooked method we call BBQ. It was only when the Spanish showed up with pigs at Santa Elena (Parris Island) in 1566 that the grand delicacy of BBQ was born. It’s all true – look it up at SCBarBeQue.com.
Second, an atomic bomb fell on South Carolina. The good news is that the atomic part of the bomb did not go off or you would certainly have heard about it before now. It was on a chilly March morning in 1958 that a B-47 jet dropped a nuclear bomb 15,000 feet into the backyard of Walter Gregg and his family of Mars Bluff, just east of Florence. The plutonium core didn’t explode, but the 6,000 pounds of conventional high explosives detonated, transforming the Gregg’s vegetable garden into a vast muddy crater and destroying their house. There’s a historic marker there.
Third, we make more tires in SC than any other state – including those huge tires that are known by the technical term “Big Ass Tires.” Gov. Nikki Haley talks about this all the time – the number of tires, not the Big Ass part.
Fourth, Larry Doby from Camden was the second black man to play major league baseball after Jackie Robinson. (Nobody remembers #2.) In 1947, Doby played for the Cleveland Indians – so that would make him the first to play in the American League.
Fifth, when it was built in 1793, the Santee Canal was the largest public works construction project in the world since the Pyramids in Egypt – at least that what the exhibit says at the welcome center. The planters needed the canal to ship their products from the outlying plantations to the port of Charleston.
Sixth, Andrew Jackson was the only US President born in South Carolina. North Carolina tries to claim him but we all know you can’t really trust folks from North Carolina – they also stole our name.
Seventh, as long as we are trashing our neighboring states, let’s not forget Georgia and peaches. We grow more peaches than Georgia, a lot more. In fact in some years both Edgefield and Spartanburg Counties grow more peaches than the whole state of Georgia. And we surely have the biggest peach; you can see it just off I-85 not too far from Gaffney.
Eighth, we have had four Nobel Prize winners from South Carolina – sorta. Charles Towns was from Greenville, went to Furman and invented the maser (a cousin to the laser). Joseph Goldstein was born and grew up in Kingstree and he did some of the breakthrough work on cholesterol. I don’t know the details but I don’t think he likes SC very much as he left the state and has never really come back. Robert Furchgott of Charleston won in 1998 for medicine and Cary Mullen, who won the Prize in Chemistry in 1993, went to Dreher High School in Columbia. Some folks say that’s where he came up with the idea that got him the Prize; my lunch boys had an extensive debate about that.
Ninth, Ben Bernanke, the just retired chairman of the Federal Reserve grew up in Bennettsville. Thus, the man often called the second most powerful man in the world was a product of South Carolina public schools. Ironically, they didn’t teach calculus in his school so he taught himself. This knowledge came in very handy in his first job – as a busboy at South of the Border. No kidding, that was really his first job.
Tenth, there were more Revolutionary War battles fought in SC than any other state. Now most of them were really just neighborhood scraps, but they count.
And last, but not least at eleven is the Topper archeological site in Allendale County. Scientists there have found evidence of human habitation going back 20,000 years. That would make it the oldest site of human life in the entire Western Hemisphere. There are some scientists who think the math is all wrong and it should be dated later. We at lunch decided that the older date had to be right – according to our vast knowledge of complex carbon dating techniques. Archeologists at the site also found one of those cheap US Senate key chains that Strom Thurmond was always handing out.
So there it is folks, the 11 things that you probably don’t know about our state’s history. Actually, we only came up with 10 at lunch but one of my friends couldn’t leave it alone and called back later about the Revolutionary War stuff.
The moral of this story? Eat more (SC) BBQ. There’s no telling what you’ll learn.
Phil Noble is a businessman in Charleston and President of the SC New Democrats, an independent reform group founded by former Gov. Richard Riley to bring big change and real reform. firstname.lastname@example.org www.SCNewDemocrats.org
Column originally posted by SC Press Association on December 15th, 2014