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July 22, 2018

One Saturday afternoon, just after school was out for the summer, I was invited to go swimming at the Y.M.C.A. with five of our grandchildren. I enjoyed being in the water with these young ones who wanted their gray granddad to cheer them on in their newly developed aquatic skills. They especially took delight in shooting down the water slide and splashing the old man. Being with them in the water brought back recollections of distant times past when, as a boy, I went swimming on hot summer days.

Other folks of my vintage have similar memories. On a sweltering afternoon last week, a friend said, “I wish I could go swimming in Barr’s Pond back in Lexington County. On a scorching day like today,” he said, “Barr’s pond was the best place to cool off. We’d pile into the bed of a pickup truck. My father would back the truck right up to the water, and we’d all jump out and go swimming.”

Many folks have pleasant memories of a favorite swimming hole. A spot in a creek or a pond, one large enough and deep enough to go for a cooling dip provided blessed relief on a hot summer day.

In a time when there were few swimming pools, the old swimming hole was an important part of my growing-up years. Besides the swimming pool at Camp Croft, there were no public places to swim other than rivers and lakes.

In the popular television series, “The Beverly Hillbillies,” Jed Clampett and his mountaineer family relocated to Beverly Hills. The family was fascinated by their swimming pool, which they called a cement pond. The Clampetts never seemed to grasp the intended use of the pool. Granny sometimes did the laundry in it and set up her moonshine still next to it.

For the Beverly Hillbillies, the cement pond was a less than acceptable replacement for a mountain swimming hole. So, too, the high tech pools of our time are just not the same as those natural swimming places that afford such great pleasure.

Some of our best swimming holes were rendered unusable by those whose disregard for clean water turned our waterways into trash dumps. I remember cooling off as a boy in the North Tyger River. By my early adult years, industrial pollution had altered the alkaline content of the river enough to burn human skin.  In recent years, environmental efforts to clean up streams and rivers have resulted in cleaner water and healthier places to swim.

Rainbow Lake, north of Boiling Springs, was a popular place to swim in our area. The fancy swimming hole featured a three-story stone tower for diving. I remember going to Rainbow Lake on hot summer afternoon with my Little League baseball team.

Tommy Stokes, our second baseman, did a headfirst dive off the third story of the tower. Tommy narrowly missed swimmers leaping from the first and second levels as he plummeted into the deep water.

I did my first backflip off the tower at Rainbow Lake. I made a valiant attempt. I flipped and rotated too far. The backflip became a painful back flop.

Soon after I graduated from high school, Rainbow Lake was closed. In 1968, amid the controversy of racial integration, Spartanburg Water Works officials announced that the lake would not reopen for the summer season. A great swimming hole was lost.

When I recall places that I have been swimming, the lakes at scout camp and at Ridgecrest come to mind. What joy!

I have been swimming in the Pigeon River in the Smoky Mountains, Elk Shoals on the North Fork of the New River, and at Burrell Ford on the Chattooga River. I have enjoyed a refreshing dip in pools at the base of waterfalls like Big Bradley on the Green River and Kings Creek Falls in Sumter National Forest. Sliding Rock on the Davidson River in Pisgah National Forest is perhaps the coldest swimming hole I have endured.

Safety is always a concern when swimming in a natural setting. Never swim alone! There are no lifeguards. Use the buddy system. Currents can be swift. Rocks can be hazardous.  Do not dive! Diving is especially dangerous because the water may be shallow, or there may be hidden rocks below the surface. Slowly wade into the water.  Always wear shoes! Broken glass and discarded metal are often present.

One summer Saturday, my parents took us swimming with our cousins at Lake Lure. On Sunday morning, my mother received a telephone call notifying us that a cousin with whom we had been swimming had been stricken with polio. This was before the Salk vaccine had been introduced. All of us were quarantined for the rest of the summer. There was no more swimming that year.

There were two swimming holes I remember most fondly. One was a small pool my friends and I made in a creek behind our house. We dammed up the unnamed stream. A large vine hanging from a poplar tree provided a ready-made swing. With a running start down the hill, we could soar across the creek and back. At the right time we would turn loose, splashing into the muddy pool. The water was a pale yellow. It coated us from neck to toe with a thin layer of mud.

The second place dear to my heart was my grandfather’s farm pond. Skinny-dipping is a well-established tradition at some remote swimming holes. My grandfather’s pond was not the place for swimming sans swimsuit!

Pappy had built a small dock that gave us a perfect launching pad into the cool water. I often fished in this same pond. While swimming, we could feel small bream nibbling our legs.

After we hooked a couple of granddaddy catfish, we didn’t even let our feet touch the bottom. Catching a washtub-size snapping turtle made us still more leery. In that same pond, Rudy Mancke and I caught thirty-eight snakes one night. After that, I didn’t swim in that pond ever again.



July 15, 2018

The 2018 Major League All-Star game will be played in Camden Yard in Baltimore, Maryland, this year. The Atlanta Braves have more players represented on the National League team since the days of Greg Maddox, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz. As I pen these words I look forward to the annual spectacle featuring the boys of summer. If you are a baseball fan this game on Tuesday night featuring the finest baseball players so far this year is a must see. The results of this year’s Home Run Derby and the All-Star Game will be in the record books by Wednesday.

On a recent Sunday afternoon after church, I made a trip to the public library. On my way back home I drove past beautiful Duncan Park, pausing just a moment to admire the old ballpark. It is a storied place. For me, it is the site of many fond memories. Read more…


July 8, 2018

Dean Stuart Campbell, now in his 80s, is known as the Squire of the Dark Corner. An author, lecturer, photographer, storyteller, and tour guide, Dean Campbell has the perspective of a native son who’s maternal and paternal ancestors were early settlers in the Upstate. Campbell was the first to delineate the Dark Corner, the infamous mountain region in northwestern South Carolina, in his book, His Eyes to the Hills—A Photographic Odyssey of the Dark Corner.

Several years ago I attended an event at the Chapman Cultural Center. Dean Campbell was there to share his stories. Those gathered also saw clips of a movie featuring interviews with Dark Corner residents. I was able to connect with some of my own family history.

The first European settlers in the Southern Appalachian Mountains were primarily Scots-Irish, granted their lands from the King of England before the Revolutionary War. When these people immigrated to the American colonies, they already had an axe to grind with Great Britain.

Originally from Scotland, they had been transplanted to Northern Ireland in what was known as the Irish Plantation or the Plantation of Ulster. Land owned by Irish chieftains was confiscated by King James I of England and used to settle the Scottish colonists in Ireland beginning in 1609. The British required that these transplanted colonists be English-speaking and Protestant. The Scottish colonists of Ulster were mostly Presbyterian.

The British colonists along the coastal plain in North America encouraged the king to grant to the Scots-Irish the land along the mountains and rivers of the frontier. This was to use the immigrants from Ulster as a buffer against the Indians.

The plan worked. The Scots-Irish learned to fight the way the Indians fought. When the Declaration of Independence was signed, the mountain people were prepared to fight the British for their freedom. When these families, the Neelys among them, came to America, they brought with them a fierce independence. They hated British taxation. Some historians contend that the American Revolutionary War was won in the South. At the Battle of King’s Mountain in 1780 and The Battle of Cowpens in 1781 these volunteers, known as over-the-mountain men, carried the day.

The Upstate of South Carolina was inhabited by these Scots-Irish families. Descendants of many of those early pioneers still reside in the area, living on the original tracts of land. Many of them retain to this day a strong stubborn independent streak.  That is especially true in the region known as the Dark Corner. Read more…


July 1, 2018

Permit me to give you a two-part quiz for this holiday week.

  1. Can you quote from memory one sentence from the Declaration of Independence?
  2. Can you name the four South Carolinians who signed the Declaration of Independence?

Students in a sociology class designed a research project. They printed out the words of the Declaration of Independence and placed copies of the document on clipboards. Without identifying the document as the Declaration, the students invited people at a shopping mall, to read and sign the petition. Most people refused to sign their name. They protested that the wording was inflammatory. Some said the students were trying to stir up trouble.

Many Americans recognize some of the words contained in the founding document of our nation; sadly many others do not. Perhaps the most familiar sentence is found in the first lines of the second paragraph of the Declaration. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence were committing an act of treason against King George III. Though the names Franklin, Adams, Hancock, and Jefferson are familiar, few can name the four South Carolinians who placed their signatures on this document.

Following is a brief biography of each one. More complete information can be found in The South Carolina Encyclopedia, edited by Dr. Walter Edgar.

Edward Rutledge was the youngest child of a physician who had emigrated from Ireland. Rutledge was born in 1749 near Charleston. As a young man, he studied law in England, as did all four of the South Carolina signers. In 1774 Rutledge was named one of five delegates to the First Continental Congress. He was the leader of his congressional delegation when the Declaration was adopted. At the age of twenty-six, Rutledge was the youngest of the signers.

Following the war, Rutledge served in the state legislature. His wealth increased through his law practice and investments in plantations. The people of South Carolina chose Rutledge as Governor in 1796. When he died in 1800 at the age of fifty, he was buried at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Charleston.

Thomas Heyward, Jr., was born in 1746 in St. Helena’s Parish, near Savannah. In 1771 he returned to South Carolina after studying abroad in London and began practicing law. He was elected to the colonial legislature, which was feuding with the Royal Governor over the issue of taxation.

In the summer of 1774 Heyward attended a provincial convention that chose delegates to the Continental Congress. He signed the Articles of Confederation, as well as the Declaration. He then became a circuit court judge and represented Charleston in the state legislature.

In 1779 Heyward was wounded during a British attack near his home, White Hall, on Port Royal Island. The British plundered the home the following year, taking numerous objects of value.

After the war, Heyward resumed his position of circuit court judge, concurrently serving two terms in the state legislature. The last to survive among the South Carolina signers, he died in 1809 at the age of sixty-two and was interred in the family cemetery at Old House Plantation.

Thomas Lynch, Jr., was an aristocratic planter like two of the three other South Carolina signers, Heyward and Middleton.

Lynch was born in 1749 at Hopsewee Plantation, located on the North Santee River in present Georgetown County. During the years 1774-76, while his father served in the Continental Congress, he served on the home front, attending the first and second provincial congresses as well as the first state legislature. He became a captain in the 1st South Carolina Regiment of Continentals. On a recruiting trip to North Carolina, young Lynch contracted fever, rendering him a partial invalid.

Early in 1776 at Philadelphia, the elder Lynch suffered a stroke that incapacitated him and prevented further public service. His concerned colleagues in South Carolina elected his son to the Continental Congress. Although ill himself, the younger Lynch made the trip to Philadelphia, staying long enough to vote for and sign the Declaration of Independence. His father was unable to take part in the ceremony.

By the end of the year, the failing health of both men compelled them to begin the trip home. In route, a second stroke took the life of the senior Lynch. His son, who was broken in spirit and physically unable to continue in politics, retired to his plantation.

In 1779 he and his wife, heading for southern France in an attempt to regain his health, perished at sea. He was thirty years old.

Arthur Middleton was born in 1742 at the family estate on the Ashley River near Charleston. He graduated from Cambridge University and studied law in London. In 1776, while engaged in helping draft a state constitution, Middleton was elected to follow his father in the Continental Congress. In the same year he and William Henry Drayton designed the Great Seal of South Carolina.

After the war Middleton returned to serve briefly in Congress, then retired to Middleton Place. He restored his home, which had been ravaged by the British during the Revolution, and resumed his life as a planter. He died in 1787 at the age of 44. He is buried at Middleton Place.

These four men knew the risks they were taking when they signed the Declaration. Each had more to lose from revolution than he had to gain by it. The penalty for treason was death by hanging. Thomas Lynch, Jr.’s heart and health were broken in the cause for freedom. He died at a younger age than any other signer of the Declaration.

In the siege of Charleston in 1780, the British captured the three remaining South Carolina signers:  Edward Rutledge, Arthur Middleton, and Thomas Heyward, Jr. As prisoners of war, they were incarcerated in St. Augustine, Florida, but released in a prisoner exchange at the end of the war. During this time of turmoil in America’s history, the British devastated each man’s home.

These signers of the Declaration of Independence certainly made no idle boast when they promised, “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.” Their losses were great. Their sacred honor was preserved.

In 1967, following my first year in seminary, I served as Chaplain at a Boy Scout Camp in Indiana. We used to sing a song that I believe originated with the group known as Up with People. Some of the words were:

Freedom Isn’t Free,

You’ve gotta’ pay the price,

You’ve gotta’ sacrifice,

For your liberty.

This week, as we celebrate our freedom, we honor these signers and the other patriots who gave so much for the generations that followed.

Freedom really is not free.


June 24, 2018

Recently, we have heard much conversation about the issue of immigration. This is a topic, not only in political debates, but also in daily discussions about the future well-being of our country. How should we respond to people who want to immigrate to the United States? Suggestions range from total exclusion to some kind of open door policy. Certainly there are valid points to be made on any side of the issue.

I was sitting on my back porch one evening last week, praying as I often do. I prayed for our country, for our world, and for a list of people and concerns that changes daily.

I thought about workers whom I had seen that very day, laboring in the blazing sun, putting a new roof on St. Christopher Episcopal Church. The roof is very steep. On water breaks these workers huddled in the shadow of the steeple atop the church. I joined the congregation of St. Chris in praying for their safety. As I did, I realized that all of them were Latinos and all legal immigrants. Some were bilingual, most spoke Spanish.

Once again the immigration issue came home to me. I spent some time reflecting on the issue, thinking about how I feel when people from other countries want to come to America. Read more…


June 21, 2018

I have the privilege of leading a book club at First Presbyterian Church on the first Tuesday of each month, September through June. The club meets at 10:30 A.M. and again at 7:00 P.M. in the Arthur Center on the First Presbyterian campus. The club was begun by Dr. Bill Arthur, beloved pastor and teacher. Upon Bill’s death, I was invited to become the convener of the group, and what an amazing group of people we have!

Some have thought that because the book club meets at First Presbyterian Church we read only books that are distinctly Christian. Others have considered the club to be for First Presbyterian members only. Neither assumption is accurate. The book club is open to anyone who would like to join us. Bill Arthur used to say, “You don’t even have to read the books.”

The club selects the books to be read. Our discussions are always lively and informative. So, this is your official invitation to join us.

For our June selection this month we read Isaac’s Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History by Erik Larson. The book is a deeply researched, well written account of the great Galveston hurricane of September 8, 1900. Even Isaac Cline, resident meteorologist for the U.S. Weather Bureau failed to grasp the true meaning of the strange deep-sea swells and peculiar winds that greeted the Texas town that morning. Later that day Galveston found itself submerged in a monster hurricane that completely destroyed the city and killed over six thousand people in what remains the greatest natural disaster in American history. Read more…


June 17, 2018

I don’t recall where I first heard these stories, but I do know that Paul Harvey told both of them. I have received them several times by e-mail, always told together.

The first story tells of a young Chicago attorney named Edward who became connected with the crime boss Al Capone in 1927.  The two were first involved in the illegal sport of dog racing.  The lawyer became one of Capone’s favorite colleagues and represented members of the Capone mob for crimes including murder, gambling, and prostitution. Known within the mob as Easy Eddie, Edward’s shrewd legal mind enabled him to rig trials, bribe juries, and pay off law enforcement officers. This skill at legal maneuvering kept Big Al out of jail for a long time. To show his appreciation, Capone always handsomely rewarded Easy Eddie.

Apart from his life of crime, Easy Eddie doted on his family. His three children – a son and two daughters – were his delight.  At some point, Easy Eddie decided that he owed his children more than just the material and financial advantages that came from his life of crime.  He wanted to provide for them a good education. Despite his own involvement with organized crime, Eddie tried to teach his children right from wrong. He realized that he could not provide them with a good example and a name of which they could be proud unless he changed hi ways.

Wanting to give his children an example of integrity, Edward made a difficult decision. In an attempt to rectify the wrongs he had done, he became a witness for the prosecution and testified against Al Capone and other members of the mob.  As a result, Capone was sentenced to eleven years in prison on charges of income tax evasion.

On November 8, 1939, while driving in the Cicero section of Chicago, Eddie was gunned down when a mobster pulled up beside him and opened fire with a machine gun.  Eddie died instantly. This is a true story with a sad ending. Read more…