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Events: May 2007

MAY 2007

May 2nd, 2007
The Charleston, SC, premiere of the American Masters Film on John James Audubon took place in the evening with one of the producers, Larry Hott, present but a number of events had been planned for him that day.  Some of these are described below.

He was taken to Cole Island by a group that included Mary Miller, organizer of the Charleston film premiere and Reference Librarian, Charleston County Library.

Background:  Roswell Eldridge (RE)  had the good luck to grow up with John James Audubon in the household. As a college student in Boston about 1920, RE’s father had bought-and preserved a beautiful ten volume set of the birds and quadrupeds of North America published by John James Audubon and family in 1856. In addition to 655 prints, the volumes included over 3000 pages of text by the frontiersman, woodsman, and self-taught naturalist which Roswell found as interesting and enjoyable as the individual prints.  Sadly, R E found that few were aware of this side of Audubon, even in Charleston, SC, which remains a center for Audubon study, and where R E’s wife has been involved in medical research in recent years.

A popular Audubon bird print in Charleston is that of 2 long billed curlews, the largest member of the sandpiper family and is pictured below. The circa 1830 skyline of Charleston appears in the background. In one of his picturesque accounts Audubon describes watching at sunset while several thousand of these large birds fly in a silent band toward an island he and his party had reached by rowing earlier that day. The island was Cole Island. Here are excerpts from that account:

355 - LONG BILLED CURLEW

"The Long-billed Curlew spends the day in the sea-marshes, from which it returns at the approach of night, to the sandy beaches of the sea-shores, where it rests until dawn. As the sun sinks beneath the horizon, the Curlews rise from their feeding--rounds in small parties, seldom exceeding fifteen or twenty, and more usually  composed of only five or six individuals. The flocks enlarge, however, as they proceed, and in the course of an hour or so the number of birds that collect in the place selected for their nightly retreat sometimes amounts to several thousands. As it was my good fortune to witness their departures and arrivals in the company of my friend BACHMAN, I will here describe them.


Accompanied by several friends, I left Charleston one beautiful morning, the 10th of November, 1831, with a view to visit Cole Island, about twenty miles distant. Our crew was good, and although our pilot knew but little of the cuttings in and out of the numerous inlets and channels in our way, we reached the island about noon.

After shooting various birds, examining the island, and depositing stir provisions in a small summer habitation then untenanted, we separated; some of the servants went off to fish, others to gather oysters, and the gunners placed themselves in readiness for the  arrival of the Curlews. The sun at length sunk beneath the water-line that here formed the horizon; and we saw the birds making their first appearance. They were in small parties of two, three, or five, and by no means shy.

These seemed to be the birds which we had observed near the salt-marshes, as we were on our way. As the twilight became darker the number of Curlews increased, and the flocks approached in quicker succession, until they appeared to form a continuous procession, moving not in lines, one after another, but in an extended mass, and with considerable regularity, at a height of not more than thirty yards, the individuals being a few feet apart.

Not a single note or cry was heard as they advanced. They moved for ten or more yards with regular flappings, and then sailed for a few seconds, as is invariably the mode of flight of this species, their long bills and legs stretched out to their full extent. They flew directly towards their place of rest, called the  "Bird Banks," and were seen to alight without performing any of the evolutions which they exhibit when at their feeding-places, for they had not been disturbed that season.

But when we followed them to the Bird Banks, which are sandy islands of small extent, the moment they saw us land, the congregated flocks, probably amounting to several thousand individuals all standing close together, rose at once, performed a few evolutions in perfect silence, and re-alighted as if with one accord on the extreme margins of the sand-bank close to tremendous breakers. It was now dark, and we left the place, although some flocks were still arriving. The next morning we returned a little before day; but again as we landed, they all rose a few yards in the air, separated into numerous parties, and dispersing in various directions, flew off towards their feeding-grounds, keeping low over the waters, until they reached the shores, when they ascended to the height of about a hundred yards,  and soon disappeared.


Now, reader, allow me to say a few words respecting our lodgings. Fish, fowl, and oysters had been procured in abundance; and besides these delicacies, we had taken with us from Charleston some steaks of beef, and a sufficiency of good beverage. But we had no cook, save your bumble servant. A blazing fire warmed and lighted our only apartment. The oysters and fish were thrown on the hot embers; the steaks we stuck on sticks in front of them; and ere long every one felt perfectly contented. It is true we had forgotten to bring salt with us; but I soon proved to my merry companions that hunters can find a good substitute in their powder-flasks. Our salt on this occasion was gunpowder, as it has been with me many a time; and to our keen appetites, the steaks thus salted were quite as savoury as any of us ever found the best cooked at home. Our fingers and mouths, no doubt, bore marks of the "villanous saltpetre," or rather of the charcoal  with which it was mixed, for plates or forks we had none; but this only increased our mirth. Supper over, we spread out our blankets on the log floor, extended ourselves on them with our feet towards the fire, and our arms under our heads for pillows. I need not tell you how soundly we slept."

Waiting on Cole Island to greet Larry Hott and party was one of the island’s present owners, George B.
Background:  The following outline is from notes taken by R E in the spring of 2005 during several conversations with George B. and friends.  George is an engaging retired serviceman and Charleston native who worked  part-time on the island as a youth – and rode-out at least one hurricaine there.

George B:  born Charleston, SC, 1936, identical twin (Mike)--raised in center Charleston near the “first orphanage” in the US—family owned or rented Cole Island—uncle, with help from twins ran commercial fishing operation about time of W W II -- George and several others bought Cole Island in the 1990’s.

Present view toward Cole Island which is to the right beyond the bend.
George B. is on the left, Larry Hott is in front on the right.  The sturdy cabin was probably built in the 1990s. Juanita Eldridge and her friend, Sue Rich, contributed the photographs.

George told numerous stories, mainly about his youth -“fighting all through the war”- boxing was popular then (Joe Lewis was heavyweight champ) he and his twin brother, at age 5 or 6, opened the Charleston golden gloves - wearing boxing gloves that reached above their elbows and boxing several rounds - through the war they would fight each weekend - different rings—for troops or wounded vets—after boxing they would be lifted over ropes and passed around by audience. He and twin, mike, working for his uncle on Cole Island as  teenagers in all season’s when school out—emptying 1000 foot long fish trap—some flounder so big they would extend over edge of large tug/bucket—when one large one flipped out and got into pluff mud mike was sent/pushed out by uncle to grab it—wrestling match ensued—finally mike, grabbing flounder by tail with both hands, flipped him back into cage while tumbling backward—much laughing. With uncle, and homing pigeons, riding out first half of  hurricane on Cole island as youth—in cabin, surging water on both side—when eye overhead they released homing pigeon for family/coast guard with message indicating they were going to make it—pigeon knocked by winds into water repeatedly while outward bound but reached destination—large gash under wing. -rescued injured ‘skimmer’ which then imprinted on George—would  follow him about on Cole Island - dolphins ‘herding’ small fish onto banks of Cole River when tide right—would then come onto bank after the fish, grab one, and slide/tumble back into water—noisy— scary if you did not know what was happening, especially at night.


Observations on the long billed curlew.  George thinks he saw them on Cole Island as youth—in the cabin there is a group photo—all male—George about 12 yrs old holding shore bird but not l b c--he does not remember seeing bird with that characteristic bill since.
  
Conclusion.  Both George and his sister Jackie are interested in seeing Cole Island preserved—foot path for observers/visitors maintained—birds, including the long billed curlew returned.

Later in the morning, Larry Hott visited Sherry Browne's Studio Open, Folly Beach.
Sherry is shown beside "JJ", one of her Audubon take-offs done with 'paper cuts'

7 pm Charleston, SC, premiere of American Masters John James Audubon: Drawn from Nature. The film was shown in the early evening at the Charleston County Library to a packed audience.  I am told at  least one question for Larry concerned Audubon’s great friend and fellow naturalist, James Bachman.....

Later in the evening, at a party given by Mary Miller, Larry Hott picked one name from over 222 entries submitted during the ‘virtual party’ on April 26, 2007.   John James Audubon was born in 1785, exactly 222 years before, on the island of Santa Domingo.

And the winner is...

Rebecca Ronstadt, #70: Rebecca selected and opted for a limited  edition print of the Sandhill Crane - octavo size, archival photo paper, unframed

(left to right in photo:) Sherry Browne, owner of Studio Open, Folly Beach, SC.  Sherry attended the world premiere of the documentary in Rensselaerville, NY, October 21, 2007 - Mary Miller, reference librarian, Charleston County Library, Charleston, SC, and organizer of the film showing - Larry Hott, Florentine Films, Hott Productions, film producer - Photo by Juanita Eldridge, medical research, Medical University of South Carolina and wife of Roswell Eldridge MD

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