Kinsey Burden was one of the most successful cotton planters in America. Charles Cotesworth Pinckey signed the Constitution of the United States. Jonathan Lucas invented the first steam-powered mill. These people aren’t only important names in history books; they’re members of Liz Duren’s family tree, whose Charleston roots stretch as far back as 1696, when her ancestor Solomon Legare first arrived.
During her 90-minute photo walking tours of Charleston, Liz combines her vast knowledge of the city’s history with her passion for photography. As a photojournalist who’s won a Best of Weddings award from The Knot in 2010, Liz is inseparable from her camera, which she totes around as she leads tourists to Charleston’s picturesque landmarks. After her tours, she sends participants a link to an online gallery that has all the shots from the outing.
Charlestowne Pub Stroll's knowledgeable guides cover nearly 300 years of history during their three-hour walking tours, shedding light on the city's libation-steeped past. Guide dressed in full pirate or colonial regalia lead guests along Meeting Street, Broad Street, and throughout the Charleston historic district as they point out the area’s most historically significant pubs. They regale guests with tales of Prohibition-era criminals, early drinking habits, and other historical oddities, including that time when drinking a full gallon of milk was temporarily outlawed in Charleston in the 1900s. Throughout the tour, groups will stop into select watering holes to sample the storied brews for themselves at an extra cost.
The Ordinance of Secession was signed in 1860, setting off a chain reaction that led to the bloodiest war America had yet seen. Charleston faced a bombardment of fighting from day one and fought back against Union troops and cannon fire for five difficult years. Civil War reenactor and local history consultant Jack Thomson relates these events through a combination of storytelling and period photographs on tours through the historic downtown area.
Often speaking in first person, Thomson narrates the walking tour as his he and his audience have stepped back in time. Throughout his tours, he introduces characters from the time including Gus Smythe, a Confederate signal corps sergeant who views the bombing of Charleston Harbor, and Jane Wightman, a free person of color who owned a brick house on Chalmers Street. Thomson's knowledge of the period is unparalleled. He penned Charleston at War, comparing the old city to its current incarnation, worked as a reenactor for 40 years and appeared in several films, served in the Army as a motion-picture photographer, and has amassed a collection of 118 Civil War photographs that remind tourists what life was like before Scrunchies became en vogue.
With their fleet of Robinson R22 utility helicopters, the aviators at Charleston Helicopters take joy in breaking the laws of gravity. They whisk passengers high above Charleston for flight lessons and photo tours, and while passing over the harbor, guests can snap shots of the Battery, Shem Creek, and various forts. Viewers may also zoom over the Charleston skyline to admire buildings soaked in red-and-orange sunsets and the flickering lights of surrounding towns. Many of Charleston Helicopters's tours invite guests to toast airborne triumphs upon landing with champagne, instilling an extra sense of victory without having to drag race passing geese.
Eric Lavender is one of very few men in the world who can show up for work each day in a pirate costume and expect to keep his job. The licensed guide and professional storyteller, who has been featured on networks such as the Travel Channel and SCETV, also has an unconventional coworker—Captain Bob, a chatty blue and gold macaw who perches on his arm. Sometimes aided by other guides in pirate and colonial garb, he introduces visitors to lesser-known aspects of Charleston's more than 300-year history on walking tours to National Historic Landmark buildings.
During his signature pirate tour, Eric divulges stories of buccaneer revelry and crimes, such as Blackbeard's harbor blockade, or unveils local spooky legends and pieces of Gullah lore on his ghost and pirate tour. Eric also leads custom walking tours and teaches children about pirate lore and city history through his educational programs. And, on pub tours, guides show visitors to some of the city's historic taverns, where they reveal which colonial musicians got their start at open-mic nights.
Alfred Ray enthusiasm for Charleston's history is infectious. This passion carried him through the rough-going early days of his tour-guiding career, which started in 1980, he says, “with a pitchfork atop a pile of hose dung in a carriage barn on State Street.” Today, the Charleston native—whose forefathers arrived in the city in 1792—shares his deep knowledge during three themed tours through Charleston's walled landscape: the Old Walled City Walk, the Home and Garden Walk, and the Slavery and Freedom Walk.
Tours casually wind down the city's cobblestone streets, past precolonial and postcolonial buildings that display a confluence of architectural styles, from Georgian to Greek Revival. As tourists snap pictures of wrought-iron gates, classical columns, and carbonite-encased cotton gins, Ray shares stories about the people and events—such as the approximately 40% of slaves who entered the United States through Charleston—that transformed a 1670 pioneer settlement into a cultural hub of the South by the mid-1800s.