Note: The Friends of the CSS
Hunley held their 5th Annual Oyster Roast in Charleston, South
Carolina on October 23, 2009, from 7-10 PM, as their major annual
fund raiser, supporting conservation of the raised Confederate
submarine. CCWRT member, John Harkness, and his wife,
Marguerite, are members of the Friends of the Hunley and drove to
Charleston to see what this event was all about.
This was our first (but won't be
our last!) "oyster roast." You can keep your puny Yankee clam bakes.
A meager dozen clams -- hah! This was downright filling & FUN!!
The event was held in the downtown
Charleston Visitor Center's Tour Bus Shed. The location was a
restored 19th century building that was once perhaps a steam railway
train shed or street car barn. A brick building houses the Visitor
Center offices & ticket windows, and behind it is the attached
covered bus shed -- a couple of football fields in length, and at
least a ball field wide, under a trussed roof, but otherwise open at
both ends and along the full far wall. But, who cared? The weather
was fine, with temperature in the 80į F range. Ample parking was
available in adjacent garages, a short block away. All surrounding
downtown streets were choked with strolling tourists and college
students out for fun (& having a lot of it).
The all-you-can-eat event cost the
astronomical sum of $25 per person, with parking at $2 for the
night. The two cash bars offered wine at $3 a glass and beer at $2 a
bottle. Outlandish prices!! But, there were also 50 major corporate
sponsors and all wine/beer was donated by local distributors. All
bar sales were thus total cash to the Hunley project. Organizers
told us that at least 700 tickets had been sold in advance ($25
each). We observed about 500 guests in the bus shed at any one time
while we were at the event.
Hunley and his submarine from a 1902 illustration.
So ... what was it like? A fabulous
live band greeted guests at the entrance --playing rock & roll and
country hits. Against the far long shed wall near the band were
about 18 tables displaying many silent auction items -- unique
Hunley art prints, sporting event tickets and memorabilia, other
art, unique pottery, you name it. Next came two stations with whole
BBQ pork carcasses, with platters of pulled pork -- combined with
baskets of sandwich rolls, bowls of baked beans, tubs of cole slaw
and selections of sauces -- vinegar, spicy vinegar and sweet and
sour mustard. I vote for the spicy vinegar, myself!
Further down the barn bay came the
oyster roast serving stations. First came tables dispensing cotton
gloves and oyster knives (one each per diner), plus cocktail sauce
in plastic cups and numerous choices of hot pepper sauces to liven
things up. They also had hand wash fluid and paper wipes -- which
would come in VERY handy later. Then came two parallel rows of
plywood table tops on saw horses, each about 50 feet long. At
intervals in the table tops were 1 foot diameter holes (for the
shells), feeding to garbage cans below. Just beyond these tables
were propane-fired steamers that (more or less) cooked the oysters
in the shell, and at the far entrance, a pressure wash station for
the incoming fresh oysters.
Periodically, two man crews brought
long metal tubs of steamed oysters to the tables and dumped them in
long piles about 6-8 inches high, down the length of the tables.
Guests STOOD lining both sides of the table tops, hungrily grabbing
hot, clumped oysters with their gloved hand as fast as they could
and splitting open each individual oyster in the clump open with the
stubby knife provided, then tossing the empty shells down the
nearest hole in the table top. Then -- grab some more! We lost count
of how many we ate -- and we had never eaten an oyster in the shell
before that night! The locals were definitely faster at this ritual
than were we!!
Last year they raised $50,000 in
one evening at this event. The 2009 ticket sales exceeded last year.
In conjunction with the Oyster Roast, special "Friends of the Hunley
Members Only" tours of the Warren Latch Conservation Laboratory in
the old Charleston Navy Yard were offered on Friday the 23rd and
Saturday the 24th. Members were given closer access to the
conservation tanks where the submarine is displayed and were
permitted to see artifacts recovered from the hull that are not on
public display. Interestingly, the event coincided with the "Ring
Day" ceremony for graduating seniors at The Citadel military academy
in Charleston. Our hotel was filled with Citadel cadets in full
dress uniform, their gorgeous girl friends in fancy dresses, and
their proud families.
This is one l--o--n--g drive! We
drove from Lakewood, Ohio to Beckley, West Virginia on Thursday,
arriving about 7 PM. On Friday we drove from Beckley to Charleston
arriving at our hotel about 6 PM. We raced to freshen up and got to
the Oyster Roast about 7:30 PM (no need to dress up ... it's all
messy food anyway). After a brief stop at the Conservation Lab the
next morning, we drove back to Beckley on Saturday, arriving about 8
PM; then to Lakewood on Sunday the 25th, returning home about 3:30
PM. A couple of neat non-historic stops along the way: check out the
J-R Outlet at Statesville, North Carolina -- tons of linens, towels,
jeans, wine, perfumes and menís colognes, party decor items, and a
prime cigar shop not to be believed, all discounted heavily. In
Beckley, see Tamarac, a conference center and West Virginia
artisans' showcase -- wood carvers, potters, painters, sculptors (in
wood and bronze), blacksmiths, quilters, weavers, and books on area
flora, fauna and geology.