David Lauderdale

Beaufort's bickering about horses can ruin a good story

Two carriages owned by Sea Island Carriage Co. sit at 1411 Duke St. in Beaufort in this file photograph from February 2013.
Two carriages owned by Sea Island Carriage Co. sit at 1411 Duke St. in Beaufort in this file photograph from February 2013. Staff Photo

A little horse sense would help the Beaufort tour-guide industry.

The historic stories Beaufort has to tell are much bigger than squabbles over "spills" by carriage horses, which seem to get all the attention.

The horses need humane treatment and someone to clean up after them. This is decidedly not rocket science, yet endless bickering between competing carriage-tour operators sucks the air out of the room like a tennis shoe in pluff mud.

I doubt the people who enjoy the carriage tours know or care about the feuding that bogs down the police department and various councils and committees.

The people simply want to be entertained, and the horses and guides deliver that wish as they clomp down streets that look like paintings.

Meanwhile, an army of tour guides of every description is at work, telling visitors from all over the world about Beaufort and the barrier islands.

The greatest showman of them all has recently stepped off the stage. For 10 years, Jon Sharp walked backward through the streets of Beaufort as he used the skills of his theatrical past to engage visitors.

I would often catch of glimpse of him at work, kneeling at a churchyard grave, his mop of white hair and Shakespearean delivery making me wonder where he kept the Kleenex and smelling salts.

Jon retired last month. He's resting in a redwood forest as far as he could get without leaving the continent from the bayside town that adopted him when he was blown in by a storm.

Janet Matlock bought his business and now leads the walking tours, a logical, if backward, step up from her years as a docent in the Parish Church of St. Helena.

She said that on his last day of leading the tour, Jon placed a sea shell on the grave of Capt. Paul Hamilton, who died at age 20 but fought in 30 battles.

"I think that story moved Jon the most," she said.

Also new on the tour-guide trail is my friend Pierre McGowan, an 87-year-old native of St. Helena Island who is himself a piece of history. Pierre is working with his daughter Kelly, with Beaufort Tours, sharing the remarkable stories of St. Helena's back roads.

It's almost humorous that Pierre, who has written two books of local lore, had to ace the city's 100-question test that tour guides must pass.

Owner Bill Reynolds said the facts have to be mastered, but success is 80 percent theatrical.

And that's where the carriage horses stroll into the picture. They're a big part of the show. It's a show that includes people leading tours in boats, kayaks, buses and vans. We have Gullah tours, nature tours, ghost tours and plantation tours.

We have docents who can tell the special tales of historic homes, churches and museums. Bed-and-breakfast owners share old stories with new guests in their parlors.

Monuments stand as silent testament to our community's role in shaping the New World, and the New South. Our libraries are filled with Lowcountry stories it would take a lifetime to read.

We've got the stories. And we've got good storytellers. With a little horse sense, that's the story the world will hear.

Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.

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