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The New Charleston, SC

Zubin Shroff History remembered in an antebellum portrait at Charleston's Old Slave Mart Museum

Photo: Zubin Shroff

The Confederate Home, which became a haven for Mothers, Widows, Orphans, and Daughters of Confederate Soldiers in 1867, is situated in a Victorian building at 62 Broad Street, in what is now the heart of the commercial district. Faded three-story piazzas (Charleston's word for its distinctive covered porches) surround a hushed courtyard planted with live oaks, camellias, and hyper-green grass, inhabited by a slew of cats: the residents, many of them widows who have fallen on hard times and have been there for decades, pop in and out of each other's apartments like helpful prairie dogs, embracing the art of letting go.

Josephine Humphreys, who is the unofficial figurehead of the literary set and adept at juggling the past and present, keeps an office at the Confederate Home. Beside a poster for the movie version of Rich in Love is a terminally Dixie family Christmas card from the fifties. With a honeyed Southern voice that could soothe nations, Humphreys laughs and points out the lies of history in the image: "That whole photograph, proper young ladies under the tree, was entirely staged—my mother borrowed vintage dresses from the museum."

And yet Charleston is still full of reverence for the entwined fates of all Charlestonians, the "concert of human lives," as Humphreys calls it. "When you grow up here, it's hard to get over the universal Charleston worry of what other people will think," she says. "The natives don't have many real places left, but the Confederate Home is the Charleston we all remember. It's just as real as it can be."

Tom Austin is a contributing editor for Travel + Leisure.


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