It's a sunny Saturday morning. Peter Stevenson is showing tourists his beloved Beaufort, South Carolina. Without even a glance, he deftly negotiates his way around fireplugs and street signs. Pretty amazing when you consider that Peter does the whole tour walking backward.
"In 10 years of walking backward, I've fallen three times," says Peter, who operates The Spirit of Old Beaufort Tour Center and Gift Shop with his wife, Evelene. This movie set of a town seems like a perfect place for backtracking. Around every corner, in front of every landmark house, Peter weaves a story about Beaufort's many brushes with history and Hollywood.
Showmanship makes the tour lively. Peter wears a wide-brimmed hat and 19th-century vintage clothing. He sings a rousing pre-Civil War-era song before he tells about an elaborate masked ball held at one home. "In the 1850s, they loved to boat, to picnic, and to have parties," he explains. "Some of them lasted until 6 a.m." By the time he finishes telling about it, you feel as if you were there.
Peter carries a book of photographs to show landmarks such as the Union hospital where Harriet Tubman cared for wounded black soldiers during the Civil War. He also points out the house of Robert Smalls, a former slave who became a five-term U.S. Congressman. He sings about "the yellow peril of Beaufort" to the tune of the "Yellow Rose of Texas" to introduce the yellow structure of the Beaufort Arsenal, now the Beaufort Museum.
Made for the Movies
Many of the homes are familiar to movie fans. We stop to see the house used in The Big Chill and The Great Santini. We also have a look at a home where Pat Conroy lived when he wrote The Water Is Wide.
On this pleasant morning, Beaufort looks as inviting as a movie set. Along streets shaded by moss-draped live oaks, you can hear the sounds of horses' hooves pulling carriages filled with tourists. Beside the small lawn known to generations of Beaufort residents as The Green, a baseball glove left behind by a child rests on top of a post, waiting for the game to start again.
When Peter Stevenson leads you backward into Beaufort, he puts on the best show in town.
The Spirit of Old Beaufort Tour Center and Gift Shop: 103 West Street Extension, Beaufort, SC 29902; (843) 525-0459 or www.thespiritofoldbeaufort.com.
Additional tour: For storytelling and visits to Lowcountry sites on Saint Helena Island important to African American heritage, contact Gullah-N-Geechie Mahn Tours, (843) 838-7516 or www.gullahngeechietours.net.
MORE WAYS TO SEE BEAUFORT
If you don't want to walk, you can go by boat, bus, or horse-drawn carriage. Here are some other popular tours.
Beaufort Kayak Tours: (843) 525-0810 or www.beaufortkayaktours.com. Price: starts at $40 adults, $10 off of adult price for ages 12 and under. Nature and history tours of Beaufort. No kayaking experience necessary.
Captain Dick's River Tours: (843) 812-2804. Prices vary by tour. Charter tour of Beaufort historic district and waters, including dolphin sightings.
Carolina Buggy Tours: (843) 525-1300. Price: $20 adults, $10 ages 6-12. Drivers talk about movie locations and historic sites on 45-minute buggy rides. Also offer narrated bus tours of historic district and the Point neighborhood.
Sandlaper Tours: (843) 838-0111. Price: $16 adults, $7 ages 6-12. Narrated 55-minute trolley bus tour of historic district and the Point.
Southurn Rose Carriage Tours: (843) 524-2900. Price: $16 adults, $7 ages 6-12. Drivers take a leisurely route through the Point neighborhood and historic district.