Hostesses at Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington's Brookgreen Gardens:
Genevieve Wilcox Chandler and Cornelia "Corrie" Sarvis Dusenbury
Genevieve Wilcox Chandler and Corrie Dusenbury served
as Hostesses during the 1950s at Brookgreen Gardens, the popular tourist
attraction established by Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington in the South
Carolina Lowcountry during the 1930s. Lynn Michelsohn, Corrie's cousin,
retells the stories they told visitors in her book,
Tales from Brookgreen.
One of my greatest treats as a child was to spend the day with Cousin
Brookgreen Gardens in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina. It was
here in the Carolina Lowcountry that Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington
had created the first American sculpture garden among the ancient
moss-draped live oak trees of four former rice plantations: Brookgreen,
Springfield, Laurel Hill and The Oaks.
In those simpler days, visitors to Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington's Brookgreen Gardens turned off the
narrow pavement of Highway 17, the King’s Highway, onto two parallel
ribbons of concrete spaced far enough apart to support the wheels of a
car. Visitors drove slowly along those concrete ribbons through the
wooded deer park and past the island of Youth Taming the Wild to a sandy
parking lot near the Diana Pool. There they left their cars in as shady
a spot as possible and entered the Gardens on foot, with no admission
fee or gatekeeper.
After a leisurely stroll through the Live Oak Allee, with perhaps a
detour into the Palmetto Garden, a peek inside the Old Kitchen, and a
dip of the fingers into the cool water of the Alligator Bender Pool,
visitors arrived at the low wide porch of a simple gray brick building.
This structure had once housed the overseer when Brookgreen was a
thriving rice plantation. Now it served as the Museum and the
entranceway to two open-air galleries for small sculpture. Inside the
Museum, the steady sounds of splashing water from the Frog Baby Fountain
in the first gallery enhanced the feeling of sanctuary from the
Lowcountry heat that could already be growing oppressive by mid-morning.
This Museum was the Visitors’ Center of its day. Here two sturdy "sixty-ish"
Southern ladies welcomed visitors. These two Hostesses were the only
staff in evidence in the Gardens, other than an occasional groundskeeper
trimming ivy. In the cool, dim interior of the Museum Miss Genevieve and
Cousin Corrie sold postcards, gave directions, and told stories to
visitors interested enough to ask questions about the Gardens.
Boxy glass display cases formed a counter along the front wall of the
Museum. Mostly these cases held stacks of picture postcards.
Black-and-white cards sold for five cents, sepia cards for ten cents,
and colored cards for twenty-five cents each. Books and pamphlets about
the Gardens were also for sale. Intermixed with all these lay other
items, not for sale, that stimulated frequent questions and often lead
to Miss Genevieve and Cousin Corrie’s
Cousin Corrie, my first cousin one generation removed, was born Cornelia
Sarvis Dusenbury in 1888 as her home state of South Carolina emerged
from the chaos of Reconstruction. She spent much of her childhood at
Murrells Inlet on the Carolina coast, and then worked for many years as
a schoolteacher and librarian in Florence, South Carolina. In retirement
Cousin Corrie returned to Murrells Inlet and joined Genevieve Wilcox
Chandler, a writer, artist, and local historian, to become a Hostess at
Miss Genevieve was just a bit younger than Cousin Corrie. She had come
to Murrells Inlet with her family from Marion, South Carolina, but
stayed, married, and raised five children here, often supporting them
with her writings on local subjects after the early death of her
husband. When Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington created Brookgreen Gardens they asked her
to become the Hostess.
During my visits to Brookgreen Gardens, Cousin Corrie and Miss Genevieve
(as I called Genevieve Wilcox Chandler, using the traditional Southern form of address for a
grown-up family friend) let me help them with their hostess duties, much
to my delight. I also enjoyed playing hide-and-seek among the
sun-dappled sculptures and looking for painted river turtles sleeping on
logs floating in the old rice field swamps. I loved darting from one
live-oak canopy to the next during summer thunderstorms. I especially
thrilled at wading in out-of-the-way sculpture pools when no one was
looking. But my very favorite activity was listening to Miss Genevieve
and Cousin Corrie tell stories of Brookgreen and the Carolina Lowcountry
to spellbound Garden visitors, myself included.
Each Hostess had her own distinct repertoire; one never encroached on
the other’s territory. "Now you will have to ask Mrs. Chandler about
that," or "Miss Dusenbury can tell you that story," were common
responses to visitors’ queries. If one or the other of the ladies were
absent that day, then the unlucky visitor left without hearing her
Miss Genevieve tended to cover
historical figures and
folktales. She had
collected local stories for "Mr. Roosevelt" and the W.P.A. On the other
hand, Cousin Corrie focused on
hurricanes, family tales, and accounts of
Confederate and Yankee conflicts on the Carolina coast. Her stories
related more to her own personal experiences. Of course each had her own
unique collection of ghost stories.
I heard some of these stories repeated to countless visitors.
Burr’s descent down the rice island steps was a frequent favorite. Other
stories I only heard once or twice and remember only in snippets,
although I have often been able to fill in gaps from other sources. All
these stories excited my interest in the historical figures and everyday
people who came before us to these broad rice fields and wooded uplands
that became Brookgreen Gardens.
These are the stories Miss Genevieve and Cousin Corrie told, as best I
remember them. In my mind these tales weave themselves together with the
swaying Spanish moss, the sparkling splashing fountains, and the winding
brickwork walls of Brookgreen Gardens to create visions of a timeless
spirit forever living in the heart of the Carolina Lowcountry.
To read tales told by Miss Genevieve and Cousin Corrie, click on
stories listed in the left column of this page, or . . .
Buy the complete
(single copies or in bulk) of Lynn Michelsohn's
Tales from Brookgreen
Gardens, Folklore, Ghost Stories, and Gullah
Folktales in the South Carolina Lowcountry
also $9.99 on
(readable on iPad, iPhone, PC,
Mac, Blackberry, Android, etc.)
and available from other online booksellers, your local bookstore,
These charming stories interweave ghostly legends, local reminiscences, and
Gullah folktales with factual information about the history, geography, and
people of the South Carolina Lowcountry around Brookgreen Gardens, near Myrtle
Beach . . . an entertaining and informative addition to your visit to this unique area.
Shorter selections from Tales from Brookgreen are also available
as ebooks . . .
Crab Boy's Ghost and Other Gullah Folktales.
Stories of Alice Flagg, Confederate Blockade Runners, and Haunted Beads
Stories and Folktales from Brookgreen Gardens in the South Carolina Lowcountry
with Notes on Gullah Culture and History
© Cleanan Press, Inc. 2004-2011
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