Tag Archives: Customs

Charleston Custom House

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United States Custom House – Charleston
* 200 E Bay St * Charleston * SC * 29401 * (843) 579-6500 *

Standing tall along the downtown East Bay street, the harbor, and waterfront park in Charleston, South Carolina is the iconic United States Custom House. A fine example of a age-old public building telling tales about Charleston’s once thriving port culture. It was designed with the Roman Corinthian order cruciform building structure is monumental in scale measuring over 259 feet east-west, and 152 feet north-south, constructed of marble, stone, and granite. Its interior revolves around a marble two-story center room called “The Business Room” and its second floor gallery is supported by 14 Corinthian columns into which most offices open up to. Ornamental ceiling with artificial skylights, the American flag, and other classical patriotic motifs and symbols. The site was built between East bay and the Cooper River on land that Congress purchased in 1849. This location was first the site of Craven’s Bastion, a colonial era fortification. It was designed by Charleston architect Edward C. Jones and Edward Brickell White. During the Civil War, the building was left unfinished and left suspended until 1870 when plans were set into motion to work on the original design. It was completed in 1879 and has been used ever since as a United States Custom House. It is not opened for viewing to the public. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 9, 1974.

    References/Recommended Reading:
  • NPS.GOV: Charleston United States Custom House. http://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/charleston/usc.htm. Website referenced May 2, 2013.
  • Wikipedia: Charleston Custom House. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Custom_House_(Charleston,_South_Carolina). Website referenced May 2, 2013.

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Pukamani Poles

Pukamani Poles

The Australian Aborigine “Tiwi” people of the Bathurst and Melville Islands of the Northern Territories have symbollic material cultural artifacts littering their landscape similar to the use of headstones or grave markings in Western culture. These are called “Pukamani Poles” and represent individual people who have passed away incorporating a mourning process into their state of being from their birth, life, death, and rebirth. Posts with shapes of heads are believed to be female, while those with projecting arms represent males. While they are interpreted as “mortuary poles” to Westerners, they are not called as such by the Aborigine who make them. One of the best displays of these poles can be found at the National Museum of Australia. Intricate ceremonies surround the poles in Tiwi culture especially the public “Pukumani Ceremony” or “Mortuary Ceremony” which is done for burial including singing, dancing, and the creation of these specially carved poles called tutini and tungas and arm bands. The poles are made from the trunk of ironwood trees, carved and decorated to celebrate the deceased’s life and spiritual journey. The ceremony is performed to ensure that the spirit of the deceased goes from the living world into the spirit world. It is also seen as a forum for artistic expression through song, dance, sculpture, and body painting which is held 6 months after the deceased has been buried. The Tiwi believe that the deceased’s existence in the living world is not finished until the completion of the ceremony and is seen as the climax of the series of ceremonies following the burial of the dead. The poles are placed around the burial site of the deceased during the ceremony and represent the status the deceased had while living. Participants in the ceremony are painted with natural ochres utilizing many different designs that transforms the dancers and provides protection against recognition by the spirit of the deceased. Kin of the deceased – the mother, father, siblings, and widow must dance and includes the last wailing notes of the death song, then the grave is deserted and the burial pole is allowed to deteriorate. The practice was believed to come about from the time when all things were immortal until the Goddess “Wai-ai” broke the law causing the death of her son Jinaini. The God Purakapali, his father, through mourning, created the first pukamani ceremony while he wept and decreed from then on anyone who died would follow his son into the world of the spirits. He was joined by the great bird man “Tokampini” and they sculpted the first of the great painted poles at a burial place near the sea. They created dances, songs, and symbols that were painted on this pole transmitting this to all the people around to see. This assures life after death and permits the deceased to reach the world of spirits where he will live forever.

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Custom House, Yorktown, Virginia


Custom House



Custom House ca 1720 – [NPS Monument marker sign ] “… collectors are hereby empowered to demand, secure, and receive all … the duties, customes, and imposts … with full power to go on board any boat, ship, or other vessel, or into any house … where he shall have just cause to suspect any fraud … collectors … shall .. in Aprill and October … render a true and just account upon oath, and make payment … of money as they … shall receive and collect for the duties … “ [An Act for Ports &c, April 16, 1691, Virginia Legislative Assembly]. In 1691, Virginia’s colonial legislature passed “An Act for Ports”, in an effort to better regulate trade for the collection of import and export fees and duties. The act called for the creation of several ports, including Yorktown, and the appointment of Collector of Ports by the royal governor. During Yorktown’s peak as a commercial port in the mid-1700s, Richard Ambler, and later his son, Jacquelin, served as collector of ports. In 1721, Richard Ambler built this large, brick storehouse and from here he and his son handled their collector duties. Ship captains recently arriving and merchants arranging for transport of goods would convene at Ambler’s storehouse to complete the required paperwork and pay the assessed fees. The outbreak of the American Revolution brought an end to many port activities, including the collection of customs. In 1776, Virginia militia troops were using the custom house for barracks and two years later, Jacquelin Ambler sold the property. In 1924, the Comte de Grasse Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution purchased the Custom House and restored it five years later. Today the Customs house still continues in use as a Chapter House and Museum.


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