Spanish moss is a big part of Southern legend

Beaufort, Ga. — There is a stop on Jon Sharp's walking tour of Beaufort where he knows he'll knock 'em dead, where the tourists' expectations are surpassed by their observations, where their eyes rise and their jaws drop.

It's on Newcastle Street, alongside the brick wall that surrounds the Parish Church of St. Helena, underneath a canopy of live oaks.

"By that time, I've been regaling them with stories, and they usually are focusing on me," said Sharp, who has operated Jon's Walking History Tour for five years. "So I stop and redirect their attention. ..."

"I tell them to look up."

Peering above where sunlight slants through the boughs, the sky seems to drip of Spanish moss, the Lowcountry's most ubiquitous accouterment. Suddenly, Sharp's audience is transmuted to a Technicolor frame of the Old South. It couldn't feel more antebellum if Rhett Butler walked up to invite the folks to the verandah for a julep.

"They stand their with their mouths wide open, and they're just saying, 'My God, who knew? Who knew we'd see something this magnificent?' " Sharp said.

Spanish moss has wowed newcomers to the Lowcountry for as long as there have been newcomers to the Lowcountry -- early European explorers wrote in their journals of Native Americans who fashioned the plant into skirts.

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