As Murdaugh's 'trial of the century' unfolds, the town of Walterboro awaits crowds. Will they come?
Published in News & Features
Brothers and rice plantation owners Paul and Jacob Walter stumbled upon the area in 1783. They were trying to find a reprieve from the swampy, mosquito-laden rice plantations they lived on in nearby Jacksonboro, explained Christie Slocum, historical coordinator at the Colleton County Museum and Farm Market.
“People were getting sick in Jacksonboro, and they weren’t sure why, especially during the summer months. So they traveled inland and found this area,” she said. “Later they found out it was malaria that was making them sick, living in swampy areas where rice was being grown. So Walterboro actually became a summer retreat for rice planters to get away from mosquitoes and the heat.”
That dynamic has since reversed. Most of Walterboro’s traffic now comes from people heading toward the coast, to Edisto Beach.
But that summertime pass-through traffic is nothing compared to the swell of visitors expected in Walterboro this month.
Local officials have estimated between 500 and 1,500 people will come to town for the trial. So far, most of those people have been journalists.
The city’s tourism director, Scott Grooms, is responsible for overseeing all the media that will be in town for the trial. A reporter for The State snagged an interview while Grooms was crossing the street from the Wildlife Center-turned-media-hub to the courthouse. A South Carolina Public Radio reporter was tailing him, too, waiting for her own interview.
Then, another reporter approached, asking for a parking pass, and then another came over just “to say hi,” and also to ask about parking.
Vanity Fair magazine, The New Yorker, CNN, NBC and other major outlets had reporters in town Monday. Grooms said he even heard Dr. Phil was planning an appearance. Nearly every area hotel was booked solid for the first week of the trial, he said, and as of 8:30 a.m. Monday, Grooms had given out 80 media parking passes.
The few non-journalists or non-law enforcement officers outside the courthouse Monday were there not to spectate but to capitalize on the media attention they knew would be present for the duration of Murdaugh’s trial.
Varn Cummings carried a large wooden cross with the words “repent” and “Jesus saves” painted in red letters. He attended Murdaugh’s arraignment in Hampton last summer, too.
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