Barnwell Blarney

A softback second edition of Eugene Zeigler's "Barnwell Blarney" is on sale at the Florence County Museum.

FLORENCE, S.C. – A softcover second edition of local author and historian E.N. Zeigler’s "Barnwell Blarney, Colonel Frank Remembered" has been published by the United Writers Press.

The Florence County Historical Society announced the publication, which was funded and sponsored the publication with permission of Zeigler’s estate. Proceeds of all sales of the book will go to the Historical Society to help fund historical projects at the Florence County Museum.

“The stories are hilarious, but the larger story of Frank Barnwell’s life tells us a lot about South Carolina history as well as the history of the Florence community,” said Andrew Stout, executive director of the Florence County Museum.

Ben Zeigler, son of the author and chairman of the Florence County Historical Society, said the first, hardback edition of "Barnwell Blarney" has long been out of print, and he has received numerous requests for copies since his father died in 2012.

First published in 1999, "Barnwell Blarney" tells the story of Frank Barnwell, or Colonel Frank, one of Florence’s most colorful and well-remembered residents. Born in Adams Run in 1893, Barnwell moved to Florence in the early 20 century and became a Realtor and developer.

Barnwell was known locally for his humor and skill as a storyteller but was prominent statewide as a high-ranking officer in the National Guard. His position in the guard put him in the middle of some of the most important events in South Carolina and nationally in his time, from the textile strikes in the Upstate in 1934, to the “Great Highway Department Insurrection” of 1935, to the contested election for mayor of Charleston in 1936.

Always involved in politics and keenly interested in making money, Barnwell was often a roguish figure in stories told about him as well as stories he told about himself. When a raid on a Dargan Street whorehouse sent him home one night without all of his clothes, he attempted to undress quietly in front of his sleeping wife. When she awoke and asked “Frank, where are your undershorts?” he replied “My Gawd, Jesse, I’ve been robbed.”

Barnwell, who died in 1968, also saw active duty in World War I as well as on the Mexican border chasing Poncho Villa under General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing in 1917. He served on Florence City Council in the 1930s, was head of the County Democratic Party, and unsuccessfully ran for clerk of court in 1932. But it was the humorous stories about Barnwell that made him such a compelling figure.

“When I was growing up, there was a group of men — including my father, Hugh Wilcox Sr., and Red Maxwell — who would often start telling Col. Barnwell stories at parties,” said Ben Zeigler. “By the end of the evening, everyone at the part would be gathered around them hooting with laughter.”

Barnwell’s stories often involve and illuminate tense moments in the historical narrative. When confronting striking textile workers in Pelzer in 1934, Barnwell sought to win their confidence by saying they could join the National Guard and serve under him in an absurdly contrived mission to fight the Italians in Ethiopia. When one worker shouted, “I don’t believe I can join your army 'cause I aint got no teeth,” Barnwell responded, “Hell, man, we ain't gonna eat 'em, we’re gonna fight 'em.”

Barnwell commanded the 263rd Coast artillery at Fort Moultrie during World War II and many of his colorful stories are related to that experience as well as his numerous visits to the famous Sunset Lodge in Georgetown.

Copies are $15 and available at the Florence County Museum.

For more information, contact Stout at the Florence County Museum at 843-676-1200 or Zeigler at 843-669-6002.

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