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We know hindsight is 20/20. We were reminded last week how painful it often is to learn from a mistake that has given us that crystal-clear perspective.
Our beautiful, 180-year-old courthouse was severely damaged by a fire set by an arsonist during the early morning of Aug. 4. When we learned of the fire, we sighed, “Oh, no, not our courthouse!”
Designed by Robert Mills, the Charleston-born architect who also drew the original plans for the Washington Monument, this building, which occupies one of the most prominent spots on Main Street in our county seat, means so much to us. It’s more than brick and mortar. It’s more than a structure recognized as a National Landmark by the U.S. Department of Interior. It represents more than our justice system. It represents us – Lancaster County, arguably like no other building.
That’s why many residents were stunned that this arson could happen. And then, before we could even begin to get over this shock, another court-related building, the nearby 6th Circuit Solicitor’s office, was set afire. We were left in a state of profound disbelief, asking why and how.
We may never learn why someone did this, but we do know that the arsonist(s) should have never had the chance to set fire to those two buildings.
If they had proper security systems for this day and age, then no one could have broken into them during the sleepy early morning hours and set fire to them.
Besides being angry at the perpetrator(s) of the crimes last week, county officials were kicking themselves in the pants for not having the foresight to properly protect the treasured courthouse and the nearby solicitor’s office. They’ve realized the mistake they made. We all have.
The mistake was born from a lack of cynicism. Knowing that most of us would never dream of breaking into any public building and then setting fire to it, our officials trusted too much. And that has cost us.
The roof of the courthouse is gone, the courtroom has been gutted, and much of the history of the building has been lost forever, though we still hope the building can be saved. Fortunately, the solicitor’s office doesn’t have the historic significance of the courthouse, and it certainly won’t be as costly to repair, but repairing the damage there still won’t come cheaply.
We could bash our county leaders for not having the foresight to better protect our public buildings, but we’re not. We don’t think it would serve any purpose.
Our county officials have learned their lesson. They’re taking steps to add security systems to all county buildings. And because Circuit Judge Brooks Goldsmith has ordered that sheriff’s deputies be posted around the clock at buildings where court records are stored, the county is having to pay a tremendous monetary expense it would’ve never had to spend if the buildings had just been equipped with decent security systems. This is a costly lesson for Lancaster County.
But we dare to hope something good comes from it – we hope others will learn from our mistake.
We’d like to see our officials become missionaries, preaching to other South Carolina officials the necessity of having security systems on their buildings, especially those with irreplaceable historical significance. We also hope residents here will do their part in spreading this gospel.
If you belong to a church without a security system, we hope you’ll lobby the church leaders to install a system to protect your sacred building. Yes, it will mean the building won’t be as open as it once was in the past or that door keys can’t be freely distributed as they were in another day and time. But it’s a step that will protect the building you love from those things that you never want to imagine.
We don’t like giving up on our generally trusting nature of our fellow man, either. Most people are good at heart, we still like to believe.
But what happened here last week should be a lesson to us all that we simply can’t be implicitly trusting of everyone else in the world. We’re setting ourselves up if we do. And the result can be devastating.
We get flimflammed, we get hijacked airplanes crashing into skyscrapers, and, yes, we get flames bursting out of one of our beloved landmarks in the early morning hours of a hot summer day.